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Homily preached at Christ Church, La Plata, MD on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017.
Christmas Day – Selection I; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Please be seated.

Well, it's all over with. The weeks of preparation, the four weeks of Advent ended (just this morning), pageants and concerts, shopping, gift-wrapping, delivering, waiting for loved ones to come...it's all over, and now the celebrations can begin. There's no better way to celebrate this joyous night than by singing. In fact, there is an ancient legend about the angel chorus that is mentioned in tonight's Gospel reading.

One day, God called the angels of heaven together for a special choir rehearsal. God told them they had a special song to learn ... a song they would sing at a very special occasion. The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard … with great focus and intensity. To be truthful, some angels grumbled a bit ...but God insisted on a very high standard for this choir.

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally, God announced that they were ready...but then God shocked them a bit. God told them that they would sing this song only once...and only on one night. There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Again, angels grumbled. The song was so extraordinarily beautiful, and they had it down pat now...surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand.

Then one night, God called them together. They gathered above a field just outside of Bethlehem. "It's time," God said to them … and the angels sang their song. O my, did they sing it! "Glory to God in the highest...and on earth peace and good will toward all..." And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this one.
When the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why could they not sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right. Why couldn't they sing that great song anymore? "Because," God explained, "my son has been born...and now earth must do the singing!"

Once each year, Christmas comes around again to remind us that God's Son has come to earth ... and now we must do the singing! Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem us and reconcile us to the God who made us and loves us. We need to be set right with God and we need to be right with other people.

It is more blessed to give than to receive, but tonight we are blessed with the greatest gift of all -- the gift of Christ's arrival as a baby in the manger. Newborn infants are like Christ in that they both are innocent. Christ was free of sin, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. God reached out through Christ to embrace a sinful, hurting world. Luke wants us to ponder the events of this night to find ourselves full of wonder, to consider the possibility that we, too, might glorify and praise God for all we have experienced because of the life of Christ child.

Many of us have attended several parties this season, but Christ has given us the most important invitation of the season -- one from God with an RSVP. God made Christmas for us, but we must make Christmas our own. All the salvation of God is finished, but it isn't ours until we claim it. What we see and what we hear depends not on the event but upon us ourselves. We have two kingdoms to choose from -- God's and this world's. The world's kingdom is full of material wealth and material goods; whereas God's kingdom is represented by the shepherds. They had no time to worry about prestige and power. Their emphasis was on serving and caring. Christ's life is a good example of God's kingdom -- an example for all of us tonight. God is humbled out of love for us. We must humble ourselves out of love for God and each other. This love takes many forms, including serving the poor, the lonely, the oppressed and the less fortunate.

When God came in humility and became human, every human being became someone. Everyone has a name, everyone has value, an identity and dignity. Everyone can have a Savior -- all of this because of the Christ child born in Bethlehem. God has been at work in both ordinary and extraordinary events of life, creating places where we can encounter God in real, powerful, transformational ways. We find God in the worst kind of places on earth -- lowly mangers, the poor, the lowly, the oppressed and those who care for them.

Christmas can only be experienced through the eyes of faith. Only then can we look beyond our immediate world and see that God is here, and God is for everyone. The Gospel reading we heard tonight is good news for tough times, and it is just as hopeful and meaningful today as it was on that first Christmas Eve. God entered time and space on that first Christmas Eve. God became human in Jesus Christ. The Almighty came into human life.

The Christ child is for us, and the gifts of eternal life, God's healing, God's forgiveness, and new birth of love are for us. When we finally understand that Christ is for us, we take Christ into our arms and hold him. We hold Jesus in our arms and we understand, and when we understand, there is the “glow-ria” in our hearts, and we begin to sing the Gloria.
At Christmas, our hearts often yearn for home. That's why many of you travel great distances -- so you can be with those you love at this special time of year. After all, Christmas is a family celebration. That's why families come together at Christmas -- even if it means travelling long distances like the Holy Family did on that first Christmas.

