12/24-25/2017 Christmas Eve/Christmas Morn The text is Luke 2 and John 1.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, the day has finally come. Christmas is more than a distant memory or a hope of things to come. Christmas is upon us once more.
I have found that one of the greatest things about Christmas is the surprises that come with it. For, when else in your life do you get to pile 10, 20, 30, 40 sometimes 50 surprises all together and sit for an hour enjoying each of them? One after another, surprise after surprise. Christmas is wonderful in that way. It is full of surprises. And as Chuck Swindoll points out, those “surprises come in many forms and guises: some good, some borderline amazing, some awful, some tragic, some hilarious. But there’s one thing we can usually say — surprises aren’t boring.”
Christmas is anything but boring to all of us no matter what our age and status in life. For some, this time is particularly hard as loved ones are no longer with us. For others, this time is exciting as parents share their first Christmas with their child. For children, it’s all about the presents under the tree. For those who are alone, it can be the loneliest day of the year. But for all of us, this day is anything but boring. It is full of memories and full of surprises.
It is a special day centered on the joyous surprises of God. For unto us a Son was given. Unto us a child was born. Unto us God’s love took on flesh and blood. The fact that God should so choose to bless us in this way is the greatest surprise of all…for had God made a list and checked it twice he would have found that none of us were nice. There is a naughty streak in each of us and not one of us was, is, or shall be deserving of his grace, forgiveness and salvation. But none of that stops God from loving us.
With the birth of Jesus long ago, God ushered in a new age, not that anyone actually noticed it. The people of Bethlehem were too busy doing their own thing to take notice of the surprise God had given them in the birth of Jesus. But the Herods of the world took notice as God’s presence in the world meant an end of their own power. For Herod, God’s surprise in a birth of his Son was too bad to be endured, and yet, for Mary, Joseph, and all the other characters it was too good to miss. Surprises are like that. How we view them all depends upon the nature of the surprise and how the surprise affects us.
Surprises come in many forms and guises. They can even come in the form of a child as they did on Christmas. But sometimes we become too busy doing all those things we think we need to do and fail to notice God’s gift to us. So, our celebration of Christmas and of the birth of Jesus ends on December 25th, when it should actually begin on that day.
From time to time we may actually hear someone say, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be Christmas all year long.” And with those words most of us would utter a strong, “Ugh.” And yet the greatest surprise is that this is God’s intent. That is why God invaded our planet and gave us the gift of his Son. There is only one thing that stands in the way of celebrating Christmas all year long…and that is you and me.
The true meaning of Christmas often gets lost as we focus on celebrating with family and friends, giving gifts, filling our bellies, and setting up all the decorations and trappings that we feel will make the season joyous. And yet, there is something missing…and it isn’t the ceramic Jesus in the manger.
The true joy of Christmas comes from within here…in the heart and the soul…as we are surprised once more that God should love us so much that his word became flesh to live among us. That surprise is for all people…not just for you and me…not just for some shepherds keeping watch in the fields over 2000 years ago…it is for a world that rejected Jesus even before he was born.
The impact of that surprise came home to Alan Abramsky and his family in Roanoke, Texas as they were hosting a rabbi from Russia at Christmas time. They decided to introduce him to a culinary treat that was probably not available in his country: They took him to their favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal, the rabbi spoke excitedly about the wonders of North America in comparison to the bleak conditions in his homeland. When they had finished eating, the waiter brought the check and presented each of them with a small brass Christmas-tree ornament as a seasonal gift. They all laughed when Abramsky’s father pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “Made in India.” But the laughter subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. Concerned, Abramsky’s father asked the rabbi if he was offended because he’d been given a gift for a Christian holiday. He smiled, shook his head and said, “Nyet. I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!” (story adapted from King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
This is the surprise of Christmas…that God did not make the distinctions that we expect. God did not choose to send his Son only to the Jews of Jerusalem, but to all people. God did not choose to send his Son to the righteous, but to sinners, like us. God did not choose to have his Son be born in a palace, but in a stable. God did not choose to make the birth announcement to priests and Levites and scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, those who should have been waiting for the Messiah, but to lowly sheep herders in the middle of the night.
In every way possible, Christmas was and shall always be a surprise. And on December 26th and every day of the coming year, may we remember God’s gift to us on Christmas and may that gift surprise us anew. And as it does, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.