Christmas, Baby Jesus and beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…`
Years ago now, I had joined the staff of a large church and was asked to preach the Christmas Eve Services: four of them to THOUSANDS attending. I was new, it allowed me to become known and connect. They knew I had a gift in speaking and moving people to reflection and integration… I was honored, but pensive simultaneously. After praying about it, I accepted, but what God told me to say was scary and could actually make my tenure there quite short. I had to say it though.
What else does one speak on at Christmas Eve service BUT Jesus (!) and especially His birth. The people had heard the didactic arguments of his Messianic identity, the historical authenticity of the accounts, etc, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah – all good things, but also preached into the dirt. I chose to address the issue of the day – a CHRISTIAN culture, addicted to the secular culture that reduces Christmas to a shallow tin, empty “joy, peace, good will, merriment and wait for it – holiday spirit – devoid of Jesus. It’s escalated the Holy event in God’s Metanarrative to a trite holiday to make a LOT OF MONEY! Wrapping Christmas in the cultural myth: lights, silver and gold wrapping paper, over played B rated movies, songs where no one reflects upon the great message they contain, over eating with no celebration of why we celebrate, other than a party to party for party sake… So, I addressed it – kindly, but I did intentionally tear down the Nordstrom idea of Christmas and took the people back to a couple of engaged teenage peasants in an occupied country where they had not heard a word from God in centuries (400 – think if the last time we felt God’s presence was in 1611?!) and the crazy story they have, and how Jesus wasn’t born in the china cast nativity scene, but in a dirty, cold, muddy, poop smelly barn (a cave actually if you know anything about Bethlehem…the same caves are used millennia later!) where they were extras, no money, no influence, no right education, no social status. They didn’t party, have a feast, or anything… they tried to remain inconspicuous and some grand things took place. Then I smashed Christmas – I reminded them that Christmas is about Jesus incarnating – becoming a person… a baby, innocent, vulnerable, weak… BUT while we celebrate, we humans disconnect why – to help us understand God’s heart to be reconciled to us, and to be the propitiation for our sin – Jesus, that cute baby in the manger (food trough) was born for one thing – TO DIE – FOR US…. STOP, SELAH, REFLECT, LET THAT SINK IN. Christmas is for one reason – to set up Easter. THAT’S IT! Bishop Nicholas (St Nicholas’ Christ like sacrifices were hijacked to make a money making holiday spending spree!). Christmas is Jesus – Jesus is our propitiation – He died a horrible death! That occurred and God planned it and had The Christ born for that one reason. So when you look at the manger nativity scene – whisper this to yourself, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” It takes Christmas to a whole new level of special, dearness, and a humility and indebtedness because the sacrifice of Father for Son is better understood. I reflected upon this fact this morning, as I reviewed some of my sons’ photos as tots… to have them to sacrifice them…. Woe! Christmas has lost all its tinsel for me. The vernier is gone and has been a long, long time – yet it is ever more precious and dear to me!
The after affect: The church received more comment cards than ever before. I don’t say that arrogantly. I was overwhelmed. It was also tempered by a few of them. While most were very, very supportive and the encouragement from the staff was huge, there was some fall out. A few were furious and a couple even left the church never to return… all Christians… I ruined Christmas for them – it just wouldn’t be the same again. The senior pastor wanted to admonish me softly seeing the tension.
My reflection – Good – I ruined their Christmas – good. I’m glad. Maybe now, years later they’ve abandoned their pagan idol holiday and embraced the Living God and celebrate the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.