Almost every sermon I have heard on Christmas Eve has been, or clearly was intended to be, a polished gem in the crown of the preacher, an oratorical and theological expression worthy of the decorated pulpits, usually Gothic, from which they were delivered. I wonder about the appropriateness of that. I wonder because of tonight’s inescapable humility. Tonight is about a young and poor family; it’s about humble shepherds; and it’s about the glory of the Lord shining and illuminating a most unlikely place. So, it seems to me, that the preacher would be better off standing on a soapbox than in an ornately carved and highly polished wine glass of a pulpit. For the soapbox is to a Gothic pulpit what a manger is to a royal crib. And you know that the manger’s baby rules and reigns today and every day–far more than any former inhabitant of any royal crib.

Tonight, tonight’s birth, and tonight’s message belong to the shepherds, those hard-working, unwashed, unkempt, and improperly dressed louts of the countryside. Tonight belongs, additionally, to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and all the sinners who flocked to Saint John the Baptist, confessing their sins and receiving his baptism as a sign of their genuine repentance. They are the ones, you know, who find it easier and lighter to let their sins go than to hold on to them. Tonight belongs, in other words, to the poor in spirit, those who know their need of God, to those whose self-sufficiency and self-reliance, to those whose certainty and confidence, have just run out. Tonight, then, is about God’s reaching out to those in need, specifically to those in need of God and to those who know that need.

And so, where do you, in this beautiful church, and where do I, in this beautiful pulpit, come in? Tonight, I said, is about the shepherds, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the sinners. And, it’s about us, too, if we join those sinners in knowing that we need God. It’s about us, too, if we take tonight to be God’s invitation to be made like Christ, whatever that costs. If there is even a tiny flicker of a flame in our hearts that ever so slightly billows at the news of Christ’s birth, then tonight can be about us. If we prefer the manger and the soapbox, we’re ready to receive him in the humility in which he chose to be known. Being ready to receive him is really, really important. I’ll tell you why.

At Christmas, we speak of the three births of Christ. We should keep each of them in mind though by far the third is the most important.

The first birth of Christ we proclaim in the Nicene Creed when we say of Christ that he was “eternally begotten of the Father.”[1] This is the birth of the Son of God before all worlds and before all time. This birth makes the second birth possible.

The second birth we remember tonight. It’s the birth a Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Every nativity scene and crèche calls it to mind and commemorates it. The first two births make the third birth possible.

The third birth, the most important birth, is the birth of Jesus in the human heart. In fact, this beautiful church, including this pulpit, is here for this purpose–that Jesus might be born in our hearts. All the hymns, all the prayers, all the services, all the fellowship, all the outreach, and everything we do are here for this purpose–to make the circumstance, to make the opportunity, that Jesus may be born in your heart. That is why we are here.

So, don’t miss your opportunity. Take the baby to your heart, and love him as he loves you. Join the shepherds and the other sinners. Put your trust in him. As we sing in the very fine hymn:

 

Thus if thou canst name him,
not ashamed to claim him,
but wilt trust him boldly
nor dost love him coldly,
he will then receive thee,
heal thee, and forgive thee.[2]

 

How could anyone think for a moment of not accepting that invitation from this holy child?

 

 

[1] BCP, page 358.

[2] Hymn 53, Stanza 3.

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