Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve Sermon

Sarah Keck
December 24, 2008 – Christmas Eve, 7 p.m.
Pilgrimage United Church of Christ (Marietta, GA)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

This well-known Advent hymn was written in remembrance of the cry of the Jews being held captive in Babylon in sixth century B.C. Come. Come. Emmanuel – God with us. Save us – Israel – from captivity. And God’s children cried out.

I think many of us can relate to “captive Israel.” What a year this has been. The U.S. is officially in a recession. Bailouts have been considered for Wall Street, the housing market and the automobile industry. Millions of jobs have been lost and homes been foreclosed. Food banks and pantries have bare shelves. Homeless shelters have no room. Millions more died of hunger and treatable diseases in the Third World. And God’s children cry out.

That mourns in lonely exile here.

How terrifying must it have been. Nothing tangible to prove God’s existence. There was no ark; no tablets etched with the Ten Commandments; no visible encounter with the living God. And God’s children cried out.

A recession can be a very lonely time. Every man – or woman – for themselves. Young families trying desperately not to lose houses and college funds. Older families trying desperately not to lose retirement funds. No help in sight. No end in sight. No relief for the millions in barren villages all around the world. And God’s children cry out.

Until the Son of God appear.

Wait. This sounds like hope. The Son of God is going to appear. In the flesh; walking on earth; tangible proof that God is with us and that we are not alone. The prophet Isaiah promised long ago: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6 NRSV)

Isaiah was right. Last Sunday we heard of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her that she would bear a son, the Son of God. And tonight Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem where she gave birth to her firstborn son, the Son of God. The Messiah. A savior. Emmanuel – God with us.

Okay, so maybe the captive Israel was saved, but what about us? What about God’s children who cry out today? Those who are struggling in the United States; those who wake up cold, hungry and sick all over the world; those who need Emmanuel now.

In the late 1700s biblical scholars started to turn away from religious models of looking at scripture and began to look with historical models. The “Quest for the Historical Jesus” was an attempt to piece together the biographical realities – the facts – of Jesus’ life – including his birth. Now here’s what I don’t like about this particular quest. “History” – to me – implies something of the past; something that the door is closed on; something that isn’t going to happen again. I don’t think that’s true when it comes to how we should view the Christmas story, how we should view the Christian faith, and how we should live our lives.

I think: When we celebrate Christmas tonight, this year and every year – when we sing the familiar hymns, when we hear the familiar stories and when we share in the familiar fellowship – we should do so as if the Son of God is born today, as if Emmanuel – God with us – is here, is with us now. Not celebrate something that has happened but celebrate something that is happening. As if the hope that Christ brought 2,000 years ago is being brought to us here today.

Rejoice!! Rejoice!! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel – God with us – is coming. There is hope. God’s grace, love and mercy will shower us all in the year to come.

Rejoice!! Merry Christmas.


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