Yesterday, in this sanctuary, I officiated a funeral of one of our members who passed away unexpectedly. Scott was a guy who was just a few months younger than me. He was my fifth death in five days, and was the second funeral I had to get through before I could begin thinking about tonight’s message.
Is it me or does it seem like there are more deaths just before Christmas than at any other time of the year. Is that it? Or is it just our awareness of death is heightened because it’s Christmas? If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered why God would interrupt our season of peace and joy, with the sadness of death?
It wasn’t until I interviewed Scott’s family for the funeral service that I began to notice God has a way of interrupting our lives. Christmas marks one of God’s greatest interruptions of all time: the birth of the Christ child. Ironically, we don’t actually see this gift in its fullness, until months after all the blinking lights and handmade ornaments have been put away.
(Holding up a wrapped gift) Do you know what this is? The Christmas present is the universal sign that the holiday season is upon us. In most houses, the present is wrapped and put under the tree to be opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. In our house, we wait until Christmas morning to tear through all that pretty wrapping paper to see if we got that new PlayStation or…in my case a fresh supply of socks.
We can’t blame Sony or Fruit-of-the-Loom for our forgetting what Christmas is all about. We are the ones who have replaced the real present with consumables and credit card debt. In all the excitement of tearing and ripping open the gifts, we forget the reason why these gifts are given in the first place. Is it any wonder then why God feels the need to interrupt our world?
Sometimes it takes the loss of a life to help us remember that God pushes his way into our world…a world of sin and death…for a very important reason.
The selections we read tonight from Luke’s gospel tell us there is more to Christmas than just a baby sleeping in a manger. There is also a man, dying on the cross.
Christmas is about life and death. They are one in the same gift from God. You can’t accept one present without facing the reality of the other.
Years ago, Scott asked his father if he ever got tired of hearing the same old Christmas story. His father’s response would be one of the greatest gifts Scott would ever receive. His father Bud boldly shot back, “Heck no, I don’t get tired of hearing it!Without that Christmas story there’d be no Easter story. Without Easter, well then, what’s the point?” Bud, understood Christmas is just half of the gift.
As a father myself, I can’t imagine what it’s like to bury a child.I imagine God had some mixed emotions at that Nativity. Here is the world’s most holy child, the Word made flesh, the Incarnate image of God, now living and breathing among us, as one of us; helpless, weak, and vulnerable.
I wonder what God was feeling. Seeing his greatest gift to the world, simply lying there,His promise yet unrealized. Did God cry, like I did when I first held my daughter, Fiona? I remember standing in the hospital room, blubbering and bawling my eyes out.It was the first time in my life I really understood unconditional love.
Life, all of a sudden, felt very real. And yet, there with my greatest joy wrapped in my arms, the real threat that something bad could happen to this precious gift loomed beside us. I held onto her and never wanted to let her go.
I imagine that is what God’s love for us is like. He never wants to let us go. So when sin and death started to pull us away from God, a little baby was sent to interrupt our world of war and violence, to bring peace and justice to all of humanity. In the darkness of death, the bright light of hope, love, joy and peace burst through; blinding us all.
The Christ child came to reconcile us back to God, who like a loving parent weeps with great joy when he holds us in his arms! His tears, flowing upon us like angels whose chorus of praise light up the night sky, filling the world with God’s glory. There is no safer place to be.
If God cried in that stable then those tears were shed because God knew what that birth would bring. Christmas is just half of the gift. The other half would come at Easter.
In our house we get Easter baskets filled with candy. Perhaps instead it would be more appropriate to honor the day with gifts like we do at Christmas.
Just like the first Christmas gift was gently placed in a manger, our Easter present was gently placed in a grave. But when we open this gift, we don’t find a PlayStation or socks. Instead we only find an empty tomb. This is the real gift. As Bud pointed out to his son Scott, because this box is empty, Christmas can be celebrated everyday.
Christmas and Easter, might be two separate presents, but they are one gift. We can’t receive one and not the other. It’s Christmas that makes Easter inevitable. And Easter is what makes Christmas meaningful.
The gift of the empty tomb frees us to live as God has called us to live. That is like Christ, who when he emptied himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins emptied us all of our flaws, fears and phobias, our addictions, anger and aggressiveness, and of all the things that keep us from loving one another, and working to bring peace on Earth and good will to every human being.
Jesus Christ is the gift.
And the real story of Christmas is an empty tomb, and it’s made possible…because of one little baby who came and interrupted our world.
Thanks be to God, Amen.