Let’s Keep Christmas All Year
July 19 2015 (Christmas In July service)
Three years ago, April 15, 2012, was my first Sunday here at Edgewood. In the interview process the PNC members told Sally and me that Edgewood traditionally had an 11:00 Christmas Eve service. Other churches I had served had had Christmas Eve services earlier in the evening, which allowed us to go to South Carolina after the service and be with Sally’s family for Christmas breakfast and lunch. While the 11:00 service changed our plans and Christmas traditions somewhat, I had always wanted to lead an 11:00 Christmas Eve service and was excited about being able to do so, and after the very first Christmas Eve service I lead here, I knew that there is nothing to top the feeling of standing on the sidewalk at midnight, candle in hand, singing “Silent Night” as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day. That is truly a “God moment” for me!
I have to admit that I love Christmas. The message that God has come into our world is truly something to celebrate with worship, songs, decorations, parties and exchanging gifts. But let me ask you – how long does the excitement of Christmas last for you? How long is it before you are ready to take down the decorations and “get things back to normal”? Do you keep your decorations up? A few days? A week? The traditional “12 days”, or until January 6, the Day of Epiphany? Many people seem to be in a rush after Christmas to put the decorations away and be done with Christmas until the next year, and I fear that many people are done with the spirit of Christmas and the excitement that God has come into our lives after Christmas Day has gone.
But I wonder – what would it look like if we could keep Christmas all year – and all our lives? What would it look like – how would we live – if we truly let the amazing fact that God has come into our lives and our world through Jesus Christ really make a difference in how we live our lives every day? What changes would it make in our lives, our community, and our world if we kept the joy and excitement of Christmas all year instead of “packing it up” with the decorations? What if Christmas – the glorious fact that God has come to us – really changed or lives? Indeed, what if we let the spirit of Christmas – the love of God –really change us and make a difference in our lives? The life change may be dramatic. The difference may truly be noticeable in our lives, our community, and our world.
In 1843 Charles Dickens published his beloved story A Christmas Carol , the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and how his life changed when he finally let the spirit of Christmas make a difference in his life. Think about Scrooge’s life and the lives of those around him before the change that Scrooge experienced. Imagine yourself going home one night expecting it to be the same as any other night when wham, a 2 X 4 hits you. That is exactly what happened to Scrooge when he went home from work on Christmas Eve; he expected nothing different than any other night. He expected to go home, eat his soup, go to bed, wake up, and continue the same routine as every other day. Of course, this was the day he felt that he was being robbed again because he had to pay his employee Bob Cratchit for the holiday, or as Scrooge states: Christmas is just “a poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket.” However, something miraculous happened this special night, for when Scrooge awakened following his “holy hauntings,” he really awakened!
What a dramatic change occurred when Scrooge was awakened. He had a joy and love for life that he absolutely could not contain. In some of the movie and stage adaptations of the story he actually dances a little jig in the bedroom, terrifying his housekeeper who had brought in his breakfast. Why was his housekeeper terrified? It was the radical difference in how Scrooge looked at life. The change caused him to immediately do things differently. He had the largest prize turkey delivered to the Cratchits for Christmas dinner. He became charitable and sought out the gentlemen whose charitable request he had snubbed the evening before, making a most generous contribution that truly stunned them. Scrooge even mustered up the courage to attend his nephew’s party, offering his apology and seeking full reconciliation with Fred and Fred’s wife, whom he had never met. It was as if he had been born again.
Scrooge states that: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
What do you think he meant by that? How can we keep Christmas alive in our lives?
Part of the problem is the Christmas spirit. Like New Year’s resolutions, the Christmas spirit quickly fades as life returns to the routine. An event that occurred during World War 1 is a striking illustration of this. On the cold, moonlit Christmas Eve of 1914 in World War 1, the soldiers were huddled in the bottom of the trencheSs. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “Silent Night ,” and the music floated up into the clear, moonlit air. Then from the German trenches a rich baritone voice joined in, singing. For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the same Lord Jesus who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away. Early on Christmas morning, some of English soldiers climbed out of their trenches started kicking around a soccer ball. Some of the German soldiers climbed out of their trenches, , and England played Germany at soccer in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day, in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.
This is a dramatic example of what can and does many times happen to the Christian spirit. As Christians, we need to figure out how to prevent the loss of the Christmas spirit! We need to create a new normal, rather than allowing the old normal to take back control. We do this by letting the good news expressed by the angels to the shepherds on the night Christ was born touch and change our lives.
God is willing to dip His fingers into our here and now and interact in our lives. Our living God longs to be actively involved in our lives every moment of every day. But we can follow our own desires instead of following God. In A Christmas Carol Scrooge does this to the ultimate degree. Whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, no matter how it impacted others, he got what he wanted. It made him financially wealthy but poor in every other way. Following our own desires may get us what we initially want, but it will leave us wanting in the end — wanting the things that matter most. But God was willing to send His Son to be a baby, so that we might have life and that life would be abundant. God can change our past by forgiving our sins. He can change our present by giving us the joy of His love.
How then should we live in the present? God can set us free from self-centeredness and from being controlled by others by coming under the lordship of the baby in the manager. We see this demonstrated by the shepherds as they respond to the message of the angels. When they heard the good news, they acted on it, going to see what God had done. The shepherds acted upon a vision of duty to the one that deserves allegiance. It was a vision that causes service to one another because God is in the details of our life. Grasping hold of the joy that God has come into our lives and our world we can see ourselves serving God as we serve others, and witnessing to God’s love as we serve. The incarnation becomes our model of life. Being with people in their pain, identifying with them at the same time that we lift them beyond their pain. God will use us if we are willing to give him first place in our lives. This is how we honor Christ, not just Christmas, in our hearts all year long. We come to appreciate each day and savor each moment as a God-given opportunity. You see, it is of limited value to proclaim the joy of Christmas only on Chrstmas, only to revert to humbug the rest of the year. We need to purpose in our hearts to be individuals who consistently reflect the beauty of Christ in our lives and, by doing so, truly make this world a better place.
So — what would it look like – how would we live – if we truly let the amazing fact that God has come into our lives and our world through Jesus Christ really make a difference in how we live our lives every day? What changes would it make in our lives, our community, and our world if we kept the joy and excitement of Christmas all year instead of “packing it up” with the decorations? What if Christmas – the glorious fact that as come to us – really changed or lives? Indeed, what if we let the spirit of Christmas – the love of God –really change us and make a difference in our lives? The change in our lives would be dramatic. We would truly begin living as those who know that God has come, and our lives and our world never can be the same again. We can join Ebenezer Scrooge when he says at the end of A Christmas Carol: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the all year, year. Amen.