a christmas eve sermon

merry christmas!

I was thinking about what we would talk about tonight,
about the kinds of things you’d be wanting to hear,
about what I could say to help make Christmas become real and alive,
about what could help us all leave here differently than when we showed up,
and out of all the things that passed through my head,
the thing I kept coming back to was this story I heard a couple years ago,
it’s a story about a guy named Murdoch.
Yes, Murdoch.
His name alone makes it a story worth telling.
If anyone here is expecting a baby here, consider that name my gift to you.

Murdoch was the veterinarian for a chunk of rural New Brunswick;
he was the guy who’d get paged late at night for any emergencies on the farms.

Paging,
for all you kids born after the 90s,
was what we did before texting.

There was this one Christmas Eve when Murdoch and his family were at church,
when he got a page from a farmer who had a cow that was having trouble giving birth.
So knowing that it must be serious to force a call on Christmas Eve,
Murdoch did what some of us are probably wanting to do:
he snuck out of the church
and headed to the farm.

Unfortunately,
the weather had gotten pretty nasty.
Snow was coming down and the wind was blowing.
The roads had actually gotten so bad that Murdoch had to pull over and walk part of the way there.

By the time he finally knocked on that farmer’s door,
he could tell from the sad expression on the his face,
that he might be too late.

The cow,
he discovered,
was having a breeched birth,
which means the calf was coming out butt first instead of head first,
and the mother,
exhausted and in a pretty bad way herself,
seemed like she was giving up.

But Murdoch,
having come all that way in the snow,
and not wanting to go back and listen to the same sermon the minister gave every single Christmas Eve,
he went to work,
determined to save both their lives …

Now,
here’s the thing about delivering cows,
as you would discover if you ever chose,
unwisely,
to youtube it:
its messy, loud, and sweaty work.

After three hard hours of working with the cow,
Murdoch was finally able to birth the baby …
but as he laid him down on the straw,
he could tell the calf wasn’t breathing,
but then,
just as he was about to collapse in defeat and give in to the darkness he felt looming over him,
the mother nuzzled the baby and he began to breath,
eventually getting up to his feet, alive and well …

By the light of the old lantern hanging by the door,
and in the silence that had fallen over the barn,
Murdoch and the farmer watched in wonder and awe at the scene before them:
Everything had changed.
This barn,
half an hour ago a place of chaos, darkness, anxiety, and death,
was now this place full of peace, light, hope, and life.

//

When I was thinking about this, I didn’t really know why at first that story kept coming into my head.
But as I thought about it,
I think it’s because
to really get at what Christmas is about,
to really make it real and alive,
to really take it with us,
we need both the stories we heard tonight.

We need that first story …
that ancient story about a young couple being asked to help God carry out His plans for the universe;
that story about that special baby named Jesus, that baby who is actually God-with-us, coming down to open up a new way of being human and alive in this world;
that story about how God lovingly came into the world bringing a hope, joy, peace and love that liberates us from despair, darkness, chaos, and fear.

And we need that second story,
Murdoch’s story,
because it offers us something just as important:

Christmas isn’t just something that happened,
Christmas is something thats happening. 

//

Cause here’s the thing,
and if there’s just one thing Id love for you to remember,
it’s this:

What we’re doing here tonight isn’t just a commemoration of something that took place 2000 years ago.

What we’re doing, rather, is celebrating a reality,
a universal truth and wisdom,
something that every single one of us can hold on to right here and right now,

and that’s because Christmas is something we behold.
It is something we experience.

Just as Christmas is about how God came down to a dark and smelly barn in the middle of nowhere 2000 years ago …

its also about how God comes down to each one of us,
to the smelly places in our lives,
to the dark places in our world,
to those moments when we’re wrestling to birth life, change, and growth into our lives and worlds;
and in wonder and awe
and in the peace-filled silence that comes with it,
we hear God give us the beautiful and liberating message that is Christmas:

‘I am here. I am on your side. Everything is going to be okay. You dont have to live like that. It is not over yet.’

And just like on that first Christmas, we experience it more softly and quietly than anything else …

A beautiful sunrise after a terrible night – Christmas.
A stranger who shows up when you need help – Christmas.
A night free of anxiety or depression – Christmas.
A comforting presence when you are struggling – Christmas.
A new baby calf nursing after a difficult birth – Christmas.

Thats the reality we’re celebrating.
Thats the wisdom and truth we’re here to behold and experience.
Thats what Christmas is all about:

Its the experience of the light that is shining,
of the loving presence of the God is here, with us and for us.
and the knowledge that this is God’s world and we are not alone.

//

And so because this Christmas message is for us,
because that story is our story,
the only thing left for us to do here tonight is behold it.

Cause to truly celebrate Christmas, its not enough to simply get together, sing some songs, and then go back home exactly the same way we showed up.

To behold something,
to really experience it,
it means letting it in,
it means receiving it;
it means,
just like Mary, the Shepherds, and Murdoch did,
saying ‘yes,’
‘yes’ to a life and world where the impossible can happen,
a life and world where the preset isn’t despair, darkness and devastation, but hope, light and restoration.
a life and world where we live as if a light is shining and as if God is on our side.

Because its then,
when we let it in, receive it, and say yes,
that we take it with us,
that we let it change everything,
and we become that light ourselves,
shining for the world to behold.

//

So as finish up our time together,
may we behold the light of Christmas,
may you feel it,
may you see it,
may you know this light shines for you,
and may you behold the holiness of this night.

(O Holy Night)

And having experienced it, may we embrace it.
May we say ‘yes’ and let that peaceful silence send us out to be that light for the world.

(Candle lighting and Silent Night).