Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sermon, Christmas Eve

I was in the office today getting ready for the service and doing all of those little things that need to be done before a large service -- things like stuffing bulletins, creating four new #1's because we didn't have enough, cleaning the pews and organizing the books. Burning the incense. I enjoy being in here alone and getting ready. I enjoy the quiet. I enjoy (some would say I need) the time to get settled down so that I don't have to worry about last minute details.

I, like most of you, have done all I can. Advent is ended. The time of preparation is over. Christmas is upon us. Christmas is here whether we are ready or not. The weather helps. It's always good to have a white Christmas. But Christmas comes whether or not there is snow on the ground. And like the Grinch found out, it come without packages, boxes or bags. Christmas comes every year, whether we are ready or not.

Christmas comes all over the world; and regardless of how it's celebrated, it does come. It's celebrated in grand cathedrals and in small congregations. It is celebrated in large families and small. It is celebrated by people who are in church every Sunday of the year. It is celebrated by people who only attend services twice a year. It is celebrated by people who don't even attend church at all. In fact, Christmas is one of the three major holidays of the year, the other two being Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday.

Apparently, though, Christmas is in danger of being eliminated. If you listen to the religious conservatives, there is an outright battle against Christmas. This "War on Christmas," so it is claimed, can be seen in the removal of nativity scenes from government buildings and grounds; has claimed schools as victims because there are no longer "Christmas Concerts"; can be seen in product advertisements that try to equate their product with holy approval; and is evident in those grate American cathedrals (malls) where acolytes of consumerism have been instructed to pass on "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas.

Sometimes I think religion in general, and religious people in particular, need to lighten up. I was surfing around the internet last week and came across a commercial from an electronics company in Australia, sort of like a Radio Shack for Down Under I'm guessing. The scene is obviously Mary, Joseph, and three Wise Men gathered around the baby Jesus in the manger. The three Wise Men present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. After a second or two, you see the baby throw the gifts out of the manger with a tag line of, "Give sumthin' betta."

Various churches and religous leaders have jumped all over this ad decrying it as everything from insensitive to heretical. The comment I saw most often was along the lines of, "We don't think it appropriate to show Jesus rejecting gifts. These were gifts fit for a king and to treat them as unworthy of his attention is inappoprite."

A couple of things here. First, nobody seemed to be decrying that the ad got the image wrong. Who ever said there were three Wise Men? And, according to Matthew's gospel, the Wise Men were never at the manger; they went to Jesus' house. So as far as imagery goes, it's all wrong.

Second, by claiming that the Baby King Jesus wouldn't toss gifts out of his manger seems to me to be denying Jesus' humanity. We claim and believe that Jesus is God incarnate; that means he was fully human and fully divine. I can't sate for certain, but I'm willing to bet that the infant Jesus would be more interested in empty boxes or one of the tassels from the Wise Men's robes than he would be in gold, frankincense or myrrh.

And that brings me back to those who claim there is a War on Christmas. The people who make that claim can't, in all honesty, be truthful about it. There is no "War on Christmas." What there is is an unwillingness to go along with their particular view. If you don't' believe exactly as they believe, or have different ideas than them, you run the risk of being labeled a heretic. If you don't hold the position that America needs to be a Christian theocracy . . . well, then . . . you are both un-American AND un-Christian.

This theocratic and overly zealous point of view is missing the point. Nowhere in our scriptures does it say that we are to create a theocracy with our idea of Jesus at the head. Nowhere does Jesus ever say, "I am here to wipe out governments and empires and replace it with my own."

In fact, Jesus does everything he can to dispel people of that notion. He is born as a baby to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a barn. He refuses to call down legions of his angels to take care of him when tempted by Satan. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. He tells Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." And in his final few words to his disciples, he says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." He does NOT say, "Go and establish nations in my name, conquering in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

God does things differently. God does things we don't expect - like being born in a manger.

In that tiny, newborn baby, we see a life: a human life. That baby cries. That baby smiles. That baby's life is celebrated in thousand of different ways every year. People all over the world prepare for the arrival of that baby in their own way; and some, honestly, don't prepare at all. Whether we are ready or not, whether you prepare or not, doesn't change the fact that that baby will arrive. And that baby will grow up into a man who we proclaim as the Savior of the world.

All of that . . . the baby, the gifts, the teachings and healings . . . is done in the context of human relationships. We teach people about our Christmas traditions. We teach people about the life of Jesus. We teach people how to be disciples. We spend time with people working out the answers to difficult questions. We claim to follow a king not of this world. And I can guarantee you that that king is more concerned with how we treat others, how we love our fellow human, how we work for peace, and how we exemplify his life in the messy, routine day-to-day living of our own lives, than he is about whether or not we have nativity scenes on government property or run advertisements showing baby Jesus throwing presents our of his crib.

There is no War on Christmas. Go home tonight, assured that the celebration of Jesus will go on in many different ways and in many different places. And know that as long as we gather, as long as we teach, as long as we live, Jesus, Emmanuel, God is with us. Always.


Peter S | 10:11 PM, December 26, 2007  

You are a joy to read--know that your great preaching style is reaching far beyond your little parishes. Thank you!

I do like the idea of asking, about almost any Biblical passages, "what does he NOT say" or something like that--it's often a great way to explore the text.

Anonymous | 6:25 PM, December 30, 2007  

I so enjoy your sermons and preaching style. Wish you were here. Mom

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