This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

Hi friends!  I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!  Here is my sermon from our 9PM service on Christmas Eve.

Happy New Year!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Sermon

This Magical, Malleable, Life-Changing Story

My two-year-old loves watching this show on Netflix called Spirit, which is an adorable animated show about a girl and her two friends who live on “the frontier” with their horses.  My husband and I can’t quite figure out where “the frontier” actually is or what time period the show is set in, but between the one-room schoolhouse, the telegrams and the lack of cars and phones, in many ways (even though you are watching the show through a streaming service on one of your smart devices) you certainly step back into a simpler time when you watch it.

And, to be quite honest, in this crazy world that we are living in, sometimes “simple” is exactly what I need.

A few weeks ago, we were all watching one of the Christmas episodes.  At the end of the episode, it is Christmas day and the main character, Lucky, and her friends ride their horses to the church in town; as the arrive, they can hear the sound of people singing and they run inside and join the worship service.  The episode ends with everyone standing, holding lit candles and singing together, Angels We Have Heard On High.

They are all smiling at each other and embracing one another.  It is simple, but it just seems so perfect and festive and filled with the true spirit of the season.

I looked at my husband and said, “I wish there was a way we could do that at church.”

“Do what?” he asked.

“You know – have a simple little service like that.  Just invite everyone to come to church and hear the Christmas story and sing Christmas carols and light some candles and just be together in the spirit of the season.”

My husband gave me kind of strange look and said, “Isn’t that what you do on Christmas Eve?”

“Well yeah, but I also preach,” I explained to him.

“Well you don’t have to,” he pointed out.

Oh, the Christmas Eve sermon.

The funny thing is that clergy put a lot of pressure on themselves to preach the perfect sermon on Christmas Eve, because it feels like the stakes are high.  And yet, not to downplay the preacher’s role in all of this, sometimes I am not sure that it is actually necessary; because this story really preaches itself.

The Christmas story is a story where magic is real, where hope is alive and where love wins, over and over and over again.  It is a story where light shines and stars guide us along our journeys.  It is a story where grace is uncovered in the most unexpected ways and places – with a baby in a manger, God made flesh in the world.  It is a story where ordinary people are called by God to do extraordinary things.  It is a story where we can see ourselves in the characters that are all playing different, but equally important roles.  It is a story where journeys are long, but not taken alone.  It is a story where angels appear in those moments when we need them most.  It is a story where promises are kept and prophecies are fulfilled.  It is a story that begins a Gospel where peace prevails and death does not have the final word.  It is a story where lives are changed – not just by what has already happened, but also by the way God is still at work today.

It is a story that is simple – but oftentimes is exactly what we need.

If you think about it, the really cool thing about the Christmas story is that it, in this one moment in time – this Christmas holiday – it is told countless times around the world in so many different forms and languages.  Whether it is being carefully read from scripture at a candlelit church service or narrated by our middle and high school students while chaos ensues during our annual Christmas pageant, it is timeless.

For 2,000 years, the Christmas story has stood the test of time.  Over and over and over again, it is has proclaimed this beautiful truth that God’s promises have been fulfilled – that our cries for Emmanuel, God with us, have been heard.

The Christmas story has this crazy and malleable way to touch us, no matter where we are on our journey through life.  Whether we are young or old, hearing it for the first time or reciting it along with the liturgist – this story can inspire us.  Whether we come to this space tonight with a joyful heart or a heavy one, this story can surround us with hope.  Whether we think we have answers or still have a whole lot of questions, this story can give us wisdom.  Whether we have had a really wonderful year or a year that we would rather forget, this story can remind us that God is always with us – and that we are not alone.  Whether we want to soak up every word that is spoken or let our minds wander off to daydream about other things, this story will give us something to think about.

And so, as you listen to the Christmas story tonight, I invite you to sit in its simplicity – and let it be for you exactly what you need it to be in this moment in time.  Let it inspire you, let it give you hope, let it give you wisdom, let it remind you that you are not alone and let it give you something to think about as you leave this space tonight.

As you sing the familiar carols, join your voices not only with those who have gathered here tonight, but with the millions of people around the world who are singing these same carols – and with the multitude of angels who sang them first.

As you light your candle at the end of worship, watch as even the smallest of flames can illuminate even the darkest of spaces.

It might be simple, but in this moment, it might be all that we need.

