Christmas Day

Christmas Day.22 “On Receiving Christmas Presents” John 1:1-18

I’m beginning to think that Will Ferrell is virtually alone in his wonderful prayer from the film “Talladega Nights…” which begins “Dear 8lb 6 oz baby Jesus…” after which his smokin’ hot wife immediately interrupts him, protesting: “But honey; you know—he did grow up!?” And Will Ferrell replies: “I know he did, sweetie. But I like the baby Jesus better.”

For a long time, I thought that most everyone likes the baby Jesus better. But the virtual emptiness of Christian churches this morning—the high, holy Festival of our Lord’s Nativity—has me thinking maybe very few of us love the baby Jesus better, or really, much at all? I know we’ve all gotten used to the massive emptiness of Christian churches the last 2 years. But it has always struck me how strange it is that on this—one of the highest holy days of the year, churches are nearly deserted. If they love the baby Jesus better, or much at all, why aren’t they here? I mean; today is his birthday, for Christ’s sake!

You will point out that the churches were much more full with extra services last night, on Christmas Eve—which has (de facto) become the real holiday. But I realized, reading John this morning: the packing of churches on Christmas Eve and deserting them this morning (well, this morning is that 1 in 7 years when churches that never have a Christmas Day service are guilted into having a small one this morning because it’s Sunday; and, as good Calvinists, they want to follow the Sabbath law—at least pay lip service to it. It does look really bad to cancel church because it’s both Christmas and a Sunday! 😉

I’ve looked at video of what goes on in Christmas Eve services especially in those big-box type churches. And I’ve noticed how typically absent is any mention or adoration of the actually present Christ Jesus in those services. It’s more the idea of Christmas that is celebrated, rather than the Incarnate Reality. And Christmas Eve is perfect for this because he hasn’t yet come to those services, to those places, so everyone is free to imagine Christmas, the Incarnation, the way we wish it to be, rather than how it really was and is

Even Will Ferrell, in his prayer, maybe’s doing this? Is he praying to the Lord Jesus who actually lay in the manger in Bethlehem [and lies on our altars here for us to feed upon]. Or is he praying to a figment of his imagination, to a Christ who’s simply absent everywhere but in our minds, not bothering us, not doing anything to us, but just being cute and charming and letting us do as we please with the image in our minds which makes no demands on us, calls for no worship or humiliation or subservience—whom we may boss around and not vice versa?

Well, it’s ever been thus. Only a few shepherds, 3 wizard-kings, and 1 drummer boy payed him homage in the dark, that first Christmas morn. But, by sunrise, they’ve all gone back to their fields, aeries, studios. And the little Lord Jesus just lies there alone, with Mary, Joseph, and some cattle to attend him.

This is Christmas morning brought to you by St. John the Apostle:

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Ho, ho, ho! Hardly a holy, jolly Christmas! A little baby lies alone in a manger, in a cold, cave-stable (like a tomb!) wrapped like a mummy, like he’s born to die, with a virgin mother and a baffled step-father and some sheep, oxen, and cows to attend him. Ignored, scorned by church and world alike.

If the world did not know him, and his own people Israel did not receive him, then who is left who did? Well, not many! The Lord himself says the way to heaven is narrow and difficult and few find it. Many are called, but few are the elect. As we said, a tiny band of shepherds, 3 wizard-kings (Gandalf’s buddies), 1 drummer boy. [And the drummer boy is made-up. I’m pretty sure he isn’t real].

And—there’s us. The incarnate Lord fills this room by his word and will lie on the manger of that table, really and truly incarnate, flesh and blood for us to feed upon as we eat his body and drink his blood. This is how he is received. This is the Feast of Christmas—a literal feasting upon Christ that we may become one body with him. This is the real Christmas present.

Yet, the emptiness of the churches throughout Christendom this morning eloquently attests to the truth of what John says: the world does not know him, will not receive him, has no room for him in their inn. And even his theoretically “holy” Christendom does not receive him—or they’d be here en masse communing with him (see what I did there? En Mass? Communing? Nevermind 😉 on his Natal Feast Day—the most wonderful time of the year!

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness simply doesn’t get it, but just stays… dark.

And you can shout the news from the housetops, but it won’t change this reality. Because the new birth—his birth in, and remaking of us, comes not of blood—not from being born a Lutheran; not from the will of the flesh—not from your research or decision; and not from the will of man—the hurry-scurrying of human sending and “mission”. Nah; it comes from God’s gracious Election

Erasmus attacked Martin Luther for saying this; observing the church’s, basically, the Marines: many are called, only The Few are chosen. Erasmus ranted: “if you publish these dismaying truths, who will reform their lives, or believe God loves them, or fight against the flesh?!”

Luther answers (“Bondage of the Will”, pg. 99. PJ) “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can!… Who will believe God loves him? I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall persist without believing it, raging and blaspheming… yet some will believe it”.

Luther discerns two key traits believers share: “first, he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God [as John proclaims in our Christmas Gospel] despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation… second; that there may be room for Xn faith, all that is believed must be hidden. And it is hidden no more deeply than under a contrary appearance…”

Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies;
He who, throned in height sublime,
Sits among the cherubim.

Sacred Infant, all divine,
What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss
Down to such a world as this.

“Ah, the glory of it all can be lost on us, sometimes;” yet, he still comes to a world such as this, which scorns him. He comes now, in the flesh, because you’re here, so you will hear, and see, amid the winter’s snow, born for us on earth below, a Savior, Christ the Lord. So:

Hail, thou ever blessed morn,
Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas!

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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