“Rejoice in the Lord always!”–v. 4
Christmas Eve Service
I. HOW NEAR IS GOD?
I want to suggest something so obvious, but so radical, that it seems silly for me to say it: God is always with us: God is everywhere: God can do all things. And if I can convince you that this is true, I want to show you through the Christmas Story that this omniscient, omnipresent God loves us too.
We wonder, I fear, that it is true–that God is real. That He is here among us. I mean, we can believe in the stock market, in the Pittsburgh Steelers (although that might be stretching it a bit!), in post-Christmas sales. But . . . can we believe that God is right here, right now, in our midst, right next to you . . . I hope, even, in our hearts . . . Can we believe this?
Statisticians tell us that almost 75% of us believe in miracles and more that that believe that there is a God. But how many of us live our lives as though God knew everything that we were doing, thinking, saying? I bet if we felt this way our actions and words would probably change!
I know that the generation of which Joseph and Mary were a part no doubt wondered if there was a God at all. That is, I fear, a perennial question. As he watched his people being persecuted by enemy armies, Gideon wondered where God had gone. David, as he grieved over the death of his son Absalom, wondered if God really cared. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, sincerely held that God was no longer present or concerned about the world that He had created; that He had placed the world in the universe as a clock and backed off to let things happen according to natural law. The great Colonial Awakening preacher Jonathan Edward shared genuine concern that God was still active in his world. Or, at least, he lamented that no one seemed to act like it!
The great English Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, when his cherished wife Joy Davidman died, wished that God was not so present! Listen to Lewis–remember this is a man who loved Jesus Christ with all his heart.
. . . where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims on you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain and what do you find? . . . Silence. . . There are no lights in the window.
Are there no lights in the window? Have you given up on God?
II. REASON TO HOPE
Surely the generation in our Gospel lesson had reason to give up, to lose hope. I mean, why not? When is the last time God had done anything for them? From their perspective, the hated Romans had subjected God’s people to unthinkable indignities . . . and no end in sight. Where was God? Where was the light?
This generation, as our own, echoing the words of C.S. Lewis, “Not that I am thinking that there is no God . . . the real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.” How is God doing in your book? Do you still believe in Him?
How near is God? As near as one born as we were born, albeit in a stable among most primitive conditions. As near as one who drinks a cup of wine and announces a new Way, a new Life, a new Hope. As near as one who died a horrible death on the cross–because He loved me. And then arose from the grave . . . He is here.
He came with singing angels, dirty shepherds, glowing Wise Men. He came to Mary and Joseph–hardly older than many of the children in this place. He came. He is. He lives. Perhaps tonight, my friends, you can discover again, for yourself, God’s inescapable nearness . . . As we light our candles together, rededicate yourself to His purposes. Amen.
This homily was preached at First Presbyterian Church, Johnstown, PA, on Christmas Eve, 1993, by James P. Stobaugh. References include: A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis; Jonathan Edwards, by Ian Murray; my title is borrowed from a sermon preached by Edward Schweitzer entitled “God’s Inescapable Nearness.”