If you were not able to attend Christmas Eve services at your home congregation due to other circumstances, especially an emergency situation, that is also okay. You did what was needed for you and your family at that time.
For all who were not able to attend Christmas Eve services on Sunday night, and for anyone who is interested in what I preached on the occasion of Christmas Eve, here is my sermon for Christmas Eve 2017. I hope you find it meaningful, thought-provoking, humorous, and/or comforting during this Christmas season. (The odd formatting helps me organize my thoughts as I write and calls attention to the points I want to emphasize during the sermon.)
I) Introduction – “Get on my level!”
A) I’ve noticed a new phrase that has entered the language of our culture in the last few months. It usually comes in the form of a taunt during competition after one player makes a big move against another player or wins a round of a longer match. In the midst of the celebration, a player will turn to the opponent and yell, “Get on my level!”
B) The implication is that the celebrating player is so much better than the opponent that he or she is on a different level of competition than the opponent. The taunt suggests that the opponent must go back to the practice field, gain more experience, and develop more skill before he or she becomes a threat to defeat the celebrating player.
II) Common Message to Us: “Get on the Lord’s Level!”
A) This taunt reminds me of the message that many branches of the Church, whether intentionally or inadvertently, communicates to members and visitors. That message can be summed up as “Get on the Lord’s Level!”
B) The longer version of that message is that we are sinful creatures who do not deserve the Lord’s love. We must “get right with God,” change our ways, become as close to perfect as we can get. Then, maybe then, the Lord will look on us with love and approval.
C) And this message is proclaimed under the assumption that all of this is possible if we would just try harder. We have the ability to be perfect. It’s up to us to follow through and do it.
D) But this goes against every story recorded in scripture. We are not perfect, and we do not have the ability to be perfect. We cannot work ourselves up to the Lord’s Level. The only way that we can move up to the Lord’s Level is if the Holy Spirit raises us up to the Lord’s Level.
III) The Lord Comes Down to Our Level
A) Which is why the story of Jesus’ birth is so significant. The Lord did not ask us to perfect ourselves and reach the Lord’s Level. Instead, the Lord descended to our level.
B) The Father sent the Son into the world through the Holy Spirit and through Mary, a young woman in Nazareth engaged to Joseph, a descendant of King David. The Son entered the world while the couple was answering a legal requirement to return to Joseph’s family’s hometown of Bethlehem, and the couple named him Jesus, just as the angel told them to name him.
C) Jesus descended to our level through the messy process of birth into a messy world driven by military power, religious tradition, and economic exploitation. He lived the life of a child in a poor family and likely served an apprenticeship under his father to learn a skilled trade.
D) When the time was right, Jesus stepped into the spotlight to begin his ministry, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was drawing near and that the hour of the Lord had almost arrived.
E) If, by this point, he had not descended far enough to visit every level of human existence, Jesus descended to the lowest levels of shame and dishonor at the hands of the religious leaders who organized his crucifixion.
F) And then, the Father raised Jesus from the dead and lifted him back up to his original place on the Lord’s Level. But not before Jesus proclaimed that he would give us the Holy Spirit, who would teach us and sustain us in this life. And not before Jesus promised that he would return at an undisclosed date in the future, where he would raise all of the Lord’s people up to the Lord’s Level so that they can live in the Lord’s Kingdom.
IV) Closing – The Lord with Us on Our Level
A) The hope of that image, of life in the Lord’s Kingdom, begins here in the manger. Jesus, the promised Christ, has come down from heaven to live on our level.
B) It is only because the Lord descended to our level that we can hope that the Lord will raise us up to the Lord’s level.
C) Tonight, we celebrate the Lord descending to our level to live among us. We give thanks for all that the Lord has done, is doing, and will do within the world. And we look for the Lord’s presence among us on our level while we await the day the Lord raises us to the Lord's Level. Amen.