Christmas Eve, 2016
first reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
second reading: Titus 2:11-14
gospel reading: Luke 2:1-20
On Friday, the actress Carrie Fisher had what was reported as a “cardiac event” on an airplane and the internet blew up. Some of the comments were very clever and creative, but ALL of them had the same theme: 2016, you’ve been awful, and we refuse to let you take any more from us!
Of course, we don’t have that kind of control over time or illness. Only that we could…
But 2016 has been rough. Lots of famous people are no longer with us. We’ve watched wars play out on television. Terrorist attacks. Deep political divisions surround us and even include us. Hate crimes. Uncertainty and even fear about the future.
Some people have wondered how we can celebrate and have a “Merry” Christmas in the midst of it all.
But to ask, “How can we celebrate in the midst of human suffering and violence and even death?” is to fundamentally misunderstand the whole point of the Incarnation – of God becoming a human being.
Sure, we all like happy Christmases – family gathered around, presents under the tree, good food, smiles and laughter. But that’s not what makes the perfect or even a “good” Christmas. REAL Christmases are often far from what media and advertising or our own expectations say they should be.
Real Christmases are stressing over the menu if you’re the cook, getting the presents wrapped, finding just the right gift, having money to buy presents. Real Christmases involve the pain of hanging ornaments that remind us of loved ones who will be missing from our tables.
Real Christmases involve ambivalence over sharing that same table with “certain” relatives who make us bite our tongues to keep the peace. Real Christmases often get tied up with end of the year reflecting over what we could’ve done better, how we could’ve BEEN better.
Here is the irony of it all – the things we thing “ruin” Christmas, or make it difficult to celebrate are the very reasons we have Christmas in the first place.
Have you had an awful year? Are you in a BAD mood? Are you seeing little reason for joy? Are you grieving? Are you sick or struggling with how your body isn’t working the way you want it to? Are you feeling burned out stressed out, like a failure, worthless?
Then Christmas is for YOU! Christmas is PRECISELY for you!
The “good news of great joy” has nothing to do with parties or menus or liking everyone around our table. The “good news of great joy” has nothing to do with feeling bubbly and “Merry” or being healthy or like we’ve got our lives perfectly together.
The “good news of great joy” is that God comes to us in the middle of everything that ISN’T perfect, together, peaceful or merry. The “good news of great joy” is that God comes to us – God is WITH us -in the messiness of life. God comes to us, is WITH us in our sin and in the sin of the world.
This year reminds me a lot of the classic cartoon “Charlie Brown Christmas.” All the characters are lamenting, and Linus has to stop and remind everyone about what Christmas really means.
Christmas isn’t a new car wrapped with a big red bow in your driveway. Christmas is “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Christmas is the gospel, pure and simple.
God came to be with us in Jesus. God came to be with us because we sin. That’s right, we sin. We are human beings filled with imperfections in the way we see and treat ourselves and one another.
God came to be with us because God LOVES us. God does not want to leave us in our sin. God came to be with us in Jesus so that we are saved from that sin eternally, but also so that we have a loving companion in the here and now. That “child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” is our great teacher, our Prince of Peace and our savior.
- Jesus is with us when our Christmas is perfect, but most especially when it is not.
- Jesus is with us when we’re feeling on top of the world, but most especially when we’re feeling defeated.
- Jesus is with us when it’s easy to love those around our tables, but most especially when we’re feeling wounded and when WE’RE the ones who do the hurting.
- Jesus is with us when our bodies are strong and healthy, but most especially when we are feeling weak and vulnerable.
- Jesus is with us when our society feels secure and stable, but most especially when we live in times of uncertainty and even chaos. For Jesus is just as much with you and me as he is with the people of Aleppo, or south Sudan, or Venezuela, or anywhere else in the world or down the street where people are living in fear and violence.
In some circles people like to bicker over the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” over “happy holidays.” I don’t like either. Because they both miss the point of Christmas – the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation isn’t about being “happy” or “merry.” The Incarnation is about God coming to be with us even as we are BROKEN. I think “Blessed Christmas” works much better.
Because this is what Christmas truly is – a blessing – a means by which we are blessed with the greatest gift God could give: Jesus.
Blessed Christmas to each and every one of us.