Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
This fall my son and his wife announced they expect their fourth child to be born sometime in May 2021. My wife and I were a little surprised. They already have three active and noisy little girls under foot. But what will be will be.
My daughter-in-law has regular checkups with her physician. As is common now days, she has tests to determine the baby’s health to this point in the gestation process. Afterwards, my son shows us the sonogram results. A sonogram produces a shadow picture of the child in the womb. The image he provides displayed the perfect silhouette of a little face. If we want to know what the baby will look like, there she will be. We look forward to seeing the baby in January.
Any time a baby arrives in a family many changes must be made in advance of the birth. For example, my son needed to find a new family car to accommodate three, bulky child safety seats. In addition, they bought a suitable bunk bed for the two older girls and created a nursery in another bedroom for the baby. They return to square one pulling bassinets, baby chairs, diapers and bottles out of storage.
A new arrival in a family raises many questions. A family wonders whether the child will be a girl or a boy. The subject of the newborn’s name inevitably arises. I am sure parents wonder too how this child’s life shall unfold over time. We are curious about their personality, education, career, and marriage. These questions will only be answered over time.
This evening, on Christmas eve, the family of God gathers to reflect on the birth of the Christ child. In one sense, there is nothing unusual about what we do tonight. We celebrate birthdays all of the time. A birthday party becomes a time for giving presents and the gathering of friends and family. But once the birthday celebration is over everyone goes home and the next day its back to business as usual. The party becomes a pleasant memory.
Tonight, I suggest Christmas is much more than a birthday celebration. For both obvious and significant reasons, we want to distinguish between a birthday celebration and the actual birth of a child. I am sure some folks will say I am stating the obvious. The birth of a child can be a sometimes traumatic event, especially for the mother and father. Their lives change forever, as that child is born. A new life appears before them, demanding constant attention. The child must be fed, cleaned and cared for. I
Now here is the point I hope to make. Most people approach Christmas, as if it is one big birthday celebration. We buy presents, party and sing songs. The day after Christmas, the decorations come down, the gifts are put away and life continues much as it did before the Christmas birthday celebration.
Scripture teaches us; however, Christmas is an event far greater than any birthday celebration with party and decorations. Instead, scripture believes Christ does indeed come again in the present moment; we must be ready to receive him not as guest, but as family member. He is here to stay. Our lives are irrevocably changed. This is a present event.
For the past four weeks of Advent, we proclaimed Christ coming. You recall last Easter we affirmed the resurrection of Christ. We believe he comes this Christmas eve. The model for Christ coming in not a birthday celebration that remembers an event happening long ago. Instead, we say Christ arrives this evening for each of us. He appears, as the newborn Christ child. The big question is this. But are we, like the parents of a newborn, ready to receive him? Are we ready to make changes? Do we open our lives to his presence? Is this a present event.
Think of it this way. An observance and an event are different from each other. A birthday is an observance of things past. We recollect an occasion that happened some time ago, but now is finished. An observance remains a relic of the past. An event has an entirely different character. Events happen now; they are alive in the present. Let me illustrate what I mean.
This past week, while shopping at Barnes and Noble, I came upon a Christmas book, titled, An Invisible Thread. The book tells the true story of Laura Schroff, a business executive, living in New York City. One day, as she hurries to work, an eleven-year-old boy by the name of Maurice approaches her and asks, if she has any spare change. Maurice is hungry. He and his two sisters, mother and grandmother lived in a single room at a shelter hotel, a place for the homeless. He has nothing at all.
At first Laura Schroff ignores the boy and keeps walking. Then she stops, turns around and asks him, if she could get him something to eat. The boy isn’t sure how to respond, but he is hungry and agrees to go with her. She buys him a cheeseburger, fries, and milk shake. A friendship grows out of this encounter; Laura takes the boy to dinner every Monday night.
At one dinner in early December, Laura asks Maurice what he will do at Christmas. He shrugs. He has never celebrated Christmas nor even received a gift. She asks, if he would come to her family Christmas dinner and he says yes. On Christmas day Maurice accompanies Laura to her family home for the meal. He even finds Christmas presents just for him under the Christmas tree. That evening was his first true Christmas. But Christmas does not stop for Maurice on that day. Instead, Laura and Maurice maintain their relationship for thirty years. He grows-up, marries and has children of his own. A chance encounter turned into a transforming relationship.
Laura Schroff could simply have handed that eleven-year-old boy a five-dollar bill to buy food, but she didn’t. She took him to lunch. She created a place for him in her life. We remember scripture teaches us Christ comes when we least expect him. Jesus appears in the person of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the lonely. Christ came to Laura in Maurice and she welcomed him not for a moment, but a lifetime. Now that was quite an event.
Two thousand years ago a star announces the coming of the Christ child. That child was born in, of all places, a barn in Bethlehem. We affirm tonight Christ returns; he comes to us when we least expect him and through unlikely people. He comes not for a moment, but for a lifetime. Christmas is an event. It is as if a child born to us, stays with us. We should be ready to greet him, not only this evening, but for our lives. We make a permanent place for him. He, in turn, transforms us. Tomorrow is not business as usual, but a transformative, ongoing event. Welcome the living Christ into your life this Christmas Eve. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.