Fr. Bill Carroll – Christmas Eve, December 24, 2023
A child has been born for us, a son given to us…and he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Fall of 1914, Pope Benedict XV called for a cease fire in the fighting that was ravaging Europe. It was the middle of the First World War. But the pope urged people to stop killing each other “on the night when the angels sang.”
Beginning on Christmas Eve that year and, then again, in 1915, there was a truce between the Germans and the British—in some cases, the French. In some places, it lasted a whole week. More often, it lasted only a day or two.
And there are these reports of soldiers singing Christmas carols by candlelight, especially “Silent Night.” You may have seen a movie, or read a book, or heard a song about the soccer games that they played, or the lasting friendships they forged across enemy lines. There are also reports of men crossing the scorched earth between the trenches–bearing gifts of candy, liquor, and tobacco.
This “Christmas truce” was more popular among the enlisted men than among their officers, and it was hated by heads of state. Later in the war, generals ordered artillery strikes on Christmas Eve to prevent peace from breaking out again. Nevertheless, the truce these soldiers kept speaks to their burning desire for peace. The people who bear the costs of war often long for peace in ways the rest of us can scarcely understand.
Tonight, we hear Isaiah’s prophecy about the birth of a holy child. He shall rule the nations with justice and love. There shall be “endless peace, we are told, for “the zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Isaiah is not naive. He is familiar with the ways of war. The child comes to people who have walked in darkness. They know the sounds of tramping boots, and the sights and smells of battle. And yet, on them the light of God has dawned.
And so, with the world still at war and no end in sight, we come to Bethlehem. We come to behold. We come to worship and adore our Savior. As we do so, we pray for peace in the land of his birth. We pray for people around the world: in Gaza and the occupied territories–in Israel, in Ukraine, and elsewhere–wherever people are killing one another. We come once more to the cradle of Christ to be changed by what we see there. With millions of people all around the world, we come to see this light…this hope…this Child.
With Mary and Joseph, we journey through a land occupied by foreign armies. At the point of a sword, we are counted and taxed and ordered about. But, when we get to royal David’s city, we find no room in the inn. We find no welcome that can be bought with money. And so, we take shelter in the place that God provides.
Jesus is born as a poor and displaced refugee. He is born as a homeless child. He is born in a borrowed place among the animals, with the most humble of God’s children. He is born in the ordinary way, through a woman’s labor—with blood and sweat and tears.
And it is in this way, without ever ceasing to be what he is, that the Son of God becomes human. Ultimately, Christmas is about God’s desire to become one of us. It is about God’s passionate desire, out of pure love, to join us here, in our flesh.
In a famous Christmas sermon, Martin Luther spoke about what we might say to ourselves tonight, “Oh, I wish I was there (he says). I would help the baby. I would change his diaper.” But then, he goes on to tell his congregation, “We have Christ already. We have him in our neighbor.”
“The Word became flesh.” And, because of this glorious fact, we can find God in small and humble things. We can find God in small and humble people. We are invited to find God in one another–whether that’s people in need in our community, people in danger halfway around the world, or those who share our homes and pews. Christmas is all about the power of God’s love to overcome what divides us. ALL of that is overcome in the flesh of this Child. That is the hope that this night brings us. God has given us grace to live together as his children.
“How beautiful (says the LORD). How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” That’s not just a job for the preacher. It is a job for all of us. It’s a job for the whole Body of Christ. The Word becomes flesh—first in him, then in us. We are his hands. We are his voice. We are his presence in the world.
And so, whoever you are and however you are hurting—however you are divided from those you fear, or even those you love—I invite you to share the love and the peace of Jesus.
Let every heart prepare him room. Amen.