Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Advent 2: The Coming Celebration (Hebrews 1:1-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel
A father writes: “For two months before her third birthday our daughter Sandie said, "I'm going to have a party" countless times a day. When her birthday was over, Sandie then told everyone, "I had a party countless times a day." Finally we told her not to talk about the party any more. For one whole day, no mention was made. But as I tucked her into bed that night she prayed, "Dear God, I can't talk about it, but thank you for my birthday party." Amen! Yes, birthdays are joyful occasions.
In the Gospel of Luke the angel announces: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Christmas is about joyful news for all people. Christmas is a time for celebration. How did the Christmas Holy Day start? The Bible says: “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of woman.” We don’t know the precise date of Jesus’ birth. Christmas was first observed by the church as the birthday of Jesus somewhere around A.D. 325 or later. St. Chrysostom says that Pope Julius I of
Rome, was responsible for
establishing December 25 as the birth date of Jesus.
A Roman pagan festival had been held on this date to celebrate the Winter Solstice, when the North Pole is farthest away from the sun. It was the feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun, which was starting to turn northward once again. In a bold action, the Church re-instituted a Christian celebration for a pagan feast. The church was making the culture conform to the faith and introduced a Christian holy day. From that time to today, December 25th has honored not the unconquerable sun, but the birthday of the Son of God.
For centuries Christians have promulgated arguments for and against this historical fact. One argument is that since the roots of Christmas are pagan, with pagan symbols and trappings still attached to it, like feasts and trees and lights and ornaments representing stars and planets, we should not celebrate it. The Puritans outlawed Christmas in
Boston for 22 years and
it wasn’t fully accepted until the mid 1800’s.
The counter argument is that the church was being faithful to the commission of Christ to go out and convert the world, to win the world for Christ. So it was a good thing to turn a pagan festival into a Christian holy day. This argument asserts that trees and symbols representing stars or planets are good, God made them; lights on the tree are good, God created light and Jesus is the light of the world; singing is good, the angels sang; giving gifts is good, the Magi brought gifts to Jesus. So you decide which argument you agree with.
Why are birthdays special? Birthdays say: “We’re happy you were born. We are glad you are alive for another year. You count among us and we want to honor you.” We don’t commiserate with someone on their birthday, dress in black clothing and say: “Oh no another birthday, I’m so sorry for you, I feel terrible for you and immediately burst into tears; no, we say Happy Birthday!” We don’t say: “Miserable Christmas; we say Merry Christmas!” Christmas is about a birthday party, the birthday of Jesus the Savior of the world. There are some spectacular Christmas celebrations of Jesus around the world in cities like
San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rome, Italy,
and Rio de Janero, Brazil.
Yes, Jesus’ birth was forgettable and pedestrian on the one hand, and yet on the other it was an extraordinary birth of historical and cosmic significance. Remember every time you check your calendar you are using Jesus Christ as your reference point, because history is divided into B.C. and A.D.
Other holidays recognize but one day; Christmas is celebrated for 12 days. That seems right to me since it is about the coming Savior of the world. We celebrate the good news of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds. It’s good news, no matter who you are or what you have done. It’s good news, not for a select few, but for all people.
What is the heart of the good news of Christmas. It's not –“ Whew, I made it through another year,” or “I'm celebrating that I've finished all my shopping.” It's not about Rudolph, or Frosty, or Santa, or The Grinch, its this: Emmanuel, God is with you, God is for you, and God loves you. It’s the good news that God saw that because of sin and evil, the world needed a savior and God sent one.
Christmas declares that God knew that the best way to communicate with us would be to come in person. If God had wanted to communicate with birds, he would have become a bird, if God had wanted to communicate with dogs, he would have become a dog, if God had wanted to communicate with cats, he would have become a cat, but God wanted to communicate with human beings, so God became one of us in Jesus. Like when comedian Billy Crystal’s daughter got a call from him saying there was a birthday present waiting for her on the front porch. She was on the east coast and thought her father was calling from the west coast. She walked out and saw a large box on the porch. When she opened it, out jumped Billy Crystal?
Listen to how the Gospel writer John speaks of Christmas: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Listen to what the letter of Hebrews says about Christmas: “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, who sustains all things by his powerful word.”
Christmas announces that God the creator condescended, bent down and got involved with His creatures. That the God of the heavens decided to get his hands dirty. The immortal God took on human mortality. God stepped out of eternity into our time. God showed up in our neighborhood. Christian music like George Frederick Handel’s Messiah, Christian art like the Adoration of the Magi and the Adoration of the Shepherds, and Christmas carols honor and rejoice in the greatest birth the world has ever known.
Christmas celebrates God’s love. God loved us so much, that he came to earth as a human. Christmas celebrates God’s revelation, God revealed himself to us in Jesus so we could see who God is and what God is like and come to know him and trust him and follow him and worship him and love him. Christmas celebrates God’s purpose - God sent Jesus as our Savior to save us from our sins, to enlist us in Christ's service, and to instill hope and joy and strength and peace for our lives today and forever.
Christmas declares the truth that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human. It affirms the unique unity of God and humanity in this one person. That is a theological way of saying as scripture does that Jesus was born of a virgin. Being born accents Jesus’ humanity and being born of a virgin accents his divinity. Christmas declares that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, the anointed One of Israel, as foretold by the prophets.
Pastor writes: “I had
to go to church and our 5 year old daughter Lauren remained home with her
mother. When I arrived back home later
that day, I saw that our daughter had placed figures of her miniature nativity
set at each person's plate. Apparently
shepherds, wise men, cows, and sheep would be joining us for dinner. Then she raced into the kitchen. "Daddy,
Daddy!" "Jesus is missing!
We've looked everywhere and can't find him!" As I glanced at the supper table, I didn't
see baby Jesus anywhere!" We looked high and low. Then I zeroed in on her backpack which she
carries everywhere she goes. In it she
transports her hair bows, her Barbie, her plastic wallet, and gummi bears. And there, at the bottom of the pack was baby
Jesus, ready to go with her to preschool the next day."
“I later realized that Jesus wasn't "missing in action" at all. He was in the middle of the action. His place in Lauren's backpack was divinely appropriate. In the midst of all the symbols of my daughter's interests and activities was the Lord of life.” “Christmas reminds us that Jesus is right there in the middle of it all. We are not alone. God sent Jesus to us and He remains with us in all our days.”
Don’t let the pressure and stress and preparations of the season, cause you to miss out on the good news, the joy of Christmas. In the light of this busy season, in closing, listen to a version of the 23rd Psalm that I think is so appropriate for Advent. “The lord is my pace setter . . . I shall not rush. He makes me stop for quiet intervals, He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity. He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace. Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here, His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance. He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility. My cup of joyous energy overflows. Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours, for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever. The author is Mother Teresa.
“Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, who sustains all things by his powerful word.” This is the one we shall honor in the coming celebration. Amen!