Christmas Eve Eve, Luke 1:39-56, Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 23, 2018
Today is Christmas Eve Eve. I know, it’s not an official part of the Church year calendar, but maybe it should be. It is the day before Christmas Eve, and it’s really easy to get distracted by all the things of this world, especially the commercialization of Christmas which looms over our head. If our shopping lists are not completely checked off, we are in full panic mode right now. At least until we complete that mad dash to Wal-Mart, immediately after church today. Maybe our relatives are coming, or we are making plans to visit them. The tree is getting a little dry and we wonder if that gift ordered from Amazon will arrive on time.
Today gives us another chance to frame this whole Christmas thing. More than simply begging to put Jesus back into the season, this Sunday’s readings really ask us to think about the cosmic significance of Jesus’ birth, or perhaps the real reason we want Jesus in this season. Our broken world, including the world which would turn His birth into a commodity and an occasion to drive the wheels of commerce, desperately needs Jesus.
It’s too easy to lose sight of the significance of the incarnation of God. Today the same God rules, that Joseph held in his arms. And that same God caressed Mary’s face with the intimacy of a mother and child. Jesus in the season really makes a difference. God has become incarnate in order to save the world. He has come to run the human race, the race in which we have all stumbled, fallen, and failed miserably.
We need Jesus to lift from us the sins which weigh us down. Many wonder what these sins even are. What is so big that only God can lift it from your shoulders? Of course, this is different for everyone. Pop psychology and self-help books tell us that we can do this, ourselves. We can change the bad habits that make us unhappy. We just need to think and do the right things. There are only a few steps and practices which we need to address first. And if all that fails, there is probably a pill for that. This only goes to suggest that we don’t think we are really being weighed down by our sin at all.
Yet, we bear these sins in our bodies with every disease and every pang, with every groan we utter as we wearily rise from our beds, and maybe even more so, as we wearily cast ourselves upon our beds each evening. We are bearing that burden with every painful broken relationship, and the countless more, whose shattering has simply been woven so deeply into the fabric of our lives, that we don’t even think about them anymore.
How many folks have I offended, or friends have I lost track of in the decades of my life? I cannot even begin to remember, but God remembers each and every one of them.
And, it’s not just adults, even many young people, dare I call them Millennials. They perceive Christmas solely as a time for fun, a vacation. It has no “religious” significance for them. What actions or words connect their lives to a Christmas event? What rituals and imagery speak to their deepest needs and hopes and fears?
Why do young men and women so look forward to this vacation? Is the sin which weighs them down, perceived as only the burden of school? Or perhaps many might say that the best thing about Christmas is that he or she gets out from under that teacher’s gaze. Do they feel the pain of sin, of being left out of a situation or a circle of friends? Do they sense the helplessness of being shunned or ridiculed?
In some respects our young people are told over and over again that they are not yet adults. Adolescence seems to be stretching into their third decade. But in other respects, our culture asks them to grow up very quickly as they are often far more sexually aware, intimate, and jaded than any generation of young people ever has been. They don’t use the word “sin”; they use the words “pain” or “hurt”.
This too, is the burden of sin in our world today. It is that burden of feeling hurt and pain when someone has turned against you, or has simply left you. It is the hurt of giving your whole self to someone only to be dropped by that person. Often Christmas offers a short break or moment of unconditional love in our own homes. Or at least it should, I pray it does. Some families are not very good even at that. The opening of gifts should speak of new beginnings for all people!
The weight of these things will crush the life right out of us. Helpless under the grave’s heavy weight of sin, we would be trapped except God does the heavy lifting.
This Christmas Eve Eve as we are racing toward the festival of the Nativity, the feast of the Incarnation of Jesus, Christmas is the answer. Christ, in the flesh, has lifted the weight from humanity’s shoulders.
What about your shoulders? What about the weight which burdens you? How has that Child in a manger lifted your sinful burdens? What can you expect on Tuesday, and the following days after Christmas? What should you expect every day now that God has answered every Old Testament prophet’s prayer by sending His Son? What should you direct your eyes to see?
