St. John's offers two worship services on Christmas Eve, one at 4 pm and one at 10:30 pm which follows a concert by our choir. We try to make the early service reasonably short so that it is a good choice for families with young children. This year, Neil Monroe and Sandra Gudger assisted me in the sermon by offering two versions of Twas the Night Before Christmas which led into the story of the first Christmas.
Tell me a story
Beginning with the first cave paintings,
we human beings have been telling stories
for at least 27,000 years.
There is one story that has been told for almost 2000 years.
We heard it again tonight
as we listened to the reading from Luke’s gospel.
Why do we tell stories?
Why do we love stories?
Scientists say that our brains are actually hardwired to THINK in stories. There is a narrative story going on in our head
almost every waking moment--
and in sleeping moments too, in our dreams.
We love stories.
This Christmas Eve we have three very different stories for you.
All three are about generosity and kindness.
All three are about unexpected joy that mysteriously appears.
The first is a poem by Clement Clarke Moore.
Even though the authorship is sometimes contested,
most believe it was indeed Clement Moore
who wrote A visit with St. Nicholas--
also known as T’was the Night before Christmas.
He--Moore, not St. Nicholas--
was a professor at General Theological Seminary in New York City.
He wrote this poem for his own children in 1823.
Listen to the story.
- Neil Monroe reads A Visit with St. Nicholas. by Clement Clarke Moore.
- Asheville storyteller Sandra Gudger then tells the Appalachian version of the story, Night Afore Christmas by Thomas Turner.
Stories and the way they are told, teach us about place
and about people.
We might tell a familiar story a bit differently so it makes sense
to us in a certain place or time.
You can read the story of T’was the Night Before Christmas
in Cajun, Ozark, Redneck, Cowboy, Irish, Texas, Truckers,
and even Pennsylvania Dutch versions!
T’was the Night Before Christmas is about wonder and surprise,
about deep and sparkling joy,
the joy of giving without any expectation of receiving.
We are gathered here this evening
because of our longing to celebrate
or to at least know a little more about a story that happened long ago.
Luke’s gospel tells us about the first Christmas.
That first Christmas
happened in a world that was filled with darkness.
A world that knew oppression.
A world where people cried out, “Where is God?”
Where is God in the hunger and the poverty and the violence.
The people were looking for a sign from God.
The people were waiting for a Messiah to come
to come and rescue them from the darkness.
And then came a baby.
The story tells us that a child was born in Bethlehem in a humble stable,
some say it was a cave,
surrounded by barnyard animals.
And angels came
and told the shepherds,
the lowly shepherds,
and the angels sang,
Glory to God in the heavens.
This story is the heart of any story about Christmas.
It is the story of giving.
Mary gave herself to be the mother of this child.
Joseph gave his reputation to be the father of this child.
The angels gave their good tidings of great joy.
The shepherds gave their fear away
and then went to give away the good news.
without any expectation of receiving.
They gave out of love, out of joy.
God gave us the gift of this baby
who would grow into a man named Jesus.
Who would live a life and call others--even us--to follow.
To follow in the way of love and giving.
Jesus’ birth did not erase the suffering or darkness in the world
but what it did
was bring a Light into the world
that gave hope.
The name Emmanuel means God with us.
Jesus being born means we are never alone in the darkness.
Over and over and over,
Jesus told the story that love matters,
Love is the gift that can transform both us and the entire world.
Love is the gift we are given
so that we might give it away to others.
Now we are the gift-bearers
and we are the story tellers.
We are the ones that have been chosen
to go into all the world
glorifying and praising God
and telling all those we meet
the story of Christmas,
the story of love,
the story of Emmanuel,
God is with us.