“God With Us”
Christmas Eve Family Meditation
By Rev. Don Ludwig, December 24, 2019, 5:00 p.m.
The story we just heard is as spectacular as it is simple. A baby born far away from his homeland, in a stable of all places – to a virgin mother – to a couple struggling to have faith – the baby is laid in a manger. A simple story of faith and hope – a Christian story but one with a universal message — God is with us – calling us to love one another!
Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way… she says that Christmas Eve is the time “when the membrane between heaven and earth is so thin you can almost see through it. Tonight is the night we measure all time against.”
Reflections – Looking Back
As I often do when I write sermons or reflections, I reflected on the past and recalled the time when I was riding across the United States on my bicycle with 6 teenagers back in 1999. The miracle was not that I rode all 3,428 miles of the trek in 44 days, not that we raised over $150,000 for Habitat for Humanity, not that 3 major news organizations in Oregon covered our story, but that we made it back alive. We had so many instances where someone could have seriously been hurt or even killed. Of course, I never told the parents of the teenagers about those incidents until years later. But I always deeply felt that God was with us keeping us safe.
I remember one particular moment, as we rode through the state of Montana, we discovered many hills and faced baffling wind and weather conditions. It snowed in August, for God’s sake! We used socks as gloves and made make-shift t-shirt hats to warm our ears — we were so unprepared for cold and winter conditions. But there were breathtaking moments in the white grandeur when all was perfect and the riding was effortless. We saw deer and antelope and even a bear. I will never forget the day in Montana when one student riding his bike beside mine, after riding 115 miles in the wet and sometimes miserable conditions that day, at sunset, he turned to me and said, “Don, you know God is riding with us!” I smiled and said, “yes, God is riding with us”.
When we get passed the commercial trappings all around us, when we take time away from the stress-filled preparations when we just hear the story anew, Christmas Eve can be a time machine for us — this breathtaking moment, when we turn down the lights and sing Silent Night — is our Bethlehem. It is a time to put pretense behind us and savor the moment — to be present — to focus on God Emmanuel — on God with us.
But some of you have to deal with your own reality at Christmas, and it may not seem so breathtaking and God may seem far away. For some of you, Christmas is, in the words of Don Harbuck, “the burdened season.” It’s a hard time of year. You’ve got an empty chair to deal with. You have a stocking that will be staying boxed up, and Christmas is lonelier than it’s been in a long, long time.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, the promise remains. The heart of the story that we just read; namely, that on this one night, we are deeply reminded that God chose to live in us and among us. Heaven is in the here and now offering us a world of peace and dreams, and joy, and courage. Marcus Borg writes in his book entitled, First Christmas, “God’s dream for us is not simply peace of mind, but peace on earth.”
Truth be told, there’s not been a Christmas – not even the first one – that went off exactly like everybody would have wanted it to. Every bike trip I have led over the years has presented unique challenges. But I am convinced that the secret to a successful bike trip — or anything for that matter — the key to peace — is learning to let go — it is realizing that there are things beyond our control — and trusting that God will see us through.
When all is said and done, and when life goes on after this magical season, maybe remember this breathtaking moment – that tonight, at this very moment, the whole world has stopped because “a child has been born to us.” And because of that child — –even in the hills of Montana or the valleys of Beaverton — we know that God is riding with us.