Every year, we hear it: “Put Christ back in Christmas!” “Keep Christ in Christmas!”
Well, truth be told, there are many things Christians need to put back in Christmas. To show the world the true meaning of Christmas, this morning’s sermon is to encourage you to keep doing what I have witnessed you doing since I met you sixteen years ago.
Here are ten things I encourage you to continue teaching others to put back in Christmas:
- Put the infant Jesus back in Christmas.
And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31).
The clamoring to put Christ back in Christmas usually has nothing to do with the infant Jesus. The good news of Christmas is that we worship and serve a God, who for our weakness, became weak; for our vulnerability, became vulnerable; for our salvation, became an infant. God came as a new-born baby and became dependent on humans to teach humans to become humbly dependent on God instead of in our own accomplishments.
As a church, keep the infant Jesus in Christmas by always depending on God as infants are dependent on their parents. When you gather for worship and communion each Sunday, always approach this table not because you are strong; but because you are weak. Come, not because you have a lot faith, but because you have some doubt. Come not because you are a saint in need of affirmation, but because you are a sinner in need of grace. Come, not because you are invincible and immortal, but because you are vulnerable and mortal.
- Put the manger back in Christmas.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
In our minds, the Nativity is majestic. It is glorious. There is no crying, no fussing, no restlessness, no dirty diapers, no spit up, no anxiety, no fear. Our Nativity is a serene, sweet, sanitized scene. But the truth is that was not the reality of Christmas. Christmas reality was not beautiful, and it was far from perfect.
We don’t sing AWAY in a Manger for nothing as Jesus was born far, far away from home among animals in a cattle stall and placed in a feeding troth with the stench of wet straw and animal waste in the air.
So, as a church, keep the manger in Christmas by always being authentic, real people living in the real world, concentrating on real problems, comforting real pain, confronting real evil. The last thing this fragmented world needs are more fake, sanctimonious, pretentious hypocrites.
- Put Quirinius, the governor of Syria, back in Christmas.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2).
When God chose to give God’s self to the world revealing God’s love for the world, God chose to enter into a part of the world where Islamophopic Christians have advocated dropping a nuclear bomb to wipe it off the map. Middle-eastern people are not “rag-heads,” “diaper-heads” or “sand-rats.” They are human beings created in the image of God. They are God’s beloved. When Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” he was talking specifically about their world.
As a church, keep the governor of Syria in Christmas by never dehumanizing or denigrating any person based on race, religion, or ethnicity and by courageously correcting people who do. Islamic extremists who shoot up a crowded concert hall do not speak for all Muslims anymore than Christian fundamentalists who shoot up a Planned Parenthood clinic or a black church speak for all Christians.
- Put the shepherds back in Christmas.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:8).
Like the Nativity, there is a tendency to romanticize the shepherds. After all, we have been raised in the church with our innocent children depicting shepherds wearing bathrobes in adorable Christmas plays. However, the reality is that shepherding was a most despised occupation. New Testament Scholar Alan Culpepper writes: “In the first century, shepherds were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people who grazed their flocks on others’ lands.” They were considered to be among the outcasts of society.
Fred Craddock wrote that the shepherds belong to the Christmas story “not only because they serve to tie Jesus to the shepherd king, David, but because they belong on Luke’s guest list for the kingdom of God: the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame.”
As a church, keep the shepherds in Christmas by always welcoming and including those who our society marginalizes.
- Put Mary back in Christmas.
All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child (Luke 2:3-5).
Christians need to remember that it is ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. New Testament and biblical archaeology professor, James Strange, notes: “It was a fairly grueling trip…most traveled 20 miles a day… and the trip was very much uphill and downhill.”
He continues: “Mary, as pregnant as she was, would have endured freezing temperatures, the constant threat of outlaws on the trade route, and harsh terrain. [And] when Mary finally reached Bethlehem, she and Joseph were turned away.”
