A Thrill of Hope

+ A sermon for Christmas Eve at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on December 24, 2019 +

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Audio: LINK

Christmas is one of those times when traditions often reign supreme.
We have these things that we do year after year that make it feel like Christmas. Things that connect us to the past.
christmas-feastMaybe it’s the food we eat, or the movies we watch, or the family we see, or the songs we sing.
And in the church, we have our own Christmas traditions: we gather at night with candlelight, we say the same words, we sing particular carols, and of course, we hear that same beloved story year after year.

Now, I admit, doing the same traditions each year can risk those rituals becoming rote—that we can just go through the motions without really thinking about what we’re doing.
With Christmas music on the radios and in the stores for the past few weeks, it’s entirely possible that we’ve heard the songs we will sing tonight dozens of times already this season.
And with the Christmas narrative so embedded in our collective consciousness, whether this is your first Christmas or your 90th, I bet nearly everyone in this room could recite at least the highlights of that story from memory.

But the beauty of these traditions, the beauty of doing the same things, of saying the same words, of singing the same songs, and hearing the same story is that they have a richness to them that is timeless.
Not only do they connect us to the past and make it feel like Christmas, they invite us to explore the depth of their wisdom.
They bid us draw deeply each time we listen and hear something different, hear something we need that year.
To let particular words or phrases speak to us in new ways.

This year, a phrase from a favorite Christmas song has been playing in my mind as I’ve been preparing for the season.
It’s the line from “O Holy Night” that goes: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”thrill-of-hope-carousel

And we know Jesus was born into a weary world on that night so long ago.
Born to a poor family living under foreign domination.
Born into an empire that demanded the people of this occupied land uproot their lives and travel so they could be more efficiently taxed and drafted into service.
Born into a world where peace was maintained through the threat of military might and opposition was met with death.
It was a weary world that desperately needed the hope this newborn savior would bring.
On that night, God came among us in the birth of that little child named Jesus.
On that night, the Word of God, the creator of the cosmos and source of all that is in the universe entered into human time in a frail little baby.
And as the baby grew, he walked with his people, taught them, healed them, and showed them God’s perfect vision for a world where all people can live together as equals in harmony and true peace.
He grew into the great leader whose self-professed mission was to bring good news to the poor, to liberate to those in bondage, to heal to the sick, and to resist all tyrants and systems of oppression.
It was this little child born in that backwater town that came to be the savior of all peoples.

But the mystery of Christmas is that we are not just commemorating something that happened two millennia ago, but something that is still happening.
We do not just remember that Jesus was born 2000 years ago, but we celebrate the ways Christ is still being born in our midst.
Tonight we are bearing witness to the mysteries of God being born as a little child, telling the story that is still speaking to the parts of us that desperately need to hear it.
Which is why this holy night is still a thrill of hope in which our weary world rejoices.

A world weary with political corruption, deepening division, and threats of war.
A world weary with people going hungry and living on the streets in one of the richest cities in the richest country on earth.
A world weary with worsening climate change, that now stands on the brink of ecological disaster.

A world where the people are weary too.
Where we are weary.
Wearied by overwork or underemployment.
Wearied by loneliness this season or the grief of a missing loved one.
Wearied by aging bodies or by diseases within us.
Wearied by depression or addictions.
Wearied by the effects of sexism and racism.
Wearied by secrets we are holding or by rejection from friends, family, or churches because of who we are or who we love.

Good-News-of-Great-Joy.cdcover-01-1-600x600It’s to these weary people in this weary world that the thrill of hope has come: “For see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day…a Savior, who is [Christ], the Lord.”
Today, the creator of the universe has come near to you in pure love.
Today is born for you a savior and in the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, we have hope.

Today we marvel at a God who chooses to come within our weariness.
A God who put on flesh and who claimed the title of Emmanuel: God with us.
A God who knows what it means to be human with all its joys and pains.
A God who knows what it means to live in our bodies.
A God who has personally felt rejection and grief and sickness.
A God who knows weariness and who stands with us.
A God who is still being born among us.
A God who is still coming to save us.
And because this is a celebration of something that is still happening, we get to look to see where God is still becoming incarnate today.

My friends, the beautiful mystery of this night is that Christ is born, is becoming incarnate within you and within me and within each of us.
In these weary bodies in this weary world, Christ is born. grca160
Tonight, we recognize our God taking flesh all around us.
In black bodies and brown bodies and refugee bodies. In old bodies and young bodies and frail bodies.
In female bodies and males bodies and transgender bodies.
In gay bodies and straight bodies and bisexual bodies.
In our neighbors’ bodies, in the bodies of those on the other side of the political spectrum, and even in our own imperfect bodies.
Tonight we marvel that Christ is made manifest in each of us and in all of us collectively as the Body of Christ.
That in all our weariness, God is with us and is within us.

The refrain of that favorite song bids us to fall on our knees this holy night, to worship our God who has done these things, to dwell in the mystery of our God who put on flesh and became human, to wonder how we have been made worthy to be bearers of Christ and his good news of great joy that is for all people.

But when we go from this place, we are also invited to join with those first witnesses of the incarnation, those shepherds who were themselves surely weary by their rejection from society and from working the night shift in the fields.
Those shepherds who, when they left the manger started proclaiming what they had seen to everyone they met sparking wonder and amazement and joy.
We are invited to join them as we go forth from this place to make known to the whole world what we have seen here: Christ born among us.
We go to preach unity in our shared humanity.
We go to build a world where all people are fed and have homes.
We go to heal God’s good creation.
We go to recognize Christ in our neighbor and to make Christ’s love for all people known in word and deed.
We go to join the work that brought Christ among us, to proclaim good news to the poor, to liberate those in captivity, to heal the suffering, and to topple oppressive systems.
We go full of that perfect vision our God, our Emmanuel, has for us.
We go bearing good news, bearing Christ within us, bearing that thrill of hope until this weary world rejoices at last.

Merry Christmas.

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