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Christmas Eve Sermon

In Need of a Savior

I like to think of myself as a decent swimmer, but on two occasions when I was younger I nearly drowned. Once was when I was a teenager. My sister and I got caught in a rip tide on a deserted stretch of beach in North Carolina. We managed to swim to shore safely, but the other time was a few years later in the Firehole River in

Yellowstone National Park. The snow melt that feeds the river is warmed by the geysers and hot springs in the park. There’s a spot where the river cascades down some smooth rocks, picks up speed as it flows through a narrow gorge and then empties into a wide and very deep pool before continuing on its way. My friends and I went swimming there. They body-surfed through the rapids, but when I followed, I was shoved under the water and twisted about, and my chest filled with water. When I came into the deep pool, I panicked. I forgot how to swim, started flailing about, and cried out for help. Fortunately, I was much closer to the river’s edge than I realized. A man sitting on the ledge that bordered the pool reached out and hauled me safety. At that moment I really needed a savior, and that guy was there to save me.

In fact, we need a Savior every moment of our lives, not just when our bodies are in mortal danger. The Good News of Christmas is that our savior has come to bear us to safety. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Not just to grubby shepherds living under foreign domination smelling like wet wool, but to you, doctors and nurses, secretaries and middle managers, schoolteachers, grad students and academics. To you, to me, to us, is born this day a Savior.

But do we really need a Savior, decent folks living relatively comfortable lives in a free and open society? Indeed we do. Even on a good day we do some things we should not do, and we don’t do the very things we should do. The red ink on our moral balance sheets rises like a river in spring and threatens to drown us. There are bad habits we can’t break and addictions we can’t free ourselves from. History haunts us: dark family secrets that cast long shadows over present and future generations, ancient quarrels between nations, and the bitter legacy of racial and sexual discrimination. We want to do the right thing; we want to make progress, but the past weighs us down. It’s like trying to swim in water over your head with a ball and chain around your ankle.

“But to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” He came to set us free from sin and guilt, and to lift from us the burdens we cannot bear. And he did not save us merely by extending a helping hand to us from the safe shore of heaven above. He plunged into the same deep water we thrash about it. He swam in the same dangerous currents that pull us under. This is the meaning of Christmas. God comes to us. God is with us. This God who was hidden in the manger’s straw grew up and stretched out his arms for us on the cross to save us from a rising tide of guilt and shame. When this God rolled away the stone from the entrance to the tomb, every weight and every burden that would sink us like a stone was removed from us. There is no other God who does such wondrous things as this God, the God who is born among us in Jesus Christ.

So entrust yourselves to him. Quit flailing about. Stop erecting dikes of denial and levees of hypocrisy to keep the waters at bay. Let him bear you safely to shore over the waves of sin and guilt and through the treacherous currents of evils past, present, and future. When he saves you from the flood he will say to you, “Follow me,” and you follow him. He will show you things worth living for and things worth dying for. He alone is worthy of our greatest praise, and our highest loyalty. He is our Lord and Savior, and he comes to us this night, and at every moment of our lives.

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