Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Sermon

Sermon for 12-24-12
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Let us pray:  God Incarnate, God with us, enter into our lives this day and every day.  May the Good News of Jesus Christ claim our hearts and give us hope in the midst of our everyday lives.  Amen.

I’m going to share something with all of you.

I’m a bit of a Scrooge.

I have a strong stubborn streak, and whenever I’m faced with expectations about how I’m supposed to act or be, I get bucky. 

I get bucky about Christmas.

The expectations are overwhelming.  I don’t enjoy wrapping presents (I said it!).  I don’t like crowds, so taking the kids to see Santa is painful.  I don’t like being told I’m supposed to be cheerful and happy.  Sometimes I am happy.  Sometimes I want to be grumpy at Christmas, or sad, or disappointed or tired.

I get caught up in the idea that somehow I am holding Christmas up—holding it all together. That if I slip and let something fall, Christmas won’t be right.  What if I don’t get the Christmas cards out on time?  What if I don’t get that favorite cookie made?  What if I don’t get that present mailed?  There are so many expectations and so little time, and that makes me grumpy.

Christmas is hard to pin down because each one can be so different, and it changes as we get older.  

Some Christmases can never be replicated.  I’ll never again have a Christmas like the one when I was in elementary school—when Santa brought me a red-haired Cabbage Patch doll named Jill. 

I’ll never again have a Christmas like the first time I led Christmas Eve worship as a pastoral intern in Boise, ID and I went out to Olive Garden with the Associate Pastor between services and my husband and I spent a quiet Christmas Day together—just the two of us—our very first Christmas together as a married couple. 

I’ll never have a Christmas like my first leading a congregation in a church in a tiny town, when a young boy came back to my office with me after the service, chatting the entire time.  When we came back to the sanctuary, everyone was gone, including his family (his parents and his grandparents each assumed the other had taken him).  We waited together in the dark and quiet church, looking out at the cold and snow.

And now I have Christmases with my own kids, which brings a specialness of its own.

I know you can all share a multitude of Christmas memories.  Each Christmas is different, and we collect Christmas stories as the years go on.

I’ve spent Christmases full of new and profound grief, Christmases spent sleeping as I recovered from intense college finals weeks, Christmases when my whole family got the stomach flu and threw up together, Christmases trying to blend two families, Christmases changed by divorce, Christmases ending old traditions and starting new ones.

Christmas is full of memories, hopes, dreams, expectations, stress, disappointment, joy, strife, and grief.  As we get older, we realize many of the Christmas songs we love are full of longing and feel bittersweet.  The Christmas hymns we sing are full of memories and carry history in our hearts and as we get older they become bittersweet as well.  

Christmas is fickle, and every year is different—some years are great and some years aren't so great.

But one thing is always the same.

Every year, we hear this Christmas story from the book of Luke.

Every year, we hear about Jesus arriving in a humble stable to people just like us, people harried and not quite ready for his arrival.  The angels visited a group of shepherds, who were people on the outskirts of society, able to give nothing. 

Jesus doesn’t come after we have it all together.  Jesus doesn’t wait to arrive until after all the presents are wrapped and under the tree and the house is clean and ready for guests.  Jesus doesn’t wait until we’re appropriately cheerful and full of the Christmas spirit.  Jesus doesn’t wait until our relationships are mended and we’re finally nice to that uncle who we have to invite over for the holidays. 

Jesus doesn’t wait until our faith is strong.

Jesus arrives in the middle of all of it.  God chooses Mary and Joseph as his parents, people who are young and unsure and scared—and who aren’t ready for him.  God surprises the shepherds while they sleep and watch over their flocks on the hill. 

Christmas is not about us.  We’re not holding it up.  Even if we have the worst Christmas ever, even if we don’t buy a single present or bake a single Christmas cookie, God arrives.  Even if the hardships of life bear down upon us and we feel like we’ve completely given up on God, God arrives in the midst of it all and says, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you Good News.  For this day a child has been born for YOU, who is Christ the Lord.  All is well.”  God hasn’t given up on you.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a Christmas you’re having.  If you’re having a wonderful Christmas this year, be thankful and blessed.  If you’re having a terrible Christmas, be lifted up by the hope and new future given to us all by the birth of a baby boy.  May God’s unconditional love surround you and give you comfort and joy this season.

Now let’s keep singing and rejoicing, no matter what.


Monday, December 17, 2012

No One Could Blow Them Out

Before worship yesterday, I pondered what I would say about the horrific events in Connecticut. The children were leading worship so I wasn't preaching.  I decided to light two candles on the altar in remembrance (thankfully realizing 28 lit candles wouldn't mix well with wiggly, excited kids) and say some brief words at the beginning of worship.  I wanted to be vague (so I wouldn't scare any children) and talk about how our act of worship--led by our children--was our way to stand in the face of unimaginable violence.

When I stood up in front of the congregation to say my opening remarks, I directly faced the kids bouncing around at the entrance to the sanctuary, waiting to process in.  They sparkled with energy (not only because many of them wore itchy shiny gold halos).  I could almost see the cloud of nervous joy rise up like dust around their feet.  They were safe, enjoying life, and surrounded by people who love them.  My gratefulness at this simple morning overwhelmed me and the emotions were too much.  I stood in front of the congregation without words, and we wept together in grief and thankfulness for the lives of our children and children everywhere.

I'll never forget how the children led worship yesterday--not because it was perfect but because it was profoundly meaningful.  I'll remember the twins who geared themselves up to say their lines by taking a moment to breathe deeply and say "Okay!" to themselves.  And the girl who ran past the microphone, barely getting her line out before disappearing into the pews.  And the girl who stood an extra moment in the spotlight, grinning out at the crowd.  And the boy who tripped over his flowing robe, and the girl who spoke so eloquently I had a vision of her as a future teacher, and the boy who said his lines so earnestly, and the sisters with the matching pigtails and smiles, and the boy who took a bit longer than the rest to line up to sing, and the tiny girl who stole the whole show.  And the words of Scripture, words of hope and prophecy reminding us to love our neighbor, read by children's voices.

After worship, I became distracted by conversations and a long meeting.  When most people had left, I turned out the lights in the quiet building.  I noticed two candles still burning on the altar.  No one could blow them out.