His grace! Grace is the churchly way to say “gift.” We are all saved by a gift, the gift of a Son given for the salvation of the whole world. God is ready for Christmas Day. He was ready for it on the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. He is ready for it today. God has been ready to work profound changes in your life since the foundation of the world. God is ready.
God has your salvation in mind. It does not rest in our incompetent hands, but in His strong and capable hands. He can give real joy, He will have to sacrifice much, but He can do it. Just wait, watch and see what He has in mind.
He sweeps aside the competition today. A peasant girl knows the truth. The Baby she bore is the Lord of heaven and earth. Any uneducated shepherd or learned wise man is invited to the same position of kneeling at His manger to marvel at the thing which God is working. The mighty are cast down, the downcast are lifted high. It’s all God’s doing.
He has a way of lifting up the poor and the lowly. He has come from Bethlehem, lain in that manger, knows the roughest and the worst that life has to offer, and in gentleness and kindness looks upon you and me with His loving eyes and He holds us with His loving embrace.
God looks upon us in our poor estate, He sees and knows each of us, and loves us despite all that nasty stuff called sin. Yes we are the problem, and He is the solution. Today, Christmas Eve Eve, is a day simply to weep in sweet relief into His shoulder. He has it covered. You are His! Like Mary pregnant with this miracle Baby, we have much to look forward to, something beautiful.
Christmas can be so incredibly stressful, all these expectations. You know it has to be just right! Or else why would we ask each other if we had a “good Christmas”. That usually means something to the effect of did the family not erupt into conflict, or were there lots of presents under the tree. Did the dinner not explode in the oven, or something like that? There is a ton of comedic films and holiday sit-com specials, in which we laugh at people who are having a bad Christmas.
But a good Christmas is really a God Christmas. Mary and Joseph were poor people who did not plan a trip very well. They got stuck in substandard accommodations, and she gave birth to a Child in a barn. The local ruler sent soldiers to kill the Child. The only people it seems who noticed the blessed event were backwoods shepherds and foreigners. Was it a good Christmas? Luke doesn’t tell us much about whether the prime rib was overdone or the cookies burned in the oven. Did the fruitcake taste like cardboard, again? Who knows?
What we do know is that it was a good Christmas, because it was a God Christmas.
The same can be said of the holiday you are about to experience. There is a strong possibility that our worldly expectations for this coming week will not be met. The holiday will not be Martha Stewart “perfect.” But we as God’s Christian people get to proclaim that it will be better than perfect, it will be Godly.
It will be a Godly Christmas because long ago, in a rude manger, amid the squalor and danger of first century Bethlehem, a mother smiled at her Newborn Son and He smiled back. Like her, we surely do not know what this event always means for us. He knows far more than she does, or we do. But her hope expressed in the Magnificat, read as our Gospel lesson today, is our hope as well. God smiled upon His creation, the same smile He had when He looked over it all and proclaimed “it is good”.
This Child whose birth we are about to celebrate comes to give us that smile. We need it because even Christmas gets wrecked by sin sometimes. We need it because the wrecking ball of sin has wreaked havoc on us and our world for millennia. We need it because God’s righteous frown is too much for us bear, and we are destroyed by it. We need Him.
No matter what happens this week, even if the tree falls over into the fire place and the whole house goes up in flames, no matter what happens, God has come, His name is Jesus.
You know how this story continues. The Babe of Bethlehem will go to Calvary’s cruel cross. He will bear the sins of the whole world, including yours, and He will, once and for all, pay for them there. He is able to do this because this is God’s Son come into the flesh.
Elizabeth rightly calls Mary blessed. She bears the Solution to the problems of the world, the mundane things like flat tires, and the bitter realities of parents mourning the death of their children at the hands of a mad man. He bears the world’s hunger, exhaustion and warfare, conflict between friends, enmity between brothers, death and sin. It is all in His perforated hands. Are you ready for Christmas? God is! Merry Christmas Eve Eve. Amen.