Christmas Eve- Fr. Chris- December 24, 2017

December 24, 2017


Audio Version

In a sleepy New England town, many of the Christmas traditions of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church date back nearly a hundred years, which is not much for that particular congregation considering the parish was founded before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Much of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the season brought people from far and wide due to the sheer beauty of the celebration. From the poinsettias to the choir to the altar hangings to the incense to the large hand-carved nativity scene, Christmas at St. Matthew’s is truly a sight to behold. However, it was that hand-carved nativity that brought scandal to St. Matthew’s one particular year.

A new rector arrived at St. Matthew’s at the start of the Advent season and he had no idea of the hornets’ nest he had just walked into. His first Sunday a mob gathered around him in the narthex and asked if it was appropriate for the baby Jesus to already be present in the manger. You see, it was the practice of St. Matthew’s to set up the large nativity throughout the season of Advent as a beacon of where the season was leading, but the question persisted of what to do with the baby Jesus figurine. When exactly was he to be placed in the manger? Advent one? During the season of advent at all? Christmas eve? Christmas Day? Apparently, this argument had been going back and forth for years and both sides used that long standing Episcopal argument of the parish’s tradition. “But this is how we have always done it” becomes a moot argument when both sides claim it. Nonetheless, the altar guild for that first Sunday of Advent had put the baby Jesus in the manger knowing that a new year of the great nativity stand-off was about to commence.

And there was the new rector just standing there stuck between a rock and hard place. And perhaps due to his naivety or perhaps figuring he could use his “I am the new rector” capital, he decided to weigh in on the matter. He declared it would probably be best for the baby Jesus to not make an appearance until the actual Feast of the Nativity began on Christmas Eve night. And so with a triumphal march, the “no Jesus ‘til Christmas” faction strode to the front of the church to remove the sweet baby figurine only to find… he had been superglued to the manger which was in turn superglued to the nativity barn. The baby Jesus was not going anywhere.

In a different part of the world, in fact right here in the Houston area, the good people of St. Luke’s gathered on December 23rd for their annual greening of the church. St. Luke’s was originally founded as St. Clements in 1923 as part of a missionary effort to the African-American population in the third-ward of Houston. It is a small church, but one that is big in spirit. At the December 23rd greening of the church event, everything was moving along smoothly when the matriarch of the parish all of a sudden popped up to her feet with an ashen look on her face after frantically searching through a box labeled “Nativity.” It appeared that between the packing last year and the unpacking this year of all the Christmas decorations, the baby Jesus figurine for the nativity had gone missing. Their rector calmed everyone down and encouraged them to set everything up despite not having a baby Jesus. They could use their imagination this year and deal with the situation later. In other words, this did not mean the end of the world, much less the end of Christmas.

The next evening the congregation gathered for their Christmas Eve service. Despite not really being able to see into the manger from the pews, they all knew that the baby Jesus was missing and for that they were a little sad. But then all of a sudden, someone noticed that the manger was not in fact empty. Something peaked out over the edge and a murmur spread throughout the congregation. Finally, one brave soul sheepishly tottered to the front only to find a small notecard with writing on it. It said, “Jesus has left the building. He is out in the hood.”

Tonight, on this most holy night, we gather to hear the story so many of us know so well. A mother and father, angels and shepherds, and of course the baby Jesus… It is the night in which God incarnate, God in the flesh, steps foot into his creation and all is changed forever. As the 19th century poem and popular hymn proclaims, it was love that came down at Christmas. Yes…

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,

Love Incarnate, Love Divine,

Worship we our Jesus,

But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,

Love be yours and love be mine,

Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.[i]

We gather tonight because of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger for there was no room in the inn. God incarnate… The baby in a manger who isn’t going anywhere at least that first Christmas night. Yet, we are also reminded that that baby’s purpose was not confined to an animals’ feeding trough. We gather in celebration of Jesus who is out in the hood. Christ among us. “Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” The beauty of this night is about something more profound than just a baby in a manger. The beauty of this night is about the nativity of love incarnate: “Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas.” And so, we are reminded that Jesus meets us here in this time and space, on this night in our rejoicing. And also, Christ has left the building where that love is shared in living rooms with family, both close and estranged… where that love is shared with neighbors in friendship and kindness… where that love is shared with the stranger in acts of charity and compassion.

Good people of St. Paul’s, we gather on this holy night to join our voices with the Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven as we sing “Joy to the World” and “Holy, holy, holy.” We also follow our Prince of Peace out into the world with a song in our heart to continue that good work that began so long ago in the little town of Bethlehem when “Love came down at Christmas.”

[i] “Love Came Down at Christmas” by Christina Rossetti

Service Schedule

Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Weekday Services
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist


St. Paul's Episcopal Church
5373 Franz Rd
Katy, Texas 77493
(281) 391-2785

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