Christmas is a time of hope and joy and peace. At least, it’s supposed to be. That’s what we always hear. That’s the message I always try to convey. Now, I’ve been your pastor the past seven Advent seasons, and if there’s one thing that is abundantly clear, it’s the fact that Christmas – and all of its preparations – do not always feel like a time of hope and joy and peace. For the very first time – not just onenot just two…but too many (really) to even remember the actual count…too many people have looked me right in the eyes and said, “I can’t wait until January!” Some have added, “It’s just the most stressful and most painful time of year!” And to be honest, that kind of thinking has been a real struggle for me this year as well…and getting bombarded with that message from all sides has only added to that struggle.
But this past week, I received a gift – a gift from children, no less – that gave me some hope…that helped turn my thinking around…that helped me realize once again the absolute joy of this incredibly holy evening. It’s this very simple, yet absolutely beautiful nativity. (Picture on screen.) I want to make sure the givers of this gift know what an impact receiving it has had on me, and that I have it right here in front of me this evening.
I was at the Casting Crowns Christmas Concert on December 10th (my birthday gift from my family)…Did anybody else get to go? – anyway, they sang the song, “Somewhere in Your Silent Night.” I thought, “Yes…that’s it!” This world…this community…this congregation is filled with broken hearts – longing for that Christmas hope. When I think of all the heartache I’ve heard…and felt…well, it becomes a little clearer why so many can’t wait until January. Whether it’s been the loss of a job…or a body not cooperating – one full of physical or emotional pain or both…or a bad fall resulting in some major injuries…or an unexpected stay in the hospital…or the stinging memories of loved ones no longer with us (whether through death or dementia)…or the financial struggles maxed out – now more than ever. I realize that’s only the beginning of the list, but the point is that it can feel (sometimes) like hope is simply out of reach.

But then, God’s presence…God’s hope…can appear out of nowhere. Always when we least expect it. Always when we’re not looking for it. Like when 50 carolers from Grace went out into the community to spread a little bit of that hope (when I know for a fact that several of those carolers were struggling with that hope themselves, but went anyway), and the very first house they went to had someone grieving the loss of a spouse…

and it just happened to be the third anniversary on that very day. Those carolers made a bigger impact than they realized. God’s hope snuck in and brought a little light.

Or like on December 19th, when we had our December Food Give-Away, and 84 families from Turner County received some food assistance – some of whom are in desperate times (and in more ways than one). It always hits us especially hard the week before Christmas when that darn reality sets in and it becomes all too clear for most of us that the size of our wallet does not match the size of our heart when it comes to getting gifts this time of year. But, again, God’s hope snuck in and brought a little light.

And then, of course, it’s like a baby girl – having heart surgery right after she was born…and finally – finally – (weeks and weeks later) going home this past Wednesday. I told people before Worship on Wednesday evening that this “homecoming” was a true Christmas gift, and the best news I’d heard in a very long time. If that’s not God’s hope sneaking in with more than a little light, I really don’t know what would be.

Maybe the best Christmas Eve message that can be delivered and heard this year (which is, by the way, what many of us are expecting) – is that God knows your heart. God knows your pain. And God knows your name. Yes, your name…you! In fact, weyou and me – are the very reason God came to us in Jesus. The very reason! John tells us, And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,full of grace and truth.”

In the Offering song (Casting Crowns’ “Somewhere in Your Silent Night”), we’ll hear that “Love will find you.” But the truth of the matter is, love has already found you…love has never left you…and love will never leave you. God loves you, and always will. My prayer this evening is that you hear that. That’s all. That you hear that God loves you…and always will! Hope is here! Hope is indeed, here! No need to wait until January before experiencing it. And so, I guess, the only thing left to say is, “Merry Christmas, Children of God! Merry Christmas!”