Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.
Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.
Shepherds are waiting in the wings.
Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.
And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.
Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.
In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.
And, He is named Emmanuel.
God is with us.
On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.
And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.
We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.
We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.
We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.
We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.
We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.
We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.
And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.
For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.
Messiah will come.
Emmanuel will be reality.
And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.
And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.
It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.
Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.
Because, we are Easter People.
And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.
So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.
Because, we are Easter People.
Christ has come.
With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.
So, breathe deep, my friends.
Light all five candles.
Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.
Our waiting is over.