So let's be honest with each other, shall we? There are those of us in this room tonight who are beyond ecstatic that it is finally Christmas Eve, and not because family is gathered, and the traditional hymns are sung, and all over the holiday nostalgia is at its emotional height; but because we are only one day away now from all of this being over: all of this mind-numbing stress, all of this embarrassing greed, all of this sheer chaos of the season. It's so incredibly close to it finally being done for... maybe about six months, because obviously the culture surrounding us gets to tell the world when Christmas starts, whether that be before or after Halloween, and, thankfully, when it all can ultimately stop.
Well, I'm sorry to be the bearer of unhappy tidings, but I must tell you Christmas is not coming to an end tonight, or tomorrow, or even twelve days after that. Christmas is actually never, ever going to stop, and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it. Because, you see, the Nativity story at its very core happens every day, all of which are just as much Christmas as any of the nostalgic family traditions that will overwhelm this world tomorrow. The story at its very core comes to life through a pregnant teenage girl, unmarried, supposedly without a father, all of which will become the bane of her existence for the nine months that are meant to be filled with hopeful expectation. And that awe-inspiring journey of Mary, that story we so treasure to hear every Christmas Eve, comes to life far more often than once a year.
For starters, when a young girl is bullied not only by her friends, but by her neighbors, and even her own family, to the point where she wonders if she has any kind of life in the future because the agonizing pain of anxiety churns deep within her thinking of the possibility that absolutely no one cares for her anymore. But then comes that one person who risks their own reputation, who puts future job offers into severe question by associating with the supposed village social pariah, who is willing to lose their own precious friends and family by stepping in front of the human arsenal of unbelievable guilt and relentless criticism, and finally halting the piercing pain on the one who's been bullied for far too long; when that happens in this day in age, to bring that often-overlooked part of the story with Joseph's love for Mary to life, that is as much Christmas as children running down the stairs to an evergreen tree.
Or when a baby cries at the top of its lungs, and the mother literally runs on minimal sleep to seize the child into her arms, loving him just as much at 3AM as she would at 3PM picking the child up from day care. And yet with that baby in her arms the crying won't stop, she won't sleep the rest of the night; but all that child needs is knowing that someone is there day and night: that child who is absolutely vulnerable, completely dependent on someone else not only for shelter and food, but for a love that never stops. And this God in all the holy wisdom allowed two people living in the most impoverished conditions to raise the Son Who will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You see, Christmas happens each time a parent, with as much relentless determination as Mary and Joseph, is willing to go all hours of the night to make sure their child is safe, and will even completely change all their plans for the future to ensure what is best for their baby. That is as much Christmas as Nat King Cole singing of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire."
Or how about that verse in the Christmas story that is evidently as important to include for the Gospel writer as angels announcing and shepherds sprinting? The verse that says, "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." Many of us will be in an absolute frenzy tomorrow trying to make sure everyone gets to eat and open their presents, and still many of us will be counting down the hours for all of this to come to an end. But perhaps it as much Christmas to simply sit back and take it all in: sit back and do nothing but watch: watch the children's smiles, watch the conversations and laughter that overflow a dining room between siblings, all of those precious memories that can happen beyond Christmas day, by the way.
Nevertheless, tomorrow we can also ponder with Mary the absolute absurdity of this holy story at its ultimate core: that a God of all ages, this mighty omnipresent God is willing to minimize the divine cosmic supremacy into a tiny little baby, and be completely dependent on two peasants to help initiate the Good News that will end up saving the entire world forever. Perhaps it is as much Christmas to sit back and ponder what that means for the children running around, what it means for our family who are long gone, and what it means for the generations still to come; that this God had all of them in mind in Bethlehem, at Calvary on a cross, and out of an empty tomb: all of it to instill new life, to offer hope to a world still struggling with darkness, with shame, with fear, as much as it did for a pregnant unmarried teenage girl two thousand years ago.
I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but hope is still infiltrating our broken world, light is still penetrating the darkness surrounding us, the precious core of the Christmas story is happening every single day through brave women and men of all ages who never give up on their friends no matter how much they're looked down upon by others, through parents with a love for their child that can never be fully explained, through a God Who would do it all over again, for all of us, for the whole world. Sorry, people of God, Christmas, hope, life, is still happening, and there's absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. It is the gift of Bethlehem that keeps on giving to all of humanity forevermore. Thanks be to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon