What Brings You Here?
In our church newsletter this December, I shared with folks the results of a study done by one of my colleagues, about why people come to church services on Christmas Eve. The number one reason: Family — People responded, “this is what my family does and I want to be with family. That was 30%. Then came music – “I love the Christmas music and want to sing the familiar and favorite songs.” (22%) Then came Experience – “I love the songs, the candles, the story, the feeling.” (16%) Next was Focus – “Christmas has gotten so crazy; I like the clear focus on the reason for the season.” (12%) Next, Habit: “We do this every year.” (11%) And then, at number 6, faith. “This is the most special and important event in my faith; I wait all year for this.” (5%) Why are you making this Advent Journey? Why will you show up on Christmas Eve? Habit? Family? Music? Faith? To see the child in the manger? Where do you fall in those categories? What brought you here tonight?
What brings You here? That’s the question we’ve been asking. All throughout Advent, all season long, as we’ve been preparing our hearts and lives for Christmas, we’ve been looking at different figures in the stories of Jesus’ birth, and we’ve been asking: What brings them to the manger? Literally, or figuratively, what brings them to this intersection where their life and their journey brought them into an encounter with this Christ-child? We’ve looked at King Herod, at Joseph, at Elizabeth and Mary, at angels and shepherds and Innkeepers, some of whom we hear from throughout this very night. And to each, we ask, “What brings you here?”
What might surprise you, what surprised me in rereading a story that is so familiar to me, is realizing that almost no one in Christmas story set out looking for a Savior, for a Messiah, for a Christ-child. Mary and Joseph – they were probably faithful Jews, and maybe they had a vague hope of a messiah to come, like many of the people of Israel. But they clearly had no idea that they would become key players in the unfolding of God’s plans. They were just a couple, engaged, planning their future life together. And what brought them to Bethlehem was the government! Most of the people who would have been near Jesus, near the stable, near the inn, in town – they were all there to make sure they paid their taxes! That’s what brought them to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had encountered angels – messengers of God’s good news. So their faith brought them spiritually to the hour of Christ’s birth. King Herod gets mixed up in the story, brought by fear, motivated by the need to make sure he kept as much power as he could for as long as he could. The shepherds: the first Christmas started out just as another day keeping sheep for them. We don’t know anything about them. Their names are not recorded for us. We have no idea what happens to them after this night. We don’t know why the angels chose to appear to them, of all the possible witnesses to Christ’s birth. But it seems to me that their very ordinary-ness tells us something about how God works, and who God’s good news is for. If anything, shepherds were people who lived on the fringes, the edges of society. They lived outdoors most of the time, spent most of their time with animals. They weren’t looking for a savior. Their journey to Bethlehem was a last minute trip, a decision made on the spot because they were curious to see this strange thing the angels told them about, and they couldn’t pass up such a fantastic invitation. No, no one set out on this night looking for a Savior. But the Savior they found. And to most – it brought overwhelming joy, or abiding peace, pondered in a mother’s heart.
That’s what brought them here. But tonight, what I most want to know is not what brought this collection of characters together two-thousand years ago, on the first Christmas. That’s important. That’s compelling, a story I want to hear. But what I’m most interested in tonight is this: What brings YOU here? What brings you, you in the pews, here, to this place, at this time, on this night? Why are you spending time here on this night?
Maybe we are like the innkeeper. Here because it is our job, because we have to be, just getting it done, not really involved in the action, observing from a distance. Maybe we’re like those who were just in town to pay their taxes – we’re here without a big plan, a big purpose, big expectations. Maybe we are like Mary and Joseph – here because we think God has big plans for us, even if we’re nervous, unsure, overwhelmed with what those plans might be. Maybe we are like Herod, fearful of what God might be up to, what God might want us to change about the way we’re living, what God might do to shake up our priorities. Maybe we’re like the shepherds, and we’ve stumbled onto the manger, brought here out of curiosity, because someone invited us, because it was something different in the midst of our ordinary lives. What brings You here?
But whatever brought you here tonight, the main thing is that you are here. To some of you, maybe it was an easy decision to come here tonight. Maybe there is nowhere else you’d want to be. But increasingly, there are a million other options for where you could be tonight. And however it happened, whatever other choices you had, whatever your reasons were, somehow, you made it to this place today, to this worship service. We are so glad you are here, soaking it in, even if don’t know quite what to do with it all, with the story of Christmas, with this Christ-child who is Savior, with God-with-us.
Whatever brought you here tonight, whatever made all of our paths intersect on this evening, the main thing is that you are here. Because child in the manger, whose birthday party you’ve stumbled on, this child was born because of you! Because God is for you, with you, in you, and delighted in you, full of love for you. God has come for you. Your path, whatever road you took to get here, has led you to the manger, and the child Jesus was born because God wanted to be closer to you. This gift is for you. That’s the good news, and we so need some good news!
Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.