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Tue, Dec 24, 2019

All the Generations

Duration:59 mins 45 secs

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

As a young child, I remember waking up on Christmas morning in the room I shared with my brother. We would run to my parents’ room at the other end of the hall. Once we got them up, they went downstairs, but we had to wait. Yes, wait sitting at the top of the stairs, until the fire in the wood stove had been started and we heard the call that all was ready. So we waited, trying to sneak down a step or two so we could get a peak of Christmas.

This year as a church in our Advent Devotional we have been blessed as we have waited as each day a member of our church or staff has shared a personal memory or tradition of Christmas. As the waiting is now over, I thought I would share a few of my own memories with you this evening.

As a child I loved to sing in the children’s choir at church. Each year we did a musical for Christmas and I always wanted a prominent part. However, one year, I was quite distraught when I received the part of Gabriel. I did not want to be an angel because all the pictures of angels I had ever seen were girls. But when I learned that there were boy angels and girl angels, I did my best to announce to young Mary that she would bear the Son of God.

When I was young, we always spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home. My mom’s family came to us for Christmas in Pennsylvania and later in West Virginia. The weekend after Christmas we traveled to see my dad’s family – my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins in Buffalo, NY. I remember a few years when the snow drifts on the side of the road were piled as high as the car windows. Starting early in the morning we would open presents - one at a time - for as long as it took. Usually there was a break for breakfast, then a mid-morning cookie break, and occasionally we had to return after lunch! It was a big family. Full of joy.

At Gram and Poppy’s house the kids took over the basement. We slept on the floor in the basement in sleeping bags. We would make up songs and dances and whole shows to perform for the adults. And somehow my cousin Debbie still has some home videos from those days. I think she needs to lock them in a vault as opposed to posting them from time to time on Facebook.

But Christmas was not always full of fun and games. Christmas 1990 was hard. Grandpa, my mom’s dad, had died a few weeks before. My grandmother was sick. She would die a few months later. So instead of staying home for Christmas, we went to their house in Cincinnati. We were out of place. We went to an unfamiliar church on Christmas Eve. We did not eat the usual foods. We missed Grandpa terribly. I was sixteen and I am sure I did not make things easy on anyone. And yet, somehow Christ still came.

One of my fondest memories from my time as a student at Davidson College is that in the midst of the frenzied confusion of the end of the fall semester, as we students were preparing for exams, on the first Sunday night in December we would gather in the Davidson College Presbyterian Church sanctuary for Christmas Vespers. Friends and classmates in the college choir sang beautiful anthems. In the pews we joined our voices together for familiar hymns. The college chaplain, a few faculty members, and local ministers would take turns reading the scriptural story of the birth of Christ.

Then just before we lit our candles and sang Silent Night, the last one to stand and read was John Kuykendall, our college President. John always speaks with a strong and yet quiet, distinctly Southern voice. Every year, John would rise to lectern and say, “A reading from the Gospel of John, the first chapter. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …”

In that moment, every single one of my four years at Davidson, as if in mid conversation about exams and stress and achievement and the weight of the world resting on my shoulders, it was as if it all suddenly became clear.

Just a few years later, I served the Salem-Pageland Presbyterian Church on my first Christmas Eve as a pastor. Church members said they had not had a Christmas Eve service, at least in recent memory. Well, I was not going to celebrate my first Christmas as a pastor without one, so we planned it and everyone came. It was a small church, so everyone had to pitch in. My brother, my dad, and I even sang a very slow, seemingly unending, version of We Three Kings.

Every Christmas Eve since has been a gift. Though in particular I remember the three when Sarah and I were expecting a child ourselves. All three of our kids were born in February and March, so we knew that the time for the baby to be born was literally drawing near. When we were expecting Will, I preached a first person narrative imagining what Mary and Joseph thought and felt as they expected the baby Jesus. Two years later, to start a tradition and because we had moved to a new church, I preached that same sermon on the Christmas Eve when we were expecting Sam. I preached the same sermon to that second church again three years later when we were expecting Bekah. That sermon concluded this way: “It wasn’t anything like what they had planned, but God’s great plan of salvation was just getting started.”

And that’s the thing about Christmas memories and traditions. The story is the same every year: Gabriel announcing to Mary that she was expecting; telling Joseph in a dream that the child in Mary’s womb was from the Holy Spirit; the birth of the Son of God in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn; angels announcing good news of great joy to the shepherds. It’s the same story and yet, somehow every year it becomes new because where we are in our life and in this world is always different. The joys and the challenges of this year, the new members of the family or the loss of ones so loved, traditions maintained or new memories to be made. It’s all the same and yet it’s all different. And through it all Christ comes; the light shines in the darkness; God draws near; it’s good news of great joy for all the people.

Yes, my friends, Christ is born anew this year. God is with us. Let all the generations rejoice! And Merry Christmas!

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