Christmas isn’t the same as when we were little. And that’s a blessing, a joy, as we grow ever more deeply aware of and living in God’s coming into our broken world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Christmas isn’t the same as when I was a child.
Tonight was magic: dinner at Grandpa and Grandma’s after the church Christmas program, opening presents after waiting what seemed like hours for the grownups to wash the dishes, the drive home, the falling asleep in anticipation. The magic was darkness and music, waiting, family, a paper bag with peanuts and candy and an orange from the church, driving home and looking at Christmas lights.
It’s not like that anymore. Grandma, who lovingly made the meals, is gone; so is Grandpa. Uncle Ray and my mother, who made the night so magical, are gone. The house belongs to someone else. I don’t know who has the dining room table, or the hutch I always sat in front of. Even driving and looking at lights doesn’t have the wonder it did as a child.
Christmas just isn’t the same.
And you know what? That’s a good thing.
The magical Christmas I knew as a child wasn’t big enough to deal with the world as it is.
My parents protected me from a hard world, where many suffered and struggled. Now, my mother organized a distribution of boxes of groceries for a Christmas feast those who were needy in our town, and I helped, putting frozen turkeys in every box in the hall, distributing the abundance of donated food into each as well. I’d ride along with our mother to deliver boxes to those who couldn’t come in person.
But I knew little about war, true poverty, oppression, racism. I didn’t understand my privilege I hold in so many ways that others do not enjoy. I knew little about the evils people do to each other. I didn’t yet know the grief of the death of loved ones. The idea that God needed to enter this broken, hurtful, killing world to change it, to heal it, to bring all humanity back into God’s love, wasn’t part of the magic then.
It is now. It’s not the joy I remember. It’s better joy. Deeper magic. As I got older, and saw more, and experienced joy and sorrow, understood more pain and suffering of my neighbor, I also grasped more and more the wonder of the holy and Triune God entering into our world to bring peace and healing and hope.
I wonder if remembering this day changed for those who were there.
Can you imagine the shepherds going back to their work after this? It was a night of being stunned, overwhelmed, excited, confused. But what about years later? Did they still hold this hope that God had come? Did they let it go over their hard lives? Were they changed?
Luke says Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Imagine just how her understanding changed in the first nine months. And there was more to come – a beautiful but ominous blessing by Simeon in the temple, an escape into Egypt. The life this child led, his ministry. And the horror of the cross, the wonder of Easter, the inrushing joy of Pentecost. Mary’s grasp of what her son’s birth meant changed dramatically as she walked her journey. And that changed her.
If Christmas is going to make any difference to you, it has to change, too.
So many of us have people we love who will not be with us at Christmas. We can’t go back in time. That magic can’t be recreated. And that’s true of all memories of Christmases past. If we bask in nostalgia and try to remake what we think we remember, we’ll just be disappointed and sad.
So if celebrating God coming to you as one of us will mean anything to you and your life, to this world and its pain, it needs to be big enough to handle your grief. Your loss. Your loneliness. Your confusion. Your fear. Your pain. It needs to be able to embrace all the pain and suffering of this world, and bring a healing hope to that. Christmas needs to be that big, or it needs to change.
Pondering this birth in your heart, as Mary did, letting it grow, deepen, sit with you over the years, will change Christmas for you. And that will change you as well.
Because you’ll learn what God’s coming really means.
You’ll remember this baby was threatened from the beginning, and, after teaching of God’s love, healing, drawing people into God’s reign, was executed. God’s coming as a vulnerable child became God-with-us vulnerably offering his life. Embrace this baby tonight and remember to touch the wounded hands and side, and you won’t be the same. You’ll learn God’s wounded answer to the world’s suffering and pain is hope and life for all.
And you’ll remember when this baby was grown, he said that you, and I, and all God’s children, were bearers of God in this world. That God’s Spirit that filled him would be in you, and me. So that we could bear the same vulnerable love into a world of pain and sadness and oppression and violence, and make a difference, even in our small circles. Your grace to that grieving person this Christmas is God’s grace. Your acting in justice and mercy in your life and your voting and your care for your neighbor is God acting in this world for healing.
When you remember that each year as you walk your journey, Christmas will change.
And with God’s grace, you’ll be changed to even more deeply recognize the need for God to come to this world in our human body, including your human body and mine. With God’s grace, you’ll be changed to appreciate more and more how God’s coming actually can bring peace to you and to a world longing so deeply for it. With God’s grace, you’ll rejoice more and more with each passing year that God continues to work in you and me and so many, and we can see it sometimes, feel it, know it.
Christmas just isn’t the same as it used to be. But neither are you. And neither am I. Thank God for that. Thank God for coming to us in this child. And thank God for coming in you and me and all God’s children, so we can embrace God as God really is, be God’s love even as we receive God’s love, and be the miracle, the magic, of God’s coming wherever we are.
In the name of Jesus. Amen