I trust that you have all had your fill of screaming kiddies opening presents, fighting with your in-laws, and “A Christmas Story.”

I have a Christmas special for you.

  1. So, then. Let us talk about Christmas, and what it means to you.

  2. First, we have to back up a little to talk about Advent, though. That’s the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

  3. It used to be the six weeks before Christmas, and it was heavily penitential. Heavily. Heav-i-ly.

  4. (That’s why the traditional Advent color is purple, the same as in Lent, by the way.)

  5. Come to think of it, Advent is still penitential in a lot of ways. We hear all kinds of texts about judgment and apocalypse, for example.

  6. The O Antiphons, on which the familiar tune O Come O Come Emmanuel is based, also contain a subtle note of penitence.

  7. They pray for God’s salvation from the world, which implies that we have mucked it up somehow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Antiphons

  8. Then there’s Las Posadas, a Mexican re-enactment of the innkeeper turning away Mary and Joseph. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Posadas

  9. Carolers go from house to house, asking to be let in. The residents refuse, they are chided for their inhospitality, there’s a song.

  10. It all works out somehow. But tell me that’s not a relevant tradition today.

  11. Advent, I think, is penitential even in the secular celebration of Christmas, even for people who aren’t religious!

  12. I mean, think about this. How many iterations are there of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”?

  13. At the heart of that song is the nostalgia for simpler Christmases, for a lost simplicity, purity, and innocence.

  14. (Also nostalgia for mayonnaise on Wonder bread. Good Lord, that song is white, and I’m not talking about the snow.)

  15. How many iterations of “A Christmas Carol” are there, in which a rich man repents of his sins and is reborn into new life?

  16. There’s the battle every year over the commercialization of Christmas. (We regret not having deeper spiritual lives.)

  17. There are complaints about the busyness of the season, the burden it places on moms. (Are we wasting our lives on non-essentials?)

  18. We talk about people who mourn instead of rejoice at Christmas. (We acknowledge our tattered social relationships.)

  19. We talk about these people or those who are overlooked in a supposed season of generosity. (We confess our greed and hard-heartedness.)

  20. Yes, there’s even the stupid War on Christmas. (Some of us are afraid we don’t know why we’re celebrating.)

  21. (Others don’t find superficial piety in a Kohl’s checkout line to be spiritually persuasive.)

  22. (Jesus would have had no frigging idea what you were talking about if you said “Merry Christmas” to him.)

  23. (There’s no solid evidence Christmas was even widely celebrated until the mid-5th century.)

  24. What it all comes down to is that we sense a disconnect between a hoped-for perfection and the reality of the world.

  25. We sense that disconnect, and we start to get the idea that maybe we’re responsible for it somehow.

  26. Take all the bitching that goes on between Thanksgiving and Christmas as ritual expressions of that fear and penitence…

  27. …and you’ll never see December the same way.

  28. And here we come to the Christmas blessing. The perfect does come into the world today, or so Christians say, in the form of a baby.

  29. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

  30. God risks contingency to bring Jesus the savior into the world. He could have died. Mary could have died.

  31. God risks weakness to come into the world. A baby is indeed helpless, dependent on others.

  32. Some people are eager to rush past this weakness to get to the Christ who died on the cross, a warrior against Satan.

  33. That’s inappropriate. Stick with the baby. The infant Jesus does not point to the cross, because the cross did not have to be inevitable.

  34. Overlooked in these familiar ways of looking at the birth of Jesus is another, the very content of John’s “grace and truth.”

  35. Jesus—God’s perfection born of the woman Mary—comes into the world in a web of social relationships.

  36. He’s not just born into those relationships; he blesses them.

  37. It’s almost impossible to raise an infant without help. True today, true in Mary and Joseph’s day.

  38. Jesus’ advent blesses the man Joseph who stuck around to love and care for a child not his own.

  39. It blesses Mary, who was brave enough to say yes to God’s love made manifest in this baby boy.

  40. Through them, it blesses all of us who love and care for one another, children or adults alike.

  41. As anyone who’s ever raised a kid knows, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. You can only aspire to be good enough.

  42. There’s ups and downs, difficult parts and surprising moments of smooth sailing and grace.

  43. But if you’re bonded to that kid, and you try to do right by them, that’s good enough.

  44. Paul’s letter to Titus says, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…”

  45. “…not because of any [of our] works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”

  46. God loves us like an infant loves its mother, and seeks the same in return.

  47. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to be without sin, we just have to let ourselves be loved by God.

  48. So this Christmas, instead of worrying about the perfect dinner, or if the gifts or the tree are just right…

  49. Remember this: God was born today a tiny infant to a young woman in an area usually reserved for the animals.

  50. And if we can love one another like Joseph and Mary loved that baby, that’s all the perfect we need to be.

In:  Christmas  Sermon 

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