A sermon for Christmas Eve:
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who is the Word made flesh! Amen.
“Christmas is for children.” That’s a phrase you often hear. And to some extent, I believe that it is true. When I think of Christmastime, many of the images that come flooding into my mind are of our boys when they were young…helping to decorate the tree; hanging out with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents; opening gifts on Christmas morning. Or, I think of my own childhood celebrating Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa Moody’s, on the farm, over near St. James.
Ten years ago, Nathan and Samuel were 3, and 2. And I remember how they loved Christmas. They still do. I remember how they woke us up on Christmas Day…at 6am. (Kids, cut your parents some slack tomorrow…wait at least until 6:15, ok?) But I remember the joy, the celebration, the fun
But now, our kids are 13 and 12…and I expect that they are still going to wake us up tomorrow at 6am.
When the boys were young, I would often hear people say “Treasure these days, because they go by so fast.” And I remember thinking “I’d be ok with it being just a little faster. I’m just exhausted!” 3 year olds are a ton of work! You wonder if they’re ever going to grow up.
Then, someone said to me “The days go slowly, but the years go fast.” And I’ve realized that yes, that is how it works. Because now it’s 10 years later, and where did those years go? And it causes me to wonder…what will the next 10 years be like? How fast will they go by?
The days go slowly, but the years go fast.
Do you wonder if maybe it’s similar for God? Does God, our heavenly parent wonder if we’ll ever grow up? And then, as we prepare to breathe our last, does God wonder “where have all the years gone?”
Now being a parent is hard work, we know that, and a good parent always attempts to use reason with a child; to say to a 3 year old, “I earnestly appeal to your better nature. Stop beating on your brother please. This could cause harm, both physical and emotional that might require medical attention and/or therapy in later years.”
There is actually a phrase for people who believe that you can raise a child using only reason: We call them “people who don’t have children.”
3 year olds do not always respond with reason, which is why parents need to utilize tools like “time outs,” “grounding” and “babysitters.”
God always prefers to reason with us, just as a wise parent does. But here’s the deal: we often act like 3 year olds, even when we’re adults. And I wonder if we don’t exhaust God too.
Here are some characteristics of a 3 year old:
- A 3 year old demands attention
- A 3 year old is still learning the difference between right and wrong.
- 3 year olds are poor sports when they lose, and can have a temper tantrum when they don’t get their way.
- A 3 year old is not good at sharing, and thinks that everything belongs to him.
If that description sounds like your husband, well then you may be married to a 3 year old.
Now in the Old Testament, God tried to reason with Israel. He gave them 10 commandments to distinguish from right and wrong. He made covenants with them so that they would understand his expectations.
God spoke through his prophets, saying “I earnestly appeal to your better nature. Put your trust in me, and put your energy into sharing with the poor, and caring for those in need.” But Israel, still acted like 3 year olds. And God wondered what he should do.
The columnist, Dave Berry once wrote: “People always ask me ‘Dave, what’s the essence of parenthood?’ I tell them ‘Lowering your standards.’” Parents standards do get lower over time, don’t they? It’s true.
The first kid: a pacifier falls to the ground, you pick it up, put boiling water on the stove, sterilize the pacifier, air dry it, and let it cool down before gently placing it back in the child’s mouth.
The second kid: the pacifier falls on the ground, the parent picks it up, runs it under a little tap water, find a clean dry cloth to dry it and then place it in the child’s mouth.
By the time the third kid comes around, the parent will pick it up, will spit on it, wipe it on their pants and then shove it in their mouth.
We have a way of lowering our standards when faced with reality.
But God is not that way. Love is not that way. God’s standard is really clear. Jesus put it this way at the Sermon on the Mount. He said “be perfect, therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.” Now this is often misunderstood: It doesn’t mean perfectionistic. It means be perfect in this way: be loving, be compassionate, be truthful, be generous, be good. To be made perfect is to be made whole…to be made complete.
But in truth, many of us think of God this way. We think: “Now I know I’m not as good as I should be, so I’m counting on God to lower his standards for me.” Which leads to the question: “How much violence, and deceit, and racism and greed and bitterness do we think God should allow in the world? And our answer almost always is: “just a little bit more than I currently exhibit.”
