December 24, 2023

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Christmas Eve – December 24, 2023

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

From the Gospel according to Luke, “…the angel said … , ‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Well, let me begin by wishing a most Merry Christmas to you all, and again welcome you home to Holy Cross. Each year, our parish family and friends gather in this sacred place to hear, once again, the message of the angels and to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ as described in tonight’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke. And I believe that because the story is so familiar and important to many of us, that the hymn sung just moments ago, a hymn unfamiliar to many, our hymn, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” seems so peculiar. See, it is labeled as a “Christmas” Hymn and that makes sense given that the opening verse offers an almost poetic remembrance of that birth long ago when – as the hymn writer describes it “a barn harbored heaven and a stall became a shrine”. So, there is a connection to Bethlehem, to the Christmas story. But then the following verse catapults us ahead to Palm Sunday when that same child whose birth we celebrate tonight entered Jerusalem in triumph as a fully grown adult. The next verse goes even farther recalling the events of the Crucifixion on Good Friday. And throughout the hymn a refrain echoes, over and over again and again, “And every stone shall cry”. What a peculiar hymn.

As I said my prayers and meditated on this evening’s scripture lessons, my thoughts kept returning to that haunting refrain, “and every stone shall cry”. Those words recall that Palm Sunday parade into Jerusalem, that day when Luke tells us that authorities alarmed by the jubilant crowds “said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ And he answered, ‘I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout out.’” (Luke 19:39-40) The stones would cry – not with tears of anguish, but with tears and shouts of joy. But, this is Christmas, not Palm Sunday. So, what on earth do crying stones and verses about Holy Week and Easter have to do with Christmas, have to do with us on this night?

See, for me and I know for many of you, Christmas is about singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, or “Angels we have heard on high” or “Joy to the world” or “Silent Night”. And that is important because those hymns speak deeply to our hearts and minds as they affirm the world-changing redemption inaugurated with the birth of Jesus on this most holy night. And we know the lyrics of those hymns so well that we sing them boldly and actually, without much thought. Hymns like “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” just don’t seem to fit with tonight’s celebration, or the gift-giving and feasting we will share over the next twelve days of Christmas. 

And therein, lies its beauty: “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” urges us to step back and think about why God came to us in the first place, and why he came not as a conquering warrior as many expected, but as Luke describes it, came as a humble, vulnerable, defenseless baby, dependent upon his parents and community for protection, nurture and sustenance.

This hymn offers a poignant reminder that Christmas, the miracle of the Incarnation, when the very grace and love of God was born into our midst as one with us and one of us, is only the beginning of the story of our redemption - the world’s redemption – a story that will inevitably lead to betrayal and death – and culminate in yet another miracle: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and therein and thereby complete God’s redeeming work of love; that miracle when, in the words of the 4th verse of our hymn, Christ’s descent among us – his birth at Christmas – ultimately reconciled heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Still, words about crying stones do seem out of place. Yet, tonight, with all that is happening throughout the world at home and abroad, the truth is many people are crying: crying in out grief, crying in despair, crying over the uncertainty and fear for the future. Their circumstances could not only make stones weep, but also turn their very hearts and our hearts to stone. And that is when this hymn takes on a new and deeper meaning – an important meaning for us.

See, in those moments when our hearts may, indeed, feel like they are made of stone. Those moments when we struggle to find compassion for our neighbors or even for and within our own selves. Those moments when we do not know where to turn, we are reminded that not only does the cross lead to an empty tomb, it leads us back to a manger where tonight’s celebration and the chance for new life marked by a renewed relationship with God begins. A manger where God’s love forever lies open for all to see and embrace tonight and every night; A manger where God’s love forever beckons us to be his presence, his light in this world until indeed, every stone – every person - does cry out – not from sadness, but with joy - shouts of joy from the very depths of our redeemed souls – because in the words of that angel long ago, “to you, to me, to us, to the whole world, is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  And that birth has and can continue to change lives forever if we will open and allow our hearts to be that manger where the presence of Christ may dwell forever.

    And so on this Christmas Eve, 2023, may the burdens, the stones we carry within our hearts, cry out for joy and our lives begin, once more, to show forth the beauty and hope of that stable lamp once lighted for all then, and is still lighted this night, and within us, in how we choose to follow the Christ, is not only lighted, but blazes forth forever. Thanks be to God! Amen.



Sincere thanks to a colleague at whose reflections on the hymn, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” encouraged deep reflection and served as the framework for tonight’s sermon.