December 25, 2022 – Christmas Day

The late bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Right Rev. Thomas Shaw, posted a series of videos on YouTube called “A Monk in the Midst.” In one of his videos, he told a story about a man named Fred and his six-year-old son, Sam, and the conversation the two had had about what they were going to do on Christmas.  Fred explained that they would get up early in the morning, open their presents, and then go to church.  “Church?” replied the son.  “Church?  On Christmas?  We’re going to go to church on Christmas?”  Fred patiently explained to Sam that Christmas was all about church.  “It’s about Jesus’ birth, you know, and God coming to live with us,” said Fred.  “I know,”” said Sam.  “I know, I know, I know!  But Christmas?!” Then he sighed, as only a six-year-old can:  “Church wrecks everything.”[1]

I suppose it’s setting the bar pretty low, but I sincerely hope that this church service will not wreck your Christmas Day.  Still, Sam’s words made me chuckle when I read them, especially since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, which perhaps has thrown a monkey-wrench into the way you generally celebrate the holiday.  But there was something profound about the six-year-old’s comment.  Because the one whose birth we have gathered together to celebrate – Jesus – he does wreck some things.

First of all, the story of the birth of Jesus probably does wreck the cultural celebration of Christmas.  Six-year-old Sam was right about that.  If the holy day of Christmas becomes just a jolly holiday; if Christmas is first and foremost about getting new toys and gadgets, and eating and drinking and making merry, then the biblical story of the birth of Jesus does wreck that concept.  Because none of those things appear in the story.  In the biblical story, there are no gifts and there is no merry-making – just a new-born baby, held by his mother, protected by his father, and visited by a bunch of field-workers.  And that story – while we cherish it for its simplicity and want to hear it on Christmas Eve – has really nothing to do with the excesses with which we sometimes celebrate Christmas.

And the other thing that gets wrecked by the true story of Christmas is the soft sentimentality of the day.  We picture the scene of Jesus’ birth with blurred edges in a warm glow of light and a soundtrack from a Hallmark movie.  Even the words of some of our favorite Christmas carols lead us in that sentimental direction.  When we sing “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,” we forget that the reality of Bethlehem, then as now, is that that town is located in a place of great turmoil.  Now it’s the Arabs and Israelis, then it was the Jews and the Romans.  The conflicts have changed but the conflict has not.  And when we sing the words from “Away in a Manger” and picture “the cattle lowing,” but the “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” as he is laid gently in a bed of clean, fresh hay, we are forgetting the reality that childbirth hurts, and babies cry, and animals smell.  Yes, the reality of the story of this child’s birth sort of wrecks the Christmas story of our imagination – which is one of the reasons I am glad we read from John’s gospel today.  John draws our thoughts away from the domestic tranquility with which we often view the Christmas story to the cosmic significance of the birth of the one who vanquished darkness.

Now lest you think I am being a Scrooge and talking humbug, I will rush to confess that I enjoy making merry – feasting and opening presents – as much as the next person; and I do get sentimental on this day – about the story and the music and the people I love and all of the sweet and lovely customs that this season brings.  My intention is not to wreck it for you . . . or for me!  But I will also rush to tell you that the real joy of this day comes from neither merry-making nor sentimentality.  The real joy of this day comes from remembering how Jesus came to wreck a whole lot more than just the way our culture celebrates Christmas.

  • He wrecked our selfishness, by showing us that God’s way is to give of ourselves without counting the cost as he would grow up to do, eventually giving even his own life for the sake of the world.
  • He wrecked the way we humans tend to organize ourselves in tribes, whether the tribes are based on race or gender or economic status or even faith tradition, ignoring all barriers and treating everyone as a beloved child of God.
  • He wrecked our concept of family, stretching it way beyond those to whom we are related by blood or marriage to include all who belong to him.
  • He wrecked the hold that sin has over us by promising us forgiveness.
  • He even wrecked our fear of death, promising us eternal life.

And amazingly, for more than 2000 years, people have been coming together to mark the birth of this one-man wrecking crew.  Why?  Because everything he wrecked, he wrecked for our sake.

  • He wrecked our selfishness so that our eyes would be opened to what he so unselfishly gives.
  • He wrecked our tribalism so that we might know full inclusion.
  • He wrecked our concept of family so that we would have more people to love and be loved by.
  • And he wrecked the power of sin and death so that we might be able to live more fully and freely in this life.

By disrupting all that is less than perfect in this life, by freeing us from our own limitations, he has made room in our hearts for what is good and perfect:  the true life and light for all people – the very love of God.

I am no Scrooge.  I truly do wish you a merry and sentimental day.  But I also pray that our Lord Jesus disrupts your life just enough in this season to plant the seed of God’s grace in your heart more deeply.  And I pray that God’s love will become incarnate in and through you so that you and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

[1] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermon/wrecking-church-christmas-eve-2015/

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