The Birth of JesusLuke 2:1-12 (NRSVUE)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.
The Shepherds and the Angels
Now in that same 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.”
Whenever we celebrate Christmas in July, I always wonder why we do the things that we do to ourselves and to others. Every year, sometime in the fall, around Thanksgiving time, the questions usually start. Don’t they? Do you have your Christmas shopping done? Are your Christmas cards sent? Have you written your letter to Santa? Is your tree up? Is your house decorated? Is your calendar organized so that you can attend the Christmas parties that you want to? Have you baked your Christmas cookies and breads and cakes? What are you having for Christmas dinner? Where are you going? Or who is coming to your house? Have you been good so that you will get what you want for Christmas?
Friends, the Christmas season can be so busy and so stressful, and because of that, we often find ourselves simply going through the motions to “get everything done,” so that we can pack it all up again and put it away for another year. I don’t know about you, but if I can be truly honest for a minute, I think there is something refreshing about taking your Christmas tree down, isn’t there? You gain that extra room in your living room, and it feels like there is a little less clutter. After the Christmas season is over, we all tend to take a deep breath. Whew! We made it through another Christmas season. But if you think about all that we pack into such a short time, it’s no wonder that we are so tired and exhausted when it is over.
Let’s think about it for a minute. We take four weeks–which we call Advent–to tell a story that took over nine months to happen. Has it ever surprised you that one week we talk about the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she is going to have a child, then the next week, she is several months along, and she travels to visit her cousin Elisabeth? Then the next week the angel talks to Joseph, and they are engaged, and they set off to Bethlehem. And then the next week, they have already traveled ninety miles, and after finding no room in the inn, Jesus is born in a stable, and then they are surrounded by angels and shepherds and visited by three foreign kings. And in the midst of all of that, here in the church, we speak of Hope and Peace and Joy and Love. And through the words of John the Baptist, we encourage everyone to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight our paths, and to take time to open and prepare their hearts for the coming of the Christ child, while the hustle and bustle of the world feels as though it is spinning out of control.
My goodness, the things that we do to ourselves and the world around us in the name of Christian Love! That is why I think that celebrating Christmas in July is such a good idea. It is a day when we can truly listen to and enjoy the Christmas story without all the hustle and bustle of the season. I have to say, however, each year when I think about having a Christmas in July service, my mind starts spinning. “We’ll have to decorate!” I always think to myself. “I can pull out the Christmas tree, and we can make paper snowflakes for the windows. I’ll make some Christmas cookies for coffee hour, and we can hang stockings and garland out in Maxcy Hall. I can bring the advent wreath down from the upper room, and we can light the candles.” And then every year, I stop, and I say to myself, “WHY?”
Why does Christmas bring out the overachiever in all of us? Why do we feel as though in order to truly experience Christmas we have to go so overboard? The truth is my friends, Christmas does not happen because of our decorations and our songs and our hustle and bustle. Christmas actually has nothing to do with our actions because Christmas is all about God and what God has done and continues to do for us. The Christmas story tells us that God came in the midst of a mixed-up world. God wasn’t looking for perfection. God wasn’t looking for fancy decorations and upscale parties. After all, God chose Mary and Joseph and a stable, not a famous prince and princess in a castle somewhere.
And that silent and holy night that we all dream of was far from it. In reality, it was a night filled with noisy and rude crowds in the streets of Bethlehem. Jesus was born surrounded by the sounds of animals, angels, and strangers. God was not looking for perfection. God was coming to a world that was broken and in need of hope, peace, joy, and love like it still is today. When we remember that, we remember how truly wonderful Christmas is. And when we truly remember that, we take a deep breath, and rather than allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of the season, we allow our hearts to be filled to overflowing with the true spirit and love of Christmas.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that our faith, like Christmas, is not all about us. And it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being loved by a God who loves us unconditionally, not because of who we are, where we worship, or what we do, but because of who God is.
Friends, may your hearts be filled to overflowing with the spirit and the love of Christmas, not only in December but all year long!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!