A MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE

“The Holiness of the Ordinary”

 

Presented at Resurrection Lutheran Church on Christmas Eve 2004 by Pastor Jim Kniseley

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector?  He was short of stature and had to climb a sycamore tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  And Jesus stopped under that tree and said, “Zacchaeus, you come down from that sycamore tree, for I’m coming to your house today.  Scripture tells us that it wasn’t long after that Zacchaeus became a follower to Jesus Christ.

 

There is a legend about Zacchaeus in  his later years.  He would often rise early in the morning and leave his house.  His wife, curious, followed him one morning.  At the town well, he filled a bucket with water and walked until he came to a sycamore tree.  There, setting down the bucket, he cast away the stones, branches and rubbish that lay about the foot of the tree.

 

Having done that, he poured water on the roots and stood there in silence, gently caressing the trunk with his hands.  When his perplexed wife came out of hiding and asked him what he was doing, Zacchaeus replied simply, “this is where I found Christ.”  (HOMILETICS, October-December, 1992, page 41).  It was just an ordinary tree, but something that happened at the tree made it holy for Zacchaeus.  It was there that he met Christ.

 

This night is just an ordinary night.  It happens to be the twenty-fourth night of December, the 358th night of the year 2004.  A night just like any other night.  But something happened on this night, something happened a long time ago, which makes this night holy despite the seeming ordinariness of it all.  What happened was that on this night, ON THIS VERY NIGHT, the world met Jesus Christ.

 

You and I are here tonight celebrating Christ’s birth.  And we know that though this is a night like any other winter’s night, there is something special about tonight.  We know it is special not because this is the night Santa comes for a visit, but because this is the night that God came to stay.

 

We all know people who observe this holiday, this holy day, who have no idea at all who Christ is and why his birth is worthy of celebration…

 

It’s like one family I read about.  They were gathered to celebrate the holiday without much thought to its significance.  It had been a difficult day.  Three generations gathered in the house.  Daughter and father had been estranged for years, but came together at Christmas because of the granddaughter.  Little Charlotte, who had been raised as part of the MTV generation, who lived in a home where God was seldom mentioned, was gulping her milk at dinner.  She put down her glass and pointed her fork toward her grandfather like a microphone and asked, “Grandpa, why it today called Christmas?”  The child’s question came like a peal of thunder.

 

Out of the blue it fell crashing into the dining room just as though, indeed, the roof might be collapsing.  Did the little girl have any idea what she was asking?  After what seemed like an eternity her grandfather said, “Perhaps your mother could give you a better answer than I could.”

 

The mother frowned, but answered her daughter, “Today is called Christmas, Charlotte, because it is the birthday of Jesus Christ.”  She then gave a brief explanation.  Something special happened as she recited the story to her daughter.  The woman spoke almost as though she had just discovered the origins of Christmas herself, as if in that very moment such knowledge had been revealed to her.  It was a magical moment.  Charlotte’s mother looked at her father.  Tears welled in the old man’s eyes.  She reached across the table and took his hand.  Charlotte asked, “Grandpa, why are you crying?  “I’m crying because I’m happy,” he said.

 

Charlotte’s face glowed like a little angel’s.  There was no more talk of Jesus that evening.  And yet, it was as if the Lord Himself, like a master goldsmith, had devised exactly the right setting in which the mere mention of His name might shine forth like a spectacular jewel, like a diamond against a black velvet cloth.”  (Based on a story in DYNAMIC PREACHING, December 1991).

 

It was holiness in the midst of the ordinary.  God present in the midst of common people like you and me.  We always expect God to work in mysterious ways, in supernatural occurrences, with miraculous events.  But far more often God is at work in our mist in common, familiar, ordinary ways.

 

God was working those common ordinary ways in the birth of Jesus.  Many folks who later came to see the adult Jesus saw only a man.  He lived like a man and he died like a man.  And yet, through the eyes of faith, millions and millions through the centuries have seen him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

 

Tonight, you and I are worshipping in a Lutheran Church, so I can’t help but recall a story about Martin Luther preaching one Christmas Eve to his congregation in Wittenberg, Germany.  They had heard the reading of the  gospel text, which included the part about Bethlehem and there being no room at the inn, so that Jesus had to be born in a stable.

 

Then Luther said to his congregation, “There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: ‘If only I had been there!  How quick I would have been to help the Baby!  I would have washed his linen.  How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!”  Yes, you would!  You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people at Bethlehem.  Childish and silly thoughts are these!  Why don’t you do it now?  You have Christ in your neighbor.  You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Himself.”

 

No one recorded the reaction of the worshippers that night.  I’d like to think that they took to heart the call of the Lord to show love to other people, just as I pray that many of us are taking this to heart.

 

These are ordinary days in which we live.  Tonight, as we gather here to worship, men, women, youth and children are walking in the streets of our American cities, including Fredericksburg, looking for warmth and a place to sleep.  Thousands of American troops are poised for battle in Iraq.  Palestinian and Israelis are still killing each other.  People are still being taken to hospitals or laying in lonely beds in nursing homes.  And yet, God’s spirit is present in all the places and with all the people I’ve just mentioned.  It is a spirit that calls us to hope, a spirit that calls us to share, a spirit that calls us to believe that light will always shine in the dark, and good will always triumph over evil.

 

The ordinary in this life becomes holy when someone takes the time to notice God’s presence.  God was present in Jesus at Bethlehem.  God is present when someone takes the time to help someone in need.  God is present in our homes when we take the time to honor and serve Him.  God is present here and now as we worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

May each of us tonight recognize the holiness of our God who invades our ordinary lives to show us his extraordinary love in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.