I invite you now to settle in.  Because you are able to hear one of the greatest stories that has ever been told.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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God Has Things Under Control

Here is my Christmas Eve homily!  I love the last paragraph, “Tonight we put our to-do lists down, we shake off any of the lingering stress we might be feeling over the holidays and we stop trying to create magic; because God has taken care of that for us.  God has created magic in this story.  And it does not matter how we got here – tonight we are all in Bethlehem.  And we are about to witness something amazing.” – I think these words ring true today, as we journey towards the cross and Easter.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Homily

God Has Things Under Control

On Saturday afternoon, I asked my 18-month-old, Harrison, if he wanted to make cookies for daddy.  He excitedly said yes and I sat him on the counter and started pulling stuff out of the pantry and cabinets.  I think I had this magical picture in my head of the two of us in the kitchen together, me measuring out all the ingredients and him pouring them into the bowl, together creating a magical Christmas memory.

Because that is what we try to do during this season, right?  We create magic; we hang lights, decorate trees, bake festive treats and throw fabulous parties.  We make this season – which, in this part of the world is otherwise dark and cold – magical.

Of course, sometimes in life, especially with toddlers, the magical picture we have in our head doesn’t always pan out to reality.

And about 20 minutes into our magical baking experience, after I had asked him about 19 times not to stand up on the counter, he accidentally knocked over a decorative glass bowl that was full of Christmas ornament balls.  It hit the ground and glass went everywhere.

And I mean everywhere.

Now, the question of why I had a decorative glass bowl full of Christmas ornament balls on the counter while I was baking with a toddler is irrelevant to the point of the sermon.

As calmly as I could, I picked Harrison up off the counter and brought him in his playroom.  Then I picked up the cat and put her in the living room.  Then I got the piece of glass out of my foot that I had stepped on in the process.  And then I started to clean up all the glass.  While I swept and steamed the kitchen floor, Harrison stood at the gate to his playroom, shaking it and sobbing hysterically because he wanted to be in the kitchen. And on the other side of the kitchen, the cat pawed at the gate in the living room, meowing relentlessly because she wanted to be fed.

At that particular moment in time, I had a few choice words for Christmas, none of which I will repeat from the pulpit.

And then my phone buzzed.  I received two text messages from a friend and colleague of mine.  I had actually seen her earlier in the week; she is recently ordained and was kind of frantic because the white stole she had ordered to wear on Christmas Eve hadn’t come it yet and she needed to borrow one of mine.  When she stopped by to pick it up, we were joking about some of the road blocks we had both stumbled over, both as pastors and as moms, to get to Bethlehem this year.  I glanced at the texts; the first one was really long and since I had glass all over my floor I skipped to the second one that simply said, “But God has things all under control …”

Now it turns out she had forgotten to pick up her robe at the drycleaners and they were closed, but she managed to track down the owner of the drycleaners at home, who showed kindness and compassion and met her there after hours so she could pick it up and have it for the weekend and Christmas.  But I did not know that all the time.  All I knew was that I was surrounded by pieces of broken glass, a toddler crying and a cat meowing and the message I saw was, “But God has things all under control.”

As I looked down at the glass that was still all over my kitchen, I realized she was right.  It was because of our brokenness and the chaos that we lived in that God came into our world in the first place.  God did not enter a world that was perfect, God entered a world that desperately needed to be saved.  God came into this world not because we are strong, but because we are weak; not because we have all the answers, but because we still have a lot of questions; not because we are whole, but because we are very much broken.

And that is the real magic of Christmas.  It is not about the perfect decorations or gifts or traditions (or cookies).  It is about remembering that no matter where we are on our journey through life – if we are healthy or if we are sick, if we are happy or if we are sad, if we are organized or if we are one shattered decorative bowl away from chaos, if we feel whole or if we feel broken, God is with us.

Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard.

You know how I had this magical picture in my head of this Christmas cookie making process?  The more I think about it, the really magical part about Christmas is that it does not matter how we get to Bethlehem – whether we skip joyfully from one fun tradition to the next or whether we manage to find every pothole to fall into along the way – we all get there together.  And, there waiting for us – in a manger, in the form of a beautiful baby boy – is Emmanuel, God with us.

Tonight we will hear one of the most magical stories that has ever been told.  A story of hope, a story of love, a story of hospitality, a story of perseverance and a story of grace.  This is a story that invites us into its narrative; a story that is very much still being written in our own lives every time we tell it.  This is a story that illuminates the darkness of a cold winter’s night.  This is a story that reminds us that no matter what we are going through in life, God is with us.

