Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Like Any Given Sunday

Every year Christmas sermons get harder to write. At least that’s been my experience. Christmas is the Super Bowl of church, the one day of the year we can be guaranteed a full house. Don’t say Easter gets people through the door. I’ve preached at half-empty churches on Resurrection Day.

Some pastors like to say that Easter is the High Point of the church year, the game seven of world series, the Stanley Cup finals of the ecclesial world, opening night on Broadway.

That may be true theologically, but it’s not true practically. Some theological wags say that Christmas is less threatening than Easter because Christmas is about a baby, and what’s so scary about a baby? While Easter is about God turning the world upside down, defeating the forces of sin, death, and devil, the inauguration of the New Creation ; an event that demands a response from the worshipper. After all, how can one be confronted with the powers of the Almighty hitting alt-ctl-del on the world, and NOT respond in faith?

Sheesh. These folks need to get over themselves. I think Christmas is more popular than Easter because we get stuff, not because people are threatened by resurrection. Presents make the holiday. Not the story.

It would be nice if it were the reverse. But, sadly, I don’t think it is. Not in our culture.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into an anti-consumerist keep-Christ-in-Christmas, Jesus-is-the-main-thing rant (although that would be fun). I can’t get on my high horse because I like getting stuff at Christmas too. Everyone does. We grouch like Charlie Brown over the consumer-driven holiday, but still dutifully line up at the Wal-Mart checkout. We whine about the corporate take-over of Christmas, but come Christmas morning, the homes of most Christians look like a Sears commercial.

That’s why sermon writing gets harder for me each year. I have trouble penetrating the celebratory fog that obscures the Nativity story. Even my own fog.

But one year, two beloved and long-time members of the church died the morning of Christmas Eve. That day, the sermon wrote itself because I had to think about what the festival of the Incarnation really means for us. If Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us - then what did that say about the grief we were all feeling?

And then I got thinking that, even if visitors to our little congregation didn’t know the two women who died that morning, they were bringing their own pain and grief with them. They came to hear the story and sing some songs.

And maybe the the bible readings and Christmas carols were mere accessories to make their Christmas celebrations complete, they came to CHURCH to hear them. They were compelled to be with a community of God’s people to listen to God’s sacred story; and with in story they hear the Word proclaimed. The Word does it’s job when it reaches peoples’ ears.

So, maybe that’s where I have to begin this Christmas - at the intersection of the Christmas story and peoples’ lives.

But then again, how is that different from any given Sunday?

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