“Emmanuel Any-ways”; John 1:1-14 and Isaiah 52:7-10; December 24, 2019; Boeuff Presbyterian Church

Emmanuel Any-ways”
John 1:1-14 and Isaiah 52:7-10
December 24, 2019, Boeuff Presbyterian Church

There’s lots of talk every Advent season of keeping Christ in Christmas or reclaiming the meaning of Christmas. Goodness knows, I have preached a Christmas sermon or two about that. 

But something that revolutionized my thinking this past week was reading United Church of Christ pastor, Quinn Calldwell‘s All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. He writes about how often the Christmas of secular culture and the Christmas of Christ are pitted against one another and how it’s a false dichotomy, because God’s presence is not limited in that way.

He writes, “Mightn’t God be powerful enough to co-opt the culture’s co-optation of the day of [Christ’s] birth? I think God can work with the traditions we hand to God.” He continues with some examples, “here are some Christmas things that have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, but in which I believe God is at work anyway:

  • Elvis’ Christmas Album. If it can make my whole family sing together while performing a complex operation involving a saw, a tree, a small living room, electricity, and water without us killing one another, it’s holy.”
  • “Shopping,” he writes, “yes, it can get out of hand, but searching for a great gift to make someone happy can be a profound experience.”

When it comes to keeping Christmas about Christ there are two things that are contradictorily simultaneously true: Jesus needs us to be God’s hands and feet in this world working to point to his birth, death, and resurrection AND Jesus is going to come no matter what we’ve done or left undone, whether we focus our entire celebrations on Jesus’ birthday or whether we’ve spent all of our time watching the Hallmark channel and shopping. And I mean that genuinely, goodness knows I love those Hallmark channel movies and shopping to get the perfect gift for those I love . Every bit of this season can be holy if our celebrations are done with genuine love and we are open to seeing God revealed in our midst.

Very similarly, God comes into this world in Jesus as fully God and fully human. Both things at the exact same time. God didn’t manifest as some entirely different creature than us, because God’s intent was to be in relationship with humankind. 

And so, with God in Jesus Christ as our example, we can experience the divine in that which seems worldly. We can sing God’s praises in the beauty of Letting it Snow. We can be reminded of the one who separated dark from night as we marvel at the simple beauty of Christmas lights. We can bask in the joy of creation in making snowmen on our lawns. We can share table fellowship with friends and family with gingerbread and hot chocolate. We can remember the boundlessness of God’s generosity in the generosity of a jolly man in a red suit. 

God’s presence is not limited to the places where we extend God an invitation. It is the gospel truth that, as our reading today said, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Everything begins as God’s creation and is saved by Christ’s redemption. There is no where that God cannot be found.

There’s also been some balking at the broad use of the words “happy holidays,” but do you know the origin of that? It’s “holy days.” If someone’s wish for me is to have more happy holy days, I am all for it. God’s holiness is certainly not constrained to one day in this season or to the activities that happen within the walls of churches.

And so I ask you, and I genuinely would love to hear your own examples,  what experiences of this season have made it holy to you? Where are the places  that God has invited God’s self into your celebrations? Feel free to offer a story or even just a phrase:

I’ll share some of my own as you think of yours:

  • The Christmas Carol (even the Muppet version) causes me to reflect on my actions towards others and makes me want to display more of Christ’s generosity.
  • I am reminded of the divinity of the baby Jesus, when I watch Leah laugh and reminded of the humanity of the baby Jesus when I change her diapers.
  • James Taylor singing, “River,” reminds me of the bittersweetness of this season for so many and the way that as a community of faith carry one another and believe on each other’s behalf when we can’t connect with the story Christ’s birth on our own.

What about for you? How have you unexpectedly experienced God in this season?

God will use whatever we offer, but also, and this part often gets overlooked, God will be present in this Holy Day no matter what. And that is very good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.