Lessons of the Day (Christmas I): Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Like many of you, part of my Christmas tradition includes Christmas movies. Honestly, I’ll watch just about all of them: Hallmark, Amazon specials, Diehard. If there’s Santa, holly, candy canes, and some carolling – I’m in!
Now, one of the greats – and I’m sure you will agree is “Elf.” “Elf,” if you are not aware, is a film about a baby who ends up at the North Pole and is raised by Santa’s Elves. When “Buddy” is an adult he finds out he is human – not an elf – and he goes back to New York to find his real family. His new found family reluctantly takes him in, expecting him to fit into their New York lifestyle. However, the culture clash proves more than they bargained for. For example, Buddy still dresses like a North Pole elf, and his actions match the customs and traditions he grew up with.
One of my favorite moments of the film is the scene of their first family dinner. “Mom” has served spaghetti and as they begin to eat, Buddy asks,
“Please pass the maple syrup.”
“It’s spaghetti…” she reminds him.
Buddy doesn’t miss a beat, but says- “Oh… I think I have some right here!” And he reaches up into the sleeve of his coat, pulls out a little bottle of maple syrup, and proceeds to pour it all over the top of his spaghetti.
Buddy does things differently than ‘the rest of us.’ And although he is immersed in a different culture, he brings the foundation of what he knows with him… joy, peace, love, and hope… represented, if you’ll allow me some poetic license, in that little bottle of maple syrup he pulls out of his sleeve. And he’s not afraid to pour it out on everything and let it flow all over the place; even though everyone around him thinks he’s out of his mind!
This Advent season, we’ve been talking a lot about calling out in the darkness. We’ve discussed how to find our voice, to cry out, and to proclaim the light of Christ, despite living in what can be a very dark world. Have you seen those yard signs around town that implore us to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I get the sentiment, I suppose. Advent has been a time of reminding the church and the world of what is coming, and of proclaiming the foundation of what we believe in a strange culture.
Maybe you’ve resolved to “put Christ back in Christmas,” to bring the foundation of what you know in a strange culture. Maybe you’ve resolved to shop less and give more intentionally. Or maybe you’ve promised to pray more, serve more, and be more gracious. That type of planning is great. But then the ‘season’ hits, and doesn’t our resolve to funny things? Maybe the traditions we have don’t quite mesh with our alternative Christmas plan. And sometimes by the time we get to Christmas Eve, it feels like your whole plan to keep Christ in Christmas failed. But it doesn’t have to. No matter how many lights you have on your house or how many cookies you’ve baked or how stressed you feel … you haven’t missed it. And, in case you didn’t know, you have a little bottle of maple syrup up your sleeve.
The first Christmas seems a lot like this one. Amidst the stresses and busyness of real life, the emperor orders a census, forcing everyone (even pregnant women) to journey to their ancestral homes to be registered. Imagine what that might have been like. The whole extended family traveling to your hometown, everyone expecting to stay with relatives – siblings with their children, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins you haven’t spoken to since the last wedding or funeral.
Imagine that all that family has arrived and is staying in your guest rooms (and by the way that is the real word for” Inn”… we translate it as no room in ” Inn” but it really means, guest room, or upper room of a house). Then, Joseph arrives with Mary, a very pregnant Mary, who just happens to be in labor!
And because their was no room in the guest room, the pregnant couple went to the stable – well, it was more like the living room, a multipurpose room where the family would eat and work during the day. At night, the room would be cleared out for the animals – that’s why there was a manger. The next morning, the animals would go back outside- the room would be swept and cleaned out, the family returning to their work for the next day.
This tired pregnant woman, desperate for rest after the long journey, put up with the animals and the noise and the smells. And sure enough, Mary delivers her baby! Mary and Joseph, chosen to raise God’s son, wrapped their newborn in bands of cloth, and aid him in a feeding trough, because that was what was there.
In the middle of the night, there comes some visitors, filthy, even worse smelling than the animals, shepherds. Joseph maybe tries to place their faces as maybe being distant relatives (every family has their share of shepherds), but they just tell him they have seen angels, and they are here to worship the baby! And Joseph, who has had a visit from an angel himself, lets them in.
And, in the middle of the room, in the middle of the ruckus, in the manger cum cradle, Jesus, the Christ Child, sleeps. Some may recognize that the Savior of the World has just been born in their midst but most certainly have no clue. Life continues – the gathering continues, the celebrations continue, the culture continues.
You see, this is why you haven’t failed at keeping Christ in Christmas. Because Christ IS Christmas. Regardless of whether we show up at the door in the middle of the night after a divine encounter with a host of angels, or shuffle through the whole experience more concerned about lights and gifts and cookies, Christmas will always be about Christ. We might commercialize it, bake through it, or sleep through it; but, we cannot take Christ out of Christmas.
And do you know why? Because Christ can’t take YOU out of Christmas. You are the reason for the season. You are the reason that the Son was sent by the Father in the first place. It is because of God’s great love for you that Chrsit was born in Bethlehem.
“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son!” (John 3:16)
Because God so loved each one of us, the Word became flesh, bringing the foundations of everything God knows – love, peace, joy, hope.
And truly I tell you that God loves you so very much that tonight, and tomorrow, and every single day that you are willing, and even when you’re not willing – when you’re stuffing turkeys and singing carols, or buying goats for families in Kenya, or just watching the game, whether you are thinking about Christ or not thinking about Christ – a nail pierced hand is reaching up into the inside of a sleeve, and pulling out a little bottle of maple syrup, and is pouring its contents out on everything, and letting it flow all over the place. Merry Christmas.