Sermon: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

I preached this tonight at our Blue Christmas Service.

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”
Isaiah 49:14-16 and Matthew 2:1-23
Blue Christmas Service
December 19, 2012
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

It’s Christmastime!  It’s the time of the year that we are supposed to be happy and we consider it “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes.  We can imagine this manger scene where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus gather together with all the animals and the shepherds.  It’s just a wonderful picture.

But you know, I did something this year.  I actually kind of read some of the lectionary texts for Advent and you know what?  At least in the Bible, it is NOT the most wonderful time of the year.   The first Sunday talks about the second coming of Christ and it wasn’t something to look forward to.  Then we have a few Sunday focused on John the Baptist who calls the people who come to be baptized, snakes and tells people to get ready for Jesus, which again doesn’t sound nice.

If we go to Christmas and beyond, we again don’t have the bucolic scenes that so many of us are used to.  The Three Wise Men come and visit, giving gifts that fortells the grim future that Jesus would face on the cross.  King Herod, who hears about a rival king orders his soldiers to kill all young boys age 2 and under.  During the 12 days of Christmas we are faced with this tragedy called the Holy Innocents which is commemorated on December 28.

So, Advent and Christmas are not so happy at least not in the way we would like to think.  Which is probably a good thing, because let’s face it, all is not calm in our world.  We are only a few days out from the horrific shooting of 20 little children in suburban Connecticut.  As we tried to comprehend the evil that was taking place, time and time again, people posted Matthew 2:18 on their Facebook pages, which states: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

This season is sold as a happy time, but in reality it isn’t.  Not in the Bible and not in our own lives.  Some folks are dealing with the loss of a job, or a home.  Some are dealing with the first Christmas without a loved one.  There are a lot of people who are not happy and for very good reason.

Blue Christmas really isn’t a service as much as it showing what this season is really like.  In the midst of our sorrow and anger, in the midst of darkness, this is when Christ arrives.  Jesus was born to this world that is full of sadness and woe and that event told us that God would always be with us in the good times and the bad.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a very striking column the day after the massacre of the Innocents in Connecticut.  He brought up a scene in the Brothers Karamazov.  I can’t say I’ve read the book, but I might after reading the column.  The passage he shares is one where one of the brothers talks about God and suffering.  Maybe, Ivan thought there will be a time when God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but it would come at a high price: the price of a dead child.

Douthat concludes the column with these paragraphs:

It’s telling that Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, offered no direct theological rebuttal to his character’s speech. The counterpoint to Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness.

 

In this, the Russian novelist was being true to the spirit of the New Testament, which likewise seeks to establish God’s goodness through a narrative rather than an argument, a revelation of his solidarity with human struggle rather than a philosophical proof of his benevolence.

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

 

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

 

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

 

In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.

What makes this time wonderful is not the sentimental Christmas that is marketed and sold to us.  What makes this time wonderful is that God stands with us during these dark days.  It is that hope can make all the difference and it is the only hope that matters.

So to those who are not having a good time this year, I can only tell you this.  God, the Immanuel stands with you.  The birth of a baby boy oh so long ago reminds us that we are not alone.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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