First of all let me just express that Faith and I feel so blessed to be here, among all of you, this Christmas Eve. We’ve been looking forward to this day all year long, looking forward to celebrating Christmas with this new family, looking forward to hearing the familiar Story in a new home.
One of the things Faith and I decided to do to celebrate our first Christmas away from our childhood homes was to watch Christmas movies together. We’ve watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” “Miracle on
34th St” and more. Watching the movies in the living room with our Christmas tree has been wonderful. It’s been a really nice way to spend time together and get in the mood of Christmas. [Especially since we are noticeably lacking snow.]
Aside from being fun time spent together, watching these movies has given me an opportunity to think about how our culture has viewed Christmas over the past sixty years. According to these classics, what is it that is important about Christmas?
I’ll start with one that the kids have probably seen. “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel. You’re as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel. Mr. Grinch.” This movie shows the terrible, horrible, awful Mr. Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small, who just doesn’t have any Christmas spirit at all. Instead of giving, he steals. Instead of celebrating, he stews. But on Christmas morning he discovers that the Whos down in Whoville are singing and celebrating anyway. For you see, Christmas is not about presents and trees and stockings; it is about spirit. This is the message of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a wonderful movie. George Bailey, a talented young man, longs to get out of
, see the world and become a grand success. Instead, he remains stuck in town because he feels responsibility for the people there. He gives of himself, his time and his money. He gives until it hurts. And it does hurt. He becomes very depressed by it all, until he is shown how much good that he has done. And the people whom he has helped, turn around and give to him in his time of need. Helping others, this is the Christmas Spirit in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bedford Falls
Then there’s the classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The rotten old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by three ghosts, of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The first shows him his former happiness, when his boss was generous and when he had love in his heart. The second ghost shows him the present, as his own employee, Bob Cratchitt who, though he is poor, shows generosity to others and celebrates a meaningful Christmas even without money. The final ghost shows him the future, when Scrooge will die alone and unloved. The message is clear, the Christmas Spirit is about generosity and friendship.
All of these movies teach us about the Christmas Spirit. Christmas is about giving, not receiving. Christmas is about generosity with our fellow human beings, whether or not they be friends and family or complete strangers. Christmas isn’t about material things; it’s about love, love that we share with one another.
These aren’t bad messages. Being generous is wonderful. Giving to others, even those we don’t know is great. And of course Christmas is not about mere objects and stuff; it is about love.
And yet....... And yet this is to miss the heart of Christmas. At its heart, Christmas is not about giving; it is about receiving. It is not about showing generosity; it is about being the object of it. It is not about having the right spirit; it is about an actual living, breathing, warm little body.
Christmas is about one thing. For nine months that one thing had grown in Mary’s womb, developing fingerprints, toes and eyelashes, kicking, hiccupping, making her uncomfortable, keeping her awake at night, filling her with joy at the thought of the precious human being who was so intimately connected to her.
Christmas is about flesh and blood and bones. It is about tiny lungs drawing breath for the first time. Christmas is about God saying, “I must be near to you. I will not be some far off abstraction. I will not live beyond the clouds. I must be near to you. I must be with you.” And so he has come in a way that we can understand, in a way that every human being has come. He has come to us in childbirth: overwhelming, painful, joyful....... and real. This is how Jesus comes. This is Christmas. Amen.