Thursday, December 26, 2013

A little Christmas Magic or more

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmass Eve, preached on December 24, 2013.

    I overheard some folks talking about the magic of Christmas. We were all standing in line, which is what you do before Christmas.  I was curious, however, because they both admitted they are not religious.  The magic of their Christmas was a fantasy of decorating and parties, gifts and gatherings, of Christmas specials and carols we like because of how they sound more than what they say.  In a sense they were speaking as adults who get to act like children in one brief moment of fantasy and dreams. 
    Like all the Santa movies when the imagination of a child saves stuffy and hard adults from their joyless lives, they were speaking of Christmas magic as an escape, a mental get away, complete with the sound of sleigh bells, the smell of hot chocolate and Christmas pudding, and families that bury the hatchet as we open our dream gifts.
    Sometimes, we Christians think of Christmas as the same magic but with a different story.  Instead of a fat man in a red suit, we substitute a baby lying in a manger.  The sleigh is replaced by a donkey and the ride is to Bethlehem where there is no room at the inn and shepherds come to own the child at the prompting of the angels. 
    We surely love the idea of magic in a world of hard work in which things seem cut and dried, ordinary and routine.  But we have more than a different story.  We have no fantasy or magic.  Instead we meet tonight to hear of hope and truth, of life and light, of a Child born to be a Man, of flesh that hides the face of God, of a Savior born to suffer, die, and redeem His people.
    Christmas is the story of birth and there is little magic in birth.  It is messy and risky.  The mother screams in labor and is followed up by a child's cry as first the poisoned air of death he breathes.  There is no charm in a stable but the stink of dung, disappointment, and death that no baby deserves, the Son of God least of all.
    We have no magical story with a different cast of characters. No, this is more like the island of misfit toy and the polar express of a people who have lost hope and lost faith.  We are here not for some great escape but for the reality of what God did to save us.  We refuse to settle for a momentary distraction even if we are weary of the bad news of financial insecurity, a world not at peace, political gridlock, and illness. 
    The promise of today is a reality strong enough on which to hang our hope.  We need no imaginary god but a real Emmanuel (God with us) to come amid the think and thin of our broken hopes and dreams, bodies and lives.  That is why we are here.
    Tonight we come seeking a birth big enough to carry death, truth to cut through all the lies, and hope strong enough for a people who fear there is not much left to hope for.  We come not as spectators to watch but as those who have a personal stake in this story.  We are here not for a gift exchange but to trade in our sins for forgiveness, our wounds for healing, our hurts for relief, our sadness for joy, and our death for His life.  With stakes that high, fantasy will not do.  We need reality and truth.
    I know you have heard it all a thousand times before, but that does not make it any less true.  Tonight the manger calls to you.  Tonight the Child born invites you to believe.  Tonight the Lord of life who dies our death bids us come to Him.  There is here truth strong enough for us to grasp and we will not be disappointed.  There is here hope enough to secure our doubts and fears for more than a day or a year but for all eternity. 
    We come not for a God who pats us on the head and says it is all good.  We come for a God who sees us as we are and still loves us but who loves us enough to redeem us from broken lives and wash clean the stains of sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  We come for a God who will not run from us in our need and who will not lie to us about the future.  We need this Christchild, this manger, this Savior, this cross, and this resurrection.  We need more than magic.  Give us Jesus.
    Some may be content with a little magic but I fear for them.  I need no Jesus born in a nativity play.  I need the Savior who is born to a world that refused Him room but saved us still.  I need a child born to a Virgin Mother, born in a stable, lying in a manger, fleeing a tyrant's wrath, who grew up in mystery, until He disclosed Himself as the promise of your redemption and mine.  My sins and my wounds too big for dreams; I need a real Savior strong enough to save me from myself.
    Oh, you may say, Pastor, you are spoiling Christmas with all this depressing talk.  But of course, I am.  Christmas is already spoiled by the reality of our lost lives.  Let us not ignore this but own up to it so that we might find real hope strong enough to save us. 
    We are too old to dress up like shepherds and angels, too wise to believe that a Silent Night sung by candlelight is enough to fix us, too hard to believe that dreams come true.  So leave behind the false and illusive magic for real love, real grace, and real mercy.  There is no magic here in God's house but there is grace to save you.  There is no magic here but mercy for those who lament their sins and long to be clean.  There is no magic here but redemption for the lost and life for the dying, truth powerful enough to save.
    Your believing does not make true anymore than your doubt destroys the truth.  But it is all merely magic unless and until you come with faith to meet Him here in His Word and Table. So come... come to the manger to see the cross and seeing the cross behold your salvation.  For here in the city of David is born the Savior who is Christ the Lord... for you, for me, for all.  Amen.

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