The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
You know that feeling you get after all the build-up, all the planning, and all the work is all done? Do you remember what it feels like when the birthday party is over and all the guests have gone home, all the cake is gone, and all the presents have already been opened, and now all your left with is memories and clean-up? Well… now what? It’s all done. What now? That’s how I sometimes feel on Christmas Day. Last night we pulled out all the stops, and now here we sit. It’s kind of an anticlimactic yawner today in comparison to last night, isn’t it? All the anticipation; all the excitement…done. You build up and you plan and you work…and it’s all gone and done now. Today kind of has that feel like it’s the day after the party.
And for many people this is exactly the case. I know I’m not the only Christian to have ever struggled with going out to church for Christmas Day worship after I just got done attending Christmas Eve worship. It’s the same story! What could possibly be different? Pastors struggle with this too, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. It’s the same story! We just preached on it sixteen hours ago. Nothing has changed since then. Consequently, many a congregation simply cancels worship on Christmas Day. We’re no different here. We used to do it too. The rationale goes like this: All the people show up on Christmas Eve. That’s when you get the most bang for your buck. Christmas Day is typically a bit more “roomier.” Hardly anyone will show up, so why bother even turning on the lights? Why bother getting out of the PJs and making the kids leave their toys? We already heard the story. We’re good. But…maybe we feel this way because we don’t really understand the miracle of God in the flesh for all mankind as well as we think we do. I can confess it about myself. The truth hurts, and I’m not proud of it. Maybe you’re courageous enough to tell the truth too.
I want you to consider the shepherds in our Gospel lesson for this morning. We heard a little bit about them last night. These guys were the very first ones God told about the birth of Jesus. That’s pretty miraculous in itself. These guys were the dregs of society. Remember: They didn’t count. They weren’t counted for census. They weren’t even counted for taxes, and that’s saying something. That’s how low and insignificant they were to the rest of mankind—the government didn’t even bother with them for taxes. And yet…God tells them first, and He makes this Good News known by filling the night sky with bright angelic choirs, all singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” God pulls out all the stops to let some insignificant bum-shepherds know that He loved them and counted them as worthy of being saved; worthy enough to send His Son to live and die for them.
Now what? Well…they do exactly what humble, saving faith does: They hear this Good News and immediately say to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” St. Luke tells us that they immediately went with haste. That’s a nice way of saying they high-tailed it to be in Christ’s presence. Contrast that with our own reality. How many Christians all around the world heard the Good News last night proclaiming the birth of Jesus? I understand that even the biggest and best productions still fell far short of the angelic display God put on for the shepherds that first Christmas Eve, but still…. How many people heard the Good News last night? How many people, after hearing that Good News, set out with purposeful haste this morning to be in the presence of this same Christ? Here He is, right? If only the adults would hurry to be in Jesus’ presence like the little kids hurry down the stairs to see if Santa has been there.
And here’s the real point I want you to ponder this blessed Christmas Day: Notice what these shepherds do after hearing the Good News and after they worship Christ in His presence—they return out into the world; the same world that shunned them. They return to their vocations, and they glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen, making known to everyone what had been told to them and what they themselves had witnessed and beheld and were a part of. Folks: This is where the “what now?” question just gets absolutely destroyed. What now? Go and tell what God has done for you! Go! Return to your vocations. Return to the callings and offices God has placed you into in order to serve Him and make Him known. Go serve God by serving your neighbor.
Unfortunately, that’s something that a lot of 21st century American Christians with big hearts and good intentions often struggle with. We’ve been duped into believing that we need to find the “secret, higher purpose” that God has for us. We’ve willingly taken the bait—hook, line, and sinker—believing the lie that our everyday vocations and callings are somehow “less than” and mundane and lowly and faithfully deficient, and if we really want to serve God and make God happy, we need to step up our game. “Here is God’s secret, higher purpose for you.” Ordinary life just doesn’t cut it.
Well…that’s not how God sees it. These lowly shepherds return right back to their lowly vocations. They return to nomadic shepherding, only now they’re evangelizing, telling everyone about the Good News of Christ in the flesh as they go. “What now?” Folks: Here [the crucifix and Holy Communion] is the answer to such a stupid and selfish question! Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! The Word of almighty God Himself, who became flesh and dwelt among us, to live and die and rise again for us. Behold! This same almighty God, who still abides with us and dwells among us, to feed us, forgive us, nourish us, protect us, and deliver us from all evil. Here is almighty God—the same almighty God these lowly shepherds worshipped so long ago—holding out to you His real and tangible gifts of grace, mercy, and peace; gifts that He gives to you in His Word, His body, and His blood. Folks: Here is what the angelic hosts sang about! Here is God’s peace on earth, with you and for you, right now!
What now?! Go and tell all that Christ has done for you! Go and glorify and praise God for all that you have heard and seen and received from the hand of Christ Himself this very day. Go, and serve God by returning to the very good and God-pleasing vocations that He has called you into in order to make Him and His salvation known to all people. What now?! “Take and eat. Take and drink, for the forgiveness of all your sin. I am with you now and always, to the very end of the age.” Folks: It’s that simple, and it’s a profound, yet simple joy that has never been intended to be restricted to one night or one day out of the year. It’s a profound, yet very simple Christological joy that is ours each and every day in Christ. That’s what today is all about. Today is yet another opportunity our Lord gives to us to be in His presence, to receive from His own hand, and to celebrate all that He has done for us out of His great love, grace, and mercy for us.
May this gift of Christ to you; the gift of your salvation; the gift of knowing and trusting that God is reconciled to you and at peace with you because of the all-atoning life, work, and person of the Word made flesh and hung on a cross for you; may this gift of God be your joy, your peace, and your reason behind all that you say, think, and do in your daily God-pleasing, neighbor-serving vocations, now and into all eternity.
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