When I was a child—I was still in grade school—the strangest thing happened at Christmas. Christmas fell on a Sunday! Can you imagine that? It doesn’t happen all that often. The last time was 6 years ago—back in 2005.
I still remember the, well, the trepidation I felt as that childhood Christmas approached, talking with my parents about what would happen.
“You mean we’re going to church on Christmas morning?”
“You mean instead of staying in a house filled with presents, still in pajamas and warm robes, we’re going to get dressed and go to church?
“You mean—let me get this straight so we’re all clear about it—we’re going to church?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Young or old, I’m glad you came here to worship this morning.
You’re doing something that the calendar doesn’t let us do very often.
And we’re doing something very Congregationalist. As I’ve said at other times recently, our Congregational ancestors ignored Christmas Day and both the pomp and the frivolity that they thought accompanied the day in England. In the colonies they worked on Christmas.
But they always worshipped on Sunday—this weekly celebration of the resurrection. Other churches may close today. But however small our congregation might be this morning, we are here and worshipping.
And now that we’re some ten hours into Christmas Day, I guess I can ask:
Who got what they wanted for Christmas?
What did you get?
There was a department store ad a few years back that showed people jumping up and down with great excitement. An announcer told us: “Better gifts get better reactions.” Anybody jump up and down this morning?
O.K. Who didn’t get what they wanted?
Dare I ask what you didn’t get?
Sears once had this great advertisement that started to air on December 26: “Almost everything you wanted and didn’t get for Christmas is on sale now at Sears.”
I hope you got what you wanted.
But we need to recognize that the stories of the first Christmas are all about people who didn’t get what they wanted.
Mary, a young woman, was pregnant and unmarried—a status that could lead to the death penalty.
Joseph, too, must not have been thrilled by the news initially—remember how Matthew tells us Joseph “planned to dismiss Mary quietly.”
Herod heard the news of the birth of a child and feared a usurper to his throne.
How does the old song go: “You can’t always get what you want.”
No doubt even this early on Christmas day, some are already at home on the computer, trying to sell unwanted gifts on E-bay—anybody do that before they came here today? Or maybe some are considering how to—what’s the word?—“regift” what they received. Or they’re checking to see what time Coral Ridge opens tomorrow so that they can take something back.
So the exchange season begins.
Which is just how Martin Luther once spoke of the coming of Christ—“the wonderful exchange,” he called it. Our wretchedness for God’s blessedness.
The wonderful exchange.
So maybe the song is right. You can’t always get what you want.
“But sometimes,” the song tells us, “Sometimes, you get what you need.” Our wretchedness for God’s blessedness. The wonderful exchange.
The good news of Christmas is that God has indeed given us what we need.
Fulfilled, if not our “Christmas wishes” at least of deepest hopes.
The wholeness, the fullness of life that God brings in Jesus Christ might not be what we wanted—but it is what we need.
For years I have carried in my Bible a prayer that was written by an unknown Civil War soldier.
I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of human beings.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
I do hope that you got what you wanted this morning.
But the good news that we celebrate on Christmas is the reality that we do indeed get what we need—God with us in a savior who is Christ the Lord.