Tis the season for all of the things that make the season bright, so they tell us in song and story. We have tinsel and tens of thousands of lights and presents and shiny paper that we will not, I repeat, not throw into the fire after tearing it indiscriminately from our presents. It is the season of carols and of baking cookies and eating cookies and plum puddings and cakes and drinking eggnog and really, generalized consumption of a most conspicuous sort.
Some folks will point to the ways in which Christianity is being stripped out of Christmas and bemoan the ways in which the reason for the season is being lost because nothing communicates dissatisfaction like a slogan that rhymes.
We all say how much we yearn for simpler times as we jostle and cram ourselves into the malls and Costcos of our towns. We all hearken back to those not exactly thrilling days of yesteryear when it was about something else instead of consumerism as we max out our credit cards and hope that PG&E can wait until payday.
I don’t know when this time of year became about complaining about this time of year but I’m about done with that now.
Because despite what you might hear out there, in here and in here (refer to heart) this is a season about something else entirely, something that might actually be worth the months-long build-up, the advertising, the twinkling of lights and the singing at the tops of our voices.
For me it comes down to the difference between complaining about something and doing something about it, about decrying the loss of Christ or the war of Christmas as if that were the same as holding fast to the Christ child and raising your hand and saying stop to the seemingly irresistible tidal wave of consumerism and the culture of one-upsmanship.
Even the symbols of the season which owe little or no allegiance to the Christ child who comes this very night were not originally so enslaved to our media culture as they are now. Santa Claus was never interested in who had the best display, never judged on the basis of who had the best cookies or the coldest milk. We have television for that.
Sinterklass was about growing up strong and good in the face of the world around you, despite the temptations to selfishness and greed. His heir, Santa Claus was a jolly old fellow, filled with joy and a cautionary tale for children because he desperately wanted to reward the good but dutifully dropped the coal on those who came up short.
But in the manger this Christmas we find no judgment, we find no contest, there is no race to get to Bethlehem because the one who gets there first gets no prize, the best and the brightest is not crowned king.
In the manger is nothing more and nothing less than a whole new perspective, a new world-view quite unlike the one that seems so dominant out there, so pervasive and so influential.
It does not yell at you for wanting a PlayStation or an x-box or whatever it is that you desire the most this year. It doesn’t care if you get it or not. It doesn’t have a copy of your Amazon wish list in its hand.
It brings something different. Something new that feels like something old.
This one’s for the older folks in the crowd. Close your eyes and think of the very best present you ever got for Christmas.
For you younger folks, let me lay something out for you. Your parents, grandparents and elders of every stripe are thinking back to a time when Christmas was limited to December. They are thinking of a time when you had to go to the store to see what was new this year because there were far fewer commercials on television.
Advertisers had not yet figured out how to saturate the air with their wares and so you had people actually going out and buying things for other people because they needed them. You had people excited about getting a sweater because it was cold outside and since there was no such thing as a video game to keep you inside, you were going outside and needed to be warm.
Now back to the older folks, can you even remember a specific present? I struggle to remember one. There were Walkmans and skis for certain but none of them stick out in my mind.
Maybe it’s just me, but I remember stabbing my finger stringing popcorn and cranberries onto thread for a garland on the tree. I remember making cokies with my mother and my brother to give as gifts. I remember Christmas parties and singing carols in our home instead of making it a production or something I expected to be paid or even thanked for. We sang because the season brought joy, and even in the secular life I led back then, I appreciated the gift of joy that came when the nights were darkest, and the winds blew from the north.
What with all of the cost of everything that is advertised these days as being the indispensable Christmas gift it might be easy to lose sight of the value of the season in the midst of all of the cost.
The value of the season is in the coming together in love, and for you younger folks, in thirty years that will be just about the only thing you remember. No present, no matter how expensive, will last the span of your life the way that the memory of family and home and warmth and, since you are lucky, faith.
Jesus is not coming as the shiniest gift from God, some prize pony to wow the crowds. This is not a competition; this is the ending of competition for God’s favor, the coming of rest and of peace.
Jesus is not coming as the reason for the season.
Jesus is coming because God promised that a savior would come, that the greatest gift of all would sneak up on us and shake up all that we believe and all that we expect and all that we deserve and toss all of that out and replace it with a child in a manger, who would show us what love truly means.
Now for you younger folks, close your eyes and think about your mom or your dad or about both of them. Think about the love in their eyes, even when they’re mad at you. Think of how your heart swells when they are near, how fear seems to flee from their very presence and peace comes and the sweetness of rest.
Think about grandparents, whether they are near or far their love is different somehow. Dreamier, their love washes over you like a flood when they are there and they see their lives leaping ahead of them and into the future in you.
Would you trade anything for that? You might try and play this off and be cool and say that maybe for a million, or a billion dollars you’d think about it but think about how cold these days would be and I think you’ll agree. It is love that makes the season bright and not stuff. Your elders could scarcely remember the presents but they remembered the love and so it will be with you.
All of our love and all of our hope and all of our passion is born again tomorrow morning. I don’t know about you but I try and begin Christmas morning with a little prayer because I know that soon the small sound of my voice will be swept away amidst the sounds of tearing paper and squeals of excitement and surprise.
But to remember is to give thanks.
Did you get that? To remember is to give thanks because you cannot help it. Even in the lean years love compels us to try and make this a season of joy. Even in wartime we exchange gifts because sharing and caring is who we are because our eyes have been yanked from the television screens and drawn down to the manger, to the child who is no mere symbol of God’s love, not a token or a gift like those we await in the morning. No, not a symbol but the actuality of God’s love, love in the flesh, in human form, in person.
Every second we spend remembering what was done for us, what the love of God was willing to do so that we might know love, so that we might know joy, so that we might know peace; every second we remember that we give thanks and that is a thousand times as powerful as a bumper sticker or a commentary on television because Christ is not a part of Christmas because we say He is on TV.
Christ is the root of all that we are when we remember that God’s love took breath that morning and we have all been changed by that love and with every breath we take we can choose to breathe in the love of God and breathe out the love of God and share that love with the world.
That’s the thing you will remember. You’ll remember walks and talks and movies and trips to the beach and how much you like eggnog or how much you hate eggnog and the experience of living in the light of God’s grace every day.
Not just at Christmas time but every day.
That’s the real wonder of the season, of this blessed birthday we’re gathered here to celebrate. Kindness doesn’t have a season. Caring doesn’t have a season. Compassion doesn’t have a season. You don’t have to go to the temple anymore and make an offering for sin or for thanksgiving you can take that offering out into the world and shine forth with the love of God any day you choose. If that means handing the controller to a friend and playing a video game together then that is how you shine. If it means bringing food to those having a bit more difficulty putting their Christmas miracle together, then that is how you shine.
Far more brightly than complaining about how long the lines were or how terrible the traffic was or how much everything costs; we shine when we remember that it is not all about us, we didn’t ask for this gift, we don’t deserve this gift; it is God’s good pleasure to give it anyway, this light for the world so that we might shine with His reflected glory.
I don’t think that it is a simpler time we are yearning for, but merely a time when we were simpler. I don’t think that an eight foot inflatable Santa or a television competition about whose electrical bill can be the biggest because of their light display is a blow struck on behalf of Christmas. You wanna keep Christ in Christmas? Then do it in your heart and in your home. Shine with the reflected light of the King of Kings, come this night in humble Bethlehem in a manger, as a child.
From this moment all other moments get their luster, their flavor. Because of the love made flesh, all our moments are given the chance at holiness the whole year long.
O come let us adore Him indeed because at his coming, we are forever changed for the better.