On the 5th day of Christmastide
A sermon for Christmas; Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14(15-20), Psalm 96
One of my early Christmas memories was when I was about 12. At my mother’s suggestion, I took a set of bells, that hung on the back door during Christmas, walked down back porch roof to my little brothers’ room and rang them. As soon as I heard them move, I sprinted back down the roof and, to my mother complete surprise, dove through my bedroom window, fortunately, I landed in my bed.
Some years later my brothers and sisters and I raced downstairs at the appointed time. We were not allowed downstairs before 7, a rule established after our 5:30 am appearance. To our surprise, nothing was there. The tree and all the presents that had been there were gone. What we expected to be delivered magically in the night, was not there. We were stunned. It was one of the few moments, when the house was not asleep, that it was silent. It turns out mom and dad had moved everything from the family room to the living room during the night. The next year is proof that what parents do is more formative than anything they can say or teach. In the dark of night, the five of us sneaked downstairs, moved Christmas into the upstairs hall, including the fully decorated tree. Our gales of laughter replaced the time of stunned silence.
When we mostly grew up, well we were living on our own, some of us were married, and some of us had kids, the extended family would meet at our parent’s home, enjoy a meal of captain’s soup, exchange gifts, share in joyful Christmas banter, before we headed off to our individual families’ emerging Christmas traditions.
If in the future any such events are a part of your Christmas experience, this preacher disavows any knowledge of past events. Beware the flaming thurible (a crucible for incense).
I hope your families’ traditions of observing Christmas bring such joy into your lives. During my reading this past week, it struck me when someone made note of the difference between observing Christmas and keeping Christmas that there is a lot of observing Christmas in the traditions I shared and that I see. The curious thing is, that except for the significant change in happy vs mean attitude, how similar just observing Christmas can be like Scrooge. But here is good news, observing Christmas can be transformed into keeping Christmas, without the visit from three Christmas Ghosts.
Dana Kelley wrote about a scene in A Christmas Carol that is not in any of the movies. Charles Dickens’ story includes an argument between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, where Scrooge accuses the Ghost of cramping “the people’s opportunity of innocent enjoyment. The language is difficult, but the background is clearer.
In Dicken’s day ovens were not common in the homes of working class and poor people. Six-day a week, ten-hour workday meant Sunday was the only day they could prepare a hot meal. Blue laws prevent bakers from baking on Sunday, but not from making their ovens available to these families to cook their meals in. Sir Andrew Agnew, a member of Parliament, introduced a bill that proposed to close the blue-law loophole and disallow even the firing up of ovens on Sundays.
The scene is a dig at a local politician, through the Ghost. I suspect it is left out of the movies to avoid insulting anyone, including us because we can’t conceive of the problem any more than Sir Agnew could. Confession; though I have no knowledge of the lineage; I do know that Agnew is a common name in my father’s family. And yes, it makes me at least ponder, if not squirm.
The Ghost answers Scrooge
There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they never lived. … Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.
Scrooge promises he will, and this is the transformational moment in the book. I’m sure you remember the story ends by sharing that it is said of Scrooge He knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. Dickens goes on the write May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
It is easy to get caught up in observing Christmas, sometimes in the joyful ways, but for some folks in a negative way, because of the brokenness in their family (Kosa). It is easy to forget that you are a blessing to God just as you are. It is hard to see how God longs for you to be a blessing to others, through your brokenness. (Almquist). We forget that the bible is full of broken or different families. This includes Jesus’ family. Mary’s pregnancy is unexpected, Joseph becomes as foster father, and they will have to flee to a foreign county because of death threats (Kosa). 2,018 or so years ago, that brokenness becomes a blessing. It is a blessing that has never stopped, the Messiah’s birth is always happening, even in the bottomless abyss of each soul’s dark night (Stringer). Every Christmas, every night is the opportunity for every heart to become just a bit more of a humble manger, a place for the birth of Jesus (Bartoli).
I see such opportunities kept. In Blytheville there are many such mangers, whether they call themselves ministries or not, from support for Charitable Clinic, or Ringing for the Mission, or being a part of giving away some 800 sets for food boxes through the Ignite program, or participating in one of the Christmas Tree giving efforts, to sending cards to isolated neighbors, to simply wishing your cashier a blessing and Merry Christmas.
My Christmas wish for you is that our God, who is always doing something new, reveals how your hearts are becoming a birthing manger, a blessing of God’s light and life and love to all who surround you (Almquist). May you be a blessed and Merry Christmas keeping.
Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Blessing- Brother, Give Us A Word.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 12 12 2018. <ssje.org/word/>.
Bartoli, Br. Nicholas. Manger – Brother, Give Us A Word. 15 12 2018.
Kosa, Lauren. I just divorced and was dreading Christmas. Then I remembered. 11 12 2018. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/11/i-just-divorced-was-dreading-christmas-then-i-remembered-all-broken-families-bible/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1dd65d529039>.
Stringer, Clifton. THE SIGN OF THE NEWBORN BABY. 19 12 2018. <https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/9418/the-sign-of-the-newborn-baby>.