Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas Sermon

This is the sermon I gave at 10 PM on Christmas Eve.

Leaving Lucy’s Psychiatrist’s stand, Charlie Brown still doesn’t feel like he understands Christmas. He’s not really happy… On the way he walks by Snoopy’s dog house, who was decorating his doghouse with heaps of shiny ornaments. "What's going on here?" Charlie Brown asked. Snoopy showed him a flyer.

Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. Enter the Christmas lights and display contest!

"My own dog has gone commercial," Charlie Brown wailed. "I can't stand it!"

With our news focused on whether or not retailers will have a good Christmas shopping season, these words uttered by Charlie Brown some 42 years ago, ring true today. For some, Christmas is about money, about stuff (material things).

We are gathered here tonight, not to avoid the commercialization of the holiday, but to focus once again on the true meaning of Christmas, what it means for our lives, and to grab hold of that joy we want deep down in our souls. Think of our opening hymn:

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels:
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

This is what we are doing here tonight. As faithful pilgrims on our journey, we come once again to St. Peter’s to put ourselves in Bethlehem, to celebrate with joy and behold that Christ the Lord has been born for us. We commemorate Jesus’ birth, bring out the party hats, and enjoy this wonderful gift God has given to us.

But too much of our joy is spent on buying things, or on winning (as Snoopy was trying to do) and too little is spent with each other, loving each other and giving thanks to God for it all. This was not always true. Some of our forebears, especially in New England did not care for some traditions of Christmas and fines were levied by the Puritans on those who kept Christmas. This happened for over a century in some parts of this region, to keep down the revelry, the celebrations, the wassailing…

Its hard to imagine such a strict observance for Episcopalians…

But now we have gone to the other extreme, and we are bombarded by Christmas since Thanksgiving with the busiest shopping day of the year becoming a national holiday. As one author, Bill McKibben put it, “We were Christians, and we felt that the story of the birth of this small baby who would become our Savior, a story that should be full of giddy joy, could hardly break through to our hearts amid all of the rush and fuss of the season.”

Christmas now is so full of fuss and rush, focused solely on the gifts given one day, and we are gorged on carols and everything Christmas, before we even get to Christmas and the 12 days following which are meant to sustain us throughout the year. For Christmas is not just about gifts, and family and food, although for Christians this is one of our big celebrations, and we are meant to enjoy it. But God did not send his son to us so that we could have one day filled with presents, food and fun and forget about it the next day (unless we are returning those presents) and then we get on with our lives. This is not about the stuff the world wants us to buy, which ultimately do not satisfy us. It is about what sustains us, what is lasting in our lives.

God’s son is born to us this night to show us how to live, how to be sustained by God’s love. The message of God this night to the lowly shepherds on the hillside is also the message to us. “Don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy, to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the messiah, the Lord.”

As Martin Luther put it nearly 500 years ago: “The true Christian religion...does not begin at the top, it begins at the bottom. You must run directly to the manger and the mother's womb, embrace this Infant and Virgin's Child in your arms, and look at Him - born, being nursed, growing up, going about in human society, teaching, dying, rising again, ascending above all the heavens and having authority over all things.”

Our challenge in the hustle and bustle is to remember that God has given us the gift of life and loves us so much that his son is born to us to share that love and to help us in our lives find that joy we long for. For, "Christmas is a time for enormous celebration, but also a time for pondering, for reverence, for awe at our sheer good fortune that God sent His only child into our midst." (McKibben)

All of our Advent preparations have lead us to tonight. So let us celebrate Christmas and begin anew our Christmas journey so that we celebrate life each day. May the message of the angels enter our hearts and may we live it in our lives. For this is a gift we carry all our days if we are really willing to let Christmas not be just one day, but to enter our hearts.

For what we all want is joy, and we want "to emerge from Christmas relaxed, contented, happy to have kept this season. To emerge closer to our family than when Advent began. To emerge with some real sense that Christ has come into our world." (B. McKibben)

Indeed, for “unto us is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the messiah, the Lord.” Amen

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