But love never expresses itself by lowering its standards. Hoping that God will lower God’s standards is not a good spiritual life strategy. He’s not that kind of God. And if you think about it at all, we don’t want him to be. God will never lower his standards.
So instead, he decided to lower himself. And that’s what we celebrate on this night. The God of all power and majesty came down into our messy world. He didn’t lower his standards. He lowered his son into a manger. God demanded perfection, and then he made us perfect when Jesus lived the life that we should have lived, and then died the death that we deserved to die.
I recently read an article by Maggie McKelvey who shared about an experience she had with her daughter. She wrote that
When my perfect 5-pound daughter was born almost five years ago, we were given a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Fear of the unknown consumed our lives. Constant worry filled our days and nights. What will her future be like? What will our future be like? I became the overprotective mama bear and mistook kind smiles from strangers as glances of pity. Scared and in love with this little baby, I felt so lost.
When Ava was about 1 month old, we took a mommy/baby trip to the grocery store. In the canned goods aisle, my life forever changed. A stranger was pushing her cart by us, looking over her shoulder at my little baby in the carrier. She came back around and asked if she could take a closer look. I nodded uncertainly. When she saw Ava’s sleeping face, a warm, bright smile spread across her own.
“Thank you,” she said. “This brings back so many wonderful memories.” Just then, a teenage girl came bounding up and gave her mom a hug. She too had Down syndrome. This kind stranger hugged her daughter back and placed her hand on my shoulder. “You have been tremendously blessed; everything will be OK, you’ll see.”
I stood there with tears in my eyes and gave her a shaky, “Thank you.” I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. We would be OK. Ava would be OK. This woman gave me strength to start to raise my daughter to do and be anything she wants.
Today Ava is a spirited preschooler with so much love to give. That kind stranger in the grocery store will never know the gift she gave that day. She gave me the ability to push aside fear and start living our lives for our little girl. She was right… our lives have been tremendously blessed.
In that encounter in that grocery store, Maggie McKelvey experienced the incarnation. Love became real, it took on human form, in the words and actions of that stranger. And the stranger’s message? A hand on the shoulder, and the words: “You have been tremendously blessed; everything will be OK, you’ll see.”
This is what Jesus, the incarnation of God, the incarnation of love, does for us: In his life, his words and his actions, his message to us is the same: “You have been tremendously blessed; everything will be OK, you’ll see.”
Now this Christmas news is so good that it should cause us to shout with joy. But, this is a Lutheran church, and we’re not very good at that. So just turn to the person next to you and smile.
Now maybe your life isn’t going so well this Christmas. Maybe you’re really worried about your family’s finances. Maybe you’re feeling lonely tonight. Maybe you, or a loved one just got a scary diagnosis. Maybe you’ve been dreading this Christmas because there is going to be an empty chair at the table, where there used to be someone you loved, and it just breaks your heart.
To such a people as this, God comes. Jesus doesn’t rescue us by snatching us out of this world, he comes squarely into our world and into our lives. While life may feel like a mess, Jesus comes and says “you are blessed. Everything is going to be ok. You’ll see.” And that gives each of us hope.
Christmas is for children, which means that Christmas is for all of us, because in fact we are all three year olds. We need attention, we lose our tempers, and we’re not so good at sharing. Three year olds are a lot of work, but God chooses to do the work. God still tries to reason with us, but mostly he just decided to love us.
On this most Holy night, it actually is ok that we are all three year olds. In fact, embrace your three year oldness. Be amazed by beauty and the wonder of the trees and the lights and the presents and the food and the family.
Be amazed at the love that surrounds you. Receive God’s gifts. Receive the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of communion. Receive the gift of forgiveness of sins. Receive the promise of eternal life. Embrace the good news that unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord.
That is the Christmas promise. That for one reason did Christ surrender his heavenly glory to be born into this world. That for one reason did Christ teach and preach and suffer and die on the cross. That for one reason was Christ raised again on the third day. All for just one reason.
He did it for you.
Jesus came at Christmas because he loves us so. The days go slowly, but the years go fast. Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay. Close by me forever and love me I pray. Bless all the dear three year olds in your tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with you there.