As a church, we need to keep Mary in Christmas by always keeping risk in Christmas, by keeping adventure, by keeping sacrifice and by keeping selflessness in Christmas. Because the truth is, when the church becomes nothing more than a snug, safe, and static sanctuary, it ceases being the church.
- Put Joseph back in Christmas.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).
Because he was a righteous man, Joseph promised: “I will not harm her, ridicule her, expose her, shame her, or do or say anything that will demean her dignity, worth or personhood. I will protect her.”
If your righteousness, your theology, your faith, causes you to abuse, disgrace, harm or degrade another, you are doing it wrong. As Craddock once said, “If the Bible causes you to hate anyone, you are reading it wrong.”
As a church, keep Joseph in Christmas by always doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Put King Herod back in Christmas.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3).
Christians need to remember that the birth of Jesus was a threat to the political powers-that-be, so much so that his life was immediately threatened by the reigning king.
As a church, keep King Herod in Christmas by always opposing systems of injustice, political policies that disenfranchise minorities; or laws that make it more difficult for the poor to vote, obtain healthcare or receive a quality education, and any legislation that does not enable liberty and justice for all.
- Put the Wise Men from the East back in Christmas.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
This part of the Christmas story has always bothered me. I could never figure how that little baby was going to be able to play with his Christmas presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh!
As the church, keep these foreign Wise Men in Christmas by always being receptive of new gifts, new ideas, new ways of doing things, even if they come from folks who did not grow up around here. Always remember the seven last words of a dying church are “We’ve never done it that way before.”
- Put the refugees back in Christmas.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:13b-15).
Christians need to remember that Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus fled for their lives into Egypt where they lived in exile for years. Who knows what it must have been like for them to be forced out of their home under the threat of death and travel across nations through unwelcome terrain? Who know how they must have felt to be so unprotected, unwanted and helpless?
Syrian refugees know.
A friend of mine recently moved to a new church. He delivered his first sermon the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This was during the time many state governors were giving executive orders denying sanctuary for Syrian refugees. During his sermon he shared some interesting statistics and pointed out that if every church in America would adopt just one Syrian refugee, there would be no refugee crisis. The next day, he said that a contingent showed up at his office.
A contingent. Every church has them. There are positive contingents and there are negative contingents. The problem is that the negative ones are often more vocal.
“Pastor, we are here to tell you that your sermon yesterday about the refugees was out of bounds!”
As a church, keep the refugees in Christmas by regularly sending a different kind of contingent into your pastor’s study to encourage him or her saying:
“Pastor, we want you to keep boldly preaching the good news of Jesus without boundaries, because if you ever begin to let a few negative contingents influence you to start watering down the gospel, if you give in and begin preaching a love with restrictions, a hope with constraints, and a grace with limitations, you will no longer be preaching the good news!”
- Put the angels back in Christmas.
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).
New Testament professor Culpepper writes: “The familiarity of these words should not prevent us from hearing that, first and foremost, the birth of Jesus was a sign of God’s abundant grace.” The birth of Jesus is a sign that God is on the side of ALL people—even the most despised, the most lowly, the most immoral, the most outcast, the most alien, and the most illegal.
As a church, keep the angels in Christmas by always being a community of grace heralding good news of great joy for all the people, and all means all.
Let us pray together.
O God, thank you for Christmas. Now help us share Christmas by being Christmas, all of Christmas, for all of the world.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now and keep being the church and sharing the good news of Christmas in this community and in our world.
Go now into the world and keep humbly depending on God as infants depend on their parents.
Go into the world and keep keeping it real.
Go and keep preaching that all human beings are created in the image of God.
Go and keep doing justice on the behalf of the poor and marginalized.
Go and keep taking risks, serving others selflessly and sacrificially.
Go and keep doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Go and keep accepting gifts from others, keep learning from others, even from outsiders.
Go and keep speaking truth to power, even if it gets you into trouble.
Go and keep preaching a love without restrictions, even if a contingent says you are out of bounds.
Go and keep heralding the good news of great joy for all the people. All the people. And all means all.
And always go in the name of the Savior who was born in the City of David who is Christ the Lord.