In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
My sermon from Christmas Eve (December 24, 2017) on Luke 2:1-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
How do you add a little Christmas peace to your everyday life?
That was the question I was pondering on Friday while sitting in the Costco parking lot, stuck behind a car that was double parked because every other parking spot was filled. Now, I know, visiting any retailer a few days before Christmas is going to be a little wacky. It’s literally an adventure that requires patience, tenacity, flexibility, and lots of prayer. And if you think about it, parking lots during the holidays are places full of faith. We’re always just praying – praying that God will gift us a precious parking spot as soon as supernaturally possible. And so, as I spent those precious moment stuck in that parking lot, I decided I needed to take a deep breath, relax, and de-stress. So I put on a little Christmas music to try and get a little peace during a very unpeaceful time.
And so, as my Christmas playlist cycled through hymns, old standards, gospel pieces, pop, and even Christmas punk, I noticed that many different kinds of artists in many different kinds of songs have one very specific trick they use to make their music sound more Christmas-y. And that’s – this *shakes jingle bells*. Jingle bells. This little jingle and jangle is used to make every song feel a tad more like Christmas. Now we know jingle bells work in a song like Jingle Bells but did you also notice these bells in Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” Andy Williams, in his 1963 Christmas album, doesn’t seem to use any bells but then we get to Little Drummer Boy and the snare drum is matched with a hard and harsh jingle bell. Hanson, the 90s pop group who became famous for their song Mmmm bop, have no problem adding bells to literally every song that they do. When artists want to set a Christmas mood, these bells are used to set the tone. So I wonder, would using these bells be able to turn any moment into a Christmas one?
Like, if I had these bells on Friday while waiting for that parking spot at Costco, would my situation feel different if I just jingled these bells? And if it that worked, would these bells also help out when I had to sit down for a tough meeting with my boss, or when I’m trying to figure out my taxes, or when I have to remind my kids for the 100th time to turn out the light before they leave the house? Can these bells turn any situation into a Christmas one, bringing a little joy and, I hope, some peace?
But this kind of thinking assumes that there is only one kind of Christmas. Christmas needs to feel a certain way, have certain kinds of joy, family, and friends around to be Christmasy. Yet, not every Christmas is as peaceful as we hoped they would be. Some of us will spend tonight and tomorrow alone. Others are spending their first holiday without someone they loved. A few of us might be dreading seeing our family members and still others don’t want to see what their credit card bill will be after the presents are all unwrapped. And all of us, as this community of faith, know that there are folks nearby who lack the food, the shelter, and the access to healthcare they need to thrive. It’s easy to jingle these bells and imagine that Christmas is really centered on a feeling of happiness and comfort. But not every Christmas will fit on a Hallmark card. And there are moments when the jingle of bells doesn’t really feel appropriate. There are certain experiences, certain songs that our lives sing where the jingle jangle of bells would not cover up or erase or change what we are going through. As we live our lives and experience everything that life has to offer, the sounds of Christmas – of what we imagine and think Christmas is supposed to be – may not actually be what we need.
And yet, it’s at those moments, I think, when we need Christmas the most. But I don’t mean Christmas as merely a tone or a mood or some kind of backing soundtrack to our lives. Rather, when we are living through our non-Christmas moments, that’s when we need Christmas to be as it truly is. We need to know that God chose to come into the world at an imperfect time, when a 9 month pregnant Mary had to travel over 90 miles on a donkey because the Roman Empire was forcing them to be counted. And when Jesus came into the world, he wasn’t born in a palace or a hospital or a medical ward. He entered the world in a stable where an animal’s food dish served as his first crib. Jesus came into this world just like we do – vulnerable, weak, and helpless. Jesus, God, the creator of the universe, the one who is past-present-and-future all at once, decided to live a life where someone else had to take care of him. God came to into our world to truly be one of us – to know our pain, to feel our loneliness, to celebrate our joys, and to experience every one of our frustrations. Jesus chose to do something unbelievable. He chose to be an actual human being.
Like all artists who use bells to turn any song into a Christmas song, Jesus chose to live a human life so that he could add a little bit of himself to everything we experience. He is there when Christmas feels like Christmas and he is also there when Christmas feels so very far away. And in the moments when we feel alone, or abandoned, or when we don’t even know what we believe, we might feel Christmas is really a story for other people. But it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus coming into this world and into our lives as we already are – and not as we think we’re supposed to be. Christmas is about the creator of the universe becoming human because your life has value, your life has meaning, and you and this world are worth more than you can possibly know. Christmas is more than just the sound of jingle bells trying to turn every moment into a Hallmark one. We are, in Christ, surrounded by a love that holds us, guides us, and strengthens us, especially when we are in our greatest need. This love, this Christmas, this Jesus – will always be with us – because tonight is the night when God became human.