WHAT KIND OF CHRISTMAS DO WE KEEP?

This sermon was presented at Resurrection on Sunday, December 23, 2007, the 4th Sunday in Advent, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.  The sermon text is Matthew 1:22-23.

Dear Friends in Christ,

This is the day before Christmas Eve and we still have time to keep Christmas in a way that honors Jesus Christ.  My question today of you and your household: What kind of Christmas are you choosing to observe?  Ebenezeer Scrooge learned a valuable lesson all in one night.  At the very end of his Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens writes, “And it was always said that (Ebenezeer Scrooge) knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be said truly of us and all of us.”

Do you know why Charles Dickens wrote his story of Ebenezeer Scrooge?  It was because people in his day had forgotten how to keep Christmas in a way that honored the birth of our Lord.  In previous days in Great Britain, Christmas had been outlawed because of the seemingly unrestrained drinking and bawdy behavior of folks.  By the time of Dickens it wasn’t outlawed, but folks did not know what to do with Christmas.  To compound this uncertainty,  many churches  did not have a Christmas worship service or if they did, few people attended  because  they were so somber.. 

Christmas in England in the 1840’s contained no Christmas Trees, no Christmas cards, no gift giving, no Santa Claus.

The Christmas Tree seems to have arrived with the marriage of Queen Victoria in the 1840’s to Prince Albert of Germany.  Prince Albert brought along his German tradition of the Christmas Tree  and Buckingham Palace was decorated with a beautiful tree and the custom took off all across the British Isles.

Now let’s fast forward a 100 years later to England 20th century.  C.S. Lewis wrote his lament about what had happened to the Celebration of the Nativity of our Lord.  He wrote a parable “The Exmas Rush and  Chrissmas.”  He noted in the Xmas rush, it is all about commercialism, giving and receiving gifts, elaborate decorations, sending cards, eating and drinking too much, rushing around like this was the most important thing in life.  He also wrote about another celebration that some folks observe that remembers the entrance of God into this world in the form of a baby at Bethlehem, that encourages people to reach out with love and mercy to those around that remembers to give thanks to the Lord both at worship and in the home before the family gathering.

Friends in Christ, what kind of Christmas do you plan to observe this year?  Do any of you need to have some visits tonight from three ghosts in order to get your attention?

I hope that you will not be politically correct this year in wishing folks a Merry Christmas or a Blessed Christmas.  I pray that your Christmas Cards will contain a message about Jesus and not just about Santa Claus.  I especially hope and pray that in your home and here at Resurrection our greeting will never be the limpid “happy holidays.”

I love this newspaper article I picked up from the Washington Post this week, entitled, “Hands Off Christmas, Say British Religious Leaders.”  Says the chairman of the Equality and Humans Rights Commission in London, “It time to stop being daft about Christmas.  It’s fine to celebrate, it’s fine for Christ to be the star of the show.”

He joined forces with leaders of minority faiths to put out a blunt message to the politically correct – Leave Christmas Alone.

Writes the General Secretary of the UK Hindu Council, “Hindus celebrate Christmas too.  It’s a great holiday for everyone living in Britain.”

Said the Sikh spokesman, “Every year I am asked ‘Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?  It’s an absurd question.  As ever, my family and I will send out Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others.”

Said the Muslim spokesman, “To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd.  Why can’t we have more nativity scenes in Britain?

What is the difference between a secular Christmas and the Christian Observance of the Nativity of our Lord?  For the answer, I would like to direct our attention to our source for such knowledge, the Bible.  In today’s gospel reading from the Matthew, we learn that the prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of the Messiah and said that his name would be “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”  The angel Gabriel tells Joseph that Mary will have God’s son and they are to name him “Jesus” which means “God will save us.”  Those are the kinds of promises and understandings that I want Christians to remember and share at Christmas time.

Today in this Sanctuary, all of the important symbols for Advent and Christmas are here.  I would like you to take note that our Chrismon* Trees stand on either side of the Cross.  Please don’t miss the statement that is being made.  Jesus was born into this world as part of God’s Plan.  It was God’s Plan that he would go to the Cross and die for the sake of the whole human race.  His Cross is now empty because he was resurrected to new life as a sign of the new life that awaits us.

Our hymn of the day is familiar to all of us, “What Child is This?”  I particularly want you to note verse 3 when we sing.  The gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.  One of you reminded me that the gold can represent a gift worthy of a king for the infant Jesus, but the other two gifts point toward his destiny and purpose.  Myrrh was used to embalm bodies and frankincense was used to anoint or remove the smell from dead bodies.  But note too the words “raised, raised” are used to remind us that God raised him from the dead and now we raise our songs in thankful joy.

May God help us all to truly keep Christmas centered in Jesus.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!