On our way home from Anchorage after visiting our son and daughter-in-law this past August I had an experience I will never forget. We always take the late night flight as that gives us an extra day visiting. We see our son once a year---when we go to Alaska where he and his wife live. The flight leaves at 8:00 p.m.---which is 11:00 p.m. our time given the 3 hour difference. It was a clear night the whole trip. We took off going west and could see the sun setting with the glow of the sun's rays on the snow capped mountains below before the pilot turned to head south-east for the 6 1/2 hour flight to Chicago. It is a long flight for us. We sleep off and on. The usual snacks are served and about 2:00 a.m. the cabin lights are dimmed, pillows passed out along with blankets for the duration of the flight. I was sitting by the window with Jean next to me. About 4:00 a.m. I looked out the window and saw the largest, brightest, most luminous star I have ever seen. It was the only star visible in the clear night. I nudged Jean to look. I wondered to her, "Is that the star the magi saw almost 2 thousand years ago?" Is that the star of Bethlehem? What did the magi see? What they saw and experienced changed their life. What I saw I will never forget. As we approached Chicago the sun was just rising in the East. On that flight I saw the sun set and the sun rise---an experience I will not forget.
The first line from Isaiah we heard read tonight is, "The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light". For centuries before the birth of Jesus the people longed for their Messiah and Savior. They longed to be freed from captivity and starvation. With the foretelling of the birth of the Messiah by the author of the Prophet Isaiah we hear, "The yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their task master you have smashed..." "Every boot that trampled in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames". We all go through life with at times a heavy yoke that burdens us; with a heavy pole on our shoulders; whether these are personal issues, family issues or societal issues. Tonight we celebrate the fulfillment of the great prophet Isaiah---Jesus is born in history; Jesus is born in our lives. He is the one who will remove the yoke that burdens you and remove the weight on your shoulders.
Tonight we celebrate the Wonder-Counselor, the Prince of Peace whose dominion is vast and forever peaceful. For thousands of years people on this very night have gathered from the vastness of St. Peter's in the Vatican to mega cities like New York to the small hamlets like Jesus Our Shepherd in Nenno which dot the landscape. The same readings have been proclaimed for centuries from Popes to paupers. Today through the wonders of the internet you can read the homilies preached at the Vatican and the homilies preached at JOS; homilies preached at monasteries by the humblest of monks; homilies preached from the front lines of battle in war to the homeless shelters serving the poor in our wonderful land; where there is always room for one more---Inns for the homeless are never full. They all bring the same message but in different words, phrases and concepts. If we really believed the message of Christmas no person would be under the yoke of racism and sexism; no person would face discrimination. We would not only know in our mind but believe in our heart that each person born is a perfect daughter or son of God---we are all true brothers and sisters for we are one family---una familia as Jean told the families of the poor inner city school where she was their principal for 9 years.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I have never seen a new born baby who was not the image and likeness of God. That is our faith and that is what I believe. It is tempting to keep the baby Jesus as a baby-all so cuddly and innocent. The baby boy Jesus grew up to be the person to challenge us to live as he lived; to love as he loved. This is the ultimate gift from God.
Tonight we celebrate the Prince of Peace, the Wonder-Counselor, God's gift to each of us; the gift that keeps on giving; the gift that is never out of date; the gift that never needs to be returned the day after receiving it; the gift which is pure and true---a GIFT.
We all have our family traditions on how we celebrate Christmas: in some homes Santa makes his visit Christmas Eve while in other families Santa arrives Christmas morning. What would it be like if you gave your best friend-your spouse, daughter, or son a gift and they never opened it? The gift remained under the tree unopened; all the other gifts were opened appropriate comments were exchanged about the beauty of the gift. "It is just what I wanted". "It is the perfect color". "It will go well with my other outfit." "My other one was broken and did not work well any more."
A gift is not only given but it also must be received and opened for it to be a true gift. And once it is opened it must be understood and accepted to be a real gift. Gifts not opened, understood, or accepted can not serve us well.
Tonight God gives us the ultimate gift; yes, one size does fit all; the color goes with everything; there is nothing to exchange. All that is required is to open the gift, receive the gift as intended, know how to use it and accept it lovingly as a true gift from one who loves you just the way you are---after all God created you in your uniqueness---what is there not to love?
Jesus, Prince of Peace, Wonder-Counselor is God's gift to you. In God's eyes you are a perfect daughter or son, there is no one like you. You have everything you need to be the best person God intended you to be. Tonight we celebrate "God with us", the Messiah, and The Prince of Peace. This gift is free. As we approach the communion table tonight receive once again the ultimate gift from God for you; the Body and the Blood of Christ. Tonight and every time we celebrate Eucharist the "INN" of God's love for you is never full but always open to receive you. There is always room in the INN for you! Make Jesus a part of your life and love; give thanks to God for the ultimate gift.
And remember the words of the Gospel of Luke, "Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for YOU."