“Burlap, Boys, and Christmas”

Maybe you’ve read of the hoopla surrounding Christmas worship services on December 28. The reasoning is that we will all be too tired of Christmas festivities by then. The thinking behind this is that the difference between Christmas on Thursday and Sunday’s services is so short as to not make much of a difference anyway. Try using that rationale with Good Friday and Easter! I think that we need Christmas and Easter’s messages every day!

Despite my opinion there’s one local congregation that is cancelling next Sunday’s “live” services just to give the congregation, choir, and staff a break. Their service will be available online. However, I need more than a digital Jesus to fight post-Christmas challenges. Other groups of Christians are dropping the December 28 service because it’s “anti-family.” How appalling! There’s no better time to celebrate family than this season when God chooses to become a part of the human race. The Incarnation of Christ demands that we celebrate this mysterium tremendum: God wants to be a part of all of our families! So I’m preaching every service on the 28th because I need to hear God’s Word as much then as ever. I need to participate in the profundity of God-in-the-flesh and unwrap this mystery anew.

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 especially 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 at all, but how like our God and how grateful we are! Therefore, the reason we worship God together on the Sunday after Christmas 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 Savior did come for to die, For poor on’ry creatures 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! Christmas is absurdly Divine! Merry Christmas and see you Sunday!

Christmas Eve

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4 thoughts on ““Burlap, Boys, and Christmas”

  1. I enjoy the book the greatest Christmas Pagent and the children that bring the ham to give to the baby Jesus that was born with nothing. Thanks be to God who would stoop so low for us! Peace to you and your family!

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