Titus 2: 11-14
LUKE 2: 1-16


Do you hear what I hear? Ringing through the sky shepherd boy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS CHURCH … I came into church ringing a bell with joy … a bell that my dear Aunt Hazel had on her farm for decades … our church bell rang out again this evening joyfully celebrating our presence here in worship … and I want to ask each of you do you hear what I hear because across the globe from the frozen tundra of the Ukraine where brave souls fight to preserve their freedom to the palaces of the wealthiest humans … songs of the season are being played and/or sung.

Some sing those songs as a worship tribute that connects them with God whereas others make it merely a tradition along with their chastisement of folks who say Happy Holidays as a greeting. I would hope that each of us tonight renews our joy-filled God connection because the everlasting benefits of walking our days with God certainly outlast anything the cold world attempts to push down on us.

I again sense a spirit that all too many limit to the once and done season of rushed shopping and debated meal planning. Of cookie baking and movie watching. It is Christmas again! A season of tossed away piles of wrapping paper and of uniquely crowded churches. A season when it’s ok to mention Jesus publicly and in fact, many who have never paused to read the life enriching Gospels are quick to be critical of those who does not include Christ in Christmas.

And, in the midst of all these realities we will sing Silent Night Holy Night and for a brief 3 to 5 minutes all will be calm and perhaps you will join me in those seconds as I focus in on God’s love … God’s gift … the joy in knowing that the Creator of the entire universe had such incredible love that God gifted ALL of humanity including me and you… not just a selected few … with Jesus. Silent Holy Night … doesn’t it make you feel good when all is calm and you’re not focused in on judging your neighbors? Through the years one of the questions I am most frequently asked about church Christmas Eve services is … are you going to do that Silent Night candle thing … yes, someone used those exact words a couple of weeks ago to me … the candle thing. But maybe this year with the candles lit … it will be more than a candle thing.

A Messiah born in poverty not in the comforts of wealth … Friends, Jesus does not remain a baby so when you pack away the year 2022 ornaments and you pack away the crèches that were passed down to you by some prior generation … I strongly believe that this has to be the Christmas season in which you make the active decision not to pack away Jesus Christ … but instead to make THE active and personal decision to become one of the all ye faithful group … and to acknowledge that the child God delivered to you is more than a baby away in a manger but the One Messiah … the Savior who rescues humans or as we church folks say ‘saves you’ from the downfalls of the human condition. The lessons of faith … your opportunity to walk humbly each day with a God who loves you … we have reached a point in history where the convenience of packing away God and Christ and faith no longer is a viable option. We have fallen on days so dark that the Light of Christ needs to be released again with a full force of blessing.

One of my favorite Christian singers, Toby Mac, recently posted this quote from the late Reverend Billy Graham, “Don’t leave Jesus in the manger. Don’t remember Him only at Christmas. Instead, learn to walk with Him every day.”

That’s the real reason for the Christmas holiday … Scriptures don’t emphasize the birthing of Jesus. Only two Gospels even mention the birth of Jesus with Luke providing the detailed history. Christmas is a reminder of God’s loving gift … but we are to take the gift and put God’s gift to use … not begrudgingly but with joy … allowing an internal peace to help us survive the tough realities of the world and leave people wanting to have what we have. “The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to ALL people … ALL … God’s grace; God’s love … our first reading tonight reminding us that regardless of what some power-focused individuals or what some religious loud voices might say … GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE EQUALLLY and offers ALL of us Salvation, an eternity in heaven, and it began with the baby born of Mary in the dusty, dirty, and smelly manger with amongst the first scents that Jesus breathed in those of sweaty shepherds eager to see God’s gift, the babe … after hearing the angels proclaim, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And, this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger!”


And, “they came with haste!” Can you just imagine their joy when they saw what the angels in the sky had told them was true? JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME!!!

It’s hard not to be filled with joy when you think about the birth of Jesus on Christmas morn … don’t you want to get on your feet with the biggest smile you possess on your face and join the angels chorus shouting GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST JOY TO THE WORLD … and then being deliberate about using your faith to bring peace and good will towards all of humanity, loving ALL of them because ALL are loved by God …. Jesus came for ALL and as Jesus told Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes is NOT JUDGED!”

As my friend Paul O’Neill wrote in his lyrics to TSO’s song Believe, “And, for all the years you borrowed. And, for all the tears you hide and for all the fears you had to keep inside. I am the way! I am the light! Don’t turn away just take my hand … I’ll be right there, I’ll never leave and all I ask of you … Believe.”

We lose our viability when we decide the world matters more than God. We lose the opportunity to gain a peace that goes beyond human understanding when we chase the almighty dollar or the promotion at work or imaginary future scholarships for the kids at the expense of tossing Baby Jesus away with the wrapping paper!!

God gave us Jesus to pretty much save us from ourselves … yet, so many who get exposed to Christ celebrations like Christmas or come to church on Easter choose to hide Jesus away and swallow their own tears and pain without the comfort that faith and belief brings. Stumbling in darkness they more often than not choose to avoid church … dismiss prayer … never open their always available Bible apps preferring instead some bloody series on HBO, PRIME or NETFLIX saying they have no time to read what Jesus had to say about life but did you see that latest series on TV …

And, friends I can’t excuse the church of the 21st century in this matter either because all too many churches have become focused on judgement or insuring only people inside the building’s special club are given the power not those who are different than the club members. They do this even when alleging that they know Scripture that teaches ALL were created equally … ALL loved equally… and that Jesus did not come to judge. These places miss out on the joy that comes from worship and extends to life.

So, on this Christmas Eve I want you to hear what I hear … I want you to imagine the shepherds joy and amazement because after they experienced that first Christmas we read that they shared the stories of the angels … of Jesus … and those who heard were filled with wonder and joy! And, those dirty, sweaty, dusty, and overly tired shepherds returned to their flocks glorifying and praising God!!!

Can you hear their joy …. They were probably ringing bells … shouting and clapping … and if the song had been written they’d know which Joy to the World to sing and it wouldn’t be about a bullfrog but it would be about the Son of God, Jesus Christ. JOY to the world! You’ll get to sing it in a minute or two.

This church, St. Paul’s, believes in the teaching of Jesus Christ that we are to love God and all of our neighbors are to be loved with passion; welcome ALL with warmth and not judgment. We worship with joy and we go into the world trying to find a way to care for the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the broken and those who are struggling. If you are looking for a place to discover Christmas 365 days a year … here it is but be ready to be joy-filled … be ready to be caring … be ready to discover an inner peace that you can’t quite understand … those are the gifts of the season of Christmas and can be found anywhere on earth but if you are in the neighborhood we’d love to have you join us!

Jesus Christ was born a long time ago but Jesus is always alive and with us today!!! JOY TO THE WORLD …. THE LORD HAS COME … it’s time for us to receive our true King! AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