People gather on Christmas Eve to stare silently to celebrate the star, the stable and the song of Him whose coming is the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness can't and won't overcome. Christmas comes each year as a reminder that peace is still possible. Goodwill speaks of love and acceptance and a desire for another's well-being.
Sometimes we get so busy with our own lives that we crowd out the birth of the Savior from our lives. We must let Christ into our Christmas. We must make the time and room for Jesus. We must let Him into our hearts and lives. We must let our hearts become a manger where the Christ child can be born afresh in us. Every year Jesus still searches for hearts to fill. The trouble is, Christ can only fill the space that we allow for Him. Will you make room in your heart for Jesus this season?

We also must let Jesus into our attitudes. It's not so much what we do as how we do it and why. Christ talked about attitudes and motivations because that's what He was interested in. God breaks into the midst of our business about other things, especially at Christmastime and does the best thing. Jesus breaks forth in our lives like a spotlight on a dark, dismal night and we can always look to Him in our lowest moment and celebrate Him even on the mountain tops of our lives.

There is a story about a cobbler, a godly man who made shoes in his humble shop. One night the cobbler dreamed that the next day Jesus was coming to his shop. He got up early the next morning and went to the woods to gather green boughs to decorate his shop to receive so great a guest. He waited all morning and the only thing that happened was that an old man shuffled up, asking to rest. The cobbler saw that his shoes were worn through, so he brought the man in. "I'll give you a new pair of shoes," he said and put on the old man the sturdiest shoes in the shop before sending him on his way.

He waited through the afternoon and the only happening was that an old woman under a heavy load of firewood came by. She was weary, and, out of compassion, he brought her in and gave her some of the food he had prepared for his special, anticipated guest. She ate with relish, for she was hungry. Refreshed, she went on her way.

At night came a lost child into his shop, crying bitterly. The cobbler was annoyed by the child's presence, because he felt it necessary to leave his shop and take the child to his home.

As he returned to his shop he was convinced that he had missed his Lord. Sadly, he sat down, and in his imagination, he lived through the moments with Jesus as he imagined they might have been. He thought to himself, What a great time it could have been.

He cried, Why is it, Lord, that your feet have delayed in coming? Have you forgotten that this was the day? Then softly in the silence a voice was heard: Lift up your heart for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was that beggar with bruised feet; I was the woman to whom you gave food to eat; and I was that homeless child on the street.

Have you ever received the wrong gift? Well, God gives the wrong gift in the wrong package to the wrong people. God identifies with our sorrows, weaknesses, sins-even in our death. God is there in those hours of our lives when it seems everything is wrong, when all is dark, when things just stink -- precisely when we need God the most. God wants to be reconciled with you and me, indeed with the whole world. God wants the whole world to know the love and peace of God, the kind that little Caesars and little gods can never give. God chose to be born into our world with all its faults because of them. God chose to come not into a palace, but into the squalor of humanity's injustice and cruelty to one another, with a family that wanders homeless, announced to shepherds in a pre-dawn stupor, in a place normally reserved for the animals. God came in the middle of a dying world to bring life, and we are sent into the middle of a dying world to announce God's presence and life.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, says: I have come to bring you peace, to teach you to walk in the paths of peace. I have come to teach you what you need to learn most -- to be a person of peace. Today, we often must look hard for the signs of God's peace, but they are all around us. Once we find it, we must accept it and put ourselves in the place of God's peace-the place where the Christ child is. Instead of looking at the baby in the manger, we must pick him up, embrace him, and make him our own. Only then will we have God's peace-the peace that offers hope in our difficult, hurting world.

The enjoyment of singing is one of the gifts that God has given to almost all of us. Singing is important at this time of year because it's the best way to communicate our deepest thoughts and emotions, especially since Christ's coming brought a new message of hope to humankind. Music tells us who we are. Its mystical qualities touch us to the core. Music is our offering of Thanksgiving and praise to God.

When the angels sang their chorus of joy on the night of Jesus' birth, they were singing a song that would conquer their enemies and overcome the power of death. They were singing a song of hope, of joy, of life, of peace. They were celebrating the greatest event in human history -- the time when Almighty God came down and walked upon this earth. We are being invited to join in the holy song that began in creation and continues in Christ. And as it will be our theme song in heaven, we would do well to get plenty of practice singing it here below.

Alleluia! To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!