A Christmas to Remember
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 2:1–2:20
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2020
“A Christmas to Remember”
Without question, this has been a memorable year. Maybe not memorable because of COVID-19 and its impact on our lives, but memorable nonetheless. We appreciate what is good in life and see blessings by way of contrast. We appreciate brilliant sunshine after we have experienced dark and gloomy weather. We give thanks for the blessing of good health after we have experienced illness and disease. We rejoice in the gift of reconciliation and forgiveness after the pain of division and estrangement. What is memorable, what is good, what is blessing is made so when it is contrasted with what we would rather forget, with what is not good, with what we do not see as blessing. Regardless of why, I suspect that we will remember Christmas 2020 for the rest of our lives because it is so different. The message on this Christmas Eve, based on that familiar account of the birth of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, is entitled “A Christmas to Remember.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake
We all have special Christmases that we remember. What is a Christmas that you remember? Maybe it was long ago and far away when you were small, and there was a sense of awe and wonder in everything about this holy time. The more we go along in life, that awe and wonder of childhood Christmas gets overtaken by the cares and worries of this life. As adults, we can become weighed down with the burdens and responsibilities of life that rob us of joy. Perhaps we have heard the good news of great joy, the story of Jesus’ birth, so many times that it is falling on deaf ears. Perhaps the circumstances of life have left us feeling beaten down and numb to everything. Perhaps we are carrying around deep wounds that no one can see, that have left us bitter toward life. If this is a Christmas to remember, how do we reclaim the gift that is Christmas? Do we have ears to hear the song of the angels once again? Do we have eyes to see God hidden in the form of a helpless Infant? Do we have it within us to go in heart and mind even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass?
A number of years ago, a dear friend, now deceased, gave to my family this gift at Christmas. On one side is a Christmas tree with these words inscribed along the bottom: “When you strip away all the tinsel and glitter…” Turn it around, and on the other side is the image of a cross with the rest of the inscription: “God’s real truth shines through.” It’s both/and, not either/or. The Christmas tree – which points us to the manger – as well as the cross, are both places that show the immense love of God. These are the last places we would expect to find the all-powerful God who made heaven and earth, but these are the very places where God reveals who He truly is. The wood of the manger in Bethlehem that cradled the Infant Jesus will lead to the wood of the cross at Calvary that held his body as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In the beloved Christmas story here in Luke’s Gospel, we read: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). This is the good news of great joy that is for all people. But this good news takes us to a place where we’d rather not go; to a hillside outside Jerusalem on a Friday thirty-three years later where there is injustice and cruelty, agonized suffering and death. That same progression spoken of at Jesus’ birth is recorded again at his death: “This man [Joseph of Arimathea] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had every yet been laid” (Luke 23:52-53). Jesus’ birth is mirrored in his death. If we have eyes to see, there is always a cross in the Christmas tree, reminding us that Jesus was born to die for you and for me.
Several years ago, a man wrote about how he and his wife took their 3-year-old granddaughter to a living Nativity display at a nearby church around Christmas time. They walked through displays of artisans and families recreating life in Bethlehem. They stopped at an animal pen where they could pet all the animals, and their little granddaughter marveled at the goats, sheep, and donkeys. Finally, they arrived at the last display, which was the manger scene with Mary, Joseph, and the baby. As people gathered around, the pastor began to speak about the gift of Jesus. The man leaned over to his bundled-up granddaughter whom he was holding and said, “See, there’s baby Jesus.” The little girl yelled out, “I wanna see the goat!” The man was embarrassed, but he tried to redirect his little granddaughter to get her to focus on baby Jesus. But once again, she yelled out, “I wanna see the goat!” This time, he just scurried off with her to find the goat. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, there will be lots of voices yelling out at you: “Can’t you do that yourself? I’m busy!” “There’s nothing to do! I’m bored!” “I just want things to be back the way they used to be.” These voices will come from those you love and those you don’t love so much. They will sound urgent and anxious. They may be loud, or they may be subtle and quiet. We may be tempted to scurry off just to quiet those voices. Let us not hurry off and so miss the coming of the Christ Child.
If this is to be a Christmas to remember, how will we remember it? We might not be able to gather with the ones we love, as we would like to do. Is that how we will remember this Christmas? We might not be able to do the things we would normally do to celebrate this blessed time. Is that how we will remember this Christmas? Maybe this year will actually prove to be a blessing in disguise. When all is said and done, maybe this simplifies things for us, getting us back to what is at the heart of Christmas. It isn’t the lighted tree or the gifts under that tree. It isn’t the special dinner or even the loved ones who would share this with us. As the very name of this celebration reminds us, it is about Christ; the Christ Child; the Mass of Christ. The shepherds on that first Christmas serve as our model. They “went with haste and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). Did they bow down, falling upon their knees, to worship the One told them by the angel? Scripture does not record this, but it does tell us this: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). They were the first to give thanks for the birth of Jesus, and so do we this night. As the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper reminds us: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord…” At all times and in all places, we give thanks for the gift of Jesus. Because of this, truly this is a Christmas to remember.
In closing, I leave you with a poem, “In Search of Our Kneeling Places,” written by Anne Barr Weems:
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing star
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
[This Advent] let’s go to Bethlehem
And see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
[This Advent], let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Amen.