Tonight we put our to-do lists down, we shake off any of the lingering stress we might be feeling over the holidays and we stop trying to create magic; because God has taken care of that for us.  God has created magic in this story.  And it does not matter how we got here – tonight we are all in Bethlehem.  And we are about to witness something amazing.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Live In Both Worlds

Hi friends!  Happy New Year!  I hope y’all had a wonderful Christmas celebration.  I am posting (albeit very delayed) my sermon from Christmas Eve.  Probably not super relevant at the moment considering we’ve all moved past Christmas (although my tree is still up #waitingforepiphany #actuallyjustdontfeelliketakingitdown), BUT I do think the concept of living in both worlds is super applicable to our faith throughout the year, not just on Christmas.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
December 24, 2017

Live In Both Worlds {A Christmas Eve Sermon}

When I asked the Church School parents if they had any ideas for this year’s Christmas pageant, I had no idea that we not only end up with an adorably creative pageant for the early service, but that I would also be inspired for my Christmas Eve sermon, as well.

Arsenio Uhrig called me and said, “It’ll be like the Polar Express.”

He had my attention.

The train would be traveling to Bethlehem, watching the Christmas story play out through the train windows. To keep it simple, the kids who wanted speaking roles would play the parts of the train conductors, who were narrating the story and the kids who did want speaking roles would be the animals, angels, shepherds, etc.

I was quickly writing down notes as I was talking to Arsenio so when I got off the phone I could start writing the script. But then he said something that caused me to pause.

“And then the wise men will get on the train and it will take them to Bethlehem.”

Okay, I thought to myself. I am not entirely sure how that will work, but let me start writing and I will figure it out.

So I started writing; and, as I always do when I am writing the Christmas pageant, I was having a blast. It is so fun to think of new and fun ways to tell this story. But when I got to the part where the wise men hop off their camels and jump aboard the train, I was confused.

What time period am I writing this in, I asked myself? Our time or Jesus’ time? If the wise men get on the train, then we break through some sort of time barrier and exist in both worlds, right?

Or is that whole point of celebrating Christmas every year?

I realized as I was writing this pageant, that part of the magic of Christmas and the grace that is given to us every time we hear this story is that we can enact it in our world today. We may be remembering events that happened 2,000 years ago, but we can gain inspiration from them in our lives. We can still hold onto the hope that God is going to break forth into our world and use us, redeem us and inspire us.

The first Christmas may have happened 2,000 years ago, but the heart of the Christmas message – that God enters the brokenness of our lives, that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things, that God’s redemption is not a one-time thing and that God’s light always shines – well that is still very much happening today.

So tonight, as we hear this familiar story and sing the familiar carols, I invite you to live in both worlds.

As we hear the call of Mary to give birth to the Christ child, may we think about the ways God is calling us into ministry. And when Mary says, “Yes!” may we, too, say, “Yes!” to God.

As we sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, may we think about the journeys that we are on and how God is guiding them and where they are taking us. We may not know exactly what the future has in store for us, but this story assures us that God will guide us to where we need to be.

When we remember the part of the story where there is no room anywhere for Mary and Joseph to stay, may we remember the hospitality of the innkeeper and our own responsibility to welcome people into our own midst, whether they be family, friends, strangers or enemies.

As the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!” may we ask ourselves, how are we proclaiming the Good News that God is here today? How are we telling others about our faith and about our church that, I believe, is changing lives?

As the shepherds gather their animals and head to Bethlehem to see the Christ child for themselves, may we ponder the ways that we leave the comfort of the routines of our lives and follow Christ.

As the wise men follow the star to Bethlehem and offer their gifts to Jesus, may we think about how we offer our own gifts to God. How do we give back – of our time, of our energy and of our money?

When we hear that familiar passage from the Gospel of John – “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God … and the word became flesh and lived among us” – may we open our eyes to the ways that the word is still being made flesh among us. How is scripture coming alive today?

As we light our candles and sing, Silent Night, may we feel the still and calm presence of God granting us peace, courage and hope for the new year.

As we remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah – “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light!” – may we look for God’s light in the darkness and may we take that light and let it shine for all the world to see.

And as we enter into the service of Lessons & Carols and hear the story of the angels and then notice that the bulletin is inviting us to sing, Hark the Harold – H-A-R-O-L-D, not H-E-R-A-L-D – Angels Sing, may we remember that Jesus was born into an imperfect world, one where there are sometimes typos in the Christmas Eve bulletin.

Isn’t it amazing how this Christmas story so beautifully fits together with the pieces of our lives today?

So friends, tonight I invite you to hear this story and put yourself right into it. But do not take yourself out of this world! Live in both worlds! Live in your life today as you travel with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

And be amazed; be amazed at the ways in which this story still carries so much meaning, so much inspiration and so much grace in our world today.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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