I am working on my Christmas Eve sermon today. There is always a flurry of preparation for this sermon as I look forward to preaching to a different group of people. Christmas is challenging for a preacher; we know there is lots of competition. We compete with squirmy children, distracted people who are thinking about the next task they need to complete after church is over, people who rarely come to church, and people who wonder what this story of Jesus’ birth has to do with their lives…hmmm. Maybe this isn’t so different from an ordinary Sunday.
As preachers we do try to do our best at Christmas. Yet while I prepare this Christmas sermon I wonder if it’s worth it. There is extra pressure for a big holiday, of course, and I feel that, but what about the faithful who come every Sunday? Shouldn’t I always do my best for them, every week? Why do I feel the need to spend extra time on a Christmas sermon for those who rarely come to church anyway?
As I sank into my ritual of preparation and entered my writing zone this morning, it occurred to me that I have a visit or two to do before tomorrow, and I became flustered. I don’t really have time for these visits, because there are so many details to attend to, so many bulletins to prepare and print, and so many services to finish planning. I’m overwhelmed. Yet I know these visits need to be done.
So I placed a phone call this morning to plan a visit with a woman I haven’t seen in a little while. When I told her it was me, her voice gave away her surprise and delight. When I offered to visit her this afternoon, she said, “Oh, I know you’re so busy this week. I can’t believe you’re making the time to see me. But if you can carve out some time for me I’d be so grateful.” Her words were sincere, and my heart melted. Her grace-filled words changed my perspective. Suddenly all my sermon preparation took a back seat to a few minutes spent with her, and I realized all my writing means nothing if I am not living it too.
This is how the Christmas story came to me this week. In the midst of the flurry of my preparation, God called me into the home of a woman who may seem insignificant to the rest of the world, yet her witness to me changed the course of my day. Jesus came as a vulnerable baby, born to a teenage girl and visited first by lowly shepherds. The story of his birth reminds us that God came to the helpless, the poor, the weak—those who society sees as unimportant and irrelevant. We are called to do the same. This woman I will visit, like the irregular church-goer, the distracted parent, and those overwhelmed with Christmas preparations all deserve to hear God’s love, mercy and grace. They are God’s beloved—we are God’s beloved—filled with the promise given to us in the manger that changes the courses of our lives.