There's a temptation, I think, when you're the intern and you're asked to preach on Christmas morning, to try and preach the best ever Christmas sermon. To try and craft some perfect words that will somehow be all things to all people. A sermon that people who have been attending this church for decades, months, weeks, or just this morning alone, will feel encapsulates the spirit of Christmas.
And in doing so I began to wonder just how we have come to be here at this time on this day for this purpose. We have gathered here for centuries to tell each other an old, old story. To tell each other of a young woman who travelled many miles and gave birth to a baby boy, simultaneously just like and unlike every other child who has ever been born. To tell each other of the shepherds and the wise men and the innkeepers and the animals. To tell each other of the little town of Bethlehem and the coming Emmanuel on that silent, holy night.
We come together on this holy morning to sing with gusto my mother's favorite hymn -- joy to the world! The lord is come! Our God has come to be with us again this morning. Our God has shown such love for us that God would participate so fully in our human experience as to walk among us on this, our broken earth. To come into our world in the humblest of ways—in a lowly manger—and to leave it in the humblest of ways—hanging on a cross.
We celebrate this morning not just the old story of the birth of a baby. Because it is not just the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that we as the people of Christ have gathered for centuries to proclaim. It is the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ that brings us to this table. It is the other old stories of Jesus and his friends that we will tell all year, year after year, that we have begun to tell anew in this Christmas season.
For our God came among us those many years ago, and our God walks among us now. Christ comes to us each time we eat and drink with our friends in memory of him. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we celebrate the birth and the death of this God-with-us.
There’s another temptation at Christmastime, I think, to sort of gloss over the parts of the story that aren’t rosy and joyful. Like the part where Joseph’s family was so morally outraged that, rather than take him and his very pregnant fiancée Mary into their homes in Bethlehem, they allowed them to be relegated to a barn.
And we look at all these adorable nativity scenes with glowing candlelight and soft hay and quietly mooing cows…as though any one has ever been in a barn that smelled good or was comfy to sleep on the floor of or had quiet animals in it. It’s more likely that this experience was smelly and dirty and noisy. Most of God’s glorious creation is smelly and dirty and noisy, frankly.
And upon Jesus’ smelly, dirty, noisy entrance into this world, we also tend to forget just why it is that God has come to dwell with us. The Christ child is not born into a utopian society just so that God can revel in the human experience of perfection. We know that it is in fact quite the opposite.
Jesus is born into a world of injustice and political oppression and fear and violence and hunger. And he is born into a region with a ruler who orders the death of all of the children his age—for fear that this “newborn king” could usurp the throne.
Our gospel text for this morning even reminds us that Jesus came into a world in which his own people did not accept him. The rosy-cheeked child we envision in the glowing manger this morning will, a few decades later, be crucified for his crimes against the empire.
But we don’t like to talk about that. Because Christmas for our culture has become sentimental and glitzy and more about Santa Claus and wrapping paper than it is about the beginning of the most important story ever told.
Some of our most beloved Christmas songs hearken to the reality of the birth of Jesus. “O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile,” we sing. “From depths of hell thy people save and give us victory over the grave.” Jesus came into a world that needed saving. He didn’t just come to us to change the whole way our world worked because God felt like it, or because whatever we were doing needed a little revision. The Christ child was born into a world that was desperate for change. And God walks among us today in a world that is still desperate for change.
The Gospel according to John tells us that a light shines in this darkness, and that darkness shall not overcome it. From the very beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, it’s written. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld its glory. This tiny, smelly, noisy, dirty, baby boy is the Word made flesh.
On that holy night, that baby boy began to change the world. The story goes that a star shined brightly above his birthplace, so that all could know their newborn king had come. Just hours after his birth, people began to come from miles around to simply be in his presence. And he grew up to teach us to love our God and love one another. He grew up to teach us to pray for our enemies and to care for those who are in need. He grew up to speak truth to power and challenge the oppressor. He grew up to revolutionize a society and reform a people. He grew up to bring light to those who sit in darkness. And we celebrate all of this anew this morning.
And there are many songs we know and love that speak to this. “A thrill of hope,” we sing, “the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” This morning is that new and glorious one. Each morning, from now on, is new and glorious.
And so as we go on our way rejoicing this morning, despite what advertisers would tell us, the Christmas season has not come to an end this day. This morning we have, like the shepherds, been told a very important story. And, like the shepherds, we will go out and tell to others what has been told to us about this child -- and we will all be amazed.
We will all be amazed at the power of God to bring good news to a weary world. We will be amazed at the power of God to show up in the unlikeliest of places and the unlikeliest of people. We will be amazed by the power of God to live and breathe among us all those centuries ago and even to this day. We will be amazed by the power of God to draw us together, again and again, to this old book, these ancient rituals, this simple bread and cup -- to be always making us new.
Merry Christmas! Amen.