December 25, 2017 The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Day

 

Isaiah 52:7–10, 16, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1–4 (5–12), John 1:1–14

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

In the name of the One who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

In the musical, Mame, the title character, Mame Dennis, loses all of her money in the stock market crash of 1929, and also, due to her unconventional ways, custody of her nephew, Patrick. Broke, she goes through a string of jobs, including one as a shoe salesperson in a department store, from which she is fired. Dejected, she goes home and, even though it is before Thanksgiving, decides to lift everyone’s spirits, including her own, by decorating for Christmas and giving everyone their presents early. The song, “We Need a Little Christmas” comes from this part of the production:  Haul out the holly;Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.

Fill up the stocking,

I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

For we need a little Christmas

Right this very minute,

Candles in the window,

Carols at the spinet.

Yes, we need a little Christmas

Right this very minute,

We need a little Christmas now.

The sentiment of Mame and her household seems to be our sentiment, even as we gather on Christmas Day itself. “[I]t is easy to feel a bit let down on Christmas Day. Family gatherings may not have gone as smoothly as expected. Heightened anticipation has given way to trash bags filled with wrapping paper and ribbons. Those who live in poverty, fear, or despair have not escaped their harsh reality.” (Cathy F. Young, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, p. 134.) All around us, the message is the same as it was a couple of days ago before we entered eagerly into Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: there is still gridlock in Washington; people in the Philippines are dealing with a devastating tropical storm, the people in the Caribbean are still struggling with the after effects of the hurricanes from this past season and the people in Southern California are fighting; and there is a growing nuclear threat in North Korea fueled in part by careless words masquerading as “tough diplomacy.” Like Mame and her household, we need a little Christmas now!

But what we need is more than trees and decorations and filled stockings and candles and carols. Those may bring feelings of joy and peace, but they are only fleeting. We need Good News that will sustain us for the long haul—that will counter the messengers of bad news that are all too familiar in our lives and the world these days. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the appearance of a messenger who would bring good news, who would announce salvation, and who would say, “Your God reigns,” to a captive and despondent people who longed to return home from their exile and who had come to believe that their God had abandoned them. But in the midst of their hopelessness, the prophet encourages the people to “sing for joy,” for their God “has comforted his people…has redeemed Jerusalem…has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations.” Notice that in the midst of their captivity, the prophet speaks in the past tense, as though all of this has been done, though the people still sit in exile. So audacious is the prophet’s hope and so complete is the prophet’s trust in God that he can speak this way. It is a message that seems to say, “Despite how it looks, exile is not the final word. God has not abandoned you, but instead will work to set you free.”

The message of Christmas is the same. Jesus breaks into our world to announce peace, good news, and salvation in the midst of the persistent bad news that has become so commonplace in our daily life. But there is more. Not only is Jesus the messenger of good news, he is the message itself. In this One, whose birth we celebrate this day, we catch a glimpse of who God is and what God is up to on our behalf. Our God is a God of peace and justice; our God has a heart for the poor and marginalized ones; our God seeks to be in relationship with us; our God wishes for the reconciliation of the whole creation; our God reigns victorious over those messengers of doom in our culture and in our lives who try to tell us, “This is as good as it gets.” “Life is hard, and then you die.” “Get yours before others take it from you.” The good news of God in Christ is that the message of the world is not the last word, for “the Lord has comforted his people…has redeemed Jerusalem…has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations.” Despite how it seems, this is our hope, and we can count on it.

Mame may have had the right idea: to lift her spirits, she needed a little Christmas, and so do we—the Christmas message that in Christ there is peace; that in Christ there is good news; that in Christ there is salvation; that in Christ, our God reigns, and no amount of bad news can negate this Good News: Jesus Christ is born! Amen.

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