Over the course of the past four weeks, we have waited in anticipation, preparing for the birth of Christ… the babe in the manger…
Many of us have spent all sorts of time and money, hoping to find that perfect gift for those we love. We have decorated our homes, adorning them with the many worldly images of the season; lights, ropes of greenery, Christmas trees with ornaments of every shape, size and style, displays of Santa and Mrs. Clause, and, of course, that one and only, the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolf.
And too, we have as well, (hopefully at least) adorned them with some sign of the true reason for the season, that which brings us here this morning; images of peace and joy, Advent wreaths and calendars, and my personal favorite, the family crèche… shepherds and wisemen, animals from sheep to cattle, the donkey that carried Mary on her journey, the angel, Mary and Joseph, and, of course, the baby Jesus.
Here at St. James, our Christmas preparations have come through our gathering for worship and our lighting of the Advent wreath, our sharing of food and fellowship, baking Christmas cookies, our Christmas pageant put on by our youth, and, the many services that took place last night, bringing to close the season of Advent and ushering in the Christmas season.
For those of you who know me well or follow me on Facebook, it’s no secret that the Advent and Christmas seasons make up my favorite time of year. While I try to hold off on decorating and locking the radio in my Jeep to Christmas music till after Thanksgiving, I must admit that this year, we barely got past Halloween. I could almost feel our neighbor, Mr. Braband, cringing (no doubt behind a smile) as he saw our kids covering up our front door and bay window with Santa Clause stickers as others in the neighborhood were taking down their ghosts and ghouls from All Hallows Eve.
Since accepting my call here at St. James, I have added another Christmas tradition to my list… one just for me. Each year during the season of Advent, I take the time to read our dear Dr. Luther’s Christmas book. If you ask me, one of Luther’s best gifts to the world.
As you might guess, in his Christmas book, Luther makes his way through the Christmas story, offering his own insights into what took place on the Eve of Jesus’ birth.
In his chapter entitled The Nativity, Luther draws our focus to the lowliness of Christ’s birth; No room in the inn, and not a single person willing to give theirs or even share of it with the very pregnant Mary and anxious Joseph. The Son of God born in a stable on a cold night. No one to assist Mary in her labor. No light, no fire… in the dead of night… in the thick of darkness. No way for Mary to bathe her newborn son or clean herself up following the delivery. No cradle to lay Jesus in. No hand knitted blanket, made with love, to wrap him in or cap to place upon his head… just bands of cloth… scraps of fabric left over, or even discarded, from some other project… No loved ones around to celebrate and share in Mary and Josephs joy. Not a single person in all of Bethlehem able to recognize what God was doing in that stable on that Holy Night, other than Mary and Joseph and God the Father. Not exactly the way any birth should take place, let alone that of the child of God.
Two years ago, on Christmas morning, I stood from this very pulpit, exhausted from our four services from the night before, as I am today, yet in a far different place in my personal life than now, and I shared this story;
It was just a few weeks before Christmas. Our office assistant Debby, adopted grandmother to Gabrielle, came into my office to tell me that her and her husband Carl had talked and had decided that they wanted to take Gabrielle shopping for her Christmas dress along with their granddaughter, Alyssa. Of course, as those of you who have heard this story may remember, I agreed.
So that night we piled in their SUV, and we made our way to the Hanover Mall. One dress after another, these two little girls carefully trying each one on, Debby in her glory, Carl and I doing our best to remain interested in all that was taking place, yet secretly filled with joy at their smiling faces as they danced and twirled throughout the aisles, until, finally, the perfect ones were chosen… Then, as Debby and Carl made their way to the register to pay, I led the girls down the hall, where we stumbled upon Santa’s cabin.
As children do, they sat on Santa’s lap, smiled for the camera, and held the expected conversation; What’s your name? Have you been good this year? What would you like for Christmas?
The next morning, as Gabrielle ate breakfast, I asked her what she told Santa Clause she wanted for Christmas. Her response, again, as those of you who have heard this story may remember… “A mermaid costume…” And then, the response I wasn’t prepared for… just two months following the death of her birth mother, “her mommy”.
Fast forward two years later, to life today, and life in the Geib household looks a whole lot different, thanks be to God. As it was for many of you, no doubt, part of our family Christmas preparations this year included the Gettysburg Christmas Festival. Walking around downtown, enjoying the festivities, looking at decorations, drinking hot chocolate, and eating from the various food trucks that lined Baltimore street. After a couple of hours of walking in the cold, it was time to sit inside somewhere warm and have a nice adult beverage, so we made our way to my new favorite brewery, FourScore. If you ask me, the best in Gettysburg.
As Christina waited for our drinks, I made my way with Gabs to get her Pepsi from the machine, where we found a stack of, sort of, pre-started letters to Santa Clause next to an old-fashioned looking mailbox labeled “Santa’s Express Delivery”. As you would guess, Gabrielle wanted to fill one out, so we grabbed one, and made our way to a table where she got to work.
“Dear Santa, My name is Gabbi. I have been very good. One thing that I would like this year is a toy kitty. My other Christmas wishes this year are a toy dog, a toy doll and a bottle, and a toy reindeer. My favorite thing that happened this year (ya ready?), is that I have a mom now.”
Who says God doesn’t answer our prayers?
On typical Christmas Day fashion here at St. James, we read this morning from Gospel of John those all too familiar words;
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
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.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him… What has come into being in him was life, and life was the light of all people… and the darkness did not overcome it… 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.
Throughout the season of Advent, we wait in hopeful anticipation for the birth of the One who is to come. On Christmas we celebrate that hope as it enters into the world by way of a tiny baby… hope in human flesh, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth, the Word made flesh. While his birth did indeed take place in a way far from what we might have expected, so too did just about everything else in his life. And isn’t that the Good News for us this day?
That God would send a baby to be born in the lowliness of fashion, to live a life centered in sacrificial love towards those who need it the most, to die upon a cross in such a way that redefines suffering, uttering words of forgiveness as he breathed his last, only to be raised to new life, that all the world we receive the same.
Today, on this Holy morning, we come together to celebrate, not the birth of a baby, but the birth of a savior… not just one born some two thousand years ago, but one that continues to be born into our lives each and every day… bringing with him peace and joy, grace and truth, light and life where it is needed the most.
May you have a Merry Christmas in the deepest sense of the phrase. For wherever Christmas finds you this year, whether you are alone or surrounded by loved ones, filled with gratitude or struggling to find a single thing to be grateful for… as he was as he came screaming into the world, Jesus is being born where you need him the most… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… Thanks be to God. Amen.
~Pastor Andrew Geib