Mother Nancy Betz’s Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve, Year A, Trinity Rensselaerville, 2016



Recently, three men were nervously waiting in the father’s room at the Good Samaritan Hospital as their wives prepared to give birth to their first children. The men were much too scared to be in the delivery room.

Soon, the head nurse arrived with good news from the birthing rooms. She said to the first father-to-be, “sir, you are a father of twins!”

“That’s great, he said. “I’m a baseball player and I am going to sign a contract with the Minnesota Twins. This will be great press.”

Soon, the nurse arrived and said to the second father-to-be, “Sir” you are the father of triplets.”

“Fantastic,” he said, “Because I work for the 3M Company. This will be great press.”

The third father-to-be got up and ran out of the room. He was moving so fast that he did not bother to take the elevator. Finally, the nurse yelled out the window as the man entered the nearby parking lot. The nurse cried out, “What’s wrong! Where are you going?”

He said, “I’ve got to resign real fast. I am the Vice-President of Seven-Up.”

That poor father-to-be was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I imagine just like the husbands and wives we have read about in the news who have given birth to six and seven babies. In truth I think that many people feel overwhelmed especially during the Christmas season. They are ready to just hang it all up.

Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve had just about all the bad news you can stand? On occasion that feeling grips me. Sometimes it feels like I am just recovering from one disaster when another one comes barreling in like a tidal wave.

You can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without being bombarded with the bad news of the bombings in Aleppo, the acts of terrorism in Berlin, Belgium, France just to name a few.  The incidences of domestic violence, drugs and child abuse seem never ending. There are times when the news just leaves me numb and I say to myself, come Lord Jesus come.

Every major holy day I go into a panic wondering what to say that has not already been said by far greater preachers then I. This year was no exception. While I was expressing this concern or maybe I was whining to my friend in Minnesota the other night he said to just keep telling the good news. He reminded me that we need to hear it over and over until it becomes an integral part of our very being.

So what is this good news that we need to hear over and over again? God loves us. God loves us so much that over two thousand years ago God sent his son into the world. God sent his son into the world to bring Light to a dark and troubled world. God sent his son into the world in order to implement God’s plan for divine salvation.

Now our Gospel reading for this evening certainly brought a proclamation of good news for tough times in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. But what about today? How does that holy event that took pace so long ago impact our lives today?

Every year I hear someone make the statement that this Christmas is going to be different. I remember hearing one father say that they were going to manage their time better and they were going to curtail excessive spending on gifts. They were determined to make this the best Christmas ever! His youngest son after hearing his father make such a motivational speech spoke up and said, “But dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas.” That is one very astute young boy!

And that is the truth my friends. We sure can’t improve on the very first Christmas but we can improve on the way we celebrate it today. There are two truths that came out of that first Christmas that can never be improved upon.

The first is, God himself entered into time and space. The Gospel writer John tells us that the Word became flesh and lives among us-full of grace and truth.

You see God is no longer just a theological nicety or an abstract concept. God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. I receive many Christmas cards and I am grateful for the thoughtfulness of so many. But I can’t help notice that many of the cards I receive have no relevance to what we really celebrate tonight. There are cards with beautiful scenes of snow-covered forests, lovely flowers specific to this season or cards with Santa Claus as the main focus. And when we do send cards that depict the miracle, we sanitize and romanticize the stable, and we forget the pain and agony of childbirth that was endured by a frightened peasant girl named Mary. The event we celebrate today was real with real people experiencing pain and unspeakable joy and fear that eventually drove them from their homeland.

In the book entitled God Came Near by Max Lucado, he writes, “The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit-became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe had become an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.”

“God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created.” It takes more than a simple country priest such as I, to do justice to such a wonderful and holy event. But friends the glorious truth is God has come into human life. For many this is an uncomfortable thing to accept. It is always easier to keep God at a distance. See if we keep God at a distance, God can’t mess up our life. We can stay just the way we are. We can be victims of our circumstances!

It is only when we let God be human and enter into our humanity, let God into our brokenness, then and only then can we allow God to pull us out of the darkness into the light that is Christ.

One of my favorite books is a short book called Little Pieces of Light by Joyce Rupp. The book begins by describing a Native American ritual that she was taking part in while at a retreat. In this ritual the room had to be in total darkness. The participants prepared the room by taping heavy black plastic over all the windows to keep out the light. When the room was prepared, the facilitator turned out the lights and the room was put into complete darkness. Joyce said it wasn’t long before she realized that in the darkness there were pinpoints of light coming from areas of the black plastic. It seemed that no matter how hard they tried, the light found a place to shine through. This reminded me that even in the most difficult times of my life there was always a trace of light to guide me out of my sense of dark despair. Christ as the light of the world always shines through and illuminates the way for me to find the goodness that is waiting to be uncovered.

You see God in Christ does not run away from the darkness. Quite the contrary. God sets up residence right smack dab in the middle of it. If we let the light of Christ in, then our fear of the darkness will dissipate. The light of Christ can change the darkest of the dark.

Bret Harte, in his classic short story The Luck of Roaring Camp, tells of the birth of a baby on the American frontier – a baby that made a radical change in a rough-and tumble mining camp. The only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal, a disreputable woman at best, died in childbirth, leaving a healthy young baby boy to be raised by the now all-male camp.

These rough, hard men made a decision that would reflect changes that would come later. They considered hiring a woman nurse to care for the baby but eventually decided not to. Their logic was this: a nice nurse wouldn’t come to their camp, and they didn’t want any more women who weren’t nice hanging around their baby. And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp.

The cabin assigned to little “Tommy Luck,” as they called him, was kept scrupulously clean and whitewashed. The beautiful rosewood cradle that they purchased for the baby made the rest of the cabin look wretched, so they had to fix up the rest of the furniture in the room. Then quarantine was imposed on those who wanted to hold little Tommy Luck so they had to clean up for that privilege.

Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity so that new measures were taken to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean. Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, less noisy and boisterous, no longer the “Roaring Camp” of the story’s title. The story of the baby of Roaring Camp is the story of the regeneration of a people. A baby changed the whole atmosphere of Roaring Camp. Two thousand years ago, a baby changed the atmosphere for all who have come to know him.

In the person of Jesus Christ, light has come to a darkened world. Jesus, later on in his ministry said, “I am the light of the world.” He commissioned his disciples, which includes you and me to share the light of the world.

Someone has put it like this: “Christmas is a joyous day for children. For parents, peace on earth comes several days later – when all the batteries wear out!”

Well, the message of the first Christmas is that “Peace on earth comes to everyone when Christ enters into our lives – into the brokenness of it all – Christ came to us – he did not run away!

The message of Jesus Christ never wears out. It is offered to all who seek peace with God. Jesus’ light shines in the darkness and all who follow the light go home giving God praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life they have received in him. This my friends is the good news that comes to those of us who, like the Seven-up man, feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. Know that the Christmas story is for today what it was for Bethlehem two thousand years ago – Good News for tough Times. Amen.