The Christmas Difference

Luke 2:1-20, December 24, 2014

Right now, I bet there are two kinds of people in the congregation: those who wish that every day were Christmas…and everyone else.  Here’s a story for both groups.           

Long ago a little boy used to wander in the woods.  At first, his father let him wander, but after a while the father grew concerned.  The woods are dangerous.  The father didn’t know what lurked there.

He decided to discuss this matter with his son.  He took the boy aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods.  I wonder, why do you go there?”

The boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.”

“That is a very good thing,” the father replied gently.  “I am glad you are searching for God.  But my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”

“Yes,” the boy answered, “but I am not.” 

Of all our holidays [Holy Days] Christmas is the one that comes with the most stuff.  We decorate more, shop more, spend more, eat more, send more cards.  Everything about Christmas is more than other days.  And I think that’s why hurts and losses are felt more at Christmas time.  And I’ve noticed as I get older that Christmas is more of a disruption from my routine.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  But it can be jarring for people who felt Christmas sneak up on them this year.  I count myself in that group.  I tell myself, “If we just had a little more snow on the ground, or I could just hear Bruce Springsteen’s version of ‘Santa Claus is comin’ to town,’ then it would feel more like Christmas.” But I think it goes deeper than a couple inches of snow.

Christmas is different from other days, and it should be.  And we need Christmas to be different.  I am a big believer in being surprised.  I love those moments in life that shine through when I’m confused and thrown off balance.  Part of the way we celebrate Christmas, with our thick layers of tradition and memories means that we have tamed Christmas, I think.  Even those of us who find Christmas a delightful difference from the everyday, even those who prepared and planned this year, especially those who are ready, squeeze the surprise out of Christmas. 

Think about it: the shepherds, the first ones to hear the news of Jesus’ birth were frightened by the angel.  Did you hear that?  They were frightened.  The first words the angel said were, “Don’t be afraid!”  Then the heavenly host says that their news will make everyone happy.

The shepherds were surprised by the angels’ message.  But not too surprised to go to Bethlehem.  When they got there and saw everything that they’d been told, and told everything they saw.  Everyone listened and was surprised.  Then the shepherds went back to their field praising God, saying, “We have seen strange things tonight.”

That’s a lot of excitement for one night—from fear to joy to obedience to praise all in a few hours.

Every year I trip over that phrase in “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the hopes and fears of all the years.”  I mean, I understand how hope is part of Christmas.  But what of these fears?  The shepherds were, afraid of the angel, then that gave way to singing.  What are you afraid of?

It seems to me that one thing that makes Christmas so rich, so different, is the wide array of emotions it offers us.  The shepherds left praising God.  Mary was left wondering what all this means.  It is confusing and complicated.  It should be confusing and complicated.  We need to celebrate the “good news that will make everyone happy.”  But we also need to let this good news really surprise us, let it speak to our deepest fears. 

Like the little boy who went to be with God where he was different, we need to let the story of Jesus’ birth make us different.  So that we find the peace which God offers to us in this baby in this season.  And carry that message all year long.  Amen.