Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Christmas Eve (4:00)
December 24, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
My friends, what we have just witnessed and been part of is the Christmas story in black and white. Black images created on this screen while the words that we heard were read from the black and white pages of Holy Scripture.
In an age where we’ve seen bright, colorful Christmas displays on the shelves of stores for over two months, where Christmas music has been broadcast 24 hours a day on some radio stations for a month now, where more, more, more is the rallying cry in the wake of Black Friday, I, for one, appreciate the straightforward simplicity of what we have just experienced. Christmas in black and white.
Which was the intention of the first Christmas anyway. You see, when God chose to come to earth as one of us, as the person of Jesus Christ, He didn’t come with a whole lot of fanfare. Sure, there was a star to guide those who were drawn to witness this birth and yes, angels proclaimed the Good News to the shepherds, but these extra players were meant to lead people to the Christ child, not to overwhelm the story of the baby born to the virgin mother, which we admittedly tend to do today with the extravagant displays and the piles of presents. The story all too often gets covered up and lost in the hustle and bustle that the Christmas season is. But tonight, in great thanks to these young people who have portrayed this story to us, we have an opportunity to pull off the bows and ribbons and the glitter and the glam, to appreciate this story for what it truly is.
And what this story is is a story of unconditional unending love. That’s a lot of love. And to appreciate that kind of love, we have to appreciate the sacrifices that are made to carry it out. As we gather on this Holy night, we do so because God chose to crawl into the mess that we had made as sinners. God chose to come to us in all of our discontent and chaos, simply because God loves us and we didn’t (and don’t) have the means or ability to go Him. There was no alternative. If we were going to be redeemed, God did what God had to do, and God did it without putting any conditions upon us or requiring us to negotiate with Him, a truth which we sometimes struggle to grasp, because we like to have control.
Little Jimmy has had kind of a rough year, and no matter what his parents have tried with him this year, little Jimmy has continued to be self-centered, selfish, and mean. A couple of weeks back, with Christmas upon us, Little Jimmy, in his usual selfish way, made his “Dear Santa” letter-twelve pages of gadgets and toys!
Needless to say, when his parents saw the monstrous letter, they were outraged. Little Jimmy’s dad took him to the living room and set him firmly on the floor in front of the family’s nativity scene. “Jimmy, I want you to sit right here and look at this scene until you remember what Christmas is all about. And when you have thought long and hard about it, then I want you to go and write a letter to Jesus.”
So Jimmy sat there a good, long while and then returned to his bedroom. Finding paper and pencil, he sat down and began to write: “Dear Jesus, if you will bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole year.” Little Jimmy thought about the reality of that proposal for a moment and then tore up the paper. Wasn’t going to happen. So on another sheet of paper he wrote again: “Dear Jesus, if you will bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole week.” But even that was too much to barter, so he again tore up the paper.
At this point, little Jimmy quietly left his room and returned to the living room, again looking intently at the nativity scene. After a few moments he gently reached down and picked up the figure of Mary. Returning to his room, he gently placed the figure in a shoe box and carefully set the box in the back of his closet. Then he picked up another piece of paper and a pencil to write another letter. This time he began: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
Like so many other aspects of our faith, so often we want to hold Christmas hostage to our wants and our needs, what we think Christmas should be all about. But, all too often, when we make demands of Christmas we are guilty of hiding the story of God’s love. And my friends, that’s a crime. That’s a crime because the gift of our Savior is a gift for all people, no matter their financial situation, their skin color, their bad habits and vices, or even their religion, for that matter. In fact, Christmas is all about going to those who need to hear the message of hope and to experience God’s love in a profound and saving way, for in coming to us as one of us, that’s exactly what God did. God came to us where we were at.
God saw that we were being swallowed up by sin and death and God came to us to prevent us from being destroyed. But God didn’t do it by making us become like Him or making us follow rules that our sinful minds and bodies couldn’t follow; no, God did it by Him becoming like us. And God did it out of love. And we are invited to do the same.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramps, out.”
It was only natural for Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law; but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
As you all go to your homes and to your loved ones homes this evening and you gather together and share a meal and open presents and celebrate the festivities of this holy evening, I ask that you pause and for a brief moment dwell on the moment and the meaning of that moment when God found a way to come to us and chose to do it. Give thanks to God for the freedom and joy of this moment of His coming. Live in the fact that Christmas is not about the big trees and the bigger lights, it’s not about our wants and our perceived needs, but is about this story of love that has been written for us. A simple story of love, a love story written in black and white. Amen.