We Tell This Story - Christmas Eve
“We Tell This Story”
December 25, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Luke 1:1-20, John 1:1-14
Every year, this same evening comes back. Its magic. Its glow. Its anticipation. Its beauty. Its story.
Its same story that we know so well. The same story we’ve acted out in pageants over and over again, sometimes with pigs, sometimes with bunnies, always with love. It’s the same story we have depicted in little figurines in nativity scenes on our tables at home, on Christmas cards we send back and forth, and in songs we hum as we bake cookies.
What is it about this story that keeps us coming back to its glow year after year?
We’ve heard about the birth of Jesus every year of our life in some form or another. Why do we still get goosebumps when we hear it read on Christmas Eve?
I have theory. Yes, the lights are pretty, it’s fun and special to come to church at night, standing in a room full of people holding candles is an experience like none other. But I think there’s another reason why we come back every year.
I think it’s because this story that we tell about this baby, is actually the story that defines us.
This is the story that says we are not alone. That God, that far-away, transcendent, all-powerful being somewhere out there, actually wanted to be with us, here, in this place, in this flesh, in this body, in a relationship with us, human to human, in this messy, wonderful, crazy life.
And there is nothing more beautiful than that.
We’ve been telling this story over and over again for generations because this is the moment that God broke all the rules and came alongside us in a person called Jesus, a real live human who could cry real live tears with us, who could hold our real live hands, invite us to his dinner at his table when no one else would, who could share his joy, see our wounds, walk beside us in our journeys, and eventually die our same death.
And those who witnessed this incredible story of Jesus told their children and their children told their children and their children told their children. And for generations we’ve passed down this story because this story changes everything. God is no longer far away. We are no longer alone. God is right here. In our hugs, in our hands reaching out for other hands, in our tears, at our dinner tables when we make room for one more. This story, passed down through the generations tells us that God is in relationship with us and that God lives on when we are in relationship with each other.
This Advent, I asked you about your generations. Who taught you about this story? Who helped you to understand that you are not alone. That God is alive in our relationships with each other? These pictures that you brought in capture that story as it continues. Stories of overcoming hardship together; stories of being incorporated into families not connected by blood, but by love; stories of parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, children, friends; stories of mentors and mentees; stories of baptisms, and soccer games, Christmas pageants and weddings.
We could all add pictures to this altar. We all have people in our lives who taught us what it meant to be there for each other. We all have people who, whether through actions or words, passed down this story to us. The story that because of tonight, because of Christmas, because of the incarnation of God into a human called Jesus, God desires to have a relationship with us, and to see us have relationships with each other. In our hugs, in our hands, in our tears, at our dinner tables. Christ only lives on today when we show up for one another.
You have come to Christmas Eve tonight, I believe, because you understand that this story doesn’t stop with you. That we, all of us, have the honor and duty of keeping this story going. We do it with our traditions, our candlelight, our pageants, our songs. But most importantly, we tell this story by the way we act toward others.
The reason why this story (hold up the baby Jesus figurine) and our stories are so closely related is because God is not done being in relationship with this world yet. There are too many people who feel alone right now. There are too many people who feel like they are not enough right now. There are too many people who feel like they’ve been pushed out, left behind, and judged unworthy right now for God to be done with this world.
If this is a story so important to us, so defining to our lives. Then God is depending on us to keep the story going for everyone who has not yet felt that kind of love. Not just in our pageants and our nativity scenes and our pretty candle light, but in the ways we actually show compassion and care to the world around us through our relationships. We keep this story going by fighting for those who have no fight left. By providing warm beds for those who have no homes. By making longer dinner tables when there are people who eat alone. By saying to each and every child that God loves them just the way they are. By establishing this space as sacred space where everyone is included and welcomed, no matter what. When God was born as a baby on Christmas, this is the story that began. A story of compassion and relationship with all the world. This is the story we must continue to tell.
And so, on this most holy night, we light candles of hope that we might keep the truth of the Christmas story alive. That we might weave our story together with the stories of all of the past generations as we proclaim that God is indeed with us, all of us, that no one is left behind and that we are never alone, none of us. We proclaim this truth tonight so that on all of the other 364 days and nights of the year when these candles are not burning, we still know what the real work of Christmas is: to leave no one behind. To show up for one another as God shows up for us.
Call to action: one way we can tell this Christmas story is by supporting the work of housing the homeless. Warnerville UMC, one of our sister congregations, is a fighting hard to reopen the doors to a warming station at their church. You can support their effort to appeal a decision by the local government to shut down this ministry by signing this petition: https://forms.gle/By81ygrjDpuZsYDj6.
Now hear these prophetic words from theologian Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Let us pray.
Author of our lives, we admit that there is something so marvelous and wonderful about this night: the glow of the candlelight, and the fam iliar hymns, the kids that are wound tight with contagious, joyful energy, the feeling that something we’ve been waiting for just might be within reach.
Joy and hope are in the air— so thick we could almost bottle it up.
But we don’t want to bottle up this feeling; we want to share it. We want to share the joy of this night
with the children of this city, with single parents, with lonely young adults, with our unhoused neighbors, with those who are grieving, with people who couldn’t quite make it home for Christmas.
We want to share this hope with people who had imagined that this year would be different, that this year they would have what they were looking for. We want to share this night with families who couldn’t afford to put much under the tree, as well as with those who are new to this country— fleeing a life that was unsafe or unwelcoming.
We don’t want to bottle up the magic of this night; we want to share it. We want to pour your good news all over this community. We want to sing like Mary sang, until all who are looking for you have found their way home.
So help us live like the shepherds—who weren’t afraid to go and tell the good news. Help us take the words of the angels to heart—to not be afraid. Help us to be as trusting as Joseph—who chose to believe the impossible. But more than anything, give us the courage and conviction to tell this story.
In a hurting world so desperate for hope, we have something to say.
Joy and hope are in the air— so thick we could almost bottle it up. But we don’t want to bottle up this feeling; we want to share it.