Would it be utterly tactless to admit on Christmas Eve that I am a teensy bit sick of Christmas? For the past month the soundtrack in our house, and car, and on vacation, and during dinner, has been Christmas classics. And while Bing and Ella and Frank and Mariah and are great, there’s a point when it all turns stale.
And because Christmas classics are playing all the time, we’ve naturally had many conversations picking apart the origins and meaning of everything from the culturally shifting read of “Baby, it’s cold outside,” to the weirdly morbid lyrics of “Frosty the Snowman,” to the sketchy relationship dynamics in “last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away” to the debatably patronizing misunderstanding in “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” Interspersed among these empty, sugary treats are the delicious and filling songs we’re singing here tonight, telling a story of mystery and wonder, of love and joy. But it’s all mixed up together, the deep and the stupid, and it’s relentless.
But I am not here to rail against the commercialization of Christmas, which I happily join in every year. Instead, I want to invite us into that story of mystery and wonder by being here in the presence of God and each other.
The truth is, I am not really sick of Christmas, so much as I am craving to know the truth of it, to feel the real of it, to be drawn back to the hope of it. I want to peel back the shiny paper and see Christmas for what it is, not a dreamy, cheery, fix-everything event that makes us feel all warm and cozy and ends all strife and strain.
The birth of Christ is untidy and uncomfortable, and at least here, tonight, we need not pretend it’s anything else. The actual Christmas moment is just like the rest of life: it’s awkward and messy, tiring and scary, a little exciting, a little confusing.
And that’s how God wanted it. God wanted to be human, so God came human - vulnerable, needy, loveable and infuriating – to humans, into the arms of ordinary, conflicted people struggling to do the right thing and wondering even what that is.
God trusted ordinary people to welcome him in and care for him like one of our own. Love came in to be loved. This is the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ, and it’s the new beginning for the whole earth and everyone in it.
God chooses to be with us, as we are, in this life, as it is. And so this Christmas, like every day, our sadness is as welcome as our happiness, our anger is a gift that points us to truth, and no matter what we do, even when we lose sight of what’s real and bury it in layers of false cheer, even when we hurt others or ourselves, even when we’re drowning in regret, desperate for forgiveness, or numb with fatigue, nothing can separate us from the love of God, who heals what’s sick and mends what’s broken and welcomes home what’s lost.
This little baby Jesus will die, that guaranteed when he draws his first human breath and cries his first tiny tear. God takes all suffering and death into God’s own self. Addiction, estrangement, illness, pain, injustice, cruelty and loneliness, there is nothing God does not bear with us, nothing can be greater than divine love coming in. The cross is there, in the manger. So is the empty tomb, so that, even now as we celebrate his birth, we can say with confidence, No death, no matter how big or small, gets to define who we are, or decide where all this is going. In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven, connected and made whole. You and I, the earth and everything in it, this whole story from beginning to end, belongs to God.
No wonder the angels busted the sky open with joy, and the shepherds’ fervent words caused awe and amazement in all who heard them, and Mary eternally ponders these things in her heart.
God took on flesh and God crept in beside us. Suddenly the ordinary is miraculous. This human living, astonishing. Every breath we take, a gift. Bodies that grow, and learn, and smell, and taste, and sweat, and break down and need tending, minds that solve complex problems, imaginations that conceive breathtaking art, hearts that discover little ways to make each other laugh, and uncover just what will comfort another, all of it, miraculous. All things God is utterly delighted by. All things God wanted to know from the inside.
Christmas invites us to be present, then. Not to have answers, or have it all together, or to be cheerful or even introspective. Simply to receive the presence of God, right here, in these ordinary, miraculous lives we’re given, and to receive these lives too, with all our limitations and misdirections and all our mystery and wonder, love and joy, our beloved, holy, ordinary lives as conflicted people struggling to do the right thing and wondering even what that is, called to be here in this gorgeous world God is always making new.
And honestly, God loves us so much, I think God probably finds it cute when we make such a big, fancy, obnoxious to-do out of stuff, inevitably mixing up together the deep and the stupid,even so much that we sometimes lose sight of the treasure underneath. No matter, because when this turbo-charged season ends we remain forever inside the story of Christmas, of God-with-us nevertheless, fully, always leading everything eternally toward life and love.