Year A — Christmas Eve

Bonus Edition: A Sermon and a Story
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton 

Christmas Eve Dec. 24, 2010
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Several years ago, I saw a cartoon in a religious magazine that showed a young boy talking to his little sister. He was saying: Now the Shepherds were busy washing their socks by night.

It’s an interesting picture, isn’t it? Several tired and dirty shepherds who,
after a long day watching their flocks, have finally gotten the sheep settled down for the night.

They have finished their simple supper, eaten standing up around the fire.
Now they boil a kettle of water and after removing their work boots, peel off their dirty, stinking socks.

I imagine them wearing long, white, tube socks, with reinforced heel and toe, you know, the ones with a little band of red or orange around the top.
The shepherds sit back and stretch their feet out to the fire, wiggling their toes and massaging their insteps.

Ah, what a relief after a 16 hour day chasing sheep up rocky hillsides and down dusty roads. So, they wash and rinse and wring out their socks, propping them on little sticks near the fire to dry before they stretch out on their blankets to catch a little sleep.

Just another day – just another night on a boring job in which every day is
pretty much like the day that went before.

Suddenly, the sky is filled with a blinding light and an angel is hovering in the air above them. They quake and shake and hug the ground. “They were sore afraid,” is one of the great understatements of the Bible.

The angel talks about the Messiah and a baby and the city of David.
Then a whole choir of angels appears, singing about peace and love.

And then, the shepherds get up and put on their damp socks and cold shoes and tramp off to Bethlehem to see what all the fuss is about. At least, that’s what I think about when I hear the words washing their socks by night.

Now, this whole business of thinking about shepherds washing out tube socks by the fire was very helpful for me, because it helped me remember that they were, after all, real, ordinary people like you and me.

Yes, they were ordinary people, going about their ordinary lives in ordinary ways, when something truly extraordinary– extra-ordinary– suddenly intruded and changed their lives forever.

All too often, we fail to remember that most of the people in the Bible were more like us than otherwise. They didn’t spend their days waiting for a prophet to come to town or scanning the horizon for angels.

No, most of them spent most of their time going about the ordinariness of life; going to work, paying bills, cleaning house, gossiping with neighbors, quarreling with the in-laws, worrying about taxes and the girl Junior’s been dating. They went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath and then went home and talked about the Rabbi being long-winded and the sanctuary being too hot. They were a lot like us.

And, just like us, while they were hopeful that next year would be better than last year, or the year before that, they weren’t really expecting things to change, not really. In their heart of hearts they weren’t looking for God to do anything dramatic any time soon.

And yet tonight we gather to celebrate and remember that there came a time when God did act, when God did do something totally un-ordinary

God came calling, with trumpets blaring and angels singing and stars in the night. While the shepherds were washing their socks by night, God showed up with a gift.

It was a gift of God’s self, a gift of love and joy and forgiveness, all wrapped up in a very surprising package, a little baby born in a spare room, sleeping in a feed trough.

We have been given a great gift, the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son, the Christ, Our Savior.

It would be a terrible shame if, after we have gone to all this effort to celebrate this gift, we fail to fully receive it into our lives.
It would be sheer folly to celebrate Jesus as the Son of God and yet fail to obey Him when he invites us to take up our Cross and follow.
In order to receive God’s gift into our lives this Christmas, we must let God’s love and peace and forgiveness go to work in us and in all we do.

God has shown up in the midst of our ordinary lives, shattering our timid normality with his own brazen originality. 

God has exploded into our lives, upsetting everything forever, and the question is: what are we going to do about it?



When I was a little kid, we lived in a four-room house: Living room, Kitchen, Parent’s Bedroom, Children’s bedroom, outhouse in the woods. On Christmas Eve, we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s for dinner then we came home and went to bed by 9 o’clock, the four of us in one room, all of us under ten.

Daddy always reminded us that if we heard noise in the night we should stay in bed, because Santa would take our presents back if he caught us peeking.

Early on Christmas morning, long before dawn, we slipped from our bedroom to the living room next door. We opened our presents and squealed with delight, our mouths full of candy we found in our stockings. Suddenly we were aware of a presence in the room then we heard a loud noise, like a cow stuck in a barbed wire fence.

We turned and saw upon the couch a large man with white hair and a beard, tall black boots sitting on the floor; he was asleep snoring loudly, his huge belly going up and down in fretful rhythm. We were, to use a Biblical phrase, “sore afraid,” for we were sure we knew who this visitor was. We did the only thing we could do; we gathered up all the toys and candy and hid them in our beds, then we retired there too, cowering in the dark and cold, waiting for him to leave.

A couple of hours later our parents came to see why we were not around the tree. “Is he gone?” we asked. “Is who gone?” they said. “You know, HIM. Santa,” we said. I thought my mother would die laughing, I really did.

Our visitor was her Uncle James, her mother’s brother, a man once described by his own sister as “the most worthless human being God ever devised.”

James had showed up around midnight, on foot and a bit tipsy, on Christmas Eve with nowhere to go. And my parents put him to bed in the only place they had, the living Room couch in front of the Christmas Tree.

I have seen many Christmas plays and movies, I have heard and preached many Christmas Eve sermons. But none of them has taught me more than what happened the night my parents made sure there was room for one in need, even if he didn’t deserve it.

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