Christmas Eve Sermon 2023
Lord God, we were in darkness and you have given us light and strength, peace and joy. May we experience this all over again tonight as we remember, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, Amen.
I once heard a story about a six year old boy who came up to the pastor after the service one Sunday and said to him, “Your jokes aren’t funny.” The boy ran off and a few minutes later he came back, saying, “And your sermons are boring.” He ran off again, and then came back one more time to say, “And they’re too long.” Finally, noticing all this from afar the boy’s mom came over from the other side of the sanctuary and said to the pastor, “Pastor, I’m so sorry that my son keeps interrupting you, I don’t know what he’s been saying to you, but he’s at this stage right now where he repeats everything I say.”
Pretty good, right? Friends, I’m guessing you weren’t expecting that.
One of the themes that runs through the Christmas story is that it is unexpected in almost every way.
On one hand, it’s unexpected from a big picture standpoint, as no other religion makes this bold and audacious claim, that God himself became human, that God himself became one of us. And yet, this is the central truth of the Christmas story, as Christians around the world retell the story of how long ago God came down in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s a story that is deeply unexpected.
And yet, it’s unexpected in its finer details too, whether it be the characters or setting or plot itself, all of it goes against our expectations for how this story ought to go, and in doing so, the Christmas story points us toward the answers as to what our God is like, who our God can use, and above all, to understand what on earth it was that he came here to do.
As altogether, we find this line running throughout the Christmas story itself:
At Christmas, God makes an unexpected entrance through unexpected people to accomplish an unexpected mission.
First, God makes an unexpected entrance
He was born not into royalty, but rather into poverty. Born not into power, but rather born as a baby. Born not in a palace, but rather born in a manger. Born not before fanfare, but rather into controversy.
This was an unexpected entrance indeed, and so very different from the story we would write ourselves.
After all, think about those moments when you wanted to make a strong first impression. Chances are you wanted to make a good impression during a recent job interview or maybe when you will be meeting your girlfriend or boyfriend’s parents or siblings for the first time this holiday weekend and you want to get things started on the right foot. We want to prove ourselves worthy, we want to make a strong entrance, as it were.
And yet, not so with God. The one who is all-powerful, came in weakness. The one who is perfect, came in humility. The one who is larger than life, became small. For he is gentle and humble in heart.
The one who is mighty to save entered this world in the most unexpected of ways. Where at Christmas
God makes an unexpected entrance … and he does so, secondly using unexpected people
At every turn, just about every character placed in the Christmas story is the person you’d least expect.
Chosen as Jesus’s parents were Mary and Joseph, two poor, uneducated, teenage parents.
The first to learn of Jesus’s birth and be responsible for sharing the good news about Jesus were shepherds who watched their flocks by night: the ordinary, the working class.
And those wise men who worshiped him were not religious leaders, but rather pagan astrologers: the wandering and searching and seeking.
God makes an unexpected entrance, using unexpected people to show us that Christmas is for anyone, anywhere, anytime. To show that Christmas is for both the poor and wealthy, both the forgotten and famous, both the weak and strong, both the helpful and helpless, both the successful and struggling. For God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things to display his extraordinary power and grace.
Using unexpected people to, most importantly, accomplish an unexpected mission.
What on earth exactly was it that Jesus came to do?
His father Joseph is told by an angel to give this baby boy “the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” It’s a reminder that at the heart of Christmas is a rescue, a redemption, a restoration, to bring us back to God. And yet, how will Jesus accomplish all this? How will it all take place?
Well, there’s a seemingly minor detail in the midst of it all. Where twice in our readings tonight we’re told that baby Jesus was wrapped in cloths, as the angels told the shepherds,
“You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
In one sense, it highlights before us that this newborn King was so utterly human that he needed his arms pinned by his side to fall asleep.
And yet there’s more. Pastor John Ortberg once made this stunning observation, noting that there are only three occasions on which Jesus is wrapped or unwrapped in cloths.
The first time is of course here, as a baby. The second is when he unwraps his outer clothing so that he can wash his disciples feet and serve them on the night before his death.
And the third is on Easter Sunday. Where after he had died, Jesus was wrapped in fine linen, buried in a tomb, only for disciples to later find that same tomb empty, with none other than linen cloths lying there. Friends, I can promise you one thing … they were not expecting that.
The Son of God, born in humility, crucified in infamy, wrapped in dignity, had risen victoriously.
As the one who was born, was born to serve, born to die.
Or as Jesus said himself, “The Son of God did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Born that we might be saved from our sin, so that we might live now and forever with him.
It’s a story of a God who makes an unexpected entrance, using unexpected people, to accomplish an unexpected mission, to present himself to us as … an unexpected gift.
One of the best parts of Christmas is when we gather around the tree and open presents, the gifts we’ve given one another. By the way, how many of us still have presents to wrap before tomorrow morning? There’s no shame in that. In fact, have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that we wrap presents in the first place? Maybe I’m turning into Ebenezer Scrooge here, but I sometimes feel like the whole thing is a waste of paper and time. And yet, think about what you’re doing when you wrap a present and then give it as a gift. You’re creating a moment of anticipation, a moment of surprise, to expect the unexpected. What is that under the tree? What’s behind all that wrapping paper? What kind of gift am I being given?
Well, on this Christmas Eve we find what might be an unexpected gift, Jesus himself, wrapped and unwrapped, waiting for you.
He’s a gift not simply because he’s unexpected, but even more so because what he’s offering you, you cannot earn. It’s a gift. Where as Christians, our standing before God is received as a gift through faith, not achieved through our own good works. Where obedience isn’t driven first and foremost by what we can do for God, but rather what God has done for you in Christ.
And so, what will you do with this gift, the greatest gift of all?
Maybe you weren’t expecting to be here tonight, you were brought here by a friend or family member, maybe you were even brought here against your will, but maybe, just maybe, you’re intrigued by this Jesus, the God you didn’t expect. Maybe explore further by grabbing one of the booklets in the narthex, it’s our gift, unwrapped for you.
Maybe this year has been filled with unexpected grief and yet, someway, somehow, God is using that grief to help you rely upon him and treasure him all the more. In your bulletin, you’ll find a connection card, where on it you can share a prayer request and a couple dozen or so folks from our church will be lifting it up in prayer later this week.
Or maybe you’ve been following Jesus for a long time now and you’re used to expecting the unexpected with him. Unexpected joy, unexpected twists and turns. In the midst of it all, maybe consider how you can draw all the closer to the God who continually, wonderfully, unexpectedly, draws near to you?
At Christmas we find in Jesus a God who makes an unexpected entrance, who uses unexpected people, to accomplish an unexpected mission which altogether makes for an unexpected gift, wrapped and unwrapped, waiting for you.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Friends, we’ve said it before, we can’t say enough. Merry Christmas you all. “Merry Christmas!”
Father in heaven, help us to acknowledge that the great joy of Christmas is Christ himself. May we receive him for the first time, or in a fresh way all over again as the great gift of Christmas and may we gladly declare that our hearts were made for him. It’s in Jesus’s name we pray, Amen. (Mathis)