December 24, 2017 /Christmas Eve /Pastor Richard Holmer
First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7 / Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14 Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Christmas brings us some of the best music of the whole year. We all have our personal favorites – and for many that list includes the carol we just sang. Surely it would be missed if we did not sing Silent Night together in this space – illuminated by the light of several hundred candles.
Along with our favorite Christmas carols, there are some we could just as soon do without. One that falls into that category for me is “O, Holy Night.” It’s not a bad song, but . . . This carol was spoiled for me by experience in a previous congregation. I inherited the tradition of a woman who appointed herself to sing “O, Holy Night” every Christmas Eve at the 11 pm service. Each year it got a little worse. She meant well, of course – but her voice was no match for the music. And no one had the heart to tell her. So, a couple weeks ago I was listening to the radio while I was working in our kitchen – and O, Holy Night was played. As I listened I heard a line that I had never given much thought – and it struck a chord. It opened for me a fresh insight into Christmas.
This is the line: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and THE SOUL FELT ITS WORTH.” Whose souls? Yours and mine. A blessing of Christmas is souls coming to feel their true worth.
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What is the soul, anyway? Your soul is the part of you that is most genuinely you. Your soul is your spiritual essence, that which is enduring in you. You don’t have a soul – you are a soul. Christ awakens us to who we truly are – and what we are worth. He is the Soul Man.
At Christmas, God came to us as more than a disembodied voice, more than a burning bush, more than a set of commandments carved in stone. God came as a person. To see a tiny, helpless baby is to see something quite common: newborn life, with all the requisite parts. Yet there is more with baby Jesus: we also see Emmanuel (God With Us), heavenly grace and mercy wrapped in the flesh – fully human, and fully God.
To see God in Christ – even in a baby – is also to see something essential about ourselves. We are more than physical beings: more than skin and bone, arms and legs, beating hearts and cogitating brains. We’ve got soul!! (even Lutherans) We have within us a life force that’s more than a heartbeat, brain waves and respiration. When it comes to humans, the whole of us is greater than the sum of all our parts. There’s something irreducible in the light of the eyes; something ineffable in the multitude of a person’s facial expressions, something gracious and unique that comes across in an individual’s bearing, gesture, attitude and presence.
All this and more is what we mean by soul. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” So wrote Iranaeus. It’s true. All persons have souls – yet not all of them have come fully alive (not yet, anyway). The glory of Christ is how he causes persons to come alive. And so St. John was moved to write: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” And Jesus proclaimed: “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” (Santa gives gifts – Jesus gives life) Jesus gives life by enabling persons to discover the true worth of their souls. He’s the true Soul Man. He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
We know how a soul can become withered and weary, a soul can be bartered or sold – a soul can even be lost. Yet a soul can also be revived, restored, refreshed. A soul can be saved.
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So, how does a soul come to feel its worth? We know what it’s like to feel worthless: unknown, unwanted, useless, disposable. It’s the feeling that leads to despair. Too many in this world are made to feel this way by: poverty, abuse, injustice, neglect, failure. Many are still “in sin and error pining…”
How, then, does the soul come to feel it’s worth?
It begins with being recognized, known, identified. Jesus saw everyone he met clearly, he saw them deeply, personally. He recognized them as brothers and sisters. Christ appreciated their simple, essential humanity. Consider how Mary came to be recognized in her obscurity. She is stunned when an angel calls her by name! And when she learns what God has in mind for her, what does she say? “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She felt her worth.
Some of you here tonight may be feeling overlooked, unrecognized. Many of us have been there at some point. Some may try to polish their image. But that’s all packaging. Soul is our essence. And we long to be seen as we are. Which is how Christ sees each of us. And CHRIST SEES US AS WORTHY. You and I have been recognized at baptism as children of God, Christ’s very own brothers and sisters. We are named and claimed. That’s how God knows us – and how we can know each other.
The soul feels its worth when it is loved. Christmas is the story of God’s love coming down to earth to bless us in a personal and lasting way. God’s love is not for the few, but for all. Among the first to experience the warmth of God’s love were those shepherds we hear about in Luke’s gospel. In those days shepherds were regarded with some suspicion. They were near the bottom of the social ladder. Shepherds lived their lives on the edge – outside the community – and most felt that was where they belonged. But God welcomed those poor shepherds to embrace the good news that the Savior was born for them. Standing around that manger, the shepherds felt something new: a sense of their own worth. This is a blessing for each of us to keep in mind throughout the year.
Jesus the Savior is born for you and me as well. Christ sees us as we are – and loves us. He doesn’t overlook our flaws and our failings – he forgives them. To all who feel unloved or unlovable, the Christmas message is that we are embraced with a love that is deep and abiding. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. To experience such love is to be made worthy.
The soul feels its worth when it is given purpose and responsibility. After all, the soul is not passive or inert. The soul is active, vibrant – alive. God came to earth – the Savior arrived as a baby boy – and Mary and Joseph felt the worth that comes with being recognized and loved. They also shared the responsibility of all parents: they had to nurture and raise this child. The Son of God depended on their support. Mary and Joseph had the holy responsibility of caring for Jesus as he grew.
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You and I have the holy responsibility of sharing with others the great love that has come to us in Jesus Christ. We, too, are Christ bearers. Our souls find their worth in doing what needs doing – living a life that matters.
And nothing matters more than living as instruments of Christ’s love and grace. Jesus is eager to work through you and me to help other souls come to feel their worth.
As we celebrate Christ’s appearing in this hurting world, may you experience anew the infinite worth of your own soul:
- You are known.
- You are loved.
- You have a purpose.
Thanks be to God!