Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christmas Eve + December 24, 2016
Text: Luke 2:1-20
What are the ideals of Christmas? “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” getting to spend Christmas with family, getting and giving the perfect presents, hot cocoa, sweets, and ugly sweaters. We have these dreams, but they become expectations—even demands of what the holidays “should be.” Those expectations come to a head on Christmas Eve.
But this “ideal” Christmas, even though it might be sweet like those shortbread cookies, is only available to some. What about those who are homeless, unemployed, or widowed? What about people who are in the hospital, alone, or have their house burn down on Christmas? Where is their reason to deck the halls with boughs of holly?
If these things are really the core of Christmas, it makes it an elitist holiday because it’s only available to those for whom things are going well. Christmas for the young and healthy, those with disposable income, or those who live near their family. It’s a Christmas that’s only for people who feel like singing saccharin jingle bell songs.
But the Christmas we find in Holy Scripture is altogether different.
Christmas is for the poor and lowly, not the proud and powerful. Consider where the Christmas story takes place: Galilee, Bethlehem, a manger, out in the field. These are not the places of power and success like Jerusalem or the temple. Look at who is present at Christmas: Joseph and his wife, Mary—people of no human notoriety. Shepherds, who were despised far and wide because of their dirty, smelly way of making a living. You see no kings, no noblemen, nobody boasting about their achievements and qualifications. Lastly consider the decorations on this first Christmas. It was dusty, dirty, and smelly, not neat and tidy and certainly not decked with gold or any hint of luxury.
Christmas is for people living their ordinary lives. There was no federal holiday on the first Christmas. The IRS of its day was by all means open and compelling a man and his very pregnant wife to come and be taxed. There’s been grumbling in some circles that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th. Maybe it would be better if we celebrated on some obscure date like August 4th so we’d have a better sense of what Christ’s arrival was like.
The shepherds, like farmers today, didn’t get any day off to stay at home. They were in the midst of their work when the angels appeared—sleeping with their sheep watching out for thieves and wolves, but not for a heavenly host.
Now, this isn’t to brag about how hearty the first recipients of the Good News were, but to say that God meets us with Good News that Christ is born even if the chaos doesn’t stop for a designated “holiday season.”
Christmas is for all people. “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news from God doesn’t wait for us to achieve it. He comes to us in our sin, our despair, our tears and announces: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” He has come to be Savior for all people, not those who work hard at living a good life, or don’t have complicated lives, or those who grew up in church.
What’s more, this One who has come to save you is no underling, but the Lord God Himself. So if you want to know what love God has for every single human being, look at Christmas, where God Himself steps into our world with almighty power to save from sin, death, and hell. Think of that next time you judge someone as being a lost cause or think you’ve fallen too far for Him to reach you.
There’s a big thrill for people of our day to find things that are true and authentic (hence the criticism that December 25th isn’t the “real” birthday of Jesus—but those accusations come from hearts that don’t want Christmas to be true anyway). Well this year, I hope your Christmas is true and authentic and real.
May you have a true Jesus who was born for your eternal salvation, and not some cardboard cartoon who fills your heart with vain expectations.
May God gives you an authentic faith to believe in Him, not just twice a year when family’s in town, but week by week and every day.
Finally, may God fill your heart with the real joy of Christmas, that He loves you enough to bleed and die your way out of eternal punishment and gather you into His kingdom which has no end.
For all that I say, Merry Christmas!