Christmas Day 2016
A meditation by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
December 25, 2016
An adaptation of “Sermon for Christmas Day” by The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston
How many times have you heard the Christmas story? How many times have you heard the story about the simple shepherds in the field watching over their flocks by night and the light that surrounded them and the voices of angels proclaiming good news to all of God’s people? How many times have you heard that Mary and Joseph had to travel even though Mary was pregnant, and that there wasn’t a place for them to stay when they arrived in Bethlehem? How many times have you heard the story about the Wise Men that came from the east, and about all the animals—live animals, not stuffed animals—that gathered around the manger?
How many times have you heard that story, and how many times have you seen it portrayed on greeting cards, on television, in movies, and in art? The images are warm and loving, aren’t they? Seeing these images, taking in the splendor of the season, is a lot like the bands of cloth that Jesus was wrapped in a new-born…warm, cozy, protective.
Christmas is like that for us, no matter how many times we hear the story. It wraps us in warm and wonderful streamers of family memories and traditions that we hold dear, of giving and receiving gifts, of Christmas carols and candlelight worship services. We do it every year and it keeps us warm and protected against the cold. It makes us feel comforted and hopeful and it brings us back to the mystery and innocence of childhood. Year after year, Christmas after Christmas, we welcome it and it never seems to get old.
You know, the truth is that no matter how avant-garde or forward thinking or progressive we may believe ourselves to be as Christians, every Christmas most of us turn into traditionalists. If you are like me, you are an absolute sentimentalist whenever it comes to Christmas. I don’t want Christmas to ever change. I don’t ever want to stop hearing the Christmas story about the angels and the shepherds and the scared parents and the baby. I never want to stop seeing that comforting image of Jesus laying in a manger; I don’t want Christmas eve worship to go away, and I sure as heck will never use battery-operated candles as we sing “Silent Night.” It is so comforting. I never, ever, want Christmas to change.
But there is a great irony in that. The irony is that Christmas, God breaking into our world by being born as a baby, is the greatest moment of change in human history. When we celebrate Christmas, we are in fact celebrating a moment when God enters into history and nothing is ever the same after that. Ever.
Incarnation means change. Incarnation means God coming into our time and into our space and into our lives and into our comfort zones and shaking things up. Christ’s birth is the signal that God is recreating everything in a new way, and it challenges us to confront change and be active in doing something with it and about it. The great calling of Christian faith—faith in this baby that was born in Bethlehem—is that God wants us to be co-creators, co-re-creators, with God in the world around us.
Christmas is nothing but a constant celebration year after year after year that no year is ever the same. Our lives are never the same year after year; the world is never the same year after year. The irony is clear when we try our hardest to keep Christmas the same year after year. But change is not something we as Christians should ever fear. Change is the nature of life, and it is the nature of the Church. We can be confident as life changes, as the church changes, and as the world changes, because no matter what, God is still engaged with us, with history, and with all of creation. God is always making things happen for the good, no matter how much change there is. We do not have to be afraid as we respond to the new and growing needs in the world. We do not have to be afraid to stand up when a different group or person is broken-down or torn down. We do not have to be afraid when the practices of the church seem to be different, and we do not have to be afraid of the different place the church has in the world today. We do not have to be afraid, and we should not be afraid—God is with us, Immanuel, loving us and wrapping us in the arms of mercy forever.
So what do I suggest we do this Christmas Day? How should you and I celebrate this wonderful moment of change in the world when really what we want to do is recline back on tradition?
I suggest that you wrap up in Christmas, that you once again enjoy visions of angels and shepherds and the manger and the baby in the straw and the animals and Mary and Joseph and keep everything exactly the way it’s always been. Just today, for this one day, soak up the comforting and the traditional. Let it be familiar and warm and loving. There’s time enough tomorrow for you and me to step out into the world and use the gifts we have been given to work with God in re-creating the world. But for today, for this one special day, let it be comforting and traditional. Relax into the peace that is holy and into a time where time itself seems to stand still. Breathe in the sounds of angelic voices drifting through a starry, cold night. Listen to the beating heart of the Savior of the World, wrapped in bands of cloth, rocked gently by his mother. Feel the gentle rhythm of sheep munching on straw, and of cattle lowing. Be silent, as silent as the shepherds, overtaken by great joy that God loves you so much.
Tomorrow will come, and with it, much change and much work to be done. So rest, sleep, pray, and take time to just be, in the heavenly peace that is Christmas. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it. Amen.