This year we have the semi-unusual event of Christmas falling on a Sunday. What’s a church to do – expand Christmas Eve services and have low key casual Christmas Day services? Bring a favorite gift or toy or wear pajamas? I’ve even heard of some churches that are dropping the service altogether because it’s so “anti-family.” How appalling! There’s no better time to celebrate family than the day that God chooses to become a part of the human family. The Incarnation of Christ demands that we celebrate this mysterium tremendum. God wants to be fully engaged with us, in us! So gather together we must!
Ralph F. Wilson, in “Burlap, Boys, and Christmas,” gets at the heart of the Incarnation’s tremendous mystery while musing over Christmas pageants: “Angels are clean. Angels are beautiful. They seem almost otherworldly, since girl angels always seem to know their parts better than do boy shepherds. The angelic satin stuff goes pretty well in most Christmas pageants. The problems come with the burlap part. Do you know what real-life shepherds were like? Townspeople looked down on them. ‘Herdsmen!’ they’d huff derisively. Shepherds would work with sheep all day, sleep outside with the animals at night and then come into town dirty, sweaty and smelly. Like boys. Tradesmen in the marketplace would be polite enough. Shopkeepers would wait on them, but everybody was happy when they moved along. Burlap fits the part. It really does. Angels get clouds and the Hallelujah Chorus for props. Shepherds get a stable. Maybe cattle lowing has a bit of romance. But conjure up the smells and the filth. No stainless steel dairy palace this, but a crude barn, with good reason for straw on the floor. Not exactly the setting you’d choose for a birth if you had the luxury of planning ahead. Angels seem appropriate to the birth of God’s son. But straw and sweat and burlap do not. Why, I ask, would the Son of God Most High enter life amidst the rubble of human existence, at the lowest rung of society, in obscurity and at the stable-edge of rejection even before he is born? And as hard as I think about it, I come back to one truth. God wanted to make it explicitly clear that He came to save each of us. He comes to the slimy, dark corners of our existence, the desperateness, the loneliness, the rejection, the pain. He comes to unswept barns and cold nights of despair. He comes because he understands them. He knows them intimately and came for the very purpose of delivering us from those raw stables to real Life.”
Wow! It is a miracle that God desires to enter this world. Therefore, the reason we worship God together on this special day is to celebrate this marvelous gift through Christ. The old Appalachian folk hymn aptly describes the worshipful attitude that this mystery should illicit, “I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die, For poor on’ry people like you and like I.” The glorious meaning of Christmas is God’s unconditional grace spread across creation. It is perennially profound just as Frederick Buechner put it, “Year after year, the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year the world in some measure stoops to listen.” Let’s listen all the more carefully this year because it happens on Sunday – the Lord’s Day! Christmas is absurdly Divine! I’ll be at Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day. There’s no way in the world that I would be absent. The greatest Gift of all is among us! Check out the following rendition of God’s sneaking up on us, the profound subtlety of the Incarnation. Merry Christmas!