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the sermon for

the Nativity of Our Lord, christmas eve

24 December 2017

Isaiah 9:2-7
We're saved not by our own faith,
but by god's believing!

12242017pmThis has been a big year for us! For us as Lutheran Christians. October 31st marked the five hundredth anniversary of the start of the reformation of the church across northern Europe. It started in Wittenberg, in central Germany, and quickly spread. And we celebrated. After all, five centuries, twenty-five generations of anything is a long time, let alone a movement like ours.

It was early August when I started a special project. T-shirts! Coffee mugs! Any celebration needs souvenirs, right? Toward mid-September, I got the designs to the printers. The shirts were ready, just in time. The mugs? Not so much. In fact, I just picked them up, Wednesday morning! A white mug. Red accents. Black letters. Kinda like Luther's seal on the front of the bulletin. Black cross. Red heart. White background. And nothing about Martin Luther! Nothing about the Lutheran church. It's all about god! So that each sip, every glance, the gospel will be proclaimed! Again and again. Over and over. Cup after cup. Good news to the last drop! "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." Those are the words on the cup. Bottom line, that's the gospel! Bottom line, that's why we're here. Sunday mornings. Christmas Eves. And this is the five hundredth Christmas Eve since the moveme3nt began.

Well, I was looking at one of those mugs as I was getting ready for tonight. By grace! Without a doubt, those are the most important words. By grace! By charity! By love! That's what gives all the other words their meaning. "For Christ's sake!" That's the phrase – more often than not – we tend to overlook, to forget about. Most of the time, we put them off to the very end... if at all! But it's those last words – "By faith!" - that catch our attention! Words that capture our imagination! Because of all three – grace, Christ's sake, faith – it's the faith we can make all about us! God loves us... but only if we believe! God saves us... but only when we trust! God answers prayer... but not unless or until we have faith! We should! We must! We ought! That's the moral of every movie, this time of year. The message of every carol and card! I thought about the sermons I remember hearing! The devotions I recall reading! And more often than not, we've got to believe... or else!

I got to thinking about everything that happens, this night. The angels singing. The shepherds going and seeing. Mary. And Joseph. The innkeepers. Even that little drummer boy, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. So much of this night, this moment, isn't, even, about them! It's not about their believing! If it's about anything, it's about god! If it's about anything, it's about god! You see, here at Bethlehem, here in the stable, god places god's own self into our hands! Here at Bethlehem, here in the stable, god commits himself, god commends himself, into our keeping! All-powerful? Far from it! God, on this night, in this place, becomes weak, vulnerable! God becomes helpless! Think about it, for a moment. God, this night, can't feed himself! God can't keep warm! God can't even change his diapers or wipe his nose! Without Mary, Joseph, god would surely die! Tonight, there is only one person doing any believing. And that one person is god! God believing in us! With all god's heart! With all god's strength! With all god's being! God depending on us! God relying on us! God staking his life on us! Tonight, we become the faithful ones!

I read something, somewhere, sometime... "If you don't trust somebody, you make them untrustworthy!" That's true for god, as well. We can be sinners only so long. Unwilling. Unable. But on this night, god changes all that! Changes all that by believing! Believing in this world! Believing in us! Entrusting us with everything that's holy! It's not our believing in god that changes us. It's not our faith that transforms the world. It's god! God believing! God's faith! God's trust! "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." It's all god! God from start to finish! God from A to Z! God from manger to grave and beyond! We're here, tonight, because god believes in us! Believes deeply! Believes extremely! Believes intensely! And it's all there... lying in a manger... hanging on the cross... stretched out in the grave... returning to the garden...

Faith doesn't begin with us. With our choices. With our invitations. It begins with god! God daring! God having the audacity! God taking the chance! To trust us with god's nearest, with god's dearest. The hopes we sing about, tonight? The dreams? They belong to god! It's god who comes down our chimney and places those hopes and dreams under our trees and in our stockings! Tonight, god takes eternity and lays it in our arms! Tonight, because of god, we cradle infinity! Christmas isn't about power and control! But it's always been about faith and trust and believing!

For the past month, we've been standing with our ear to the door, listening for that cry of a new life! Tonight, that door opens and the child is placed in our arms! In OUR arms! God trusts us! God has faith in us! God believes in us! And because of that, the world is changed forever! This world is born again!

No. The popular picture of believing is us placing our lives into god's hands. It's committing our days into god's keeping. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. But not tonight! Tonight, it is god who believes! Tonight, it is god who commits and commends! Tonight, it's god who takes tomorrow... and all the days after... and gives it all to us! To protect and preserve! To provide for and look after! This night, god makes all things new... by making us the saviors! Entrusting to us this child! It's been a big year for us. A half a millennium of reform. "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." Good news is that it's god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! God's grace! For god's sake! And above all, god's faith in us! It's Christmas, one more time! And as god has hundreds, thousands of times before, god comes to us! To save! To redeem! To set free! But even more, my friends, god comes, again, and places a child in our arms! To have! To hold! Forever!

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