2021 Christmas Eve Sermon

2021 Christmas Eve Sermon
By: Deacon Ben Remmert
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

Every year, at about this time, one of my favorite traditions, which may come to surprise by many of you, is watching classic Christmas movies. Such classics as Home Alone, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Die Hard, Nightmare Before Christmas, Muppets Christmas Carol and what have you are always playing at our house immediately after Thanksgiving. But for my dad, he likes to stick to the “family classics.” His family. Our family. Whether it’s watching the Christmas movies from when he was a boy at Christmas or replaying home movies from scenes of my sister and I opening our presents when we were just kids. Those are the Christmas movies Dad likes to watch at this time of year. To rewind back to those distant memories. To replay those fond moments. And to pause on those precious scenes, to reminisce and reflect, and think about “the good old days.”

We all do this, though, don’t we? Maybe not by watching old home movies—but we do it through all the little traditions we hold onto. From the food we eat, to the music we listen to, we’re just rewinding back to those distant memories we’ve held onto for so long. From the moment the decorations go up, and then when they’re taken back down, we’re just replaying those fond moments for ourselves. Each piece, each ornament seems to carry with it a history, a story, a smile. And then, after all the busyness, all the planning and buying and wrapping and traveling—finally, the day arrives. And we gather with friends and family, people we care about. We call, text, FaceTime, Zoom, if needed. And then what do we do? We pause. We reminisce with one another. For many we will reminisce about life before the pandemic, but we will be telling the same old family stories, thinking about the way things used to be.

Christmas is a wonderful time. A time for nostalgia. A time to rewind, replay, and pause. Never a time to fast-forward; only to rewind, replay, and pause. But I wonder if we press pause at the manger scene for a bit too long each year. Throughout Advent, as we begin a new church year, we rewind through our Scripture readings, pointing to God’s promise of a Messiah. We replay the scenes of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. And now, we get to Christmas Eve; we place this statue of a baby in the manger; and we pause.

I’m not saying any of that is bad. It is a good thing for us to join in the narrative of God’s people through Scripture. As the people of Israel awaited their Messiah, we now await Christ’s return. As John the Baptist prepared the Judeans for Jesus, we now prepare for His coming again on the last day. And as so few paid any attention to the wonder in Bethlehem, so we now marvel in awe at the manger scene. While the world keeps going, we gather to reflect on how God came in the flesh to be with us! But it is here, I think, we tend to pause a little too long. And we look at the scene with those rose-colored lenses. We don’t like to fast-forward the scene beyond that “silent night,” that “holy night.” We don’t like to fast-forward because we know where it leads. We don’t like to fast-forward on this serene scene, because it forces us to acknowledge that this sweet, innocent infant was born to die. And that’s a heart-wrenching thought.

No, we much more prefer to pause at the picturesque portrait of the “holy family.” Gentle Mary and Joseph dearest looking down in a great and mighty wonder, marveling at this miracle in the manger. One or two shepherds quietly quaking at the sight, standing by, holding a perfectly clean and white, fluffy sheep. And more than likely, your nostalgic nativity includes 3 wise men—no more, no less—having traversed afar, now bowing before their king, not even questioning the locale or the humble surroundings. There’s usually a lone angel, perched on top of the stable, and holding an unfurled banner that says something like, “Glory to God in the Highest,” or “Peace on Earth.” And, of course, there’s a baby wearing only a diaper and a smile, eyes wide-open but no crying he makes, and his arms are out-stretched as if reaching to you for a hug. That’s our nativity. That’s the way we like to remember it. That’s where we pause.

But the problem is, when we pause here with these statues, we can forget the harsh reality of it all. I mean, just look at the size of that baby compared to the size of Mary. Poor girl! But SHE doesn’t appear exhausted in the least. No she’s just kneeling there, her clothes are spotless, hands manicured perfectly, hair looks amazing. Yeah, right!

No, Mary would have been laying there, exhausted, holding that small child, who was probably screaming newly born in the cold dark world of His creation. Desperately trying to claw his way to the warmth of his mother’s chest, to hear the familiar beating of her heart, and she would hold him there, though still

reeling from the agonizing pain of labor. Because, after nine months of carrying that child, morning sickness, feeling him kick in the middle of the night when she was trying to sleep, giving her the strangest cravings—after all that, Mary wanted nothing more than to hold that precious gift of God, who made her a mother. Only after that special few moments did she wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger. And, really, the only reason she did that was because Mary was exhausted and needed to rest.

But that rest would be interrupted by the company of nomadic shepherds, barging in unannounced. And Mary, I imagine, in embarrassment and horror, would have reached for the nearest shawl or horse blanket or tablecloth, whatever she could find—anything to cover up. Because the last thing any new mother wants is for strangers to come in uninvited, to ogle your baby, talking a mile-a-minute about a crazy thing they saw in the sky, and how the song they heard was so other-worldly. True as it may have been, and as much as she treasured these things in her heart afterward, it was still, no doubt, a bit off-putting at the time, you can imagine.

And then there is Joseph. He looks like he’s in awe and wonder at the child. But that’s really fear and nervousness. It’s not a question of “What child is this?” but, “What is this child? What do I do now?!” Because, while Joseph got the message about this child being from the Lord, that He would save His people from their sins, I’m guessing he had his questions about how to take care of a baby. He probably didn’t have all his questions about raising a baby answered…but now, he would be responsible for this special child’s well-being. And from that very moment, from that very scene where we pressed pause on our nativity, Joseph would question, for the rest of his life, whether he was a good enough father or not.

We rewind, we replay, and we pause—but don’t pause here too long. Because, what happens when you pause too long is that we almost forget it really happened. Through our rose-colored lenses we lose track of the fact this perfect child was born into an imperfect, even dysfunctional family—maybe just like yours. We overlook the reality that infant holy, entered into a messy messed-up world—a world where sin and its effects wildly barge in unannounced and unwelcome. A world where the plans we make get turned upside down in unimaginable ways. We forget that the statuesque figures of Mary and Joseph

had very similar fears and failures and embarrassments and questions that we have. When we pause too long, we miss the fact that this Jesus came to experience the world as we know it and live it and feel it and fear it and are crushed by it.

And when we pause too long, though we marvel at Him being God-in-the-flesh, we maybe forget His very name—or, at least, its meaning. Jesus: which means, “Yahweh saves.” “The LORD saves.” For “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33) We like that part. But first, before we fast-forward to that happy ending… “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) “…so that we may live through Him.” (1 John 4:9-10) And how will He do this? How will the Lord save through this child? How will He give life and be the reconciliation for our sins?

By a cross. Through a tomb, but also, through a resurrection. See, when you pause here, don’t stop too long; and don’t get caught up in the cute, nostalgic serene scene. For this child was born to die…but also born to give life. We cannot separate his mission from His coming. Born to put an end to sin’s curse all the way back in Genesis. “Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second-birth.” Because, without the cross, and without the resurrection, Christmas is meaningless. This child was born to die, but He was born to give life!

Tonight, and in the Christmases to come, go ahead and reminisce, tell the same old stories. Rewind, replay, and pause. But when you come to that nostalgic nativity, don’t pause too long or you will miss the joy and hope of Christ working in the now. Amen.