How well do you welcome visitors that come to your home? No one and I mean no one welcomes people better than our dog, Lilly, loves when people come to visit. We don’t even need a doorbell, because Lilly’s sole function in life is to sit easily by window waiting for the next visitor to come. She has a table, almost like a throne, that she sits on to look out for anyone who might come and visit her. All she really hopes to see is someone entering the house. When she sees someone she barks with a joy that we don’t hear any other time. She does something that can only be described as a bark of excitement that turns into a squeal. She wags her tail so violently, I am sure she will wipe out everything in its path. Her body bends in half with joy and excitement, as she does not take her eyes off the person walking in the door. When the person reaches the stairs, Lilly, jumps off the table and waits inches in front of the door waiting for that door to open. When the person enters the house, Lilly greets them by jumping up and down with a look that says, “pet me, pet me, please!” Next she bends her body in half and does a strange wiggle dance with my boot in her mouth, pleased as a peach with herself. Lastly, she smells them as a way of paying them the highest compliment, they smell as good as the best rotting piece of fish in the creek behind our house she wants to say. Except for this one thing, she tends to ransack people’s bags looking for food. Ladies watch out because more than a piece of gum or two have vanished out of the satchels and into the little mouth of Lilly. But, Lilly loves to welcome people into our home (or should I say her home).
The shepherds had someone come and visit them, but they were not quite as ready for it as Lilly on any given day. Having grown up on a farm, I know people like these shepherds. They were probably busy talking about their animals, probably how stupid sheep can be if you want to know the truth. They were so busy being shepherds that they didn’t notice anything was different about the night until a heavenly sledgehammer pounded them on the top of the head. The angels came out of nowhere as a bright light. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the text says that they were terrified. I am pretty sure there is not a person on earth that would not find this situation as terrifying. However, the angel tries to bring down the tension on the hillside by telling the shepherds not to be afraid. They are told that tonight a savior is born in a manger in a barn in Bethlehem. Then as if the scene was not surreal enough, there was a multitude of angels who came down from heaven to sing praises to the baby that was born. It’s unbelievable the text does not say the shepherds passed out. By the end of all of it, they were compelled to go and give Jesus a proper welcome. Really, with the heaven full of angels, what choice did they have?
Giving Jesus a proper welcome is really why we are here tonight. Some you are like Lilly, waiting at the window for any hint of Christmas to come. You know who you are. You have your radio station tuned to 93.3 the station that plays Christmas music from what seems like July through December. You watch “It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas” so much that we can recite the movies line by line as they play. You put enough lights on our house that airplanes mistake them for airports. You make enough Christmas cookies to feed a small army. You enjoy every single aspect of the Christmas season.
Others of you, are kind of forced into welcoming Jesus tonight at Christmas. The heavenly angel that hit you over the head like the shepherds may have been your mom who looked horrified when you suggested going to a movie tonight instead of our Christmas eve service. You are not quite as excited about this time of year. You may be here because you woke up this morning and thought you might try something a little different, or because you want to make your parents happy, or maybe you have lost touch with the church but something continues to draw you back on Christmas.
All of you are here now whether like Lilly breathlessly waiting for Jesus to come in the door or the like the shepherds coerced and led to his manger. All of us are waiting for something. Whether we are sheepherders or anxious doges we humbly come out on this Christmas Eve, in awe of the birth of a baby—a baby who is the savior of the world. A baby that will not only bridge the divide between God and a sinful world, but a baby who brings the ultimate peace and joy.
World War I was one of the most gruesome wars that has taken place in history. The trench warfare all over Europe undoubtedly haunted the soldiers for the rest of their lives. However on Christmas of 1914, six months after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (which began the war) the Germans and English fighting on the Western Front called a truce. The English had apparently seen Christmas trees going up on the German side and songs began being sung by each side. When the song ended the side would applaud and request another song. The next day, impromptu soccer games broke out all over the front. Troops, who just a day previously had been hell bent on slaughtering each other in an increasingly bitter conflict, downed arms and met in the strip of muddy, carved-up up turf that separated them. Two groups of young men, brutalized by war and divided on national lines, met in no man’s land and not a shot was fired. It was an extraordinary moment, laden with symbolism. As we know, the war did not end at the point and the bloody conflict would continue on. However, many soldiers have been interviewed about the details of that truce and all of them look back fondly at that Christmas in 1914. It was a little bit of peace on earth. In the midst of an awful war, Christmas was able to provide some peace. Even the greatest of enemies were able to come together on Christmas.
You are here now, how can tonight change our world? How can kneeling at the baby Jesus change who you are? Who you want to be? How can you give witness about the Messiah? Welcoming Jesus has changed this community. People here in the midst of the worst recession gave hundreds of toys, clothes, boots, even furniture to thousands of kids and families this year. Welcoming Jesus sent out ten of us last night to feed 100 homeless men downtown. Welcoming Jesus here at Messiah filled this place with five different children’s Christmas programs that we hope infected our youngest members to begin this journey of love, too. Welcoming Jesus brought 400 people here on Wednesday nights to worship in quiet candlelit services, a bit of peace in the midst of Christmas commercial chaos. Welcoming Jesus caused over 100 musicians to practice for months to serve us tonight in this and the other three Christmas Eve services. Welcoming Jesus simply changed us. Our perspective, our values, our hope for creation. Just like it changed those men in the trenches of WWI, the hope of Christmas, welcoming Jesus, can cause us to value something completely different: peace, love and a life of hope.
I hope, honestly, I am as anxious for guests to come and visit as my dog. Because Lilly has it right. She knows that each guest bring something special. Maybe, I shouldn’t be going through their purse like Lilly, but I know all guests come in the image of Jesus. When I welcome Jesus, I am the one who receives the gift, the gift of love for myself, the world, and for God. You may be more like the shepherds and have to be dragged here, but you are here now. Kneel, enjoy and welcome Jesus. Amen