The Story of Christmas

+ A sermon for Christmas Eve at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on December 24, 2020 +

Text: Luke 2:1-20


“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

That’s the opening line to the 1965 classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Like many of you, I’ve seen that movie many times throughout the years.
And it’s a classic for a reason.
It has a way of speaking great truths to us each time I see it.
Like how so many people have a difficult time feeling happy this time of year, despite the presumed culture of happiness during the Christmas season.
Maybe that’s something you experience.
And with the dark and gloomy days of winter here in Cascadia, with the pangs of grief the holidays can bring, and the rampant consumerism that doesn’t seem to have changed since Charlie Brown’s day, it’s understandable to not feel happy during Christmas.
And I want to be clear—that’s ok.
You’re not supposed to feel any certain way during the holidays and however you’re feeling these days is completely valid.

Especially because, even though that movie is now 55-years old, I felt Charlie Brown’s lament this year more than ever before—and I bet I’m not alone.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life for all of us like nothing else in recent memory.
Positive tests, rising infection rates, and the seeming ever presence of this virus mixed with the corresponding travel restrictions, canceled traditions, virtual gatherings, increased loneliness, missing family and friends—good grief!
It’s certainly a Christmas like we’ve never seen before.

I have no doubt that we’re all reacting to the strangeness of Christmas this year in our own way.
But if you’re at all like me, you might actually be doing more than you would in a normal year.
Cranking up the holiday preparations, throwing up new decorations, buying the right presents, preparing the perfect meal, sending Christmas cards for the first time, trying to grasp some sense of normalcy, desperately trying to make this holiday special.
But if I stop and think about it, I wonder if this is helping me celebrate this season at all, or if it’s just adding busyness, stress, chaos to an already chaotic year.

When Charlie Brown is trying to find the meaning and joy of Christmas, Lucy suggests that directing the school play might help him.
But when he shows up to the rehearsal, everything is in chaos.
The actors are all disgruntled with their parts, the musicians are doing their own thing, even the Christmas tree is a famous disaster.
Finally, in exasperation, Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Then, his good friend Linus says,
“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” And he reads that beautifully moving passage from the Gospel of Luke that we just heard:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”

Luke 2:8-14

We know that this is a Christmas like never before.
It’s a year filled with chaos, with people flaunting directives and doing their own thing, with absolute disasters.
It’s a Christmas we may be searching for normalcy, for stability, for meaning.
But Linus is right.
Christmas doesn’t need family gatherings or meals or presents to make it special—Christmas is already special.

You know, we romanticize that first Christmas in our stories, our carols, our nativity creches, our imaginations.
And we work so hard to make everything about this holiday perfect, trying to recreate some idealized version of the birth of Jesus.
But the truth is, what little we know about Jesus’ birth tells us that it was far from perfect.
We’ve heard this story so many times, we can forget how perilous that night was—how dangerous that story really is.
It takes place in a world where peace was maintained through the threat of military might and opposition was met with death.
In an Empire where an order from Caesar could compel the residents of a distant province to uproot their lives and travel a great distance so they could be more efficiently taxed and drafted into military service.
In a land whose maniacal puppet king was a jealous, bloodthirsty, tyrant craving power.
And we hear of that family, not yet married—risking social scorn or worse, forced to journey to Bethlehem, and how Mary, weary from traveling, gave birth to her son and laid him in a lowly manger.

This scene is by no means idyllic.
I doubt that night was silent at all as the wails of labor pains and the cries of a newborn baby pierced the supposed stillness of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem that, at best, lay in an uneasy peace as they wondered what would happen next—what new action from their tyrannical rulers would create new hardship and woe.
What new decree from Rome would change their lives.
What new war or tax or rebellion would bring death and destruction.

And yet, one of the great mysteries of Christmas is that our God did not wait until the world was perfectly ready, until every heart had prepared the room.
God did not wait until the stockings were hung and the trimmings were trimmed.
God did not wait for the tyrants to fall and for peace and goodwill to prevail.
God did not wait for any semblance of normalcy.
Rather, on that night, God intervened in the world as it was.
The Creator of the cosmos slipped into human flesh and was born among us as one of us.
The Sovereign of the universe thwarted the rulers of this world to establish a new reign of true peace and abiding love.
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is [Christ], the Lord.”

In a world filled with fear and disease.
In a country filled with political strife and broken promises.
In a time of lockdowns and waiting for the vaccine.
In our empty homes and our dashed hopes.
In all the chaos of this year.
To you is born this day a Savior.
It’s a story we hear every year, yes, but it’s one with the power to speak to us in new ways each time we hear it.
It tells us of a God who loves you, who loves the world, so much that God chose to come among us, to be one of us.
It’s the story of a God who knows firsthand what it means to be human, to experience the fears and anxieties, the pains and disappointments, the illnesses and weariness.
It’s the story of the birth of hope, the dawning of a new world, a new reign.
It tells us that no tyrant or oppressor will ever win.
It’s a promise that no chaos or virus can ever have the last word because God is here—not just two millennia ago in far off Palestine, but here in 2020, in our world, in our country, in our homes.
It tells us that God is always with us and is doing something new.

This year is not normal, my friends, it’s true.
It’s not the Christmas we had hoped for.
But even without the gatherings and traditions and travel, the story of Christmas remains, speaking to us in new and unique ways this year.
So, on this night of mystery, I pray that you hear anew the song of the angels—that it finds a home within you to dwell throughout these days.
That good news of great joy that is for all people that to you is born this day a Savior, that is Christ the Lord—the dawn of hope, the wellspring of all love, the reigning Prince of Peace, and the eternal promise that God is with you, forever.

Merry Christmas.

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