"What shall we cry:" a question given to us from our first reading this morning. "What shall we cry" during this time of year, especially? There are many of us Christians who firmly believe an all-out war has been declared on our precious holiday of Christmas. So our responding attack is focused on all those cashiers, greeters at the door, and any other retail worker who has to deal with us self-centered consumers for the next three weeks. If they dare unleash their annoying weapon of culturally kind "Happy Holidays," we will fire back with the utmost ferocity, "Merry Christmas," and stick it to all those commercial employees for simply doing what they were told. But nevertheless, once we do that, we've won our individual battle that will hopefully end up winning this war, and ensure Christ remains firmly entrenched in this Christmas season.
How proud we should we be of ourselves: strong and mighty defenders of this faith. Except...let's avoid using "war" to describe it, shall we? Let's not act as if we're on the same level as men and women across the world serving in the military with their very lives at risk, all while not being able to hear "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" from their own family. And let's not act as if we have the power to miraculously obtain any kind of life-altering victory, because Jesus already has that taken care of for eternity. And finally, let's not build ourselves up to the point that we think we have this season we call Christmas completely figured out as much as our dear Savior.
Because the question that's raised in the first reading this morning sets the stage for a response that we Christians constantly overlook every December. Research has shown time and time again, this is actually not "the most wonderful time of the year," but instead, for far too many people, it is the most depressing time of the year, and it's not just because the sun sets at 5PM now. It's because this season we call Christmas evokes the most emotionally-charged memories that completely overpower how we handle these few weeks.
While decorations are set up on houses up and down the streets intended to bring holiday cheer it forces people driving by to realize the loved ones who won't be there to help celebrate with the rest of the family, some of whom are long gone. And while the music blares over the sound systems in every store to hopefully instill happier buyers, that one song is going to set people back decades in their minds, back to the good 'ole days when that same song was played by the fire in their living room, at a time when things seemed to be so peaceful, not as chaotic, not as greedy. Nevertheless, when that awe-inspiring song comes to an end the emotional honeymoon is over, and you're right back in that store, in this culture of get-out-of-my-way-for-the-best-deal-possible mindset. So what shall we cry in response to those emotionally-intense moments that affect people for days on end?
Isaiah reminds us that we will fade away like the flowers of the field. Human bodies are not meant to last forever. And as technology continues to advance us light-years ahead of where we were decades ago, not to mention the unbelievable medical prowess in the twenty-first century, we are now all the more resistant to death, too scared to talk about it, unwilling to admit that most basic fear, refusing to share the memories that make us tear up during these few weeks of the year especially; because we don't want to appear weak, we don't want to ruin other people's holiday or Christmas season.
But that's exactly the honest and authentic cry this world needs. We need to be able to talk about those vulnerable moments. We as the church need to be the place and the people to engage in those most important discussions of the faith, all the more essential during these few weeks of the year. And what is never going to help people in those struggles is by shouting in their face, "Merry Christmas!" That's not going to make them feel at all merry.
But before we start thinking that's way too depressing, "that's going to make people feel even worse," there's more to Isaiah's honest and authentic cry. Yes, the grass does wither, the flower most certainly fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever. And that Word came to life through Jesus Christ, and even went through the valley of the shadow of death. However, that's not the end of the story.
We act as if firing our weapon of "Merry Christmas," is somehow going to save the masses, but Christmas doesn't save anyone. Resurrection does. Our dear Savior's birth is merely a chapter setting the stage for the event that provides hope for all people who struggle during these few weeks of December.
After all, Isaiah continues his cry by telling us that our Lord and Savior will gather us in His arms and carry us throughout this life, throughout this season, and even from death along the still waters to eternal life. We cry out this time of year not to bully the culturally over-sensitive, but to offer hope, to listen, to share tears, to share memories, to live with conviction that although darkness comes sometimes earlier than we like, the sun does rise again. Light does overwhelm the darkness. Resurrection most certainly conquers death. That's the cry our Lord made to all of us on the cross and out of the empty tomb: that the greatest of memories are still yet to come on the other side of eternity. Thanks be to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon