Over the past few weeks, I have
overheard many folks saying something like, “I can’t
believe it’s Christmas already.” Some of us wish
family and friends a “Merry Christmas” with as much
gusto as Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he
learns that he did, in fact, get the Daisy Model
1938 Red Ryder BB gun. Still others, for whatever
reasons, share in the Grinch’s initial annoyance of
the Christmas season, wishing our favorite hangouts
would stop playing Mariah Carey’s “All I want for
Christmas is You” and our neighbors would finally
take down those decorations that now say, “Erry C-st-as.”
Then there are us church calendar dweebs who
promptly reply to every "Merry Christmas" during the
Advent season with, "Not yet!"
Wherever we may fall on the
enthusiasm spectrum of Christmas, we all find
ourselves here for worship on this the holiest of
nights for Christians. Whether we are waiting for
family to arrive from out of town, are fidgeting in
our pews with enough excited energy coursing through
our veins to light up Lincoln and Who-ville while
looking forward to opening all the gifts under our
Christmas tree, or are anticipating grandma’s
homemade noodles and dreading aunt Bertha's
stuffing—which by the way, the dog won't even eat….
Or whether you will spend the next twenty-four hours
keeping busy so you don’t get too lost in the
sadness or madness of it all—
you are here
and together, we listen to the Christmas story once again.
On this quiet night, amidst the
darkness, we walk with Joseph back to his hometown
On this silent night, we hold our
breath and pace the waiting room while Mary pushes
and breathes her way through labor.
On this holy night, beneath a canopy
of celestial beauty, we keep watch with the
shepherds, looking for the angelic promise.
And, on the night full of wonderment
and joy, we sit and ponder “these words” with
Mary—we are reminded of what this night—and why we
are here—is all about:
the JOY for
It is a message that stirs up
feelings similar to those when returning home for
the first time after you leave: comforting because
it is familiar but also strange because it isn’t
what it used to be.
Comforting because the good news the
angel brings to the shepherds is full of hope and
joy—promising a new reality—a new way of being in
Strange in that—nothing has really
changed, right? Nations continue to be at odds with
one another; political leaders continue to deny
human beings their basic rights and their dignity;
life remains just downright brutal.
And yet, despite the inn being full,
an angel finds the shepherds working third shift in
their fields and declares to them that God is about
to reveal God’s-self to the world.
As the Christmas story did way back
then, so the Evangelist does now—to remind us that
the fullness of time has come—that despite the wars
and rumors of wars, both communally and
individually, God has gifted us with life. God has
unwrapped for us the Mystery that was, is, and will
always be… the mystery that guides humanity and all
of creation… the mystery that the Promised one, who
is the manifestation of LOVE, has come—not to
condemn us or remove us from this earth—but instead
to rescue us, to reveal to us the way of God, which
is a love rooted in patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, and—you guessed it—unconditional love.
However, the great joy proclaimed by
angels and received by shepherds was announced then,
as it is now, in the midst of a vast indefinite roar
of armies on the move and restlessness of angry mobs
and constant chatter from the crowds and can only be
heard if we decide to listen for it.
What exactly are we listening for, you ask?
We are listening for the “Good News,”
the Great Joy, which comes neither in the form of a
royal birth, with all the pomp and circumstance nor
is first proclaimed to the rich and the famous.
Instead, the Great Joy is first announced in
silence, loneliness, and darkness to shepherds
“living in the fields” or “living in the
countryside,” who were apparently unmoved by the
demands of the emperor to register for the census.
The Great Joy announced to ordinary
shepherds is the same good news proclaimed to us in
a town like Lincoln, Illinois—that God came to us
because God wanted to join us on the road, to listen
to our story, and to help us realize that we are not
walking circles but moving toward the house of peace
Tonight—but for a moment—all is well in our corner
of the world, and the darkness is peeled back,
allowing the light to touch the coldest and
loneliest places of our hearts.
Friends, that is the great mystery of
Christmas that continues to offer us comfort and
consolation: we are not alone in our journey. In the
Christ event, the incarnation reveals the mystery of
Life. The God of love, who gave us life, became
human not just to a people back then but for a
people at all times and in all places so that we
never have to feel lost in our struggles and can
always trust that God walks with us.
The challenge, however, is to let God
be who God is. A part of us clings to our aloneness,
to our selfishness, or to our mistaken hopefulness,
which can (and often does) prevent God from touching
us where we are most in pain. So, we try to hide
from God; we do whatever we can to protect from God
precisely those places in ourselves where we feel
guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.
We do not give God a chance to be
with us where we feel most alone.
Therein lies the great joy of this
Christmas story—that we need never be afraid to
welcome the Christ, whose love is greater than our
own hearts and minds can comprehend, to be our
So, I ask, church, shall we receive
good news with open hearts?
Shall we allow the poetry of this
night transform us from cynics to romantics,
believing that in the Christ child (as with all
children) a new life and a new hope coming into an
old and weary world offers us a new vision, one that
reveals that if there is beauty anywhere, it is here
tonight as it was then?
My guess is that if we say, “Yes,” we
will become living lights and will forever sing to
the glory of God with shepherds, with angels, and
with all of God’s people in every time and place
—that unto us a savior is born!
May it be so. Amen.
[Adam Quinn, pastor at First
Presbyterian Church in Lincoln]