CHRISTMAS SERMON 2010
Here’s a newsflash folks: I’m just not with it. There is no bumper sticker on my car. I will not jump on the bandwagon. Write angry letters to the editor. I will not post messages or send emails or tweet my concern. Do not count me among those who have made it their sworn duty to join the Christian version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, otherwise known as the “Put Christ Back in Christmas” movement. An explanation is in order: You see, I fear something much greater than the secularization of Christmas – something much worse and more significant than whether or not the check out person at Target wishes me a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or God-forbid “Seasons Greetings.”
What I fear - what pains me – is what Christ we want to put back into Christmas. What Christ: the Christ of scripture or the Christ that has undergone an extreme makeover. One of our own making. You see I have this sneaking suspicion that the Christ that we want back in Christmas is a Christ that the scriptures would hardly recognize. A dumbed down Jesus. A mellow Jesus. A comfortable Jesus. Someone that we could sit next to in a bar and have a drink with Jesus. A Let’s go shopping at the mall and text our friends about this cool new bag” Jesus.
Or as another pastor put it in a recent article in the New York Times: We American Christians have a way of taking the Jesus of the Bible and twisting him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable with. A nice middle-class American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who for that matter wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings comfort and prosperity to us as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream.
So, friends, let us ask ourselves what Jesus we wish to put back into Christmas: A safe Jesus or the dangerous one? One that makes no demands upon us or the one who tells us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. The one who lets us live any way we darn well please or the one who calls us to die to ourselves and live for him. The one that tells us prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing or the one that tells us blessed are the poor?
Every year nearly 11 million children living in poverty die before their fifth birthday. 1.02 billion people go to bed hungry every night. It estimates that in 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day."
There are over 100 million street children worldwide. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.
I look at the manger scene – pictured on countless Christmas cards and lit up on millions of front yards – and that child, with or without a halo, stares back at me and scares me to death. That child is God come into the world to suffer and die for the likes of you and me. But not only you and me but for the billions of people of the world who have so much less than we do. The billions of the people who do not know the name of Christ. That cherubic sweet little Jesus boy did not come to unbind us from the power of sin so that we could be comfortable, but faithful.
You see I worry that trying to put the wrong Christ back into Christmas will somehow justify the insanity. If you put Christ back into Christmas and are still not bothered with the idea that our economy needs us to spend billions and billions of dollars between Thanksgiving and Christmas on things we really do not need in order for some talking heads to declare the recession over and our future bright – then why bother.
Putting the real Christ back into Christmas means something quite different than getting hot and bothered about Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas. It means opening ourselves up to the radical change that comes from being a child of God. It means a commitment to allowing the full meaning on what it means to die to ourselves and live for Christ to be made manifest – to be made truly present – in our lives. It means being a bit uncomfortable in our faith so that we do not fall into complacency. That we do not become smug.
When we die to ourselves so that we may truly live for Christ the power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes the impossible in and through us. For one church it meant a phone call. The pastor called the head of the county Children’s Services office and asked the director how many families would be needed to provide foster care or adoption for every single child in the county system. The director laughed. Thought that they were joking. The pastor persisted and the director said “Around 150.” 160 families from that congregation signed up and emptied the foster care system of that county. Why? Because they had challenged themselves to seek after the true Christ, to pick up their cross and follow him.
What might happen if we wrestled with the same truth?
What might happen, if the power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed in new ways in and through this congregation, building upon where we have been, and where we are. What might our future look like as we ask ourselves the hard and challenging question: Which Christ do we want in our manger?