December 24, 2019
5:30 p.m. Christmas Eve
Rob just finished a four part sermon series, ‘The Presence of the Future’. This sermon tonight follows the theme in being titled ‘The Presence of the Present’, where the word present is not being used regarding the sense of time, but rather as the gift being given—Jesus the Christ—a gift of the present time and of future time.
Christmas is almost here! The anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth has begun! Food has been prepared, decorations are hung and gifts have been purchased or made and wrapped for the giving. The challenge of our Christmas celebration isn’t getting the food on the table, it is to keep the present of the day front and center—that is Jesus the Christ, born in a lowly manger.
We can carry out traditions or make new ones that help us receive the present, but our eyes should never loose sight of the present of the day.
For instance, this jacket that I am wearing was given to me by a dear sweet lady after Christmas one year, stating, “I think you’d look great wearing this and I am getting rid of things, and I won’t be wearing it again.” I encouraged her to keep it for another year, but she wouldn’t have it. As it turned out, that would be the last Christmas she would celebrate. The preciousness of the gift of this jacket is not the jacket—but rather it is the gift of love that came along with the jacket; it is the memories of time spent with her and conversations that we had that flow back every time I wear this jacket; it offers my body warmth but even more so it offers the warmth of her love in my heart.
The presence of the present lives on!
The earrings that I am wearing are small holiday cardinals. They were a gift I gave my mother the last Christmas she celebrated with us. She had been battling cancer and we knew it was most likely going to be the last Christmas we would spend together. She didn’t need anything of this world, but I wanted her to feel special and that life on earth could still be celebrated even though her days were numbered. The day she came home from the hospital after Christmas, we took a family picture. And for that photo she chose to wear the cardinal earrings. It would be the last family photo we would take with her. Every time I put these earrings on, it is not about them matching my outfit, it is about a mother-daughter love.
It is the presence of the present that keeps on giving.
Not everyone will have good Christmas experiences to remember or find this time of year uplifting and joyful, but whether you have them or not, the season does not change. Not everyone will have the people with them that they would most like to celebrate the season, but that doesn’t mean that the love has changed. The gift of the season remains. The presence of the present does not go anywhere. It remains and can be embraced no matter what this world might send our way. We may not get the ‘perfect’ gift, but no worries the perfect gift has already been given. We may not have the ‘perfect’ celebration, but no worries because the ‘perfect’ celebration has been put into motion. We may not be with the ones we would like to be with this Christmas, but no worries because we are with the one who matters most.
The perfect gift was given to this world by God over 2,000 years ago when he sent his son into the world:
- through a teenage girl, in a town that was not called ‘home’,
- in a space with stinky animals, in the cold of night;
- through an angel, who put the world on notice that the perfect gift had been delivered;
- through shepherds who were keeping their sheep safe from any danger that lurked in the darkness; through the first ’flash mob’ – a multitude of heavenly host praising God, sharing in the delivery of the news that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived, telling the world that they would know peace like never before.
The presence of the perfect present is love-giving with justice and mercy; is hope-giving to those weighed down by hardships of life; is grace-giving as we journey through life; is peace-giving in situations of conflict and strife; and is life-giving in this world and the next. Embracing the presence of the ‘perfect’ present is all we need in the present-time and future-time.
Joni Eareckson Tada writes, “After church was over, we crunched across the snowy parking lot to our car. I looked up into the night sky, spotted a bright star, and naively asked my father, “Is that the same star that was over the manger?” I was disappointed at his answer, but that didn’t stop me from gazing at the star.
When we returned home, Mother prepared a tray of bread and cold cuts for our annual midnight Christmas Eve open house. I sat on the couch in our darkened living room between Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Helen, listening to Christmas music on the radio. Candles glowed in the window. Snow fell softly outside. Mother came in to serve late-night tea (I was astounded that she allowed me to stay up until such an hour).
I kept waiting for something to happen as the hour drew nearer to midnight. But what was I waiting for?
I fell asleep long before my aunts and uncles went home, and the next morning I would have said it was all a dream. That same dreamy nostalgia carried over throughout Christmas Day. I knew, as a child, that I was free to play with my new toys and gifts all afternoon, but something in my seven-year-old heart would not allow me to spend Christmas day self-absorbed. Several times during the morning—and even that afternoon—I left my gifts, went up to my room, and leaned on the window sill to gaze outside.
What was I looking for? Why did I feel this mysterious pull to get away, go beyond, ‘step into the other side’ of Christmas?
Bright red ribbons, scented pine branches, spices and candles, the softness of falling snow, twinkling lights, the joy and laugher — these things were warm and precious, but they were inklings, hint, and whispers of an even greater celebration. A celebration to come.
I know now that I was deep into a Christmas longing. It’s a longing each of us senses this time of year —especially when we listen to the child inside of us. It’s a desire to be home, to belong, to find fulfillment, complete and eternal. Christmas is an invitation to a celebration yet to happen.
On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world.
Every Christmas is still a “turning of the page” until Jesus returns.
Every December 25th marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to … home.
Every holiday carol is a beautiful echo of the heavenly choir which will one day fill the universe with joy and singing.
Every Christmas gift is a foreshadowing of our gifts of golden crowns to be cast at the feet of the King of kings.
Every smile, every embrace beckons us onward, calls us upward when we will be with loved ones forever, when we will see our Lord face-to-face.
Angels hovering over treetops may have heralded his birth in the Bethlehem night, but one day they will herald the dawning of the new day. The glow of each candle is but a flicker compared to the light by which “the nations will walk … and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor” (Rev. 21:24).