The End or the Beginning of Christmas – a Christmas Eve Sermon

“She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His Name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”   So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”   [Matthew 1:21-23]

Last Saturday there was a movie, a comedy, called “The Four Christmases.”  It was about a couple who were living together, having fun, and – of course – weren’t married.  Circumstances made it happen that they had to spend some time with their parents, but again – of course – both sets of parents were divorced, therefore the title, “The Four Christmases.”  No, I didn’t watch it, but you just knew that it would all turn out romantic and wonderful in the end, along with some laughs along the way.

Why should it turn out that way?  Well of course, because it is Christmas!  Why?  Because Christmas is supposed to have this wonderful magic about it – after all, how many movies so often even have snow magically happen on Christmas eve.  And why does that happen? Because now all is right with the universe and these people will live happily ever after – because after all, that is the magic of Christmas.

Although we don’t easily give up on such romanticism, it seems to me that there is a growing disillusionment with that ideal.  Yes, we want that magic to happen, but we know that it doesn’t happen.  And I wonder if people aren’t getting tired of a dream that doesn’t and won’t come true.  The very premise of the movie seems to identify a cynicism that, in spite of the romantic outcome at the end, with both sets of parents divorced, really all is not right with the world – that Christmas remains a helpless and therefore hopeless ideal in our world.

Music is another area where there seems to be growing disillusionment with Christmas.  In one song I heard recently, “Christmas” just seems to be repeated constantly, as if by its repetition then the magic will happen, so that we will live happily ever after.  Yet more and more it seems that Christmas songs no longer have that sense of peaceful calmness and joy about them that made the traditional songs and carols so popular.  Even in regard to gifts, despite the implied sense that if you buy the right things then all will be well, there is a let down feeling when the gift-opening ends.  Among the shambles of the wrapping paper and the insistent striving of the music, there still remains a vague sense of emptiness.

What a collective sigh of relief comes after Christmas Day.  Now finally the radio can stop playing the Christmas songs and get back to business as usual.  Instead of being the beginning of a celebration, by the time this holiday occurs, the world is ready to be done with the fantasy world.  During the First World War, there was a famous incident where the Allies and their enemy, the Germans, put aside the war, came out of their trenches and celebrated Christmas in no-man’s-land with each other.  But the next day they were back to trying to kill each other – because, after all, that’s what life really is about.

John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is over)” seems to have that sense that things just don’t change as he asks, “and what have you done – another year’s over and a new one’s just begun.”  Where is that magic that Christmas is supposed to invoke?  A day or two from now, maybe even a week, and the magic seems to be gone.

Even a Christmas service, like this one, can be nice, and yet those warm feelings sometimes just don’t carry for very long.  What is wrong with Christmas – why doesn’t it have the power that we constantly try to invest in it?

The problem is that this holiday is simply that – it is an event, it is an occasion, it is a holiday – it is a “thing”: a thing we do, a thing we observe, a thing that have each year, a thing that we use.

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My wife baby-sits our granddaughter and when my son drops her off, the granddaughter stands at the door waving good-bye and saying, “’Bye, daddy; ‘bye, daddy; ‘bye, daddy …” until his truck is out of sight.  How often can it be said that at end of the Christmas service, as we drive off to our gift-openings, parties, family meals and all the rest, we have left behind at the church the One Who-is-Christmas, and He stands in the doorway, waving good-bye and saying, “’Bye, My beloved; ‘bye, My beloved; ‘bye, My beloved …” until we are out of sight.  After all He had come here to be with us; yet have we come to be with Him?  Yes, we came to praise Him; yes, we came to celebrate Him; yes, we came to honor Him – but have we really come to be with Him as He has come to be with us?

Christmas is all about Immanuel – “God with us”: God comes to earth – but why? Just as an exercise of something to do? No, it is because you are here.  Jesus comes in Holy Communion – why? Because you are here; He’s come to have fellowship with you, He has come to give you His very self.  He has come, as He promised, to never leave you nor forsake you; to be with you even to the end of the ages.  This is the Jehovah of old Who has bound Himself to you in Covenant:  He’s come to walk with you in life and even through the valley of the shadow of death.  He’s come to cry with us in our frustrations and disappointments, to agonize with us when we must face unpleasant times, to dance with us in our celebrations, and to delightfully rejoice in our good fortunes.  Christmas is all about that Jesus has come to be with us.

But have we come to be with Him?  Or does Jesus stand in the doorway of the church, waving good-bye and saying, “’Bye, My beloved; ‘bye, My beloved; ‘bye, My beloved …” as we drive away at the end of the service, because after all we simply came to celebrate a nice occasion, we came for a nice warm feeling, we came for a nice holiday – it was a nice break, but we will shortly be getting back to life as usual.  We really didn’t come for a relationship and a companionship with Him Whom we proclaim as born – we simply came for the tradition.

And yet we and the world wonder why Christmas doesn’t “work.”  We wonder why the magic of Christmas seems so empty and disappointing.  We find we are just celebrating the end of Christmas, not the beginning of Christmas on this night.

Yet our worship here is not satisfied with this.  In the Bible readings and in the songs, can you hear the voice of Jesus speaking to you, declaring to you that He is here?  And how could Jesus have given us a more powerful demonstration that He has indeed come, but that in Holy Communion He gives you Himself really and physically in the bread and wine, in His Body and His Blood, touching your lips, your heart, your mind with more than words, declaring that this is indeed “for you”?

Will you then drive away with Him merely waving good-bye from the doorway, or will He do what He came to do, and that is, to be with you?  Will this be the beginning of Christmas, the beginning of a relationship He came to have with you?  Will this be a relationship that does not simply end here, but rather continues into this coming week, and then next Sunday to discover again that He is here for you, just like He is tonight, and will be there with you in that week, and in the following Sunday, and in that week as well?  Will you be driving away tonight with Christmas, with the Jesus Who has come to be “with us”?

This is the Christmas that will not end.  Now you will have the peace that the songs sing about, “the peace that surpasses understanding”; now you will have the love that wilts the ideas of love that the world tries to throw at us; now you will know the joy that is God’s joy in you, that your joy may be full.  Now you will have not a desperate attempt at a disappointing magical sentiment, but a tough-as-nails – as in “nails on a cross” – commitment to be with you always, a commitment that you can depend on, lean on, and cling to.

Do not leave Jesus standing in the doorway as you drive away; He has come to be here with you – and you – you have come to be here with Him.  This is not the end, this is the beginning of Christmas, the beginning of your Christmas; this is the Christmas that you will be taking home with you and rediscovering it new every day as you discover that Jesus has truly come to be with you.

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