Christmas Eve is one of the most special nights of the year. While we won’t be able to gather in person, we hope you will join us online for a lovely time of worship led by Pastor Joe Greemore and our team with songs old and new and a message about how God becomes vulnerable for our sake.
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The video below is the whole service.
Click this link to get a printable version of the sermon:
God Becomes Vulnerable
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
Many of us give gifts of one kind or another as part of our Christmas celebration and there are at least a few people who enjoy disguising their gifts by how they wrap and package them. Some people take pride in wrapping gifts in boxes that can’t be identified. Putting gifts in old vacuum cleaner boxes, shoeboxes, using instant ramen noodles to fill packages so that you can’t tell what the gift is if you shake the box.
In a sense, God masterfully disguised the greatest gift to us that first Christmas: a humble family, a less-than-ideal birthplace, a vulnerable infant.
That was not the gift God’s people had been expecting.
They were looking for someone powerful, people throughout history continue to be corrupted and seduced by a desire for power.
Yet when God sent the greatest gift possible, God sent a baby.
One thing we can say about babies is they’re incredibly vulnerable and that tells us something important.
At Christmas God becomes vulnerable.
One way Christianity is different from other religions, faiths or mythologies is that in most of them the gods are presented as powerful, dominating, imposing their will on humanity and the world, having no need or use for people, except to satisfy themselves.
We believe God became vulnerable and there’s virtually nothing more vulnerable than a newborn human baby. A baby can’t survive at all on its own and is totally dependent on the love and care of others to survive.
That is the risk God was willing to take for us. That’s what the incarnation, God coming in human form, tells us.
God is willing to become vulnerable in order to have a relationship with us.
Are we willing to be vulnerable to God and to other people?
One of the times I felt the most vulnerable in a relationship was in August of 1986. Jill and I had started dating in April of 1985 at Colby College, but now she was preparing to spend her junior year abroad at the University of Sussex in England.
She came to see me in Maine before she went overseas, and I went to Boston to begin my studies at Boston University School of Theology. I said goodbye to Jill in the terminal at the airport in Portland.
As I started walking out of the airport back toward the parking lot, my vision got blurry, I had a lump in my throat, and I had to hold myself together because it was hitting me that I might never see Jill again the rest of my life.
She might meet someone in England, or we might just drift apart because we couldn’t see each other for months and months. For younger people watching, you have to remember this was in the days before cell phones, Facetime, Zoom, and every app that’s available now to communicate.
I got in my car and I started sobbing. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I had to give my ticket and money to an attendant and the woman took one look at me and said with tender concern, “Are you okay?” I said, “No.” Thankfully for me, it wasn’t the last time I saw Jill, but I was very vulnerable in that moment because we had opened our hearts to each other.
In a scene from the 1997 movie, Good Will Hunting, therapist Sean Maguire played by Robin Williams is on a bench in Boston Common talking to Will Hunting played by Matt Damon.
Will is a genius, physically tough, but emotionally immature. His attachment issues have left him alone all his life.
Sean says to Will,
“And if I asked you about love I’d get a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and been truly vulnerable. Known that someone could kill you with a look. That someone could rescue you from grief. That God had put an angel on Earth just for you. And you wouldn’t know how it felt to be her angel. To have the love be there for her forever. Through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you lose something you love more than yourself, and you’ve never dared to love anything that much.”
What Sean says about love and vulnerability is a great description of God’s love for us in Jesus.
In the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight, God has been truly vulnerable.
God sent Christ to rescue you from grief.
God put not an angel on Earth just for you, but a Savior who is the light for you and for all people. And the love that God has for you is there forever, through anything, even through death itself. God knows about real loss. God loves us and all creation.
Author Madeleine L’Engle wrote,
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up, we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
Many of us are scared to be vulnerable because we fear rejection.
This is true in almost all relationships no matter how young or old we are, whether we’re talking about the possibility of a romantic relationship or a friendship.
Even God risks rejection by becoming vulnerable and many people still reject God’s love to this day.
