Rev. Paula Norbert
It’s a most beautiful and holy night and we are lucky to be able to gather in this time and place, to be together in prayer and to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, the Prince of Peace, Hope for the Nations, Son of God. We celebrate the gift of love which has brought us to this moment, seen us through an unimaginable year, and continues to live in and through us as beloved children of God. God is all about shining love in the least likely places and God’s love has been shining through our communities and our world over this past year, even when we didn’t always see it. It all began so many years ago with something as simple as the birth of a baby. Over this year, in times of overwhelming grief, new life and new love has been born into our world, continuing to remind us that our God is with us, Emmanuel. Hope has been on the horizon, guiding our way and reminding us of the promise of better days ahead. There is nothing like the birth of a baby to remind us that our God is indeed present in our midst…Such joy, such radiant love.
We have witnessed unspeakable pain and suffering, fear and worry during this past year in ways we could never have anticipated and yet, the love of our Creator, the love of Christ has been shining through. Shining through the heroic care of our doctor’s and nurses for those who are sick and dying, shining through in the families gathered outside of hospitals to pray for loved ones they could not sit beside, shining through in those who sat at the bedsides of dying patients so they would not be alone, shining through in the volunteers helping to get food to the hungry, in the teachers working tirelessly to provide what they could to their students, God’s love has been shining through in all of the workers who risked their lives to go out and work so their families could eat and shining through in those who continue to reach out to the lonely and depressed, to the isolated and sorrow filled. Even now, this very night, God’s love shines through in the birth of the Christ-child, reminding us that God chose to come among us to be close to us and to teach us about great love. God’s love is shining through…can you see it?
And so this cold winter’s night, we find ourselves once again at the stable, a simple and lowly place for any child to be born. And at this little manger, a new spark of love is born into the world. If you look at Luke’s account, in Jesus’ first few hours and days of his life, he was surrounded by love. From his parents who protected him to the shepherds who traveled beneath the stars to welcome this baby. After leaving the stable, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. While they were there, two old and wise people of faith, Simeon and the prophet Anna, showered Jesus with love and gave thanks to God for this moment of being with this child for whom they had long waited.
Certainly these early experiences of being loved at the start of his life helped Jesus to truly understand the loving presence of God around him and within each of us. And I believe that his experience with love in the early days of his life inspired Jesus to reach out with compassion and to teach us to love one another. Already born with the spark of the divine within him, Jesus grew in love, knowing that nothing else was greater than loving God, our neighbors and even ourselves.
In our own lives, we never know who we’re going to cross paths with on any given day; we never know who will shine God’s love to us and how this love will ripple out into the world. Jesus was welcomed with love in his earliest days, and we may imagine that helped him grow in love. There’s no way to avoid suffering in our lives, but even at times of sorrow and of pain, we can meet love through the presence of those who draw near to us and walk that hard road. Love has the potential to take a very bad situation and make it less painful and lonely. Love is contagious, and once we experience the greatness of divine love shared with us, we can’t help but pass it forward.
Two thousand years ago, in the most modest of settings, a baby was born. With that birth came hope, light and love that has rippled across the years and into our world. As we go forward, may we remember that love often happens in the least likely places and between the least likely people. On this holy night we are reminded of this once again, for in that least likely manger far away from home, surrounded by animals and strangers in a drafty stable, in the birth of this precious child, God’s love came shining through.
“We Believe, Even Now”
Welcome: Tonight we return to the story of Jesus’ birth as it is told in the Gospel of Luke. This passage is one we read again and again on this holy night, for the Gospel writer gives us the most beloved details. We yearn to see the scene play out, to hear the music of the angels, to feel the rush to the manger to see what this star that pierces the night sky has come to proclaim. We so desire to believe the Good News of the messengers that is the culmination of humanity’s pain of birth: “don’t be afraid” for unto us a sign has come that will be to all people… “on earth, peace.”