Christmas Eve | O Come Emmanuel

I speak to you in the name of the One who created us, joined us, and is with us still. Amen.

[Singing] O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant . . .    

Wait, hold on:

[Singing] O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant . . .

There’s something wrong here.

It’s a glorious hymn.

Every church I know

sings it at the start 

of EVERY Christmas Eve service,

but clearly that hymn 

was written in hindsight.

After all, on that first 

Christmas night,

all those years ago,

Many were faithful, 

but joyful and triumphant?

I don’t think so.

A registration

had been ordered by the Emperor,

in the middle of winter

when the days are short

and the nights are cold, 

and travelers returned to hometowns,

many pouring into Bethlehem

to be registered. 

Were they faithful? Maybe,

but also fearful and exhausted.

Joseph, accompanying his pregnant fiancee

trusting the story she has told him,

certainly was faithful,

but perhaps also anxious and worried. 

The innkeeper, 

probably just a homeowner

who rented out his stable 

when there were big events in town,

was also probably faithful,

but on this night

also overwhelmed and crabby. 

The shepherds—

who knows about them?

Shepherds were, well, 

the least of the least, 

on the margins of society.

But faithful?—at least in terms

of showing up at Temple for worship?—

Doubtful.

But definitely busy and tired,

outcast and hungry.

Finally, what about Mary?

Surely Mary was faithful that night?

Surely she was joyful and triumphant?

I suppose she might

have felt joy after giving birth

to her first child,

but triumphant?

This mother pondered

in her heart

all the mysteries

of giving birth to the Messiah,

but she must also have felt

the cold shadow of 

both the cross and the tomb looming,

so “triumphant” seems a stretch.

What about joyful and sorrowing?

But here they all are,

gathered on a winter’s night,

all those years ago.

They came, faithful, 

to a little town, nothing special,

in a night that seemed

like any other night, 

except on this night

the emperor was

moving people around

the country like pawns

on a chessboard. 

Here they all are:

faithful, fearful and exhausted.

Faithful, anxious and worried.

Faithful, overwhelmed and crabby.

Faithful, busy and tired.

Faithful, outcast and hungry.

Faithful, joyful and sorrowing. 

And to these people—

no one extraordinary,

not especially holy or ready or religious—

came a child, 

a king, a Messiah—

and on that night, 

to the least ready, 

the least important,

to the shepherds

came the angel

and they were surrounded

by the glory of the Lord, 

and they were sore afraid,

but the angel announced:

“Fear not! 

For, see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy

for all the people:

to YOU is born this day

in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The shepherds hastened 

to share this good news, 

to find this Messiah,

and, so, they found Mary and Joseph,

and the child lying in the manger,

and they shared 

what had been told to them,

and all were amazed,

and Mary treasured 

all these words, pondering them in her heart, 

and the shepherds

returned to their fields, 

glorifying and praising God. . . .

How swiftly these ordinary people

received Good News of Great Joy!

The Good News that God

loves us so much that God

decided to join us in our humanity, 

taking on our flesh and blood,

our sorrows and joys,

our disappointments and confusions.

How amazing that these 

ordinary people

should receive this Good News!

[pause]

And what about YOU,

all ye faithful?

Do you come, joyful and triumphant?

I hope so!

But perhaps not;

perhaps you share

more in common 

with those who gathered

that first Christmas.

But here you are, 

you faithful ones,

sitting in the pews

on Christmas Eve

or worshipping over livestream on Facebook,

and no matter how you feel, 

this Good News of Great Joy

is for YOU!

So, come all Ye faithful, 

Joyful and Triumphant.

Come, all Ye Faithful, 

hopeful and doubting.

Come, all Ye Faithful,

worried and anxious.

Come, all Ye Faithful,

Tired and exhausted.

Come, all Ye Faithful,

broke and in debt.

Come, all Ye Faithful,

Lonely and Brokenhearted.

Come, all Ye Faithful, 

ALL of you,

Come, because no matter

HOW you are feeling, 

you are here—

Faithful,

hoping for, 

longing for,

Good News. 

And here it is:

I bring you Good News of great joy!

God loves us so much,

So very much, 

That even when we’re not ready, 

even when we’re not

particularly joyful or triumphant, 

even when we’re sad or anxious,

overworked or distracted,

God loves us so much

That God comes right in

To join us,

As one OF us.

And just so we get it, 

just so we understand 

what God is up to,

God comes first

to no-account shepherds,

an unwed teen-age mom,

some astrologers 

from another religion

whom we now call kings, 

all to make clear 

that the Good News

is for ALL people, 

that even if—especially if!—

you’re uncertain about what you believe,

if you feel unlovable,

forgotten, lost, 

then this Good News 

of great joy is for YOU . . .

and you . . . and you . . .

and me:

God loves us,

God wanted to be with us,

and God is with us still. . .

“Fear not! 

For, see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy

for all the people:

to YOU is born this day

in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

So, Come all Ye Faithful . . . 

Come, and behold him, born the King of angels;

O Come, Let us Adore Him!

Christ the Lord.