Katherine De Coste described the pain of rejection this way:
“We have all experienced that feeling: a sinking in our stomach, a lump in our throat, tears springing to our eyes. We have been let down, disappointed, rejected. Maybe we have been tempted to think, “I am never putting myself in that situation again,” “I never want to get hurt again” or “It is not worth it.” Vulnerability is dangerous! Sometimes, it feels like there is no point in making ourselves vulnerable.”
While it may seem safer to keep our hearts closed and never get hurt; that’s not the path God chose and it’s not the one we should choose either.
Part of what makes Christmas special for all of us is the love we have in our hearts for the people who are dear and precious to us. Love and being vulnerable are inseparable. C. S. Lewis tells us,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken: it will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable.”
Yikes, we don’t want that to happen to us because that is no life at all.
At Christmas God becomes vulnerable. God takes the biggest risk ever and comes to be one of us and live among us, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph to love, care, nurture, and protect that young precious life.
Mary and Joseph had to be vulnerable to each other—Mary in sharing the story of her pregnancy and Joseph being willing to believe her and stand by her. The couple had a lot to deal with, traveling while pregnant, no place to stay, having to become refugees and flee to Egypt, they had some bad times.
We’ve seen bad times this year. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have died and thousands more will die before the pandemic is over.
We realize how vulnerable we are and how quickly life can change for all of us.
Amid the pain, grief, loss, anger, despair, and isolation we can connect with the Christmas story in a new way and recognize the vulnerability of everyone in the story—God, the Christ child, Mary, and Joseph, even the blue-collar shepherds working the night shift.
Another quote from Sean in Good Will Hunting that fits not only the Holy Family but all of us living through a pandemic is, “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”
Part of what we can learn about the year that has passed since last Christmas Eve is that bad stuff happens, but when it does, those moments can help us to pay more attention to the many daily blessings we can so easily take for granted.
One of the blessings I’m missing this year and especially at Christmas is singing with hundreds of people.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Joy to World” which includes the phrase, let every heart prepare him room. Have you done that?
For over 20 years a popular TV genre has involved home make overs. A lot of people enjoy watching the amazing transformations that experts do inside and outside of a house.
Through the years, homeowners have allowed Fixer Upper, This Old House, Trading Spaces or Maine Cabin Masters to do whatever they want to their house and yard.
They do this because they have confidence in the designers and contractors doing the work and the result of the homeowners being vulnerable and open to change and disruption is usually something much better than what they had when they began.
That is a good image for what happens when we’re willing to be vulnerable and prepare room in our hearts to welcome Christ and to give him the freedom and our blessing to make whatever changes he wants because we’ll be better people thanks to his work in our hearts and lives.
A preacher noted (Ray Pritchard),
“If you have the courage to let Christ into every room of your life, He will come in and redecorate your life so it is more beautiful than you ever imagined possible. But you’ll never know until you start opening those doors.”
If you haven’t yet opened the doors of your life to Christ, I encourage you to do so.
Because we’re not running around to open houses, parties, concerts, shows, and many other activities, we can use the opportunity presented to us by having more time this Christmas season.
Remember the twelve days of Christmas start tomorrow, you don’t have to take your tree and decorations down this weekend! Let Christmas stay with you a while this year. Let it linger.
We’ve prepared a little worship time for Christmas morning that we hope will add to your celebration of the day—with some brief scriptures, a couple of songs and a reflection. The theme is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I encourage you to watch it on Christmas Day.
We’re not able to celebrate Christmas this year the way we’re used to, yet we can still express our joy at God loving us so much that God was willing to be vulnerable in sending Jesus to be born a baby and to become our Savior.
We can receive the Christ child in our hearts and allow the Lord to comfort us and to lead and guide our life and all we say and do. We can still sing songs of praise and gratitude for God’s greatest gift even as we “muddle through” a very challenging time.
May your celebration of Christmas be blessed and may the renovations God works in your heart be beautiful and transforming. May the Hope and Peace of Christ be yours this Holy Night, throughout the Christmas season, and always.