During my time as a pastor I probably preached or wrote about Christmas at least 60 times. I sometimes, especially during this time of year, remember some of those sermons. Sometimes it is with wonder that such amazing and spiritual words could come from a sinner like me; sometimes it is with guilt that I could have said the things I did. Two examples to illustrate this. One Christmas eve 25 years ago or so, when the congregation I served had 3 services on Christmas eve, the choir had snacks between services. No one told me that the punch was a “little bit spiked” and I had enjoyed several cups of the stuff. When it came time for the sermon at the 11:00PM worship I had written a section about the promise of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem for people of all times and places. I then listed places and groups of people as an illustration and blew it when I said ‘and the bouncing bushmen of New Guinea’. Was that the punch speaking or what? Then there was the time when I could not seem to get any words on paper. People started arriving at the church about 45 minutes before the service and there still was no sermon. So I went to the people who were there and asked them all to pray for me as I was really struggling with sermon. They did and I went back into my office and sat down at the computer and began writing. I would not claim it was the best sermon I ever had the privilege of giving but it certainly was the easiest to write.
For me those experiences are a very true picture of living our lives for Jesus. Sometimes we are amazed at what God accomplishes through us and sometimes we are guilty of not paying attention to where God is leading us to serve Him. Sometimes we realize that prayer is one of the most important gifts God has given us and sometimes we forget to seek His will and strength. Sometimes we let the things of this world get in the way of our serving Jesus. Sometimes we have to admit that we are not as strong in our faith as we could be and sometimes we have to admit that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to being a faithful follower of Jesus. Sometimes it is easy to live into our faith and sometimes it is so very hard. But always, and forever, God is faithful to His promises and does not abandon us. His presence with us is assured by the Holy Spirit.
I love Christmas partly because I have so many memories of this time of year from childhood and from years as a pastor. Countless Sunday School Christmas programs are tucked into my memories, even the time the donkey in the living Nativity bit me. Most of all I love Christmas because in the most amazing way possible the Lord of all comes into this world as baby, born of a woman. Yet the meaning of the birth of Jesus transcends everything else in human history.
I wish all of you spoke folkers a blessed Christmas full of the memories of God’s love as you have experienced it in Jesus. Remember the manger is empty, the cross is empty, and the tomb in empty because Jesus lives and is present with us in the here and now. Love to all of you who have come to mean so much to me as examples of Christ’s love living in His people. We Christians really do need each other as we live together for Jesus.