The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2017
This night marks the birth of Jesus, the ultimate gift being delivered perfect, undamaged. It arrived over two thousand years ago to a young teenage girl named Mary and her husband Joseph. The gift was not just a gift for the two of them but the long-awaited gift to the world. Jesus’ birth fulfilled the promises of scripture that we read in Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Oh, how we like to paint a beautiful picture of that first Christmas! But reality is that it had to have been hard. Mary and Joseph knew about the one she would give birth to, but others did not. There had to have been gossip and cruel things said about both of them during the pregnancy. It had to have worn down their souls. Then a census was ordered so Mary and Joseph would need to travel to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. Mary would ride on the back of donkey, nine months pregnant, uncomfortably bouncing along a rough path. And if that wasn’t enough, Mary would give birth to her baby boy in a stinky animal stall, far away from home — without her mother or a mid-wife by her side. Yet, the baby was healthy and mother was fine — all was well.
God sent Jesus into the world knowing what the world was like and knowing what was in store for his Son. He knew that shepherds would welcome him and wise-men would bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. He also knew that as a toddler, Jesus and his family would need to move quickly to Egypt for safety and that people would be after him his entire life. He knew that Jesus would walk on water and heal the blind. He also knew that such acts would lead to his arrest and crucifixion as a common criminal. He knew that Jesus would be placed in a tomb and be resurrected from the dead. God had a master plan and all was well.
Because God’s master plan is in action, ultimately now all is well with us.
Leigh C. Bishop, a psychiatrist and military reservist, was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 2008. In the dim light of dusk, he watched as a procession of military vehicles approach the airfield, come to a stop, and carefully unload a flag-draped steel casket. He knew that somewhere in the U.S., a family was going to suffer a Christmas homecoming that no one wanted. It was a heartbreaking scene for Bishop to take in—and one all-too-familiar in war. But then, another scene from that Christmas Eve.
In an article for Christianity Today magazine entitled, “Christmas in Afghanistan,” Bishop writes:
[After watching the casket be unloaded from the military vehicle], I find myself walking along … the main avenue of Bagram Airfield. All is different … Soldiers holding candles are belting out Christmas carols with gusto. Down the street, luminaries brighten the walkway into the clamshell-shaped auditorium, where cheerful groups of uniformed men and women enter for a Christmas concert. Two blocks away, the chapel is filling for the six o’clock Christmas Eve service.
War, writes C.S. Lewis in the essay “Learning in War-Time,” reveals a hunger in human beings for joy and meaning that will not be set aside for even the most difficult of circumstances …
Jesus did not come just to provide an occasion to sing carols, drink toasts, feast, and exchange gifts. But we are right to do these things, even as soldiers die and families grieve, because he came. And in his coming, he brought joy and peace—the joy that overcomes our sorrows, and the only kind of peace that ultimately matters. It’s the peace of which the end of all wars, terrible as they are, is merely one token. It’s the peace that means the long war between the heart and its Maker is over. It’s a peace treaty offer by God to humanity, offered in Bethlehem and signed, in blood, on Calvary.
Because of the gift of Jesus, we can have a life with him, and we can get to a place where we know ‘all is well’.
No matter our age, things happen that can make us sad, grieve us to our core, and try to take away our joy. By keeping our eyes on Christmas and the gift of life God gives us in Jesus, we need not stay in that place of darkness. Jesus did come to bring light into the world and into our lives, he did come to bring us a peace so we can say, “all is well”.
I think that is why one of my favorite Christmas carols is The First Noel. I love the word Noel. It has English and French ties. Some scholars claim “noel” is of French origin, meaning “a shout of joy” at the birth of Jesus. Other scholars say that the original is of English spelling, “nowell.” This could be another example of how the English language has changed down through the centuries.
For example, the English people took the parting phrase with which they bade one another “Fare thee well,” and made it into one word, “Farewell.” They also took the phrase “God be with you,” and shortened the four words into one, the word “goodbye.”
In the same way, if the word “nowell” was first a phrase instead of a word, perhaps it was something like “Now all is well!” The English forefathers greeted each other every Christmas morning with the cry “Now all is well,” since God had regarded those who had walked in darkness by giving them a great Light–Jesus! Soon, “Now all is well” became merely “Now well,” and was later further shortened to “Nowell.” [FamilyInternational.org] And when we see it printed today, it is shortened to N-O-E-L.
Let us sing of the first Christmas, proclaiming to each other and to the world that now all is well through the gift of Jesus Christ. Please stand if you are able and let us all join in singing, The First Noel.