As a young child, Christmas was always the most magical time of the year. The lights downtown, the decorations in the mall, the carols on the radio, the pageant preparations, the parties, the good food, the Advent calendars, the weather reports about Santa and his sleigh all filled me with an excitement I could hardly contain. I would sometimes stop and wonder, “Is this real life?” “Am I living in another dimension?”
Obviously, over the years, the magic of Christmas dissipated. I got older. Family life got more complicated. The magic of it all wasn’t powerful enough to hold my attention anymore. However, that magic has recently been reignited as I see my children, especially Mary Katherine, experience the Christmas season.
Mary Katherine has taken it upon herself to plug in the Christmas tree in the morning. She makes sure to count down the days using the Nutcracker Advent calendar. For her, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
But as magical as this time of year is for so many, it can make the vulnerable even more vulnerable. A multi-billion-dollar industry has been built around Christmas – the toys, the gifts, the decorations, the cards, the food, the wine, and the list goes on. In a way, the pursuit of a magical Christmas creates a bigger chasm between the haves and have nots.
Not that I’m a “have not” by any means, but I do live across the street from Gus Colvin - the Chevy Chase of Selma. And every year I’m reminded that his exterior illumination is better than my exterior illumination. And so does Mary Katherine.
On a somewhat more serious note, as a young boy, I dreaded going back to school and sharing with the class what I got for Christmas. It’s not that I didn’t get a lot of great toys. I grew up in a very privileged family. However, there were others in my class who were even more privileged than me, who got bigger and better toys than me.
So, in a very small way, I know the experience of not getting what others got. In a very small way, I was forced to ask questions like, “Am I less special because my parents don’t have as much money as his parents?” I know this might seem a little trivial but the experience was very real for me and real for many other children in more significant ways.
As magical as Christmas was and still is, what kind of message are we sending to the world when Christmas is reduced to the plot line of Christmas Vacation? Don’t get me wrong. The movie is a favorite of mine.
But how is that message consistent or inconsistent with the message that God is sending? To sort out this question we must return to the original message, the message of salvation that the angels announce to the shepherds tending their flocks by night.
First and foremost, we must remember that the first Christmas was not a celebration that the privileged took part in. The first Christmas didn’t take place in the suburbs of Chicago but on the rural outskirts of Jerusalem. It did l, however, feature a dysfunctional family which was is part of the good news of this night.
The message of salvation on Christmas is told through ordinary people who are living pay check to pay check. The message of salvation is told through a couple who doesn’t have access to a hospital bed. The message of salvation is born out of the most vulnerable of circumstances. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
As I have grown older, it isn’t the magic of Christmas that holds my attention but the mystery of God being born to a lowly mother in a stable in Bethlehem which makes my heart grow in awe and wonder. For in this mystery, we discover a truth that money cannot buy, we discover a place where all - rich and poor alike - have a seat at the king’s table, we find a love that takes us to another dimension, a new world.
Except this other world is real, this other world lasts. This other world isn’t a fairytale. It doesn’t depend on a Christmas bonus. This new world reveals God’s heavenly reality established on earth. It is a world that depends on a God who pays the ultimate price to save us - the gift of his only Son.
This heavenly reality starts to become real in our lives and our communities when we search for God’s Son among the vulnerable, the poor, and the lowly - in all the proverbial managers of Bethlehem. This reality starts to become real when we take our place in God’s new story of salvation and lay our gifts, not at the feet of the rich and famous, but at the feet of the weak and helpless, at the feet of the infant Jesus lying in a humble manger.
Over the past few weeks, you at St. Paul’s have been a part of the new story that God writes in Jesus on Christmas. You have laid gifts at the feet of the Christ child. You adopted 40 angels, most of whom were provided by the Family Resource Center. In particular, you gave Christmas gifts to children who are represented by the Dallas County CASA program. You also provided 8 food boxes for the elderly who are a part of the Meals on Wheels program. And not to mention the outreach you do during the other 11 months of the year through places like the Food Pantry.
You remind some of the most vulnerable among us that they too are special, that they, in fact, are the essential part of the Christmas message, that they too have a place at the King’s table. Ultimately, your service to the vulnerable should remind us all that without Angel Tree or Meals on Wheels or the Food Pantry, the true message of Christmas wouldn’t be sent to the world – at least not the Christmas message that God makes known through the Christ child.
Now, I hope you don’t hear me saying to stop participating in the magic of Christmas. I’m not advocating you stop watching Christmas Vacation. In fact, the very figure behind “secular” Christmas is an excellent example of someone who understood what this time of year is all about.
St. Nicholas is known for paying particular attention to the poor especially children who were poor. He gave anonymously and generously. His witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful reminder that true joy is found when the poor and lowly are given hope and light in a fearful and lonely world. For if there is hope for even the least among us, there is hope for the rest of us.
As we leave church on this Christmas Eve, many of you will be fortunate enough to experience the magic of Christmas. Be thankful and enjoy it. But also remember that some will not know the magic in Christmas this year. The good news, however, is that there is something greater to be discovered this night – there is even something greater to be shared - the mystery of God’s love as told through the birth of our Savior.
The Nativity of Jesus is a story that has the power to transform every heart – a mystery that grows out of the most vulnerable of circumstances, a mystery that invites us to grow in the truth that salvation is found in the very places the world would rather forget, a mystery that even Cousin Eddie can grasp (he’s on Crescent Hill).
May the same Love that Mary treasured and pondered in her heart some 2,000 years ago be born in your heart this night. And may the mystery of that Love convince you more and more that you and everyone else are God’s beloved child through Christ the newborn King. Merry Christmas and Amen.