Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 24, 2011

2011.12.24 “What’s Your Christmas Moment?” – Luke 2: 1 – 20

Central United Methodist Church

“What’s Your Christmas Moment?”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 2: 1 – 20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2011

What’s your Christmas moment?  What is it that makes you feel like it is really, finally Christmas?

For some of us, our Christmas moment is almost a conditioned response. It’s when the Christmas tree or those exterior lights are up, (as it was for Clark Griswold, in Christmas Vacation.) Or perhaps it’s those special ornaments we hang on the tree, or that crèche scene which has been handed down for several generations.

For some of us, it’s all about the food.  The way we know it’s Christmas is when we break out our traditional Christmas goodies. For example, Melissa Clark, in the NY Times, told how her Swedish boyfriend wanted to introduce her and her friends to some of his favorite Scandinavian Christmas food. The mulled wine known as glogg, for example. He even called his father in Lund, Sweden, for the recipe. It was irresistible, but it was only after all the guests were thoroughly drunk that they realized that instead of the usual splash of brandy one stirs into a glogg pot, Max had used the whole bottle. And then there was the can of surstromming, traditionally made by burying sea creatures in the sand, where they decompose until they are as soft as runny cheese. As soon as the can opener pierced the lid, everyone in the room sobered up. Eventually, someone threw the can of fish out the window, and they all picked up where they left off, eating meatballs and drinking the glogg, whose spicy, winy scent finally covering up the fish stink. (Mulled Wine Fumigates a Foul Recollection, By Melissa Clark, New York Times, December 20, 2011).  Some traditions we are glad we don’t have.

For some of us, our Christmas moment requires music.  I won’t speak for you, but for me personally, it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” Although I try to avoid stores and shopping malls as Christmas approaches, when I do have to go, I tire quickly of all those songs about Frosty and Rudolph and Santa, now that they’re afraid to play Christian Christmas Carols. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gene Audrey and Bing Crosby as much as the next guy, but, personally, most of my Christmas moments I owe to the classical music station WFMT, and good Lutheran Carl Grapentine, who plays the best Christmas music ever. Like, for example, John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music:”

What sweeter music can we bring

Than a carol, for to sing

The birth of this our heavenly King?

(Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

For likely all of us, our Christmas moment definitely requires family. As my son Chris said, when he was deployed as a Marine to Iraq over Christmas of 2009: “You have everything you could ever want here, except your friends and family, which is everything you could ever want.” Indeed, for some of us, that’s what the celebration of Christmas is about: the joy of children’s faces when they see presents under the tree on Christmas morning. The news that grown children are on the way, or even better, have arrived. Last year when Chris was driving home for Christmas from Kansas, there was a winter storm advisory.  Picturing he and his wife out on icy roads, I called to advise on routing.  After I’d gone on for awhile, he said, “Dad, you know I’m already here.  “Where?” I said. “Chicago,” he said. “Then why are we having this conversation?” I said. This Christmas, one of our friends is awaiting the arrival of her son home from a deployment in Afghanistan. Having safely survived his deployment, I’m pretty sure when he arrives home he’s going to be crushed to death by his mother’s hug.

For some of us, maybe many of us here tonight, it’s not Christmas until this service, when we hear Jesus’ birth story again and hold those candles high, as we join in singing “Silent Night.”  As humorist Garrison Keillor once put it:

“I am pretty much hardened to Christmas music, except at the end of the Christmas Eve service when the lights dim and the glories stream from heaven afar and the heavenly hosts sing Alleluia and then, from long habit, tears well up in my eyes and I weep for the dead who enjoyed Christmas so much and for humanity in general, and then we go sashaying out into the cold starry night and walk home.”  (“All I Need for Christmas”, Garrison Keillor, Dec. 19, 2007)

But the problem is, if our Christmas moment is dependent upon any or all of these things, what happens to Christmas when we can’t do them? What if I can no longer string lights, or put up a tree, or am on a restricted diet, or am far from family and friends and home at Christmas, or can’t get out to go to services? When we are no longer able to do these things or meet these conditions, we may feel like we miss Christmas.

