And She Gave Birth

Christmas Eve 2020
Pastor Mark Aune

Luke 2:1-20

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen

Last year about a week after Christmas, I received an anonymous letter in which the writer expressed disappointment that my Christmas Eve sermon was too negative and because of that, it ruined the whole service for him or her.

What do you remember about Christmas Eve worship last year? We had four services in the sanctuary. About 2000 people worshipped together. We sang Silent Night in a darkened sanctuary filled with lighted candles and warmth. We ended the service by singing Joy to The World.

Like every year for the past 31 years, I thought it was wonderful and I got to do it four times. Worshipping together and hearing the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. Seeing all the people, saying Merry Christmas hundreds of times, knowing that each person there had some sort of struggle they were going through or some sort of heartache, yet they still showed up and they heard the Christmas story again.

In my sermon last year, I simply spoke the truth of what was going on in our lives at that time. That is what a theologian of the cross does, and I even made this statement – “I worry that 2020 will be a difficult year of politics in America and I’m not looking forward to it.”

That sure turned out to be a true statement and little did we know how incredibly difficult the year would be. And it was not just the politics. There was this strange Corona Virus that changed our world, our lives and it continues to do the same.

And the names; names we must not forget; the names of those who died from Covid, names like George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more. 2020 was an awakening for many of us, a reckoning and truth-telling that we must keep facing.

It has been a really hard year, on so many levels.

I’d love to wrap this Christmas up in one big fancy brightly covered box and say that everything is alright and just fine but then, you would see right through that and you know it is not true.

What will you miss about Christmas this year?

For me, and this may sound strange to you, I will miss leaving this building at midnight, together with my wife, after most of the lights are turned out and all the goodbyes and Merry Christmas’ have been said.

We are always the last people to leave along with the custodians on Christmas Eve, after having been here all day long. Walking out to an empty parking lot, into the cold December night still feeling the warmth and the glow of another Christmas at Augustana, tired and exhilarated at the same time. That is what I’ll miss.

And I will miss seeing you and sharing in this most holy of nights with people I love and care about as one of your pastors.

Yet even under these strange, unusual and difficult circumstances, we won’t actually miss Christmas. It is here, grounded in history, the story of God coming into this difficult and messy world we live in, to shine the light in the darkness.

Why do you think Luke begins the Christmas story with these words – In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Yes, politics were at play. Jesus was born into a real world, born to a human mother, his first breath the piecing cry of life that comes out of the mouth of a newborn baby. His cry was a message to the world that God had arrived. That God, who so loved the world, sent the only begotten Son into this world, into our lives.

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth.

Christmas is God’s message to us that you cannot stop life and love. It always finds a way. This life, this love, this child, born to Mary and Joseph in a small town, far from the bright lights, this life and love is the light for all people.

When Jesus appears in the fullness of flesh, few knew about it. God’s life on earth begins and only a few are witness to it. Mary, Joseph, some shepherds. In all the messiness and pain of human birth, the light of the world begins to shine.

There is much we will miss this Christmas, but we will not, we cannot not miss Christmas.

It has arrived and He is here.

The question for you and me is will we see him?

Will we take hold of this gift God has given?

Can we set aside the clutter, the disappointment of what we are unable to do and see with the eyes of faith that Christ is indeed born again.

And what is even harder for us to do is to see this gift and take hold of it when there is heartache and pain. When we see it with our own eyes and experience it with our own lives, knowing how real it is for so many.

This year it may be harder for us to take hold of this gift God gives, but that is what we need to do. Now more than ever. With both hands. With our whole heart.

To understand and accept in a new way that Jesus was sent to this world with a purpose – to come into the messiness and heartache of our lives; with healing, with hope, with God’s power that fills our hearts to overflowing so that we can stand up and keep moving and doing what God calls us to do each day; to live to love, to serve.

From his first breath in the manger to his last breath on the cross – Jesus makes it possible for us to breathe again, to live again, to love and serve again, to experience freedom once again.

When you light your candles tonight and sing those beloved words, silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, you will know in your heart of hearts that you have taken hold of God’s gift, that Christmas is here, it is yours and you did not miss it. You did not miss it at all.

And she gave birth – and the whole world said thanks be to God, thanks be to God. Amen

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