Christmas Eve Service

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner, Bridge Rector

O come let us adore him.  So we sing, this night.  Come let us adore him.  I want us to think together, for just a minute, about what we mean when we sing that: adore him.

Most of us have heard Luke’s gospel so many times that it dangerously familiar.  But forget the poinsettias and the evergreens, if you can, and listen to what this story is talking about.  It is about ordinary people displaced by political maneuvering.  It is about an unwed mother.  It is about a couple forced to spend the night in a shelter.  It is about migrant workers.  It is about religious and ethnic minorities in the middle of a vast empire. It is about where power and authority might really reside in an unstable and broken world.

Luke’s gospel begins by saying, “in those days”—but, honestly, we might say, “in these days.”  This story did not only happen two thousand years ago.  This is not only a story of the past, the story of Jesus’s birth.  It is a story of the present.  And the central question is just as urgent now as it was two thousand years ago.  In the midst of all these competing claims for our loyalties, which one should win?  Whom do you worship?  Whom do you adore?

There is a lot of competition for our hearts.   So many of the systems of this world want to co-opt our affections.  Do you have a customer loyalty card somewhere in your wallet?  Have you gotten on the mailing list for a major political party?  If so, you know how it works.  These systems are not necessarily evil and sometimes they are very ordinary but they are relentless in their pursuit.   Give your attention to us, they say, in one way or another.  Give your attention, and so give your identity, and so give your heart.

The gospel reminds us if we mean what we sing—if we come to adore Jesus—then we are defying all those other things.  If we believe that story we just read—if we believe that God’s love for humanity is best shown by a baby born in poverty to two nobodies from a backwater town—then we are not going to fall for glossy ads or slick campaigns or partisan rhetoric.  God is not shown in power but in weakness.  And we will not be afraid to find him there, or to honor him there, or to love him there.

I can’t say that coming to church on Christmas Eve is exactly counter-cultural, although maybe it is more so than it used to be.  In this part of the world, coming to church is an easy thing to do.  But it is nonetheless a powerful thing.  When you come to this place, on this night, you make a statement to yourself and to others about to whom your heart belongs and to whom it does not.  And when you get on your knees and sing Silent Night, you are making it clear that you do not bow down before political power, and that you do not bow down before wealth.  When we say that we come to adore Jesus, you and I, we say that we will not adore anyone less, and that our deepest loyalties are spoken for and are not for sale.

Most of us tonight will do something else that doesn’t exactly seem countercultural.  We will feel joy.  We will adore God, and then we will feel joy.  We will leave this place with light hearts, I hope.  I mean, it’s Christmas Eve, right?  And yet this seemingly ordinary experience of sentiment is not remotely sentimental.  It’s been said that joy is an act of resistance in the face of despair.  It seems especially true on this night.  We have so much to despair about, in the story then, and in our story now.   Read the paper.  Berlin.  Aleppo.  Unjust governments prosper.  Bigotry thrives.  Poverty persists.  Moral indifference and human cowardice allows evil to flourish unchecked.  Despair would make sense.

And yet we who adore Jesus know joy.  We who come and lay our hearts down at Bethlehem are given peace—not because all is well in the world but because all is well with our souls, and with our God.   In Jesus, we know a love stronger than hate, or evil, or death.  And so, yes, we are joyful, persistently, even defiantly.  We believe the good news.  We do not have to be afraid, as the angels are always reminding us.  It’s the first thing they always say.

What we do tonight is simple.   But it might also be the most important thing we can do this night, or any night.   We lay our hearts where they belong.  And so we prepare ourselves to lay the rest of our lives where they belong, too.  Because God has not just come to us here, of course.  God has come to us here.  And we prepare to honor and love him in all the places we encounter him.

Unto us a child us born, unto us a son is given.  So, this night, all nights, in this place and in all places, come, let us adore him.