So today will be our annual youth Christmas program, as they tell us about, “Christmas Around the World.” That is quite easy to forget this time of year, when our focus tends to begin and end with our own home: all the things we have to get ready for in two weeks’ time; all the presents we have to wrap, all the food we have to make, all the cards we have to send out, all the rooms we have to clean. It will sometimes broaden to include some stores here and there, the church for some worship services, and other places near and far away as we worry about our loved ones. However, this story we will hear about soon enough this morning is worldly in scope, to say the least. We take for granted that God had the whole world in mind when the Son came to life in the flesh: a child born not just for us, but for all of us in all places and for all times.
I still remember, quite vividly, the first time I traveled outside the United States was spring break my senior year of high school, and it wasn’t to the hot spots in the Caribbean or the tourist areas in Mexico, but instead with the French Club to France. Now it goes without saying that we can read as many books about foreign countries and see as many pictures of places beyond our borders, but it comes nowhere near to experiencing it first-hand. And we also overlook the biases we form about our own way of life in comparison to the rest of the world, the sense of superiority we develop about ourselves in comparison to everyone else.
At that time the United States was starting its military response in Iraq after what happened on September 11 a year-and-a-half before. Soon thereafter, from the pictures we saw on television, “every single person” in France absolutely despised the United States for what it was doing in the Middle East. We shouldn’t even dare consider going over to that country filled with stuck-up, arrogant, no-good-for-nothing French people. But we did, and nothing happened. A couple protests went on, but the other 99% of Paris and beyond welcomed us with a warm hospitality that rivaled anything we experienced at home. Was it possible that God was as much alive and well and working through the people of Paris as God was in what we considered to be the second Promised Land in THE United States of America? Was it possible that God loved France as much as the United States? Was it possible that God had people all over the world in mind when Jesus came along to save it, to save all of us?
We wouldn’t dare think that because Jesus was born in Bethlehem that God’s love was for that city alone. Or that since Jesus lived most of His life in Nazareth that God was only present there. Or that since the Savior died on the cross outside of Jerusalem that salvation belonged only to that place. Or that since the beloved apostle Paul only made it to several places through the Roman Empire that God’s activity of love and hope would cease beyond that. No, those were simply the starting points. God had a whole world in mind with a birth, with a life, with a death, with a Resurrection of cosmic proportion.
So, yes, this is a Christmas for the whole world, not just in Bethlehem where you can still go to the Church of the Nativity and stand at the very spot where many believe Jesus was born. Christmas is not meant to only be celebrated there. This crazy story about God with the most almighty powers and the decision to immerse the Son into a tiny little baby with all the frailties and soon endure the most vicious of human suffering; that story of grace upon grace is meant to be celebrated by the whole world, because God made that decision for the whole world.
Now we obviously have our preferences on how to celebrate Christmas. We have certain traditions we like to keep from being with family for worship on Christmas Eve to children unwrapping presents at a certain time, playing certain games, hearing certain stories. And other places in nations beyond our own will have their own traditions, their own ways of celebrating Christmas with their families, and God can just as much come to life through those precious moments as much as our own. We do not have any kind of ownership over this God. No nation, no people do.
After all, this Christmas story is not about a god of manipulation and control. This Christmas story is yet another chapter, a chapter of new life, when this God of love came into the world. This is the story that begins the immersion of this Messiah setting us free from sin and death. This is the child born not just for us, but for all of us in all places and for all times. Even if we cannot possibly fathom a whole world to care for, to watch over, to love, to consider it worth being born and dying for, God has most certainly done it through Jesus Christ then, now, and forevermore. And for that, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon