Merry Christmas, everybody! I love Christmas. Now, I’m not an overly sentimental kind of guy – I’m sure my poor wife has something to say about that – but Christmas can bring out the sap in me. I like to look at old pictures of Christmases past, to look and see what has stayed the same and to see what has, inevitably, changed.
The other day I was doing just that, and I saw a picture from this time last year. It was a picture of a gigantic wreath with a huge red bow, hanging in front of the church. If you didn’t notice that wreath on the way in tonight, that’s because it wasn’t hanging on the church, but rather on the scaffolding that enveloped our bell tower. Pennacchi and Sons was nice enough to lend that scaffolding some holiday cheer while repointing and repairing the tower and so many other spots on our building.
We’ve done a lot more work on the buildings and grounds since last Christmas, including repairing and upgrading all the lights in the church. You might remember that the creche in the back was basically in the dark last year, and the two spots that lit the high altar used to do a great job of illuminating the floor in front of the altar, but now shine where they should. The downside there is that I, at least, benefit from what’s called the ‘romantic restaurant effect’ – I am better looking in dim light (I’m sure my poor wife has something to say about that too); I had to instruct the lighting guys not to aim the light directly on the bald spot on the back of my head, lest I blind the congregation. The people who walked in darkness have indeed seen a great light; we may have been dwelling in a land of deep darkness, but the lights are shining now.
Much has changed, but of course, and much has stayed the same. Why mess with what is beautiful, right? The decorations are the same, the carols familiar, the readings tell the same old story. And what a story. In one decently sized paragraph, Luke gives us a census, taxation, dangerous travel, the birth of a baby, shepherds, angels singing, more travel, strange houseguests, and the immaculate heart of a young mother who’s just trying to take it all in, to make some sense of it all.
The story of Christmas is a good story, maybe even the Greatest Story Ever Told (if you can forgive John Wayne saying “Truly this man was the Son of God” like an uninterested cowboy). Yes, the story of Christmas is an amazing story, and in coming here tonight to hear that same story, I think we’re really gathered to remember how that story changed everything. To take it all in, to make some sense of it all.
Yet it’s easier to take the sappy route, at least for me. It’s easier to clean it all up a little bit, polish it to a shine, hang some lights and eat a metric ton of roast beef, all of which I have done or will do this year. But I need to remind myself that Christmas, the day that Jesus was born, the day that humans set eyes on the face of God, is just plainly the most important day in history.
Here’s a brief reminder of how important that day is: the entire world marks time – time! – by the day of His birth. Art, literature, music, our culture itself, is literally built on the fact of Christ’s birth. But even more important than that is that Christmas answers all the real questions in life.
Is there a God? Yes, and we have seen Him. Is He nice? For the most part, yes, but what He really is, is loving. Does He love me? Yes. By the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that God does in fact exist; that He has acted and continues to act upon and within His creation; and we know that for us, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven to not only be with us, but to be one of us, so that nothing, nothing, can separate us from Him.
So as much as has stayed the same, because the Savior was born this day in the city of Bethlehem, because His light shines in the darkness, because we have seen the power and the humility and the glory and the love of Jesus, everything has changed.
Merry Christmas, everybody.