A Christmas More Meaningful Than Magical (Sermon Dec. 25, 2016)

December 26, 2016 Length: 11:05

In his Nativity sermon, Fr. Andrew discusses how negative experiences at Christmas reveal the feast's true purpose.

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen. Christ is Born! [Glorify Him!]

Christmas can be magical. And many of us remember that from when we were kids, and we try to recapture it as adults.  And we often fail. “Someone’s ruined Christmas for me again,” I may think. “There’s that old family argument. There’s that cold shoulder. There’s that Christmas feast that isn’t anything like the one my mom used to make. There are those lame cookies or that brutal fruitcake. There’s that endless bickering and gossiping and droning on and on about stuff I don’t care about. There’s that passive-aggressiveness. Don’t people know it’s Christmas? What’s wrong with them?”

The disenchantment often comes with marriage. A husband and wife come together each with a set of expectations and requirements for what the good life looks like. And even though there might be some matches between them there are often more mismatches than matches. What looks like a magical Christmas to one just seems kind of off to the other. What is critical for one in making the holiday special is just sort of pointless to the other.  “Why can’t my spouse just be normal?”

Families can find themselves living in a kind of a day-to-day truce at best. “Where is the harmony? Where is the memory making I was promised? Where are all the things we used to have in common?  Why do they have to keep ruining Christmas? Sometimes with a bang, but more often with a whimper.

Holidays, but especially Christmas in our culture, are often put into service of the real purpose of marriage and family life. And what is that purpose? It is to reveal our sins so that we can be healed of them.

When a couple is newly married and find themselves fighting all the time, or when parents find themselves exasperated by their kids and wondering if it wouldn’t be illegal just to sell them or drop them off in the woods and never look back, or when kids become finally convinced that their parents are really the dumbest people on the planet, or when a couple that’s been married for some time look at each other and think, “I just don’t like you” then that is the moment we know it’s working. Family life reveals sins, so Christmas reveals sins, even when it’s just perfect. In fact Christmas reveals sins best when it really is perfect.

But what is a perfect Christmas? Is it one with ham or turkey or lamb? Is it a quiet evening with the kids or a massive bustling chaos fest with endless relations? Is it scads of presents or just that one thoughtful gift? You could pick any of those things and not really make for a perfect Christmas.  So what is a perfect Christmas? A perfect Christmas is what we’re doing right now: worshipping Jesus Christ and communing with him in his holy house. That is a perfect Christmas. And if we think of what the coming of Jesus does, it definitely reveals sins. In the Gospel reading today we meet Herod, and of course we immediately think about his rage in finding that a rival for his throne had been born, and his evil slaughter of thousands of young boys as he sought to kill the Messiah. The epistle reading from Galatians talks about the revelation of Christ showing that we had been living as slaves. Slavery is most certainly sin, even the most benign variety you can think of. Why? It’s because God did not make us for bondage, for having no freedom. He made us for freedom. So when one truly free man steps onto the scene in the person of Jesus, the contrast shows us that we are actually all slaves. Because that’s what a free man looks like, and we’re not that. We’re slaves to sin, we’re slaves to our sinful desires; Christmas has revealed sin. So even when we really get it, by celebrating Christmas the right way, focusing on Jesus, then what’s going to happen is that sin will be revealed.

Remembering that Christmas is part of the story of Jesus doesn’t make Christmas magical again, where everything is rosy and beautiful and unforgettable. Focusing on the story of Jesus makes us remember that he came here to do something, and that was to wrestle with death and put it down. He came here to save his people from their sins. His very name means Yahweh saves, the one true God saves.

I’m not asking you to make sure Christmas stays Christian for you, as some kind of religious duty. You know, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and all that. Rather what I’m asking of you today, and of myself, it to paint a whole new image in your mind of just what we’re doing here. Here in our church and in our families and in our private prayers, we’re asking God to reveal our sins. We should never be surprised when they’re revealed; it’s an answer to prayer. And we should never be surprised when it hurts, when it’s frustrating, when we feel like giving up, especially at these moments when we thought everything was supposed to be perfect.

But don’t give up.

There is something worth fighting for here. There is something worth making our own here.  There is something here that is going to reveal everything and finally put everything to rights, and finally vindicate everything. Finally we will have a truly perfect Christmas.

And what is it? What makes this feast day so truly special, truly worth keeping in memory, and truly worth fighting for? It is that Christ was born into the world to save us sinners. To save us from our sins. To bring us love that we can’t even imagine. Love that ends all arguments. Love that ends all pain. Love that ends all imperfections. Love that ends all loneliness. Love that ends all hunger, Love that finally makes everything make deep and lasting sense, love that is meaning in its final and perfect sense.

In meditating on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, that the Son of God became man, the early Christian theologian Irenaeus of Lyons wrote this:

The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, through his transcendent love, became what we are that he might bring us to be even what he himself is.

He became what we are so that we might become what He is. That is the incarnation’s purpose. That is what Christmas means.  We can sometimes get so caught up in the meaning of Christmas that we sometimes forget to ask what Christmas means. When we think of the meaning of Christmas it’s often in terms of trying to steer our minds back to the baby in the manger. Okay. But what does that baby in the manger mean?

Christmas means that God has come in the flesh. That He came as one of us so that we might become like Him. Christmas means rescue. It means healing.  It means being saved from all the garbage that seems to surface this time of year. Of course all of our sins are coming out to play around Christmas. So much the better so that we can see we need to be healed. So much the better so that we can see we are slaves who need to be adopted as sons. This is what Christmas means: that we who are broken and messed up and hopeless have hope. We, the hopeless, have hope. That may not be magical, but it certainly is meaningful. Christmas means the incarnation, which has but one purpose: to unite God and man so that we can receive what we all need so very much. We need Jesus. We need him so much. What’s wrong with us is that we’re missing him.

We are gathering mystically now at the manger in Bethlehem, and as we crowd around that manger, and see that baby, we are actually meeting God, because that’s who that baby is.  And so we bring to him our own gifts, our selves, our lives, even in our imperfections and sins. And he will take what we bring him and sanctify it and make it his own. It’s only in him that we really can be who we are. And that’s a perfect Christmas.

To the Christ who is born for us be all glory honor and worship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is born! [Glorify Him!]