~ A Service of Lessons & Carols ~
Readings: Genesis 3:8-24 | Isaiah 7:10-14 | Luke 1:26-38 | Matthew 1:18-25 | Luke 2:1-20
Text: Luke 2:1-14
You’ve no doubt heard it at least once so far, and maybe several times today: Merry Christmas!
Merriam Webster declared the Word of the Year—the most looked-up word of 2022—was ‘gaslighting’. They write, “In this age of misinformation—of ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.
“A driver of disorientation and mistrust, gaslighting is “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” 2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year.
“Its origins are colorful: the term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play, the plot of which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.”
I don’t mean to imply that when we say, “Merry Christmas” to one another, the person saying it is “grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” But there is a similar effect, when we’re told that Christmas should be merry. There is a dissonance between what can see and feel and what we’re told. “Merry Christmas!” which means, we should are expected to be glad about some ethereal “spirit of Christmas.” For a moment, forget all of your troubles, choke on saccharine-sweet nostalgia of days which you may or may not have had, put on a smile, and sing glad songs. It may not be insidious for us to wish “Merry Christmas” to one another, but in a time of death, economic turmoil, natural disasters, and increasing alienation, it can be a bit like the biblical proverb, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Prov. 25:20)
I would like to suggest a stronger word to associate with Christmas: Joy. Joy and happiness are two related, but separate things. Joy has deeper roots than happiness, because it has to do with solid truths, not just passing circumstances. Joy has to do with faith. Happiness comes and goes, but joy endures through hardship.
A Christmas can be merry if you have peace in your family, the ability to be together (think of all the post-WWII ideals of Christmas, which now are meant to drive you to eat more cookies, drink too much, and spend more money than you have).
But even under the shadow of the death of your spouse, the long trial of bodily pain and unsuccessful treatment, the increase of inflation-driven poverty—you can have a joyful Christmas.
Why? Because light has shone in the darkness of this world. God is not disinterested, but has come to save. Peace has come to earth between God and man in the forgiveness of their sins, one who has the power to conquer the devil, and break the curse of death. It is for all who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death: the divorced and the married, those whose infirmity keeps them at home and those who take part in festivities, etc.
No matter what pop music and the retailers say, the Nativity of Our Lord is a celebration of the holy, almighty, God taking our sin and disease-ridden race and world into His own care. It is the greatest rescue mission ever done. As one hymn puts it, “For you are the Father’s Son, Who in flesh the victory won. By Your mighty power make whole All our ills of flesh and soul.” (Savior of the Nations Come, LSB 332, st. 6)
Don’t be gaslighted at Christmas, but take joy at your Savior. Celebrate that, bask in it, sing it out, in spite of the rage of sin and death against it.
 https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year (accessed 21 Dec 2022)