Merry Christmas to one and all! And a very warm welcome to Christ Church for our Christmas service, wherever you happen to be. I want to take just a moment to thank you for hanging in there with us through this long slog of virtual worship since March. And here we are at Christmas time.
Obviously, virtual worship is far from ideal; it’s a mere shadow of all being together in our beautiful church. But it is what is given for the moment – and more than one of you has told me that you like coming to church in your pajamas. Maybe when we return to in person church, we’ll have to have a pajama day. In fact, this cassock I wear sort of looks like Scrooge’s dressing gown.
Switching up yuletide references, I’m sure I’m not the only Christmas homilist who will refer to the Grinch this year. 2020 has been the grinchiest year imaginable. And because so much has been taken away from us, we need Christmas to come more than ever with all it’s comforting traditions. If you are like me, your tank is pretty much on empty and you need all the help you can get just to get through. Most of us are beyond overtaxed. We need a little Christmas, right this very moment!
Our Christmas traditions are important – they are more than just the fluff and adiaphora of the jingle bell season. That’s because the more discontinuity you are experiencing, – and we all are in the same discontinuity boat this year – the more meaningful those traditions become. That’s why trees went up so early this year. That’s why your favorite Christmas music has been on repeat.
Once, on an extreme expedition in the Antarctic on Christmas 1902, explorer Ernest Shackleton triumphantly produced for his crew a Christmas pudding he had hid away in a sock. That was the moment they all remembered. Every Christmas has moments like that, when a connection with what endures makes the present more endurable. That makes me even want some Christmas pudding, although I’m not sure I even know what Christmas pudding is!
So, what of those traditions? Well, the large parties and gatherings are gone, but there are still lights, and presents, and feasting, and trees and wreaths. The packed Christmas Eve service at Christ Church, with all of us kneeling with our lit candles singing Silent Night is gone for this year, but there is still Silent Night. The is no choir, but we still have choirs of angels and stories of shepherds and stars, and a weary couple welcoming a baby in a manger.
Maybe my favorite moment of the whole year is gone – standing outside below the church steps after the 3 Christmas Eve services giving 1500 hugs and handshakes and backslaps and wishing everyone the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years. That moment, in 2020 is gone, but the same Holy Spirit is here, who eliminates all social distance and who binds us all together in the “good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.”
And those good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people brings me to the point of this short Christmas sermon. And I hope it brings you real joy and comfort today. While our traditions are important, the truth, the enduring truth upon which they are founded is the real meaning of Christmas. And nothing can stop Christmas from coming, for He has already come.
Jesus has come into the real world – and He comes now into your world as it actually is. Speaking of being overtaxed, have you ever thought about the fact that the Christmas Story starts with actual taxes? “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” That’s 3 references to taxes in the first 3 verses!
It’s hard to imagine something more un-christmasy than taxes, and yet there it is. Taxes, and government decrees, and the stresses of travel, traffic, lodging, and finances. In other words, Christmas didn’t happen in a galaxy far, far away; it happened in real life to real people in the middle of real hassles. And He comes still to you, evenin the middle of a pandemic.
The point is that our traditions don’t conjure Christmas. God comes to us despite everything, including ourselves. As former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams says, “The coming of Christ in the flesh and the declaration of the good news of his saving purpose was not a matter of human planning and ingenuity, nor was it frustrated by human resistance and sin.”
The Archbishop is saying the exact same thing as Dr. Suess. The Grinch stands on top of Mt. Crumpet with his sleigh full of packages, boxes, and bags. He has just stolen away all the Whos beloved Christmas traditions. He awaits the sad sounds of the Whos down in Whoville lamenting the tragic dawn of their Christmas morning.
“Pooh-pooh to the Whos!” he was grinchily humming. They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming! …. He paused, and the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low, then it started to grow. But this sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded glad! Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
Hear once again that which shall endure. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” He came just the same.
Merry Christmas, everybody!