I’m sitting here now, writing words to my Christmas Eve sermon, and feeling, well… a small measure of that good old Christmas spirit. This morning I concluded my sermon series on classic Christmas TV specials and movies with my favorite holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street. The whole series, all four sermons—not to mention the great music by the Vinebranch Band, the food, the festive atmosphere—couldn’t have gone better—even though, at the beginning of each workweek, I heard that nagging, skeptical voice in my head: “What are you possibly going to say for 25 minutes about this particular movie?”
In spite of my self-doubt, I don’t think I’ve had a more enthusiastic response to anything I’ve done in my eight years as a pastor. Isn’t that funny?
It is funny… and you know what else? It’s also God. God is so incredibly faithful. I mentioned in my sermon today the challenge of unanswered prayer, but what do I really know about it? I mean, I certainly have unanswered prayer, of course. But who am I to complain? God has been nothing but good to me in every way. He’s done nothing but prove his generosity and mercy and love to me, time and again—in spite of the ways I often fail him or fall short.
Don’t misunderstand me: Christian faith is hard. Anyone who’s heard me preach for any length of time knows that that’s a recurring theme of mine—and it will recur again in tomorrow’s Christmas Eve sermon. Faith is hard… but totally worth it. As Fred Gailey said to his girlfriend Doris Walker, after she accuses him of going on an “idealistic binge” in his legal defense of Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street: “Don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover that they’re the only things that are worthwhile.” I couldn’t agree more.
By the way, here’s the Christmas Prayer that I offered during tonight’s service (which followed the singing of “O Come All Ye Faithful”):
Almighty God, our Emmanuel, God-with-us: We have come here to adore you this evening. For us and for our salvation, your beloved Son Jesus—God from God, light from light, true God from true God—left his home in heaven to pitch his tent here on earth. And though he is rightly the king of the universe, he humbled himself, taking upon himself the form of a servant—born in a barn, with a feeding trough as a bed—who willingly shouldered the burden of our sin on the cross, setting us free from its slavery and enabling us to find forgiveness and eternal life.
Though the first Christmas was some 2,000 years ago, the dangerous world into which he came is one that we so often recognize as our own—a world wracked by senseless violence, corruption, injustice, murder, and self-inflicted pain. Yet it is also the same world that you love with an incomprehensible love, the same world that you are working even now to save, the same world that one day you will redeem, renew, and restore.
This world, to which the sign of the manger points, is one in which swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, where we shall study war no more.
In the meantime, we, your Church, have work to do. Make us faithful as we bear witness to your love. Empower us to imitate Christ and follow his example. Inspire us to work for justice and peace in this world as ambassadors of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.