SUNDAY SERMON: Blending in at Christmas

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: Luke 1.26-38

There are two kinds of people in the world–those who sit on the front pew, and those who sit on the back pew. That’s it. Everyone who sits in the middle is there because the front and back pews were already taken. 

What does that say about us? It says that some people don’t mind standing out, and some just want to blend in. 

I think that’s one of our basic personality differences as humans–some have a need to stand out, to be different, to be unique, to be heard, to be seen; and some have a need to be still, to be quiet, to be like others, to be part of the pack. 

When I was a young man, I wanted to stand out. I didn’t want to be like anyone else; I wanted to be unique. But the older I get, the more I want to blend into the background. Perhaps you can relate. 

The truth is that our world needs both kinds of people. Follower and leader. John and Jesus. Back pew and front pew. Joseph and Mary. 

Christmas has in some ways become a contest to stand out–the most lights, the more presents, the fancier decorations, the bigger party. 

As much as I prefer to sit in the back pew, I’ve got to tell you…I love everything that stands out at Christmas. I love the sights and the smells and the sounds and the wonder of what the season has become culturally. It’s a time for celebration, after all! The king is born. Lowly and mild. For us. We ought to celebrate! 

But today, on Christmas Eve, now that we’ve had the chance to enjoy all the outward wonder of Christmas, it’s time to turn inward. Time to blend in as God moves. Time to fall in line with Mary and Joseph. Time to be absorbed by the peace of emmanuel. I learned this the hard way. 

Several Christmases ago, something was missing.  I was locking up the church after the midnight service on Christmas Eve, making sure the candles were out, and the boiler was turned down. There were no more sermons to write, no more bulletins to print, no more gifts to buy. Christmas had come. Yet it felt…unfulfilled. As if the train had come and gone, and I’d been too buy to notice if anyone got off. 

I sat down in the sanctuary, in the middle of a back pew, of course. The overhead lights were off; only the Christmas lights were on. There was no sound. No cars passing. No radiators hissing. No reindeer running. Only stillness and silence. The still, small presence of God enfolding me like a blanket, providing unsurpassed comfort and joy. It was a moment of Christmas peace, that I now hope for every year. 

I blended into Christmas. Absorbed by the holiness of the night. Surrounded by the meaning of the manger. Close to God, on the night God came close to us. 

Dietrich Bonhoffer writes, “Having peace means being able to be still…quite still…My soul is silent before God. Being silent really means no longer able to say anything; it means feeling as if a strange, loving hand is laid on our lips and tells us to be silent. Being silent means being blessed in the sight of the one we long for…it means capitulating to the power of the Other…it means for a moment no longer seeing oneself at all…but only seeing the Other.” 

For Bonhoeffer, the Other is God. And on Christmas, the Other becomes Ours. God dons flesh, and lives among us. A boy among animals. Emmanuel. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Prince of Peace. Jesus is his name. 

Find a moment of stillness and silence…to be absorbed into God today, on the day Jesus was absorbed into our world. He came here so that God would be close to us. His presence is the present. And we must be still, quite still, to receive it. Amen.

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