God With Us … on the Phone?

Dec 24, 2020

Christmas Eve Sermon
December 24, 2020
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Grace and peace to you on this unusual Christmas Eve. It may be true for you, as it is for me, that this is one of the very few times you have not stepped into the church on this Holy night. You’ll notice that I did not say “you have not worshipped” or “have not attended a service.” We are worshipping together, with people close at hand and far away, who are celebrating the birth of Jesus, God with us. Love has come.
     Indeed, God is with us even though we are not physically with each other, and that should be our focus, particularly this pandemic year. God is with us; that’s a concept we introduce in various simple ways to children in our Preschool. One way is teaching them that they can talk to God anytime, and God will hear them.
     A lesson I do with the preschoolers involves bringing in an “old phone.” (Show the phone.) Actually, it’s not that old, but they have never seen anything like it. Some of the littlest ones do not even realize it’s a phone. I show them all the features. Like the fact that it has to be plugged into a special outlet in the wall and that you cannot take it with you in the car or to the store; in fact, you can only move as far as this funny stretchy cord allows. (Showing them how the cord works is a big hit.)
     On top of all that, it does not do any good to talk to it. If you say, “Call grandma,” nothing happens. Instead, you, with your own fingers, have to push the buttons to call someone. And, I always ask, how do you know which buttons to push? The idea of having to know someone’s number is foreign to them. Which I am beginning to understand since I no longer have many phone numbers committed to memory.
     All of this leads up to this question: “This is an old phone, and God is pretty old; God has been around for a long time, so do we need an old phone to talk to God?” There’s some debate, but in the end, it’s decided you do not need an old phone or any device to talk to God.
     Well, when I did this lesson recently, I added something off the cuff. I told them I was going to pretend to call God on the old phone and see what he had to say. I wish you could have seen the rapt attention of the 3-year-olds as I greeted God, said thank-you for the beautiful snow, and then for the lovely children and devoted teachers at Faith Lutheran Church Preschool. My side of the conversation went something like this: “Yes, God, I am grateful for them. What did you say? Oh, you love them all, and each one is special. Yes, that’s true! You are going to help them have a great day; that’s wonderful!” Those children, they were entranced, and when I hung up, one little guy said, “I didn’t hear him,” which I replied to with a smile, but wanted to say that he had not yet learned to use the receiver. (Although, my experience is that sometimes the little ones hear more clearly than us older ones.)
     The point is that I can convey that message to children because of Jesus, God with us. One of our Advent devotion offerings noted that we not only long to have a relationship with God, but God longs to have a relationship with us. Thus, God came to live among us as a baby, then child, then youth, then a man named Jesus.
     I recently noticed in the Living Lutheran magazine a brief article about Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, which, I admit, I have not read. But the article noted that the crux of Luther’s message on Advent and Christ is this: God comes down for us.
     Think about each part of that sentence, writes Church History Professor Mary Jane Haemig. “God: it is God in the flesh who is in the manger. Comes down: God does not insist that we ascend into heaven, but comes to us, into our lives, our situations, our sufferings. For us: God in Christ comes to do something for us … he actively changes our lives.” (1) Here are Luther’s own words, written in the mid-1500’s: “I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the Baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify man. Inexpressible majesty will crush him. That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.” (2)
     God with us, to console and confirm. Just a moment, please, my old phone is ringing. What? You cannot hear it? Perhaps that is because you have not learned to use the receiver yet?
     Hello? Oh, hello, God. It was great to talk with you the other day. Yes, those children are such a blessing. How are we? Well, frankly, I cannot speak for everyone, but I am sad that I cannot gather in-person with my church family on Christmas Eve. It just does not seem like Christmas.
     Excuse me? What is Christmas Eve? Well, it is when Jesus’ followers gather for worship, to celebrate his birth, and give thanks for his forgiving grace and that You came down for us. Aren’t we doing that, even though we cannot be together? Well, yes, we are, but… I beg your pardon? Yes, I believe you came as Jesus, and continue coming, joining us in our struggles, including pandemics. So, what is the problem? Well…as you know, there are more than a few problems in this world, for example…. Oh, I’m sorry, you meant what’s the problem concerning tonight. I guess there isn’t one. It is Christmas Eve, and we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth. Thank you for the reminder.
     Yes, I realize love has come down; the next time we talk, you want to have a word about all of us sharing your love more broadly? Umm…Ok…. Merry Christmas.
     Did you hear that? I do not know about you, but I feel consoled and confirmed by God’s love and favor, just like Martin Luther said it would be true. No wonder it’s called good news for all people! AMEN
(1) “The Humanity of the Nativity” by John Potter, Living Lutheran, December 2020, pg.15.
(2) Same as #1