"The Birth of Hope"

Rejoice, for unto us is born our Savior who is the hope of the world.

The waiting is over. Darkness has now turned to light. The prophecy is fulfilled; God now comes among us as a little baby born in a manger. How do we respond to such good news?

The Christ Child born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and the hope and blessings of Christmas are directly linked to our response to this blessed event. When we read and hear the Christmas story from the Bible, as we did tonight, there are at least three ways we can respond to the news of the newborn king.

We can respond as the innkeeper did when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to their presence, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied with other things.

This is the answer millions of people give tonight to the birth of Jesus. Like the Bethlehem innkeeper, they can't find room for Jesus in their life. Other crowding interests and priorities take up the available accommodations in their hearts. There is no more room, and there is no strong desire to make room.

Their response is not atheism. It's not defiance. It's preoccupation, and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Jesus in their life. We can respond as King Herod did. His answer was one of hostility. In his raging jealously, when Herod heard that a King had been born, he said, "Destroy him! Let him die while he is still in his cradle."

Over time Herod's response grew and swelled until one day it became a mad mob's terrifying roar: "Away with him, away with him, crucify him."

Sadly in many parts of the world, this cry is still being shouted. The world objects to the Messiah. If Jesus would remain gentle and mild, then that would be all right; there's no danger there.

If Jesus remained a mystical dreamer, or if we could just place him in a stained-glass window and keep him there so he wouldn't trouble us, then that would be all right as well. But a reigning Christ, a life-changing Christ - this is what's not acceptable to millions of people. This Christ is a threat to their way of life. It strikes at the roots of their independence and self-interests.

But there is another response, which is totally different from the first two. It came from an old priest in the temple by the name of Simeon. He took the Christ Child in his arms and said, "My eyes have seen your salvation."

Simeon's answer was the response of commitment. Simeon's response was one who realized that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, the only true hope. Simeon realized Jesus came to pay a debt he didn't owe, because we, humanity, owed a debt we couldn't pay.

How will you respond to the birth of Jesus, not only tonight but in the coming year?

A year has passed since we last gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the days of this past year have resulted in an array of emotions as the rhythm of life has drummed on day to day. From fun-filled daytime celebrations to silent closed-in hours, we faced a dichotomy of pain versus pleasure, grief versus celebration, and life versus death.

And it's this time of year when we often times look back over the past twelve months and think of those who touched our lives and helped us through the difficult times, and we remember those who were there to celebrate with us during the joyous times. These are our: friends, family, strangers, and yes Jesus Christ.

Now as we come to the end of another year it's appropriate that we gather tonight to celebrate once again the birth of hope. A wonderful gift that helps us through another year of ups and downs, excitement and uncertainty. A gift that comes from knowing the Son of God, a little boy, named Jesus whose birth is the focus of tonight's worship.

You know later on tonight Santa will leave many gifts under the tree bringing smiles to many people tomorrow morning. It's a wonderful and fun time, but the truth is these gifts, and the joy they bring, are short-lived. These gifts have a finite life. We grow out of clothes or wear them out, toys break, and video games become boring and obsolete.

But tonight we are told of a different gift, an infinite gift. We are told of a gift wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, a gift that gives us hope for a better today and a better tomorrow.

This little baby, born to simple parents, is the light in our darkness, the joy in our sorrow, and the hope in our hopelessness.

Tonight we celebrate Christ's birth with the promise of the future, a future filled with joy, peace and love. A future that is now, a future that is infinite, a future that is eternal life. This special gift, Jesus Christ, is yours to receive and keep forever.

But keeping this gift alive in our hearts is like keeping a fire burning, you need to keep feeding it or it will die out. As the songwriter says, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going," but to keep it burning you need to keep feeding it.

Well our hope in the promise of eternal life is the same way. Tonight's the spark, which sets hope ablaze, but unless we continue to feed it throughout the year, like a fire, hope can slowly burn down until there is nothing left but despair and uncertainty. Hope remains vibrant and ablaze if we keep feeding it with spiritual fuel. We refuel our spirit by reading the stories of our faith, by worshipping weekly with other Christians, and by studying the scriptures and praying.

Wouldn't life be worth living, wouldn't dreams be coming true, if we kept the Christmas spirit the whole year through? Remember while December brings the only Christmas day in the year the Christmas Spirit can live throughout the year in what we say and do. The Christmas story comes alive again and again as followers of Jesus, like you and me, live their faith and serve others for Jesus' sake

My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will receive God's love and will receive your place as a dearly loved child in his heavenly family.

Receive the love and the hope that comes in the form of a newborn baby. Receive Christ's unconditional love won for you through the victory of his resurrection.

Remember God loves you simply because he has chosen to do so. He loves you when you don't feel lovable. He loves you when it seems no one else does.

Others may abandon you, leave you, and ignore you, but God will love you, always, no matter what. Let this truth, and the promise of life eternal, fill you, flood you, and change you forever.

For unto us, is born in the City of David, a savior who is our hope for evermore. Amen!

Read other homilies by Pastor Wade