O Come All Ye Faithful, Bored and Irritated

Why are we here tonight? 

That’s actually a more complex question than we might think. 

Many of us are here out of habit and/or tradition.  We’re here either because we come to this church every Sunday and Christmas Eve is part of the deal, or we’re here because we simply always go to church on Christmas and Easter. 

We might be here because our parents made us come, or we might be here for the sake of the children or grandchildren.  We might be here to sing favorite carols and see the greenery and just generally feel festive. 

I’m here because it’s my job to be here, in addition to wanting to be here, of course.  Every one of those reasons is a fine and good reason to be in church tonight. 

But I’m wondering if there might just be another reason working in the background, whether we realize it or not.

Think about the people who were at the first Christmas. 

Mary was there because she literally had no other choice.  Biology took over at that point and she was obviously present at the birth of her child. 

Joseph was there because he loved his fiancée and wanted to do right by her and take care of her. 

The sheep and camels and whatever were there because their stable had been invaded by this couple who could find no room at the inn. 

And the shepherds were there probably out of curiosity, to find out if their vision of the angelic host was real or just a result of being oxygen deprived in the thin air way up on the hillsides with their sheep.  

And the fact that they were in Bethlehem was not on purpose either.  Mary and Joseph would probably have wanted to have the baby at home in Nazareth where they had friends and family to help them. 

They were only in Bethlehem because they had to go there for the census ordered by the emperor. 

Perhaps it was an equally strange mix of seemingly meaningless circumstances that brought you here tonight.  

The old Christmas hymn that we sang on our way into church, Adeste Fideles, calls all of us to this moment. 

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”  I hope many of you are feeling joyful and triumphant. 

I bet Mary felt joyful and triumphant after just going through labor with no family or friends to help her and successfully delivering a healthy baby boy. 

But it’s okay if you’re not feeling joyful and triumphant. 

O come, all ye faithful, bored and irritated. 

O come, all ye faithful, exhausted and worried. 

O come, all ye faithful, cynical and angry. 

O come, all ye faithful, heartbroken and grieving. 

Simply come, all ye faithful, no matter what you’re feeling.  

No doubt Joseph and the shepherds had mixed feelings as they entered the stable. 

But once they gazed on the face of the Christ Child, the Baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, everything changed. 

Whatever reason had brought them to this moment no longer mattered, and all of their complex, self-directed emotions faded to simple awe. 

When they saw him, their hearts cried out to do only one thing: fall to their knees and adore him.   

What does it mean to adore someone? 

It’s a term that I myself use lightly all the time to express my admiration and love for someone: “Oh, I just adore her, she’s wonderful.” 

The term “adore” is actually used very sparingly in the Bible. 

There are a variety of words used in relationship to worship: praise, glorify, rejoice. 

But adoration only happens in circumstances when people feel their smallness and imperfection in the face of the greatness and perfection of God. 

But rather than the people feeling bad about how small and imperfect they are, they are instead completely taken outside of themselves and enraptured and lost in the love and wonder of God.  

I feel like I do an okay amount of praising God, and I sure do a whole lot of petitioning God, asking God to fulfill my wishes and plans. 

But how often do I adore God? 

How often do I let go of my own agenda completely because I can’t help it, because I am so overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God streaming over and through me? 

Maybe not often enough.  

There’s something in me that resists adoration, I think. 

With praise and petition and even rejoicing and glorifying, I’m still in control. 

I’m generating action toward God based on my evaluation of God’s goodness and what I want to get out of it. 

But to adore God. 

Adoration means I am brought to my knees by the grace I’m experiencing, and it’s no longer about me. 

For once I have forgotten my needs and my wants, and simply bask in how very good God is.  

But if I find it hard to adore God in God’s majesty and greatness, it seems even less likely that I will want to go to my knees in a dusty, dirty stable for a newborn baby in a manger. 

There’s nothing awe-inspiring about a helpless baby. 

What has a baby done to impress me? 

What can a baby do to answer my prayers?  

But even as I’m thinking these thoughts, I suddenly do stumble to my knees.  God could have come to earth in any giant, majestic, theatrical way God wanted to.  God could have showed up with lights painted across the sky and trumpets and fireworks and earthquakes and lightning. 

But God came as a child. 

God sent God’s beloved and only son into the most vulnerable and fragile creature imaginable: a human baby.   

And that is what strikes me dumb and finally, finally takes my focus off myself and my needs. 

The raw power and depth of love that God must have for us to send Jesus to us in a circumstance in which something terrible could so easily have happened. 

Think about how astronomically high the rate of infant mortality was in those days. 

Cold, exposure, infection, injury—a thousand things could have gone wrong in the first hours, not to mention the days and weeks and months to come, days and weeks and months in which Jesus had nothing to protect him, no modern medicine, no safe shelter, nothing but love.  

The courage of that love, to come to earth as a fragile human baby and risk it all for us in this obscure and humble place—suddenly there is nothing I want to do more than go to my knees at the manger and adore him. 

When I see the vulnerability of the Baby Jesus in the manger, perhaps crying with hunger and his parents struggling to keep him warm and safe, that vulnerability makes me want to make myself vulnerable. 

The fragile courage of this small child awakens a similar fragile courage within me, to kneel down and open myself completely to this love, to let go, to adore. 

Jesus had no protection from the many dangers that could harm him as a human baby, and he has no protection from the coldness of our cynicism and indifference. 

But the love and promise that he radiates emits a light brighter than the star shining overhead, a light that can melt the cold shield of ice we have wrapped around our hearts to protect ourselves from the intensity of pain and joy that comes with loving.  

So we the faithful have come as we were called. 

Joyful and triumphant, bored and irritated, cynical and angry, exhausted and worried, or grieving and heartbroken, we have come. 

Maybe we expected to drift off into daydreams during church, or ask God for something special in our stockings, or simply relax and have a good time with friends and family, and all of those things are fine to do. 

Maybe we came here worrying that we would have to hide the fact that we are afraid that we are the only ones that sometimes can neither see nor feel the magic of Christmas. 

But as we approach the manger and see that God has had the courage to risk it all for us, out of the sheer depth and passion of God’s love for us, let us answer that courage with a courage of our own. 

Let us answer with the courage to let go of our agendas and our needs, kneeling at the manger and gazing into the face of love, fragile in form but stronger than steel in intent. 

O come, all ye faithful.  O come, let us adore him.