Christmas Eve Sermon, 2019

Let us pray: On this Holy Night, we welcome the Christ Child into our midst and into our hearts. We pray for more love, more courage, more joy, more hope, and more peace for ourselves and for the world. We pray that we welcome Your Son with the same love that we welcome our neighbor. We pray that the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts this day and every day. Amen.

The story of Jesus’ birth includes beautiful examples of love and hospitality. Mary and Joseph don’t find room in the inn, but they do find a place to stay. It’s likely that Mary and Joseph end up in the first floor of a family home, where the animals typically stayed during at night. They find a place to be for Jesus’ birth. The shepherds find welcome when they came to visit the Christ Child.

This humble story is one that still touches the hearts of countless people. At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, pilgrims still visit and wait in line for hours to view the spot where Jesus may have been born. For most people around the world, Jesus’ meager, humble birth is like their own. They see themselves in Mary and Joseph, who had to travel many dangerous miles to Bethlehem, far from home, seeking a welcome. They recognize themselves in a child born in a strange place and soon forced to flee to safety in a foreign country. Jesus’ birth story is not necessarily like ours, but it is like most of the world. There are over 70 million people displaced in the world today, more than any other time in history. Jesus’ humble birth shows us that God is on the side of those who experience oppression, marginalization, poverty and suffering. This is where God chooses to enter the story of humankind.

Tonight as some hear the story for the first time, and as others hear it for the hundredth time, we are all challenged to wonder about our own hospitality. Would we welcome Jesus into our homes, into our hearts, today? We’d like to think we would.

How has your life been transformed by the birth of a child? There’s always something miraculous about birth, about a new life entering into the world. The birth of a child can bring forth a love inside of us that we never knew we had. Our hearts, hardened into stone by the world and life, become flesh, just as the book of Ezekiel promised. For many parents, welcoming a second or third child brings with it a worry that there won’t be enough love to go around. We wonder if love is a zero-sum game. Will we love our first child less because we have to share our love with a second? Last month, before my newest niece was born, I wasn’t sure if l I would feel the same thrill at her birth since I already have 7 nieces and nephews, and the oldest is 20. I’ve had 20 years to enjoy births of nieces and nephews. It was a silly thing to worry about. My newest niece’s birth was just as exciting, and just as wonderful as all the rest. Birth is always a miracle. Our hearts expand, and there is always enough love.

I’ve been captured lately by the story of Steve Grieg, who is an example of hospitality and love to me. He lost a beloved dog several years ago after it was hit by a car. He said, “A month or two went by and I still felt so horrible about losing my dog. I decided that the only way I would feel better was if something good happened that probably wouldn’t have happened if he had not died.” So Steve went to the local animal shelter and adopted the oldest dog they had and named him Eeyore. He was 12 years old and had bad knees and a heart murmur.

Steve soon found himself with a house full of 9 senior dogs, one pig named Bikini, three chickens, two ducks and a rabbit. He also just added a turkey named Tofu. Here is Steve with his animals. Steve

Even in Steve’s story, there’s a temptation to question if there’s enough love to go around. If Steve is giving all this love to his animals, does that take away from the time and energy he can give to people? Is it better to love people or animals? Steve says about this, “Oddly, my animals have taught me to love people more. I’m instinctually an animal person—I feel some kind of connection to all animals, but I don’t always feel that connection to all people. If I can instantly love an old homeless, beat-up-by-life dog, why can’t I do the same for people in those same circumstances?”

Here are a couple more pictures of Steve’s brood. How could you not love this group?

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Love leads to more love. Love multiplies. That’s the miracle of God’s economy. Jesus’ power is through love, and the more love you have, the more love you have to give.

Steve posts photos and stories from his life on Instagram, and he’s amassed a huge following. Just a few weeks ago, one of his followers told him about a dog named Kenny,  who spent his life in a cage.

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When I showed this photo on the screen in the sanctuary during my sermon, a voice from the choir loft gasped and said (almost involuntarily) “OH KENNY!” I got the giggles and almost couldn’t finish my sermon.

He was 11 and lived in Puerto Rico. Steve decided he wanted to adopt Kenny, and put out word that he needed help getting him home to CO. Soon thousands of people around the world were trying to help. Then, Steve received a text from his next-door neighbor Sophia, who was planning to fly home from Newark on the exact day Kenny needed a ride, and she said it would be an honor to bring him home.

Steve posted, “I don’t know if these kinds of things happen more this time of year, or if we just notice them more this time of year, but it does feel full of the holiday spirit. I will make sure he gets all the treatments he needs, and all the love he needs, and that he never again lives in a cage. I renamed him Fernando so that he has a new name to go with his new life. Fernando you are loved.” 

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Fernando in his new home.

If We Had Been There by Martin Luther

“THERE ARE SOME of us … who think to ourselves, “If I had only been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby. I would have washed His linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!” Yes, we would. We say that because we know how great Christ is, but if we had been there at that time, we would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Why don’t we do it now? We have Christ in our neighbor.”

When we welcome the stranger, we are welcoming Jesus. Every day we’re given the opportunity to welcome the divine into our midst—not just on Christmas. And sometimes the divine looks like an old, beaten-up-by-life dog, or a refugee, or a neighbor.

Is there room in your heart for those who need your love, your hospitality, you? Do you have enough love to go around? More than you’ll ever know.

Amen!

 

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