My last Advent sermon of the season! Our Christmas Cantata is on Sunday so I won’t be preaching. Enjoy my “rant” – ha!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 13, 2015
Christmas At My Church
A week or two ago I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came across the status of a friend of mine who is a lay person (not clergy) and is actively involved in his church. The status posed a question; wondering what people, who do not attend church or have some sort of Christian faith, celebrate this time of year. He wrote:
I enjoy my faith and am thankful for it and I push it on no one, but I really just wonder what Christmas is all about to those folk?
I should probably mention that I am a bit of a secular-Christmas-Scrooge. Bruce has actually learned to stop making innocent statements, like, “Hey, my mom was wondering what you wanted for Christmas,” in order to avoid a 20 minute rant on how the commercialization of Christmas is ruining the true meaning of the holiday.
So knowing what I know about myself, I probably should have just thought, “Hmm, sometimes I wonder the same thing,” and then moved on. But curiosity got the better of me and I started reading through the comments.
One person commented that, even though Christmas has religious origins, a person does not need to be religious to celebrate peace, joy and family. Another speculated that as more and more people become skeptical of “organized religion,” they might actually be able celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in a way that is authentic to them and their family and not in a way that is dictated by their church. Someone else wondered if Christmas traditions and fellowship need to be “old time religious” in order to be meaningful.
Now, in fairness – all of the responses were extremely respectful of the Christian faith. In no way did anyone try to take anything away from me or my celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus.
But it kind of got me going anyway.
I thought I would try to be mature and restrain myself from becoming “that person” that hijacks someone else’s Facebook post by hopping onto a soapbox and ranting, so in the moment I closed my computer and walked away. But as it turns out, my maturity only goes so far.
So, hi everybody! Welcome to my sermon. I hope you enjoy my rant.
One of the responses to this post about what people celebrate this time of year mentioned that people are skeptical of organized religion and need to find other ways to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Okay, I get it. Organized religion has a really bad reputation. There are many religious traditions – including Christian ones – that are full of rules that do not make sense, extreme judgment, unfair ridicule and outrageous hypocrisy.
But those are not at all the things that define my church, my faith, my God and my Christmas story.
Listen: From the outside looking in, if I thought that rules, judgment, ridicule and hypocrisy were my only options for celebrating a Christian Christmas, I would probably be first in line on a Sunday morning for a picture with Santa Claus.
But that is not what Christmas at my church is all about.
Christmas at my church is about radical love and acceptance of all people; one that mirrors the love and acceptance of an innkeeper who invited a family with no place to stay into his midst.
Christmas at my church is about literally shining light into a dark world when, week after week (in the darkest time of our calendar year), our Advent wreath shines brighter and brighter with unexplainable, but tangible reminders of hope, peace, joy and love.
Christmas at my church is about giving back to those in need; through the Giving Tree, the Blizzard of Giving and the Christmas parties that we host for children in need. It is not about taking credit for the things we do, but giving thanks to God that we have the opportunity to serve in a way that is radical and selfless.
Christmas at my church is about being relevant in today’s world. It is about not having to choose between the secular and the sacred, but instead finding ways to blend the two. It is about giving our children the opportunity to put on their PJs and watch The Polar Express one night while also inviting them to put on a shepherd costume and tell the Christmas story another night. It is about hosting a Christmas Bazaar filled with goodies to purchase one weekend while also hosting Christmas Eve worship services filled with breathtaking music and the miraculous story of Jesus’ birth.
Christmas at my church is about being living proof of these words of the prophet Isaiah:
For the LORD GOD is my strength and my might. (Isaiah 12:2)
Christmas at my church is not about trying to do it all, but about having a safe space where we can ask for help in the moments when we need it most. It is not about pretending that we have it all together, but having the freedom to completely fall apart (because sometimes that is just what we need to do). It is about having this unexplainably powerful and divine presence in our lives – the strength and might of God that Isaiah talked about; a presence that brings us peace in our moments of strife and hope in our moments of loss.
Christmas at my church is about being united as brothers and sisters in Christ, remembering that the waters that washed over us in baptism are living waters that still flow today. Isaiah prophesied:
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)
Christmas at my church is about believing in our hearts that God never intended for us to walk through life alone. It is about having the opportunity to see that truth come alive within the community of a Christian church.
Christmas at my church is a continuation of the truth that I am reminded of, week-after-week throughout the year; that I am loved, that I am forgiven and that I am sustained by God. Isaiah boldly proclaimed:
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid. (Isaiah 12:2)
Thousands of years later, these words still ring true. We can trust God; we do not have to be afraid. Christmas at my church is about seeing these words come alive in bold and palpable ways.
I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but I think that right now – especially as our country stands so politically divided and religiously skeptical – we need to tell the story about Christmas at our church. Isaiah called to us:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4)
We have to tell the story of Christmas at our church, because if we do not tell it, then no one will. We have to tell the story of Christmas at our church, because if we do not tell it, then no one will know that it is possible to be part of a Christian community grounded in love, acceptance, relevance, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.
When I was putting together my sermon, I went back to this Facebook post to re-read some of the comments and came across a new comment I had not seen before. It really gave me something to think about. It said:
I do not go to church, but I love the teachings of Jesus. I am reminded, by looking at my [news] feed, how many [people] celebrate this time of year in different ways. Some celebrate the winter solstice, some the festival of lights, some just get judge-y or grinch-y. Some drink too much eggnog.
What am I teaching my children?
I am teaching the value of family. The power of love. The joy of tradition. Helping others, as much as possible, and to be accepting, and gracious about the personal and spiritual choices of others.
I hate that we live in a world where people do not automatically equate the things that this woman is teaching her children – things that are beautiful and powerful and life-giving and world-changing – with the Christian Church. I hate that the Church is associated with exclusion and hatred and oppression and judgement and fear. I hate that people think that the world is falling apart; and not only do they not have a church community that they can lean on when things are falling apart, but they also think that the Church is part of this problem. I hate that people do not know what God’s love is – God’s radical, inclusive, all-encompassing, light-bursting-forth-into-darkness love.
We need to tell the story of Christmas at our church because I believe that, right now, this is a story that people need to hear.
People are absolutely allowed to celebrate whatever they want to or believe this time of year; this country was built on religious freedom and I would never force my beliefs on anyone. But there is real magic to our Christmas narrative that I think a lot of people need in their lives. I am not talking about people of other faiths and religious traditions, I am talking about the people without faith or who are skeptical of organized religion. People are struggling in real and devastating ways and I believe that we have access to a faith and a story that can change their lives for the better.
So let us, as the scripture says:
Shout aloud and sing for joy! (Isaiah 12:6)
Let us tell others the story of Christmas at our church. Let us talk about the magic of the Christmas pageant, of the breathtaking power of the music played and sung in worship and of the way an age-old story can come to life before our very eyes. Let us talk about the ways that our cries for Emmanuel – God with us – are heard so that we know that we are not alone in this crazy world. Let us talk about love, let us talk about hope and let us talk about magic. Let us talk about our faith active and alive in ways that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.
Let us tell the story of Christmas at our church.
And let’s change some lives.
Thanks be to God!