the Nativity of Our Lord (christmasEve eve)

Luke 2. 1-14
God calls us to share Christ’s ventures and Christ’s paths and Christ’s perils!

For a month, now, we’ve been getting ready for this moment. Or rather, god’s been getting us ready. Each Sunday, we’ve heard the gospel proclaimed, the good news administered. And for the last three Wednesday evenings, we’ve gotten together for dessert, for a devotion. A devotion based on a prayer that’s become for us – for the last two decades – a sort of theme song; a signature prayer, if you will …

O God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown ….

Originally, that prayer was meant as a reflection on the call of Sarah and Abraham. “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house,” god said, “to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Those were the ventures and the paths and the perils of which the prayer speaks. But it could, just as well, be the prayer of anyone on a journey. The prayer of an enslaved people lifted out of the mud pits and set on the path to a new life. The prayer of disciples leaving behind everything they held holy to take a new message out into the world. The prayer, even, of a congregation swept along by the changes and chances of life.

Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us ….

Anyway, these last three Wednesdays, I talked about god calling us! Calling us to OUR ventures … Calling us by OUR paths … Through OUR perils … About the known that lies behind us, the unknown that lies ahead of us, and the life we live between the two … But this last week, as I was getting ready for this night, and as I thought about those midweek get-togethers, I realized something. I did the very thing I’ve been warning you not to do. I forgot to mention Jesus! I forgot to mention Jesus and his love!

You see, it’s so easy for all of us to get swept up in the moment. To get swept up and carried away. To talk all about the new things, the exciting things. To dream about the ventures and the paths and the perils. But all those things didn’t begin when the papers were signed, last January. They didn’t, even, begin when this congregation was organized back in the Fifties. They began, on this night, two thousand years ago. In a stable. In a small town. A day’s walk from Jerusalem. This is the venture to which god calls us! God’s venture, not ours!

Being born in a stable! Being wrapped in bands of cloth! Being laid in a manger! That’s the start of it all! Then growing! Becoming! Bringing good news to the poor! Proclaiming release to the captives! Letting the oppressed go free! Then, at the end, suffering … being crucified … dying … being buried … That’s the venture to which god calls us! Not what we might be able to imagine, what we might be able to dream. It’s the gospel! The good news! Of what god has done and is doing in, with, under Jesus! He’s the venture of which we cannot see the ending. The journey, the pilgrimage, god is taking! He’s the road less traveled by! The road not taken!

And here, in this congregation, contrary to what I might have said, Jesus is the venture! The cross the path and the peril! And we travel it not just once. Or twice. But year after year, over and over, time and time, again! And it all begins here at the manger, standing with the shepherds, staring at the child, lost in wonder, love, praise! No matter how many times we come here, it’s always fresh, always new! God calls us – calls all of us – to this venture, by this path, through these perils! And we go! Not because we choose to go! Not because we want to go! We go because we’re drawn, we’re captivated, we’re spellbound! By the story! By the love!

We walk the walk! And somewhere along the way, we become the journey! We become the story! We’re recreated in its image! We become what we believe! The gospel we hear, the good news we’re given, claims us as its own! We become the prayer! The cross Christ carried becomes the cross we carry! The love he loved becomes the love we love, as well! And the creed? The creed becomes our biography! And it all begins, again, here in this place, on this night. When the word becomes flesh! When the child is wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a manger!

This is the moment that god comes to us! The moment that god calls us! When the day is shortest! When the shadows are longest! The night the coldest! God comes to us and calls us to join the journey! To join god’s journey! To the cross! To the grave! And beyond! To the cross, the grave, and back! That’s the venture! The venture to which we cannot see the ending! That the path! Those the perils! Jesus leading the way! We following. Matching step for step, breath for breath, heartbeat for heartbeat! God calls and we go out! With good courage! Certain, sure, of god’s love! For us! For all creation! And we are led into a world we never dreamed of! And this, this is the time, the place, where it all begins! Here in this stable! Here in this manger!

So, tonight, it’s Christmas Eve, once again. Or rather, it’s ChristmasEve Eve! We tell the same old story. We sing the same old songs. Candlelight flickers on the ceiling, the walls. Memories and dreams dance in the shadows. But if we look closely, we see god taking our hand in god’s! And if we listen carefully, we hear god whispering. “Come! Come with me and we will change the world! Come with me and together we’ll make all things new!”