12/25/2015 Christmas The text for today is Luke 2:1-20 and Isaiah 9:2-7.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, as I was polishing up my sermons for Christmas, I stopped and started over again. For, you see, this was an unusual week. It was unusual, not because of everything I need to get done to be ready for the celebration of such a wonderful day, but it was unusual because of a phone call. Amidst the flurry of pre-Christmas activity, the phone rang. It was a bit surprising that I answered the call, as the area code was unfamiliar and I tend to let such calls go by. I hate talking to salesmen and solicitors, especially around this time of the year. But, as it turned out, I’m glad I took this call.
On the line was the voice of my niece. Now, I haven’t heard from Delora in years, so, immediately, I asked the $25,000 question – what’s happening? It was then that she told me that my brother-in-law, Al, had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. With this news, my countenance fell for Al had just had valve replacement earlier this month and was doing very well. So, I asked what happened.
It appears that he was home, having breakfast with my sister, when something went down the wrong pipe and he began to choke. The choking caused the heart to stop. My sister couldn’t get him out of the chair he was in so after calling 911, she ran next door for help. When the paramedics arrived, they restarted Al’s heart, but his status was critical.
Delora sounded shaken, but hopeful as she relayed the information. My sister was unable to talk to anyone at that time but Delora assured me that she was with her mom, watching and waiting. When I hung up the phone, I prayed.
Yesterday, things were a bit different. I was at the church when I received a call from Delora on my cell phone. This time, her voice quivered as she was holding back tears. Things had not improved, but in fact, they had become worse. “Al’s lungs are badly damaged,” she told me. Now, in an induced coma, Al is unable to breath on his own. And to make things worse, the doctors are unsure about the condition of his brain. He may have been deprived of oxygen for too long a period of time.
What do you do? What do you say – to people on the eve of Christmas – who are watching and waiting for any sign of hope, knowing that in a few short hours they may have to make the hardest decision in their life? Yes, my sister is not alone – she has the support of her family and friends. Yes, my sister is not alone – she has the support of the hospital staff and a Lutheran pastor at her side. Yet, my sister is alone in her feelings of loss and helplessness as she stares into the face of the one she loves. And yet, she is never alone, because it is Christmas.
As I left the church yesterday, I listened to the Christmas music blaring on the radio. And I heard the words, “So, this is Christmas,” sung by someone whose name I cannot recall. Those words echoed in my brain and I heard no others. “So, this is Christmas….so, this is Christmas.”
So, this is Christmas. This is not the first time that tragedy has hit my family around this day. My brother died when I was 18 and he was 22, the day after Christmas. With such a loss, Christmas could have been colored black and made a day of mourning. But, this is Christmas…it is Jesus’ birthday – it is a day of hope and salvation.
Jesus wasn’t born into a perfect world. His birth place was a stable and he had a manger as a crib. Jesus was born into a world where tragedy was common place, a world where people suffered and died, a place where people were searching for redemption while feeling helpless to change the world around them. Jesus came to offer these people hope, people who walked in darkness and the shadow of death. Jesus came to fulfill God’s promises of abiding love. Jesus came to feel our pain, to suffer our loss, to experience our struggles and to endure our death. He came in order that God would know…God would and will know…what we are going through in our life, in order for God to provide us with what we need most.
Because of this, Christmas has never been colored black. The brightness of the gift that God showered on earth in Jesus Christ makes its way into the darkest recesses of our lives. Jesus Christ is born. A Son has been given. A savior has come into the world who brings forth life.
So, yes, my sister and her family may face some pretty tough decisions in the hours to come. But, Al will be safe in God’s care because of the birth of Jesus to a peasant family in the little town called Bethlehem. Yes, my sister and her family may face some pretty tough decisions in the hours to come, but they are not doing it alone. God is with them for Jesus is our Immanuel.
So, we can rejoice in spite of tragedy and loss. For, this is Christmas. This is Christmas. This is the day of Jesus’ birth. This is the day that we celebrate God’s choice to come to us in human form and through Jesus, to bring us the hope of everlasting life in his kingdom. So, this is Christmas, now, and forevermore. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which shines brightly on this day, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.