Sermon – Christmas Eve 2011

Text of the sermon preached
By The Very Reverend William Carl Thomas
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2011
At Saint Matthews Episcopal Church, Charleston West Virginia
Click here to listen to this sermon.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him, born the king of angels;
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

O come, all ye faithful. An expected hymn on an expectant night; we know what we came for. The story of Mary, Joseph, the Angel Gabriel, journey, Bethlehem, census, no room in the inn, the newborn Jesus, another angel, shepherds, more angels with the heavenly host praising God and singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Everything wrapped up in a feel good bow.

Think back a minute. The Gospel proclaimed tonight made no mention of Mary, Joseph, the Angel Gabriel, journey, Bethlehem, census, no room in the inn, the newborn Jesus, another angel, shepherds, more angels with the heavenly host praising God and singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” You need to know that part of our story in order to pull apart the feel good bow and unwrap, or rather unpack, the deeper meaning for us, the faithful, gathered on this most holy night.

The second verse of O come all ye faithful is our entrance into this deeper meaning: “God from God, Light from Light eternal, lo! He abhors not the Virgin’s womb; only begotten, Son of the Father.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews that we heard tonight sheds light, pun intended, on what we mean when we sing, “God from God, Light from Light eternal”: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

This reflection is why it is important to hear the prologue of the Gospel according to John as we join with the faithful in celebrating the birth of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” When the faithful gather on this night, we sing with joy “O come let us adore him” because of what follows in the prologue, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

Theologians call this the Incarnation. You and I know this as the moment when the great faithfulness of God[i] became intimate: The Word made flesh. No longer are prophets the intermediaries for God. Jesus, flesh and blood, born a baby in need of human care, becomes our savior. By his life and teaching, by his death, resurrection and ascension, he is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness then, and the darkness now. And no matter what someone tries to tell you, darkness cannot overcome this light. The light of Christ is the great faithfulness of God, the great faithfulness that makes it possible for us to claim to be the faithful.

We recognize how much we need the great faithfulness of God when we pray these words, “Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”[ii]

Faith, essential to being among the faithful, is, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[iii] Maybe the definition of faith found in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, is a simpler starting point, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” I think the Christian rock band Kutless say this so well in their song What Faith Can Do:

Everybody falls sometimes
Gotta find the strength to rise
From the ashes and make a new beginning
Anyone can feel the ache
You think it’s more than you can take
But you’re stronger, stronger than you know
Don’t you give up now
The sun will soon be shining
You gotta face the clouds
To find the silver lining

I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do

It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard
Impossible is not a word
It’s just a reason for someone not to try
Everybody’s scared to death
When they decide to take that step
Out on the water
It’ll be alright
Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing

On this holy night when we come to adore Jesus Christ as the faithful, we step out beyond common sense and believe that what has come into being in Jesus Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people. This is the light that makes it possible for us to:

Claim dreams that move the mountains
Have hope that doesn’t ever end even when the sky is falling
Accept that miracles do happen
Give thanks when silent prayers get answered
Feel the love that mends broken hearts and makes them brand new
That’s what the great faithfulness of God can do

Please find the candle placed in your pew. Light it from the candles around you. Hold it to remember that the light enkindled in your heart by the light of God’s incarnate Word, is the light that will shine through you upon others. Now let us close this Christmas Eve sermon together as we hold our candles and sing O come all ye faithful.


[i] Lamentations 3:22

[ii] Collect for the First Sunday After Christmas Day BCP page 213

[iii] Hebrews 11:1

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