Friday, December 26, 2014

More than fun. . ..

Sermon preached for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014.

     It’s hard to deny that this is a season of excess. Since August the stores have pointed us to Christmas, tempted us to empty our wallets on decorations, gifts, and holiday food and drink. Our children have been manipulated by every new technology and toy promising them happiness.  Guilt-ridden parents have lined up at the check out counters and the internet cues to make them happy – no matter what it costs.  Carols have worn out their welcome in our ears. It is hard to ramp up enthusiasm to sing them even tonight.  People complain about Christians and Christmas even as the Supreme Court says it has little religious meaning left!  Even Muslims are celebrating trees and gifts!
    We lament that Christmas has been stolen by retailers, the secular culture, and other religions, but is it a waste?  Why was Christmas stolen and exploited?  It is an easy target because it is fun!  What is fun about a month of fasting or a godless world where life is only accidental.  Christmas is an easy target because it IS fun, and the world is in search of a little fun.
    Christmas IS fun but it is more than fun.  It is a season of holy joy that flows from God’s rescue of His creation.  The birth of Christ divides all of human history.  It is the seminal event that the past anticipates and that creates the future. 
Yet the world gets it wrong.  They pander to fun, get you buy and sell and gift wrap fun that merely distracts you from your troubles and to pleasures that only cost you your values & souls.      We cleaned up and romanticized the Bible’s Christmas story but the truth is, it was never pretty.  Mary was a virgin whose womb held the Son of God.  Even Joseph did not buy her story and God had to intervene to convince his doubting heart.  Her family shuffled her off to her cousin, Elizabeth’s to hide her growing belly.  She delivered in a stable and laid the child in a manger not because it was cute but because she had no choice.  She awoke with fear to rush her child to Egypt because a psycho named Herod would shed as much blood as he could to kill him.      By cleaning up the story we made it possible for the world to steal it away.  The manger became quaint; even Santa kneels beside it confusing the stories.  We Christians bought into it all.  We settled for a Christmas of the latest fashion wear, the newest technology from Apple or games for X-Box or PlayStation.  We cooed over the newest kitchen gadgets or the latest “as seen on TV” fad.  I don’t want you to feel worse but I don’t want to leave you with the idea that this kind of fun is all Christmas is. 
    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, says Isaiah.  The grace of God has appeared with salvation for all, says St. Paul.  Behold Your salvation comes, says Isaiah. 
The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior has appeared for all mankind, says Paul.  And an angel says, “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
    We can spend money we don’t have, eat more than is good for us, and drink to forget our pain.  We can tear up at the childhood stories of St. Nick or the movie life of George Bailey.  But don’t settle for this when God gives you much more.  “For to us a child is born, a Son is given... to a waiting people, the glory of God has dawned.  The Son of God is the gift of mercy.  In Him our salvation is born.  Here is a child born to die, the boy who is man enough to undo sin’s curse and death’s prison.  Here is the innocent Savior who comes for guilty people like you and me.  Here is the life that death could not hold nor the grave keep.  Celebrating Christmas is more than fun.
    Christmas is the pledge and promise of hope to clean up our messy lives and fix what is broken, for sins too ugly to admit that cry out for atonement, for words that should never have been spoken that beg to be forgotten, for guilt that shames our pride longs for a clean conscience, and for death too real and too close for comfort that asks for more.  Here is the God who is not too distant to feel our pain, who loves us too much to ignore our plight. 
Here is the injustice of a holy Savior who saves an unholy people, for the undeserving who would probably settle for a little fun if they had not been given so much more in the manger and cross.
    If is for this Christ was born.  It is for You He has come. Like the shepherds of old, you left your homes, shops, and parties to come and see anew this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known...   Christ our Savior has been born.  He is the keeper of all God’s promises.  Angels and shepherds have nothing on us.  We are here and this is our Bethlehem.  He who was laid in a feeding trough is here to feed us His flesh and blood in this blessed sacrament, to forgive our sins.
    Our joy is no mere momentary feeling or imaginary but romantic story or picturesque scene... our joy is Christ in flesh to save us and here in bread and wine to feed us.  The bread of heaven has come down to feed us till we want for nothing more.  This bread is His body, through which we mortals taste immortality.  This is why we are here.  Not for fun but for joy!
    From last minute shopping, from endless parties, from overindulgence of food and finance, we have had our fun.  Now it is time for joy.  The joy of sins forgiven, of lives reborn to hope in baptism, of guilt removed, of shame covered, of heaven come down to mortals that we might ascend in Christ to eternity!  Shall we not stay?  As did the shepherds of old, we will go back home... but we return to our homes glorifying God and praising Him for all we have seen and heard.  And in our home goings, Christ will go with us and joy will accompany us.  The joy does not remain here.  It follows those who follow Christ.  And we will come back here to meet this Christ again in Word and Sacrament.
    The world thinks Christmas is fun.  Who am I to argue?  But we know it is much more.  For when the world has had enough of the fun, put away the decorations, discarded the toys, and sought out a new distraction, Christ will still be with us.  The grieving find hope.  The wounded find healing.  The guilty find forgiveness.  They dying find life.  And we will still possess His joy. . . the joy of the Lord!   Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Amen

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