Posted on December 24th, 2016
Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols
Immanuel Ev.-Lutheran Church
December 24, 2016, 5:00 p.m.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
It’s too good to be true. The Christmas we imagined, the Christmas we remembered, how can we relive them, recreate them?
It’s too good to be true. The Christmases you see on Facebook, the cards arriving in the mail, perfect pictures of perfect people set on perfect paper – none of it matches the imperfections in your life.
Certainly there are many happinesses for all people, presents and family and twinkling lights. But you know the gloom as well. In a world of divorce, depression, death; in a world of careening trucks in a Berlin Christmas Market; in a world torn apart by wars between nations and wars between family members, it’s easy to feel more connected to “the people who walked in darkness” than the pixelated people smiling for their staged status update.
“The people who walked in darkness” of which Isaiah spoke in tonight’s third lesson are more than without light; they are without hope: they dwell in shadows of rage and anxiety and fear and sorrow.
The sentimental Christmas image presents not only family experiences as too good to be true, it presents even the original Christmas story as too good to be true. Away in a Manger is an adorable lullaby, and very fitting for Christmas Eve. Yet we’re told of this Baby, “No crying He makes.” Lovely Mary is painted again and again looking very much like a woman who suffered nothing in childbirth. The feeding trough that is the Lord’s bed is mysteriously lacking any snot from the noses of barnyard animals. The manure has all been shoveled out of the picture.
When Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are depicted untouched by suffering, the too-good-to-be-true image obscures the true good news in the story. Jesus enters suffering. Jesus enters our suffering, real suffering, the world’s suffering. It stinks. Literally. So does His bottom. He needs to be changed, and Mary doesn’t have wipes or a $90 diaper bag to put them in.
The very first carol we sang tonight gets us closer to the Jesus who enters our shame and feels a real human life, without the photos cropped and enhanced:
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feels for all our sadness,
And He shares in all our gladness.
This Jesus cries real tears, and needs a real blanket to protect Him from the stable’s draft. The Lord of heaven and earth makes Himself helpless, needs the care of a mother and father just to survive.
Entering the world He made, He comes to Adam, who is afraid, naked, hiding. He comes to Eve, now cursed with pain in childbearing, and conflict with her husband. He comes to the grave of Abel, struck down by his brother. He comes to the Ark, to view a humanity in shipwreck. He comes to Joseph, crying at the bottom of a pit, pushed there by his own brothers. He comes to Moses, slamming his stick into a rock, so angry with his people. He comes to David, lustful and proud. He comes to a valley of dry bones, a valley of graves, endless graves, generation upon generation upon generation, so many gone, so many tears expended.
He comes to the beaches of Normandy. He comes to the ovens in Auschwitz. He comes to the rubble of Aleppo. The one who cried real tears as a baby, who cried real tears at the grave of Lazarus, cries real tears for your sufferings, your losses, your sins.
He was made man and took on a truly human body … and He has it still. He did not become a human being for a period of time, only to discard His body when He was done using it. He took that human body, He took our human nature, from creche to cross, then into a tomb cold and dark. Your Lord Jesus does this not for His own resurrection alone, but to rescue and redeem your human nature, to bring you through the grave.
Tonight this Savior is born to you, for you. Into your death and sorrow and crying He comes, and the Word of God to you is this: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men… And God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Rev. 21.3f).
It’s not too good to be true. It is the true, good thing. Christ is good. His Word is truth. He is your Savior. Your sins are forgiven. Your death is destroyed. Life has come, and your life will never be the same. Merry Christmas! +INJ+