Good evening, and welcome. It is my joy to welcome you here tonight. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your belief or unbelief, we’re glad you came to celebrate on this holy Christmas Eve.
Tonight you will hear nine lessons which trace the story of God’s love and God’s unrelenting desire that humankind receive this love and live from this love, and live in peace with God and one another. It is a story of loss and hope. A story of darkness and light. A story of call and fear and courage. From Adam and Eve, to faithful Abraham, to the people and prophets of Israel, to Mary and Joseph, to the angels and shepherds, to the foreign magi bearing gifts for the newborn Jewish king, it is a story that overflows with good news in the midst of bad news, because the golden thread that runs through it is God’s determination to be God for us, and with us, and through us.
I am especially drawn tonight by the fact that Mary and Joseph, these Jewish peasants make their way to Bethlehem to be registered so that they can pay their taxes to the Holy Roman Empire. We have heard a lot of talk about taxes of late. Mary and Joseph register to pay their taxes so that the Empire can pay for an army who will keep the peace among all these subjects whose homelands they have forcibly taken. It is not a true peace. Injustices multiply. Power is abused. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And after thousands of years of human history, we are tempted to settle, tempted to overlook certain realities right under our noses, tempted to say this is the best we can do to live peaceably and justly and kindly together.
But tonight we hear another story about another way to live. Mary labors and gives birth to her son, far from home, in the dark and the cold, and Joseph shoos the animals away from the feeding trough so that they can make a crib in the spittled hay for their baby. And the angels sing and announce to scraggly shepherds that in this baby, God’s true peace and love and goodwill have been birthed for all the world’s people, for every single person
And the climax of tonight’s love story is not found in the birth of Jesus as told by Luke, but in John’s gospel where we learn that the whole long love story has taken place so that we might be re-born as children of God. As people of light. People of peace. People of good will toward each other and toward every person. God’s son is born and laid in a feeding trough, he grows up, lives, loves, dies, and lives again so that we might be re-born through God’s Spirit. You—your life, your love, your desire, are the climax of the story.
So it is good that you are here tonight to hear this love story, and to know God’s desires and God’s love for you and the world, and to let yourself imagine what has become possible because of this love.