Love Has Come

December 24, 2021 / Christmas Eve / Richard Holmer

First Reading Isaiah 9:2-7 / Second Reading Titus 2:11-14 / Gospel Luke 2:1-20

2021-12-24 Christmas Eve
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Love Has Come

By the time Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem they had to be tired – not just tired: exhausted. They had to travel about 90 miles to get from Nazareth down to Bethlehem. Tradition pictures Joseph leading Mary as she rides on a donkey – but Luke’s narrative makes no mention of a donkey. It’s likely they both walked the whole way. One summer, back when I was in Boy Scouts our troop took a week to earn the hiking merit badge. Monday through Friday we did a 10 mile hike each day. Then we went away for a campout where we did a 20 mile hike each day. We did 90 miles in seven days – and after that last hike we were all bushed. And none of us was 8 ½ months pregnant! Mary and Joseph were probably on the road 7-10 days. They arrived at Bethlehem bone tired. What’s more, they were probably tired of all the whispering and gossiping about how Mary was pregnant before her wedding to Joseph. And I’m sure they were weary from living under the weight of Roman oppression. After all, the whole reason they had to go to Bethlehem was because Caesar Augustus ordered it. They had to go to be enrolled as taxpayers, taxes to be paid to the Roman Empire. All said, Mary and Joseph had to be tired in body and soul.

Many of us are tired as well these days. We’re weary of this pandemic and all that it entails. Fatigued at the thought of coping with yet another surge of infection. And we’re tired of all the rancor and acrimony brought about by the pandemic. And we are made weary by bad news, whether it’s news of natural disasters, or rising inflation, or school shootings, or ineffective and self-centered politicians. We are all too familiar with fatigue.

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What grace, then, did God offer to those weary travelers upon arrival in Bethlehem? Certainly not much by way of physical comfort. There was no warm, soft bed waiting for Mary and Joseph – just a cold drafty stable. And no Christmas gifts, either. The wise men showed up much later with their treasures. The grace for that tired couple was contained in the child that Mary carried in her womb from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem the time came for Mary to be delivered – and she gave birth to a son – gave birth to good news of great joy, joy that arrived not only for Mary and Joseph, but for all the people – especially for those who needed it most. This wondrous news wasn’t first announced in Rome or Athens – not even in Jerusalem. The news would reach all those places eventually. But the breaking news came first to the little backwater town of Bethlehem. It came first to some very plain and ordinary commoners: to a teenage mother and her carpenter fiancé, to a bunch of scruffy shepherds. What’s the good news? Just this: Almighty God has come down to earth. God has come in person to be with us and for us. God has come not to condemn or to punish, but to love us and save us and free us. God shows up: to love us where we are, as we are.

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The good news of great joy is all about the gracious love of God for every last one of us.

What’s special about Christmas? Beyond all the holiday hoopla and traditions, what’s the gravitational force that draws us to be home for Christmas – and to be here tonight for worship? It is the compelling power and warmth of genuine love. We all have many wants and wishes, yet what we need above all else is to be loved.

Over the years, what I recall from dozens of Christmas holidays is not the decoration or presents given and received. What is memorable is the simple yet profound joy of being gathered with people I know and love – people who know and love me. It’s the coming together with people like all of you, with many family members, to worship and enjoy the blessing of love that comes to us in Jesus Christ. Back in 1943 a song was written from the point of view of a soldier serving overseas in World War II.

I’ll be home for Christmas,

You can plan on me.

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the lovelight gleams.

I’ll be home for Christmas,

If only in my dreams.

Our hearts are instinctively drawn to where the lovelight gleams. Christmas is when God pierced the darkness with radiant, pure light. Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. In him is the light of holy, compassionate, steadfast love. Ultimately, all love is from God, because God is love. Nothing brings us joy like the experience of being loved – the assurance that we are deeply and forever cherished, just as we are. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

“One who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

We can bear just about anything when we know we are loved. On the other hand, in the absence of such assurance, life can be a dismal and barren journey. The exhausted Mary held the baby Jesus in her arms, cuddling him with a mother’s love. And that baby is also the assurance that God is holding Mary – and every one of us in his loving arms.

“The eternal God is your home, and underneath are God’s everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

Because they had a holy and blessed why, Mary and Joseph were able to put up with any how. The same is true for all of us who know nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. We can bear frustration and disappointment and sorrow and pain – because love, God’s gracious love, makes life worth living.

True love is not generic like a greeting card – it is deeply personal. The good news of Christmas is that God shows up in person – not some spokesperson, a prophet or a priest or a preacher talking about God – but God, live and in person. It was personal for Mary and Joseph, and for those shepherds who just had to see this great thing with their own eyes. It’s personal for you and me as well. Jesus Christ is born for you. God’s love comes directly to you.

When you come to receive Holy Communion, form your hands in the shape of a manger. In that manger will be placed the Body of Christ, your loving Lord and Savior. Hear the good news: “The Body of Christ, given for you.”

Whatever may be weighing on your heart, whatever burden you are carrying, take this good news of great joy to heart:

The love of God has come to earth, come to stay.

Christ is born for you!

Thanks be to God.