Indeed, some do.  If you are out of a job and finances are tight, or this is the first Christmas since mom or dad or your spouse has died, what previously was your Christmas moment may now only make you sad and depressed. Some of our associations with Christmas moments carry such emotion, even a familiar Christmas carol like Silent Night can make us weep.  If you know someone like that, give them a call this Christmas.

In truth, the best Christmas moments might well be those which come without conditioning, unplanned, without preparation or expectation. Not in the midst of some artificial, imagined life, but in the midst of the life that we actually live, with its setbacks and surprises, joys and sorrows, deaths and resurrections.

The story of the first Christmas was that way; maybe this is why we so love it. Mary and Joseph are stressed, weary, inconvenienced travelers. They are ordinary people, like people we know, trying to make their way in the world, squeezed by the threat of rising taxes and family demands, weary from a variety of struggles. The inn is full; your flight is cancelled and the hotels are all booked and you’re stuck overnight in the airport. The Messiah who is good news for all the people is an ordinary baby, born to ordinary parents in a room filled with that which is ordinary: sweat, blood, tears, makeshift blankets and diapers; the raw, immediate joy that comes with new life. Before dawn colors the sky, the new parents find themselves greeting strangers; shepherds who show up in work clothes to see the Child, the One they’d been told would be Savior, Messiah, Lord.

In spite of its ordinariness, it’s a story full of Christmas moments. When the angels showed up to the shepherds, that had to be a Christmas moment. After running to Bethlehem, when they saw the child, that had to be a Christmas moment. Mary definitely had a Christmas moment: “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” And a final one for the shepherds: “The shepherds returned and let loose,” “glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.”

To me, this is the true Christmas moment of the story. The story of the Incarnation, of God becoming one of us, with us in life, is that it didn’t happen in some imaginary life, but in this life which we know and experience and live every day, with its setbacks and surprises, joys and sorrows, deaths and resurrections.  Whatever happens to us in life, it is not something foreign to God, we know that God is with us.

What is your Christmas moment?  I’ll tell you what mine was this year. On Friday, November 11th, one of my best friends, Uwe Gsedl, 52, suffered a massive gastric bleed, which almost killed him.  I’ve known Uwe and his wife Kristina since before 1992, when I officiated at their wedding. Four months after the wedding, Uwe suffered a serious stroke and almost died.

In the early morning hours of Saturday morning, November 12th, surgeons struggled to saved his life through a last ditch effort, the by the removal of his stomach, even then against high odds. Throughout, he suffered hypovolemic shock, major organ failure, and received 41 units of blood.  He was in intensive care, sedated, and on a ventilator for 2 weeks. Although I visited frequently, due to his condition, we were never able to talk. On he night of our Charge Conference, December 7th, he called to ask when I was coming to see him.

So on Sunday afternoon, December 11th, I called and said, “I would like to come see you, but I need to know if you’re too tired, have had too much company, or are not up to it?  “No,” he said, “There’s no one here but my wife. ‘Please, come.’”

It takes about an hour to get from here to Marianjoy Rehab in Wheaton, where he had been moved. As I walked from the parking garage to the lobby, I saw what looked like Christmas carolers inside, singing. As I got closer, I recognized that they were Christmas Carolers from my previous congregation, First United Methodist Church of West Chicago. When I entered (to their great surprise), in their midst was Uwe, surrounded by his family, weeping, as they sang: “Silent night, holy light, all is calm, all is bright.” He was not the only one who wept tears of joy.  Today, Christmas Eve, he was discharged for good, just in time for Christmas, a true Christmas miracle.

Said German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed by the Nazis in 1945: “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.”

May this invincible joy of God be our joy, and may our experience of it be our Christmas moment, this year and every year.  Amen.

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