"Christmas Eve"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 12/24/1999


     We are living in one of the most fascinating moments in history. The stock markets are at an all time high. We are saying "Good-bye" to the last thousand years. In Venezuela, Christmas Eve will be spent amidst one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history. Possibly 25,000 people have been killed by floods and mud slides. We have indicted or detained several individuals caught crossing our borders with either explosives or links to terrorist organizations. Tonight our astronauts are orbiting the earth having just refurbished the Hubble telescope.

     Life issues on this level swirl all around us. Every generation has had them. However, when we compare the more global issues to the ones that affect us personally, the personal issues win the award hands down for giving us our highest level of distraction. Whenever a major challenge stands in front of us personally, we can see little else. Tonight the question is, "How many of us are reachable with the Christmas message?"

     A young woman is home from college for her Christmas break, but just before driving away from the campus she experienced a major misunderstanding with her boyfriend. Each is now very confused about the intentions of the other. Both are questioning what love requires.

     There is woman who just received a call from her physician. He wants her to schedule another mammogram and a consultation. A doctor calls a gentlemen in his early sixties with news that his PSA count in alarmingly high. He wants to schedule a biopsy of his prostate gland.

     There is a couple going through the motions of Christmas because of the children, but a love triangle has developed and some challenging alternatives are being examined. Or, this is the first Christmas for someone without their mate and all the family traditions and symbols have become reminders of that loss.

     Are we reachable tonight with the Christmas message? The answer that I want to leave with you is this: If God could communicate love to an unsuspecting world from an obscure geographical area, God can certainly do the same to each of you.

     It was Christmas Day, 1948. The place was West Berlin. It was a cold and lonely city, particularly for all American service personnel still behind communist lines. But on that day Bob Hope happened to be doing one of his shows there. American soldiers had not laughed and cheered for a long time. Many of them had been separated from their families for years. They had global and personal issues that make our greatest mountains look like foothills.

     Close to the end of his show, Bob introduced one of the most famous song writers in America at the time, Irving Berlin. Bob reminded his audience that there were several odd things about Irving Berlin. In Bob's humorous style, he poked fun at Irving's inability to read even a single note of music. Bob said, "In fact, he never learned how to play the piano correctly. He can't play any of the black keys. To help with this problem Irving had a special piano developed just for him, one with no black keys. Whenever he needs to play a sharp or a flat, he presses a special pedal that shifts the entire keyboard."

     After teasing Irving about his unique climb to fame, he added one more thing. Bob said, "Irving Berlin actually sang on one occasion but he shouldn't have. His voice is terrible! In fact, he sounded like a hoarse tomcat with its tail caught in a clothes wringer." Bob had that way of saying things in jest that made the troops laugh so hard that tears were visibly rolling down their cheeks. Bob continued, "But, I've invited him this afternoon to sing for a second time. I've asked him to sing something for you that he wrote. Here he is, Irving Berlin." There was a thunderous applause.

     Neither the coarseness of Irving Berlin's voice nor the limitations of his skills with the piano could spoil the effect on the men of what he sang. He sang, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas., just like the ones I used to know. . ." As he sang, the troops grew extremely quiet. Many of them simply hung their heads and quietly sobbed as their minds raced back to happier times of family and friends, of sweethearts back home, and of children born whom they had not yet seen.

     It was as if "The hopes and dreams of all the years are met in thee tonight" had come true for them. God had invaded their world, and for a moment all the issues that had kept them self-absorbed suddenly went away. God can do that. God can do that even when we are not looking or aware that anything is happening. God just comes with love to heal the source of our cares, isolation, and brokenness.

     We could go around the sanctuary tonight with a microphone and listen to hundreds of issues that are attempting to block the message of God's love. And the only reason these issues are causing a distraction for you right now is that something is tempting you to doubt, to fear, or to question the quality of your future. We do that to ourselves when we have forgotten that God is with us. Sometimes we have so relegated God to the sidelines of our lives that we are no longer aware that God surrounds us.

     Just imagine being a young teenage girl who is pregnant and unmarried, traveling on the back of a donkey to your future husband's hometown. Then imagine having to deliver your baby in the unsanitary conditions of a barnyard. Yet, there is no hint in the Scriptures that Mary and Joseph showed any alarm. Why? They knew that God was with them and that the particulars about the circumstances did not matter. That is what it looks like to walk through life with confidence in God's ability to make wonderful things happen in our lives.

     Recently I read about a mother who did not quite make it to her hospital's delivery room. She delivered her baby in the elevator. She was most apologetic. The medical team told her that she had nothing to worry about because she was in good hands. One of them said, "Please don't give this another thought. Such things happen. In fact, last year we helped a woman deliver her baby outside on the lawn near the Emergency Room entrance." The woman said, "Yes, I know. That was me, too!" The circumstances did not matter. In both instances, she was in good hands.

     Are we reachable tonight? You bet! We are always in good hands. Instead of being afraid, we have to learn that life is filled with incredible adventures designed just for us. When we trust God to lead us, we gain a new perspective on what stands in front of us. Nothing can defeat us but us. When we trust God to lead us, the unexpected always has a way of producing a miracle we could never have anticipated happening. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     O God, we find ourselves as one of the witnesses of the last Christmas Eve in this Millennium. It is odd how we make such a big thing out of the passing of something that is but the blink of an eye to you. Yet we are keenly aware that each of us has only so many grains of sand in the hour-glass that makes up our life. We have made time important to us. We are also aware that time has a way of getting away from us and so does the opportunity to nourish ourselves on what feeds our spirits and grows the qualities of character.

     Touch our minds, our hearts and our spirits tonight with renewed understanding of how much you love us. Each of us longs to feel that we are loved. How odd that almost exclusively we turn to our family and friends for that experience, knowing that families have a way of becoming scattered and even our best friends change. Yet you, O God, never change.

     You stay with us even during the moments when our choices lack good judgment, even when what we call love has become distilled into an appetite or a bundle of unmet needs. Why is it that when love confuses us, we cannot see that what we have is not love at all?

     Remind us tonight that Jesus came among us to save us from chasing many of the glittering elements of life that have no substance. Remind us that we are the authors of our biographies. Remind us that you came in a form that taught us what will give meaning and purpose to each of our lives. Thank you for finding us worthy enough to love. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .