“To Such a World as
Long ago in another century, 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? 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
Yes, yes, and yes.
Days like this don’t come all
that often. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 5 years ago—back in
2011. It will be on a Sunday again in 2022. Because of Leap Year we can go
five, six, or even eleven years between Sunday Christmases. So enjoy this one!
Young or old, I’m glad you came
here to worship this morning.
We’re doing something that the
calendar doesn’t let us do very often.
And we’re doing something very Congregationalist. Our Congregational
ancestors ignored Christmas Day and both the pomp and the frivolity that they
thought accompanied the day in England. You might say we started the original
“War on Christmas.”
In colonial New England, all
those Congregationalists worked on December 25.
But they always worshipped on Sunday—this weekly celebration of the
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?
For many people this has been a
year of not getting what they wanted. Official counts show that Hilary Clinton
won the popular vote but she and her supporters didn’t get what they wanted.
Just last Monday, the Electoral College elected Donald Trump as President—but
already many who voted for him are having some regrets—the website that reports
on this calls these misgivings “Trumpgrets”.
Regardless of who you voted
for, most people don’t want the incivility, the upheaval, and the uncertainty
of these days. Most people don’t want the racism, the sexism, the homophobia,
the religious intolerance that seems on the rise in our nation and around the
Now, I know this doesn’t sound
very “holly jolly,” but here we are on Christmas morning, the day of
incarnation, greeting the dawn. And Christmas morning calls us away from
Bethlehem back into the world.
Here we are on Sunday morning, the day of resurrection,
with the dawn calling us into a new and vulnerable hope.
That we might go from Bethlehem into
the world with hope and renewed strength, recall those words from John’s
Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…And the Word—God in action, creating,
revealing and redeeming—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
There’s that wonderful story of
the child who was awakened in the middle of the night by a violent
thunderstorm. Frightened, she went and woke her parents. Through her tears she
told them how scared she was. Her parents, in an attempt to reassure her, said,
“Try not to be scared. Remember, God is with you.”
Speaking for most of us at some
time in our lives, the little girl replied, “I know God is with me, but tonight
I want someone with skin on.”
Skin we understand.
Flesh we can see and touch.
At Christmas we celebrate the good
news beyond our deepest fears and wildest hopes: Jesus is Emmanuel, God with
us, God “with skin on.” This is God with a
body, God with a face. This is a Creator who relates to us creatures as one of
In Jesus, God becomes incarnate—taking on human flesh, human
life. That’s always kind of embarrassing for Christians because it means we
don’t worship a grand and noble God, distant in the heavens. We worship a God
best known in human flesh. We don’t proclaim a God who shows us how our souls
can be raised to a heavenly stature. We announce a God who takes on the
limitations of earthly, fleshy existence, who, as we sang in the carol, came
down to such a world as this.
And if God can embrace flawed human
flesh, so too God will embrace flawed human lives. And that, of course, is good
news. All the ways that we don’t measure up, all the ways that we have failed,
all the ways we have, well, sinned—God
embraces them, embraces us with a forgiving love that calls us away from past
regret into the future.
There are times, of course, when our
bodies know human evil and human pain quite well. At such times, if we do not
flinch, if we do not doubt in the face of pain and evil, we have forgotten what
it means to be human ourselves. Our human lives are fragile. Our human
institutions are fragile.
This is the human condition that God
embraces in Jesus. As Christians, we are those who affirm and follow the Word
made flesh who is still at work in the world in our own bodies, which together
somehow can be thought of as the body of Christ. When we speak from faith, we
confess that in Jesus, God took on the suffering of the world and then called
the followers of Jesus to carry on that mission—what Howard Thurman called “the
work of Christmas:” to find the lost and lonely, to heal the broken.
And we begin to see once more that
the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us loves not only human beings, but
this earth, our home. We are still called to care for this earth, to tend it,
to be stewards of the earth even as
our very human actions imperil the well-being of life on this planet.
When people say that Christmas
has become too materialistic, I wonder. After all, it’s been said that one of
the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to
be “more spiritual than God.”
The problem is not that we are
focused too much on the physical rather than on the spiritual. We need to
change the direction in which we are looking, not our focus. We concentrate on
many “things” because we have forgotten the one thing that is necessary.
Let us then celebrate these
days of Christmas with our own skin on. Let us begin with our own flesh and
blood experiences, for we are probably closer than we realize to understanding
what Christmas is all about.
Our bodies shivering in the cold.
All the searching and seeking that we have done.
Every card sent in an attempt to be in touch with other
The unchecked impulses to give, to be kind.
The rushing and running of all our days.
The more we are involved in the
the more we are living, physical bodies,
the more we can remember that it was as a human being—not as a spirit—that God chose to come to us.
Look. See God in this human
flesh, God known not in heavenly visions but in a person—this Jesus—born as we
are, born amid labor pains and birth cries.
God does not leave this world
God does not leave you alone.
God loves human and earthly
things. God has come to us in human flesh that we might love our time, our
world all the more. And in loving family and neighbors, in welcoming strangers
we might glimpse the eternity that carries us all.
So let us go from this day
remembering both incarnation and resurrection—the birth and new life that God
Let us give thanks for what we have received—maybe even if it not exactly what we wanted. And in the face
of what we didn’t want, let us resolve to bring change into this world in these
days that we have been given.