Based on the Lukan Gospel account of the birth of Jesus, and the hymn
It is good to see you all here tonight whether you are here inside, in the parking lot or with us on ZOOM! It is good to gather as the people of God to celebrate the 2025th anniversary of the birth of Jesus. I have a question for you as I begin my reflection tonight…what caused you to come to a worship service on this Friday night in late December? Many others here in Madison County and around the world are sitting at home or working away at jobs – you certainly had other things you could be doing. You had to make a special effort to be here; this was something that you had to plan for in the middle of a busy season. Why are you here?!
Christmas Eve celebrations were not always a big deal in the Church. It might surprise you to learn that during the first 1000 years of Christianity the most important celebration of the year was Easter. The resurrection of Jesus was seen as the penultimate saving and redeeming action of God on behalf of humanity. It was the day when new believers were baptized, when the Easter Vigil was begun at midnight and lasted until dawn. Where everyone then gathered for a huge feast to mark the resurrection dawn. In contrast, the birthday of Jesus was celebrated as a Roman Catholic “Mass” – a normal worship service. It wasn’t until the year 1223 that the priest who would later become St. Francis, performed the first Christmas worship service with some animals, a manger and the holy family, that the idea of emphasizing the birth of Jesus began.
Now, almost 800 years later, Christmas has become every bit as prominent as Easter in the minds of the faithful. In answer to my opening question about why you are here tonight, we can most probably thank that Italian monk from the 13th Century. St. Francis started a wave of interest in the birth of Jesus that produced numerous works of art, poetry, stories and songs. In fact, there are almost 60 pages of hymns dedicated just to Jesus’ birth and baptism, while there are only about 26 pages dedicated to his resurrection and exultation in our United Methodist Hymnal. Some of the most beloved hymns of all time are focused on the birth of Christ – one of which we sang tonight as our opening hymn.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” or in Latin “Adeste Fideles” is a favorite Christmas hymn. It has been this way since it was penned in 1743 by John F. Wade. Wade was an English musician who made his living by copying and selling music. He also composed this hymn sometime between 1740 and 1743. Little else is known of him – but his faith lives on every time we open our mouths and hearts to sing his song dedicated to the miraculous actions of our loving God.
Wade invites us into the story of the birth of Jesus and also reinforces some important church teachings and theology. Tonight, we have once again heard the scriptures from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke and John, predicting and explaining why this birth was unique to the world. Wade’s hymn encourages us to embody the stories of this event so that we can live into its transformative power. O come, all ye faithful – come all of you who dare to believe that God Almighty could love us enough to come down to Earth to save us. Could love us enough to become, Emmanuel, God-with-us – not just during Jesus’ life, but for all time. Therefore, you have come, like the shepherds and the kings from the East to visualize this marvelous act of love. You have come, all you faithful, because somewhere in your deepest self you want to believe that the unconditional love of Jesus can be born in you and those you love again this night.
You have come, to hear again about the birth of one who was at the same time fully human and fully divine. True God of true God, light from light eternal, Son of our parent God – as the second verse tells us. You have come, to sing with the choirs of angels the audacious truth that this miracle happened and nothing in the life of the world – and maybe in your lives, has ever been the same. You raise your voices to sing glory to our God on high for God’s great gift to the world.
You have come, like the shepherds, kings and generations of the faithful, wanting to see in your own lives the Word of God made flesh. You have come to gaze upon the miracle of the birth of Jesus, the One who was destined to bring sight to the blind, to heal the lame and the leper, to set free all of us who are imprisoned and oppressed by the powers of this world. We all have come, because through Jesus we finally have an advocate for us sinners, who are lowly and without any other options for redemption. We continue to come seeking his unwavering and unconditional love.
Some or all of these reasons are why you came tonight. You came, even if you don’t think you can believe in Jesus. You came because someone you love asked you to come. You came, all you faithful, joyful and triumphant, you came to once again celebrate the birth that changed the world. Now go, and tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus, the baby who would become the Christ, has been born in you again. Thanks be to our Almighty and loving God for this holy miracle, amen!