Sermon for Christmas Eve 2023
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
What are you getting for Christmas? When you are young, this seems like the most important question in the world this time of year. Will you be thrilled? Will you be disappointed? This week I heard someone on a podcast talking about a Christmas back in the 1980s, when he was ten years old. He thought for sure that those small, rectangle-shaped presents under the tree were the Nintendo game cartridges he so desperately wanted. He tore them open on Christmas morning only to find that they were different sets of flash cards. Math flash cards. Forty years later, you can still hear the disappointment in his voice.
What are you getting for Christmas? When you’re an adult the question is almost taboo. You’re not supposed to care. The most virtuous thing you can say is, “Oh, I don’t need anything. Don’t make a fuss. Oh, you shouldn’t have.” By and large, this reflects a maturity of sorts. It shows that you are no longer seeking happiness in products or possessions. You have come to see that the true joy of Christmas is not found in the material things you might get. And that is good.
But you have to admit it – when you see a gift and there’s a tag with your name on it, it’s a pretty great feeling! It gives you a little thrill, right? And it isn’t really so much the thing inside – whatever it may be. It is simply the fact that someone gave something to you. It is that you have been thought of. It is that someone cared enough about you to wrap something up and put your name on it.
It doesn’t even have to be a gift with wrapping and a bow – even going to the mailbox and seeing your name on an envelope containing a Christmas card instead of yet another bill is a wonderful thing. It is sheer grace. Instead of asking for something from you, it simply regards you. It blesses you. It is a gesture of goodwill towards you, for you.
It isn’t necessarily greed or narcissism that makes all this such a thrill. It can be those things, for sure, but it can also simply be our human longing for connection, our longing to be known, our longing to be loved.
What are you getting for Christmas? There is a gift being given tonight. It is a gift from God. It is the gift of God. And it has your name on it.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the birth announcement went out. This birth announcement did not go out to kings and queens, to those with power and prestige. This birth announcement did not go out to the wealthy, to those who were the most prominent and respected. This birth announcement did not go out to the priests in the temple, to those who were the most spiritual or religious or devout. The birth announcement went out to shepherds. It went out to shepherds while they were at work, while they were putting in their shift in the fields, watching over their flocks by night.
This birth announcement came as a gift, and it had their name on it. This gift was for them! The angel giving this birth announcement said, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
We don’t even know the shepherds’ names. They were nobody in particular. And so they represent everybody! The shepherds represent you. As you hear this birth announcement, the gift is given to you. The angel said this was good news of great joy for all people, and so this gift has your name on it.
What are you getting for Christmas? “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” A savior is one who saves. The gift is the gift of salvation. The gift is the gift of God’s grace – for he has regarded you, he has seen you, he knows you, and he has come to you in the infant flesh of his Son to save you, to make you his own.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said to the shepherds. You don’t need to be afraid either. You don’t need to be afraid of this birth announcement from God, this message. God has not come to intimidate you. God has not come to frighten you into obedience. God has come to you in the most non-threatening way possible – as an infant. God has come to you as a baby so that instead of being afraid you would look upon him with love and with joy and with awe.
You don’t need to be afraid of this baby. In fact, because of this baby, you don’t need to be afraid about anything anymore! You don’t need to be afraid of your past, your sins, your failures, your regrets – for in him all is forgiven. That’s exactly what this savior has come to do, to forgive you! Yes, even for that. The daily anxieties about life that we all wrestle with dissolve away when we remember to lay them at his manger, remembering that because of this child, this Savior, we have God walking with us through everything that life can throw at us, giving us strength, giving us peace, giving us hope.
Because of this baby you don’t even need to be afraid of death, for he has come to defeat even our greatest fear. He has overcome death so that we might live with him forever.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. This is part of the gift. We don’t have to be afraid about anything anymore. He’s got us. He is God with us.
What are you getting for Christmas? God has remembered you. God has regarded you. God has blessed you with a gift. This gift from God is the gift of God. With the birth of Jesus God has given you himself, so that you would know the love of God in your life. God has cleared away every barrier to a relationship with him, a relationship where you are known completely and loved eternally. There is absolutely nothing standing in the way of this relationship. It comes as a gift, and make no mistake about it – the tag has your name on it.
This season brings with it a lot of hopes, a lot of expectations, a lot of longings, a lot of pressures, a lot of emotions, a lot of disappointments. But as we sang earlier in our service in O Little Town of Bethlehem: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The “thee” there, of course, is Jesus, the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us. His birth is good news of great joy for all people.
You may not think you need anything for Christmas this year, but God has seen your need for healing and for hope. God has seen your need for forgiveness. God has seen your need to be known and loved. God has seen the fears from which you need to be delivered.
And so for Christmas this year, God gives you the gift of a Savior, the gift of his Son – born for you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church