Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Traditional Christmas - A Sermon

Merry Christmas!

Let’s have the kids up to place Christ Child on the Advent Calendar. We do this every Christmas Eve – it’s our tradition. [Christ Child is placed on Calendar] There are so many good Christmas traditions, aren’t there – greenery, gifts, greeting cards…

Not that every tradition is one you look forward to, right? I mean – Fruit cake?

And of course, there is that other St. James’ Christmas tradition – the annual tuba sermon.

Each year, I bring out the tuba and play a song or two. Maybe it’s just a winter song we associate with Christmas [Jingle Bells] or maybe it’s a song about Christmas that has nothing to do with Jesus [I’m dreaming of a White Christmas] or MAYBE it might even be about the birth of Christ [Away in the Manger].

But it’s tradition! Of course, traditions change over time. Did you know that one early American Christmas tradition used to be to throw people in jail for celebrating Christmas? That’s right – many of the early English settlers hated Christmas.

And the puritans made Christmas illegal because it was based on a pagan holiday called Saturnalia. Saturnalia had its own traditions like gift giving and parties and sending seasons greetings – no wonder the puritans hated it.

They also hated Christmas because the bible doesn’t tell you WHEN Jesus was born, so December 25 can’t really be Jesus’ birthday. Personally, if I were going to pick an arbitrary date for Christmas, I’d pick June – it sure would make it easier for people to get to church without worrying about snow!

So, what do you think? Should we toss everyone here in jail? Should we give up all of these traditions and dump Christmas?

I don’t think so!

You see, it doesn’t matter when we celebrate the birth of Christ as long as we celebrate it. And since we’ve gotten used to December 25, why not keep it?

What’s more, even though the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the primary points for Christians, it IS good to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Because what we’re really celebrating here isn’t a birthday. It’s not even this cute baby and the Hallmark picture of the stable that we’re celebrating. No, what we’re celebrating is the fact that God is with us. More than that, what we’re REALLY celebrating is that God loves us so much that he chose to let us know he’s with us.

Now I ask you, is there a better way to show people that you’re with them than to physically show up? That’s what we do when we want to show we care, isn’t it? One of the best things we people do – and this is a holiday tradition, too, by the way – is that we visit each other. We show up.

The more we love others, the more we make our presence known. When we celebrate, when we’re sick, when we’re lonely or scared. Being there is the best part of any relationship.

That’s why church is always better when you’re here – the singing is more joyous, the praying is deeper, the preaching is more inspired – and when you’re not here, there’s a hole. Presence matters. Coming together is our best Christian tradition.

The same is true with God. We always knew God was there somehow. Still, people have spent eons fearing God, trembling before him, making sacrifices to appease him – or “them” since so many people worshipped many gods.

It was out of love for us – compassion at seeing our misguided grasp of who God is and how God loves us – that God sent Jesus. Not to just come down and deliver the message that God loves us, but to BE one of us, to live with us, to die as one of us, to rise again in order to lead us home.

I love the trees and the carols and the cards at Christmas, but the very best tradition we Christians share is one that we can do all year long – to come together like this – together with each other and with God who is, as this wonderful feast reminds us, always with us. Amen.