a sermon on Luke 2:1-20 and John 1:1-14
preached on December 24, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
One of my most memorable Christmas gifts growing up was the wonderful series of Where’s Waldo? books. They featured a tall, lanky, strange, bespectacled man named Waldo who popped up in a variety of very interesting scenes. The goal of the books was to find him amidst these very busy scenes. He was best distinguished by his bright red striped shirt, but sometimes when he hid behind a tree or something he was a little more difficult to spot. For several years, each Christmas brought a new book in the series, and I remember spending many hours looking carefully for Waldo and the many other things hidden in these scenes. It was a fun game and a great way to spend those lazy Christmas days with family and friends—and even a welcome break from all the toys that seemed to get a lot of attention too!
Sometimes, I feel like we are playing a bit of a game of “Where’s Jesus?” in our world at Christmas nowadays. Signs of the holidays are everywhere, but Jesus is a bit more hidden. Our streets and homes are decorated with trees, garland, Santas, and even nativity scenes, but too often for me at least it just feels obligatory and not all that real and meaningful. Religious celebrations that talk about Jesus take a back seat to family gatherings that focus on gift-giving and eating. Many people are now even saying “Merry Christmas,” but do they even know what that means? Even one of our own parents in the church told me the other day that her child had never made the connection between Jesus and Christmas—to this youngster, Christmas was all about Santa Claus and giving and receiving presents, and, based on our celebrations, I for one am not really all that surprised. Some in the church go on and on about the “War on Christmas”—all the supposed places in our civic culture where the seemingly more generic “holidays” have replaced a proper celebration of Christmas—but I think we have to answer for our own actions and reclaim Christmas for ourselves before we can point to anyone or anything else.
You see, regardless of how we might act or behave in the church or elsewhere, Christmas is not about Santa Claus, giving or receiving gifts, or even the glorious music that shapes these days. When we focus on these things, the world can so easily close in around us. The very shallow joy of this view of Christmas becomes insincere when things get hard or tragedy strikes as it has so often in recent months and years. Between the destruction of Superstorm Sandy and the highly-visible gun violence around us that culminated in Newtown and continued even earlier today, we need something more than the traditional holidays has to offer, a deeper, more real, more transformative joy that brings us new life.
At its core, Christmas should be exactly that. This is the day when we celebrate God’s presence in our world, Immanuel, God-with-us, God’s coming to us in human form, in the birth of Jesus. This is the day when we remember that God doesn’t ever give up on us but shows the greatest possible love for us: love in a simple babe in a manger, love in a wise and challenging teacher, love in a miraculous and astounding healer, love in a life-giving death, love in an astounding resurrection. This is the day when we see that God can’t be pinned only to the powerful, only to the religious, only to Christians, only to the church, for on this day we celebrate how God in Christ was born to Mary, a poor, unmarried girl, in a dark, dank, messy manger, with only strange shepherds to greet him.
So when we look around in these days and wonder, “Where’s Jesus?” the answer may surprise us. We might like to try to get Jesus more fully into our holiday celebrations. We might want to confine the religious element of this season to life in the church or to something that we can do when there is time. And we might even recognize that Jesus is the reason for the season. But when we ask “Where’s Jesus?” the answer may be more like those Waldo books than we could ever imagine, for he is dwelling in our world, not so much hiding as hanging out. He is very much present with us, even when we don’t know it, even when we least expect it. He is ready for us to watch and look and search for him, waiting for us to discover him when and where we least expect it. Our reading tonight from John puts it beautifully:
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
And so our call this Christmas and every day is simple. Live like this all this has actually happened. Act like Christmas is not about giving gifts or gathering with family and friends but about celebrating God’s life in our midst in Christ. Make Christ’s presence real in our world. And keep asking “Where’s Jesus?” as we look for him to be at work in the expected and unexpected places in our world, for we will certainly encounter this baby boy, this radical teacher and preacher, this astonishing healer, this self-giving servant, this resurrected Christ, in our world.
Sometimes it will be easy, with joyful music and easy signs to point the way. And sometimes it will be hard, when we are lonely, when the walls seem to be closing in around us, when violence and war seem to have the last word. Yet in joy and in sorrow, when we ask “Where’s Jesus?” we know that he is among us. In our songs, in our words, in our celebrations, in our sacrament, we trust that Jesus is among us. In our sorrow, in our sighing, in our living, in our dying, Christ walks with us all the way to show us God’s love each and every day.
So may we seek Jesus and find him this Christmas and throughout the year to come so that our joy might be complete, our hope restored, and our world renewed for these days and always.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all, this night, this Christmas, and always. Amen.