Christmas Eve & Day, December 24 &25, 2023

December 26, 2023 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Isaiah 9:2-7 John 1:1-5, 9, 14 Luke 2:1-12

In most congregations, a Sunday Christmas Eve presents a challenge to the process-relational preacher or any preacher for that matter. While the Christmas Eve morning service may be “low” in many ways.  Christmas Eve is “high” and almost too high for the aspiring preacher.  You want to preach your best sermon ever, since this may be the most attended service of the year and a chance to share good news to the “C” or “C & E” – “Christmas” and “Christmas and Easter” -Christians.  Often a good number of the adults present are somewhat inebriated.  The teens and young adults often are at the service grudgingly, wanting to be any place but church.  And yet this is a day of miracle, wonder, and possibility.  A day for our Grinch heart to grow three sizes and for us to discover it really is a wonderful life.

On Christmas, it’s all about a baby, and the babe in Bethlehem awakens us to God’s face in every child and the divine child in every cynical and stressed-out adult.  Even Scrooge-like politicians have the chance to be born again and to move from self-interest and self-preoccupation to world loyalty and sacrificial love.

Perhaps on Christmas Eve, we aspire for the “best for that impasse” and discover that even if the “horrible Herdmans” are sitting in the front row, this can be “the best Christmas Service ever,” pageant and all.

Christmas Day presents its own set of challenges.  In those churches that worship on Christmas Day (Episcopalian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic), the same dynamics are at work, although many congregants are not looking for something dramatic – and drawn out – but a pre-brunch bit of caroling and inspiration. Still, despite the homiletical challenges, the Spirit can still move in amazing ways.

As a Christmas Eve pastor, I focused initially on Christmas carols and let the choir pull out all the stops in joyful celebration.  In the context carols that touch heart as well as mind and scripture lessons, I sought to explore the meaning of incarnation then and now.  The light of the world enlightens all, so let there be light on Christmas Eve.  As a preacher, I focused on weaving the finite and infinite, the personal and the global, and the intimate and the infinite. Christmas is cosmic and it is also a child in the cradle.  Bringing together the cosmic vision of John, and the earthiness of the shepherds and the child and his parents, alerts us to the universality and intimacy of revelation and salvation.  “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” – we have seen a great light and seek to walk in the light from now own, guided by the child in the manger, the star in the sky, and our Cosmic Companion.

Beginning with the cosmos, we see the birth of Jesus as rooted in the nature of things. The Christ born in Bethlehem is the incarnation of God’s aim at beauty and creative transformation everywhere and in all things.  Divine Word and Wisdom is the creative principle of the universe. Nothing exists without God’s immanent and transcendent Word and Wisdom and yet this Word and Wisdom enlightens all persons.  While we may turn away from God’s vision and creative energy, we cannot stop its flow into our lives and the world.  The Wisdom of the Cosmos is made flesh in the cradle and ministry of Jesus, and that word also enlightens and enlivens us. Open to the Light of Christ, we become enlightened ourselves and become little lights giving glory to God and wellbeing to our fellow creatures.

From the Cosmos the light of God takes birth in the cradle.  The Child of Bethlehem is not a metaphysical exception or supernatural intrusion, but the essence of humankind, the hope of what we can become as “fully alive” humans.  Christ is unique and his uniqueness is made flesh in everyday life among the poor and houseless.  Luke emphasizes the Galilean humility of Jesus in contrast to the power of Caesar.  God is “one of us,” not distant but living among us – our “childhood’s pattern” – growing from infancy to adulthood in the ambiguities of history.  “Once is Royal David’s City” is, in fact, the reality of incarnation in every moment.  Incarnation and revelation occur in houseless political pilgrims in an oppressed land, in impoverished shepherds at the lower end of society living in a “room without a roof,” in a family shortly thereafter fleeing to safety in another land.   The incarnation is in the “least of these,” and though the wealthy and powerful are not abandoned, God is revealed most fully in the cradle, the soup kitchen, the undocumented immigrant, in the victims of war and oppression.  Only a suffering God can save, as Bonhoeffer asserts.  Whitehead’s vision of God as the “fellow sufferer who understands” proclaims the utter interdependence of God and the world, and God’s privileging of love over hate, humility over power, forgiveness over retribution, hospitality over borders.

This Christmas, as “the hopes and fears of all the years are met” in worship, the preacher doesn’t need hit a homerun.   Everyone in attendance is hopeful and fearful, whether or not they are aware of it.  The preacher simply needs to illumine the spirit of those present, to remind them that all creatures are kin and that there are no “foreigners,” that God is presence in the most adverse situations in our lives, and that a light shines in the darkness of our personal lives and the darkness of fear and hate perpetrated by leaders and their political and religious followers, and that the light of the star and stable, the cosmos and cradle, will outlast the machinations and forces of destruction.  Christ is born today, this evening, and every day.


Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including his five “twelve days of Christmas books,” focusing on Howard Thurman, Madeline L’Engle, Francis and Clare, Celtic Spirituality, and Hymns and Carols, as well as FROM COSMOS TO CRADLE: REFLECTIONS ON THE INCARNATION, MESSY INCARNATION: REFLECTINS ON CHRIST IN PROCESS, and JESUS: MYSTIC, HEALER, AND PROPHET.  He can be reached for talks, classes, and seminars at