December 24, Christmas Eve

Kristin White


On Monday the fourth of September, 1989, a group of people gathered at St. Nikolai Church in Leipzieg, East Germany.[1] They had attended the church’s prayer service for peace, led by their pastor, Christian Fuhrer. They didn’t go home right afterwards. Instead, the people stood outside their church, in the square. And they sang.

The following Monday, they did it again. And the next. The people gathered, and they prayed, and then they stood outside and sang.

And again, they gathered the following Monday. People brought signs calling for democracy and justice, calling for Germany to be one country again. They held their signs, and they stood outside that great church where Bach’s Passion had first resonated. And they sang.

Each week their numbers grew. By Monday, October 9, just a month after the first gathering in the square, 70,000 people stood outside St. Nikolai Church in Leipzieg. The following Monday, October 16,there were 120,000 people praying and singing in that square, calling for Germany once again to be one. As it all unfolded, people in other towns gathered and began to sing in their own church squares.

The following Monday, October 23, 1989, more than 320,000 people – half of all the people living in the city of Leipzieg – gathered in the square outside St. Nikolai Church. And they sang.

Seventeen days later, on November 9, a Thursday, the Berlin Wall came down.

After it was all over, a journalist asked one of the commanders of the East German Secret Police why they had not silenced the St. Nikolai protests in the same way that they had silenced so many other protests against the government. The commander’s response to that journalist? “We had no contingency plan for song.”


Tonight we celebrate the feast of the birth that brings our salvation. And all the people involved seem unlikely choices for that holy moment: the unexplainably pregnant teenage girl with her fiancé from Nazareth, and that girl’s elderly thought-to-be-barren-but-now-actually-pregnant cousin with a mysteriously mute husband. And a bunch of gobsmacked shepherds in a field. And a group of pagan stargazers, now scaring the king with their camels and their fancy presents, out searching for a newborn king to adore.

It’s impossible, scholars would tell you, and have, and will. It’s impossible that God came into this world in this way among those people in that place and did what God did and departed for a time and promises to make good on the return. It’s blessedly impossible.

And that’s what God does. “God uses the unlikely to incarnate the impossible.”[2] God comes to us as we are, choosing to be with us, not waiting until everything is in order or even until God is bidden.


I want to preach tonight in a way that makes sense of the year since we last gathered in this place to celebrate the birth of our salvation. I want to find an artful and honest but not-too-simple word of hope that will hold it all together, one that gives meaning and coherence and inspires trust and shows a path.

I want to shine light toward the day when we can go to a movie premiere without suspicion of others walking into the theater with us, toward the day when our children don’t have to learn how to hide themselves in their classrooms as part of a regular drill. I want to preach about how and when we really do find a cure, and the people we love don’t get hurt, about a day when we can see the earth heal from the damage that we have done. I want to reveal the hope of a time when people don’t have to take refuge on other shores, when fathers and mothers do not lose children to the waves. The sermon I want to preach is a sermon that points us toward a moment when the rhetoric of terror and isolation ceases to dominate our media because that rhetoric no longer finds traction among the people, toward a time when black lives matter every bit as much as every other life that doesn’t need to have that phrase attached.

As challenged as I am personally by a marked lack of a sense of direction, I want the road map toward that day. Because I want to share it here, with you. That’s the sermon I want to be able to preach as we gather to celebrate the feast of the birth of our salvation.


What I can tell you is that there was a decree from Caesar that everybody had to be registered. And Joseph went to Bethlehem because he was from the family of David, and Mary went with him because they were engaged. And she was going to have a baby. And while they were away the time came for that baby to be born. So she wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for their family anyplace else. And there were shepherds, and an angel, and I can tell you those shepherds were terrified. And so that angel said what angels say: “Don’t be afraid – good news, great joy.” And then there was a whole host of angels, singing to the glory of God. And the shepherds went to see that baby for themselves and the people were amazed. And Mary treasured it all in her heart.


What I can tell you is that it doesn’t make sense, and it can’t, and it won’t. It’s unlikely, that these would be the people and that would be the place and this would be the time. It seems impossible, that this would be the way God is born into the world God created, and God loves.

But that’s what God does. God uses the unlikely to incarnate the impossible.[3]


And I don’t have the road map for how we get from here to a time when the polar ice caps stop melting at a compound rate. I don’t know when the shooting will finally stop. I wish I could show the steps to reconciliation among all the people. And I want the cure for everybody.

But that’s not the sermon I have to preach this Christmas.


What I can tell you instead is that a baby was born, to parents who had to take refuge in a stranger’s kindness. And an angel showed up in front of some terrified shepherds and said that thing that angels say: “Don’t be afraid.” And then a whole bunch of angels appeared, and they sang. And Mary treasured it all.

The sermon that I have to preach this Christmas Eve is that God shows up. That is what God does. God shows up – for us and with us – in the unlikely and in the impossible.

God comes to us as we are, choosing to be with us, not waiting until everything is in order, not even waiting to be bidden.


The sermon that I have to preach this Christmas Eve is that a wall separated Germany from itself for what had been a lifetime for many. And people were shot for trying to cross from one side of that wall to another. And it must have seemed unlikely that anything the people tried would actually work. It must have seemed impossible that it all could ever change.

On Monday, September 4, 1989, people gathered at St. Nikolai Church in Leipzieg. They prayed for peace with their pastor. And when the service was over, those people didn’t go home.

They stood outside. And they sang.





[1] Thanks to David Lose for this story, which resonates throughout:


[3] ibi