02 Christmas 01 Christmas Eve
There is something about a fresh blanket of newly fallen snow. It is amazing how a dull and dreary landscape can be transformed into a glorious scene that takes your breath away. And as you gaze upon this picture in silent awe, you marvel at the way the sun’s light dances around on the newly fallen snow. The whole scene brings a sense of peace, and you find that you can’t take your eyes off it. That is until your dumb dog realizes that you are awake, and because the world revolves around him, that it is time for you to take him out into that newly fallen snow, which happens to be incredibly cold, so that you can bring him back inside for his breakfast. And by the time you feed the mutt the children have now awoken, and begun their morning ritual of chanting, “give me juice” and “Owe, stop hitting me.” Merry Christmas.
We see life through two different windows. The first is that ideal window. This is the way that things happen in our minds. As we plan events or looking forward to things happening, it is through this window that we see them, and so it is from this window that we find our expectations. The second window is the window of reality and this is the window that things actually happen in. The problem for you and me is that somehow something gets lost in translation, because the way that we imagine something should or will happen is almost never the way that it actually does. Sometimes this is good, but most often it is irritating and frustrating and can leave us feeling…, well, feeling like a scrooge. Bah Humbug.
As popular as reality TV shows are, there is something about reality that doesn’t do too well in the marketing area. How often do you see advertisements which show a family sitting around a nice big table with ham or turkey and all the fixings, and there are brother and sister and they have each other in a strangle hold, and mom and dad are sitting with their backs to each other and that dumb dog is helping himself to some of the goodies that no one else seems to be paying attention to? Since this is not the kind of meal we want to have, there would not be much in this kind of advertisement to motivate us to buy whatever is being sold.
Instead we are flooded with pictures and images that depict the “perfect” Christmas celebration. Everyone gets the “perfect” gift. Everyone enjoys being in each other’s company because they are all part of the “perfect” family. They share the “perfect” meal in their “perfect” clothes, and as we gaze upon these things, it is easy to find ourselves get caught up in that first window, trying to imagine our own “perfect” Christmas. And so we will run ourselves ragged doing whatever it takes to bring this “perfect” Christmas out of that first window of ideals and into that second one of reality, without anything being lost in the translation. But you know the reality of it, don’t you? It doesn’t work. Something always goes wrong. That’s why movies like Christmas Vacation are so funny.
Despite what the advertisements will tell us, Christmas is not about having the “perfect” family with their “perfect” gifts and “perfect” dinner enjoy and celebrate the “perfect” holiday celebration. Rather Christmas is quite ordinary, in fact it is probably a little too ordinary for comfort, and it is a little bit dirty and could even be considered a little nasty.
I think a lot of people have in their minds an expectation of a “perfect” first Christmas. Everything is neat and clean and glorious, because God is involved and why would God be involved in something that is anything but neat and clean and glorious? After all he is holy and perfect and he set up all these rules about clean and unclean and he asks for the best and the first fruits and all that stuff. So how can we possibly associate God with anything that would be…well ordinary?
And yet, that is exactly what Christmas is. You see the first Christmas did not happen in that first window of ideals and high expectations. It certainly took place in that second window of reality. And in fact, if you weren’t in know about what really was going on, you would probably call it a disaster. Because here you have a young girl, unmarried, and suddenly she is pregnant. In due time, she and her new husband, a much older guy, go on a long road trip to a tiny little town, and they don’t have much of a place to stay and wind up putting their newborn baby in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. And if you have ever experienced a birth, you know that it is not exactly the neatest and cleanest of experiences, although it is amazing.
As if this were not enough, to whom does the heavenly host decide to reveal what was really going on in this scene? Was it the religious leaders and those who held the political power? No. It was a group of shepherds, people who were not exactly on the highest rung of the social latter. If these were the only facts of that first Christmas, it would still be a scandal, but there is one more thing that really makes it scandalous. And that is that the child that was born that day was none other than God himself. Now how all this works out is beyond us. It is indeed a miracle and a mystery all rolled up in an enigma. But this is how the Scriptures speak. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin.
And so we find a baby, laying in a dirty stink feeding box for animals. This baby is truly 100% man, and truly 100% God at the same time. And because he is, there is for us the hope of life and salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation, restoration and wholeness. The fact that the almighty God, creator of the heavens and earth chose to dwell with human beings, is in and of itself amazing. The fact that he himself became a human being so that he could restore them to himself, is miraculous. And so, God does not watch us off at a distance, but he became a man so that through his life and death and resurrection, we would be restored to God.
There is no such thing as the perfect Christmas. Because we do not live in a perfect world. Instead, we live in a place that is broken and twisted by sin. We face death and pain and suffering. We have broken relationships and uncertainty about work and school. We struggle with sins and addictions and live life that is stuck in that second window, and almost never fulfills the promises of that first ideal window. But this reality is the reality that God himself has come into. And because he came into it, there is for us good news. Christ is born in Bethlehem.
This is the proclamation of the angles, and what it means for you and me is that in a world where there is sin and struggle and death, that in the midst and face of those things we are able to have peace. Peace with God, because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross, and peace with one another, because we have been forgiven by our God, we are able to forgive and be reconciled to one another. The gift that our God brings to us, the good news that comes to us, is that there is life for you and me. Even in the midst of all that is lost in the translation from our first window of ideals to the second window of reality.
This means life. And not just a life that is after death. But it is a life that is before death. Christ is born for you, for me, and for all people, that through him we might know what it is to live life, and to live it as it was intended to be lived. And in so doing we will join the Angels in their proclamation that Christ is born!!!
After tomorrow, Christmas will be over for the rest of the world. For God’s people, Christmas is just beginning. It is actually 12 days long. So over the next 12 days, leave up your decorations, and spend some time with family or friends each day reading from the Christmas story in Matthew or Luke. And talking a little about what it means that God became a human being. I pray that as you do this, that you would come to see Christmas in all its glory as it truly is in that second window. Merry Christmas. Amen.