Sunday, December 27, 2015

Receiving the Greatest Gift of All

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church on Christmas Eve.]

Luke 2:1-20
“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

That’s the stark way that Luke the evangelist chooses to tell us about the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, God-in-the-flesh. Just one single verse. 

The simplicity of Luke’s description contrasts with that other Christmas, the Christmas celebrated by the wider world, the loud Christmas that blares, “Buy this,” “Borrow that,” and “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” 

That other Christmas has launched thousands of different product lines, generating millions for entrepreneurs, songwriters, and retailers. It’s rife with glitzy extravaganzas, dazzling displays, movies with awesome special effects, and loud parties. 

And you know what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that other Christmas. 

"In the bleak midwinter,” as an old song puts it, a time of grey skies and (usually) cold temperatures, the lights and the color of that other Christmas are probably something we can all use. So, I’m not knocking it.

But the Christmas of absorbing electronic games and of kisses that begin at Kay’s—that other Christmas is only you and I howling at the moon. 

No matter how many times we sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, no matter how much we buy, give, or get, no matter how much we laugh or how much egg nog we knock back, that other Christmas is just a season on the calendar, a diversion in December.

That other Christmas cannot change the fact that we are sinners alienated from God, in need of a Savior. 

It can’t show us that that Savior has come with, as another of our Christmas songs puts it, “healing in His wings.” 

The other Christmas has little to do with Jesus, the miracle child who would go to cross and tomb to share our deaths so that when He rose, all who follow Him, can look forward to sharing in His resurrection. 

Luke says that Jesus had to be delivered in a stall, probably a cave like the one in which He would be buried on a Good Friday about thirty years later. The reason for that sad fact was simple: There was no room for Mary, Joseph, or Jesus in the inn. No room.

But how much room do we give to Jesus even when we aren’t feeling overwhelmed by that other Christmas? 

Do we give room to Jesus when He tries to confront us for the sins that would separate us from Him? 

How about when He tries to assure us of the forgiveness we feel we don’t deserve? 

Do we give Him room when He tries to guide us in the ways of justice and compassion for our neighbors, of sacrificial giving, of marriages according to God’s plan? 

Do we give Him room enough to let Him speak to us in times of prayer, as we read the Scripture, when we worship God together, or when we receive Holy Communion?

Many Christians spend lots of time and energy lamenting how the world seems bent on “taking Christ out of Christmas.” Often though, these same people are little more than Sunday morning Christians, who give Christ no room or time in their lives. Christ is not evidenced in their Christmases or their lives.

Jesus and the life that He gives to all who turn from sin and turn to Him eternally outlasts all the things extolled by that other Christmas: big money, houses, mortgages, the comforts this world can momentarily provide. 

But those who throw in their lots with Jesus outlast the seemingly important stuff of this world. 

Life that never ends, true joy, and the power and blessings of God in us and for us are among the gifts that Jesus brings to those who make room for Jesus to be the Lord, the ultimate authority, over their lives. 

This Jesus, the real Jesus, who is marginalized, sentimentalized, and forgotten by the other Christmas, is emphatic in saying that only He can offer these things. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” He tells us. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In this year in which bad news seems to come to us every day, we have good news this Christmas!

It’s put well in a favorite Christmas hymn: “where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” The meek soul is the one who realistically understands that its need of Christ.

May we always be meek enough to recognize our need of Christ and to make room for Him. When we make room for Jesus Christ, He enters into the places and circumstances and lives that we surrender to Him. 

If we let Christ into our lives, Christmas--the real Christmas--will happen in our lives not only on December 25, but every day we live this life...and beyond. 

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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