Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Christmas Eve Homily 2017
In this past Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an article I hope you saw, titled “The Salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’”. When I saw “Napalm Girl,” I knew who this was although I didn’t know her name. Those of us old enough to remember anything from the early 70s remember that tragic photo of a young Vietnamese girl running and screaming, her clothes having been burn off by napalm. That girl, Ms. Kim, is now in her mid-50s. In the article, she tells about her bitterness. She still receives treatment for the burns. But she also tells about how, a decade after the event, when she would have been nineteen, she attended a small church in Vietnam on Christmas Eve. And she heard the pastor deliver a Christmas message that would be very familiar to us all. Christmas is not about the gifts that are carefully wrapped at placed under a tree. Christmas is about the gift of Jesus Christ, wrapped in human flesh… A change was coming over her life as she experienced peace for the first time.
The story we are about to hear for the umpteenth time has that kind of power, the power to change lives. Listen as I read Luke 2:1-15.
It all seems so long ago…. The humble birth in a stable and the horrible death upon a cross… Even the glorious resurrection, as the stone of the grave was pushed aside, seems distant. Yet, something brings us back year after year. Tonight, all across our land and throughout the world, people are gathering to recall that wonderful night of so many years ago.
The year after I graduated from college, I was the night shift production supervisor in a bakery. There was something strange about going to work late in the evening, driving by houses as lights are being turned off. I would think about those people settling in for the night and would feel strange. I was the odd one, laboring throughout the night. From that experience, I know how the shepherds must have felt, as they sat on a hillside overlooking the city and watched the lights in the houses below slowly extinguish.
The night was lonely. Furthermore, being a shepherd wasn’t exactly a romantic job in first century Palestine. People looked down on them. If there was ever a group of people needing a Savior, it was the shepherds early in the morning, when the air was the coldest and they felt as isolated as ever.
Over and over again we hear the words of the angels to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for see—I’m bringing you good news of great joy for all the people, to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Perhaps the message was given to the shepherds because they were the only ones awake that night around Bethlehem. But more likely, since our God is merciful and all-knowing, the shepherds witnessed the angel’s song because they needed to hear it. They needed to experience something wonderful in their drab lives. Even though the shepherds continued to watch over sheep in the days and years afterwards, their lives were changed. After a storm, when the clouds were breaking and the moon shined brightly, they recalled another night when the heavens glowed brightly and would be warmed inside for they knew that God loved them.
But the herald of the angels was not just for the shepherds. The good was and is for “all the people,” for you and for me, for God has come in the flesh. Sometimes we are tempted to forget this wonderful news and need to be reminded. Such is the purpose of Christmas. It is a time to be remind of not only Christ’s wonderful birth, but also his death which atoned for our sins and his glorious resurrection in which we have our hope.
In a poem titled “The Cross in the Manger, Ann Weems, a Christian poet, writes:
If there is no cross in the manger,
there is no Christmas.
If the Babe doesn’t become the Adult,
there is no Bethlehem star.
If there is no commitment in us,
there are no Wise Men Searching…
Her poem continues on and ends:
For if there is no reconciliation,
we cannot call Christ “Prince of Peace.”
If there is no goodwill toward others,
it can all be packed away in boxes for another year.
If there is no forgiveness in us,
there is no cause for celebration.
If we cannot go now even unto Golgotha,
there is no Christmas in us.
If Christmas is not now,
if Christ is not born into the everyday present,
then what is all the noise about?
Let me tell you a story and give you something to think about as you go home this evening. Once upon a time a country ruled by a king was invaded by a foreign army. The king was killed, but his loyal servants rescued his children and placed them with peasant families in the countryside where they would be safe. The youngest daughter was just an infant and never knew she was the daughter of a king. She grew up with a family in poverty, digging potatoes for a living.
One day an old woman approached the now young woman as she was digging potatoes. The old woman asked, “Do you know who you are?” The young woman said, “Yes, I’m the farmer’s daughter and a potato digger.”
“No, no,” the old woman said, “you are the daughter of a king.” Then the old woman then disappeared into the forest.
“Am I the daughter of a king?” the woman asked herself. The next day, she still dug potatoes, but she dug them differently. She held her shoulders up high and there a light in her eye because she knew who she was. She was the daughter of a king.
Friends, because of Jesus Christ, we, like the shepherds, have been adopted as children of the Most High King. Being daughters and sons of the king is a high and holy calling which should be evident in our words and deeds. The way we carry ourselves and the way we celebrate should be a sign of God’s grace. Live as a child of the King. Take in this story and like Ms. Kim, let it change your life. Glory to God in the highest. Amen.
 Kim Phuc Phan Thi, “The Salvation of ‘Napalm Girl’”, The Wall Street Journal, (Friday, December 22, 2017), A15.