In the name of Christ. Amen.
A few days ago I saw this picture floating around online. It was an adorable attempt at a family photo for the holidays. There were three children – the oldest appeared to be about two or three – and all three of them were wailing. It was one of those images that so clearly captured the moment, that on seeing it, you’d be hard-pressed not to hear their screams. But what made the photo iconic, was that each of these screaming children were holding a large, wooden letter. And those letters were J - O - Y. Joy. Held up by miserable children.
I think we’ve all had at least one of those holidays, at one time or another. Either as the miserable child being made to proclaim joy, or as the parent striving for some impossible to achieve ideal, or maybe even as the photographer – sitting back and taking it all in.
This day often brings out the best in us, but it just as often brings out the worst in us.
And, such, I suppose, is the nature of our life in Christ.
The beginning of the story of Christ – at least the part of the story that covers his time here on earth – begins pretty simply. There is certainly fanfare and angels and lots of attention, and if you were here last night, you heard all about that, but even there – before all the excitement, there was a simple birth. A baby, born of a woman. The same as millions of others before and since.
And today, it begins with a word. The Word. Which was with God and was God. And that Word became flesh and lived among us.
Whereas the Gospel of Luke focuses on the circumstances, the Gospel of John focuses on the idea – what does it mean to have “God with us”?
We symbolize it by exchanging gifts, and spending time with the people that mean the most to us whenever we can, and generally with expressions of joy, but sometimes that “joy” comes out like those screaming babies in the picture. Sometimes it doesn’t quite live up to all that we’d imagined.
But the thing is, that’s okay. This faith – at least the parts of it executed through our meager attempts – never is perfect. It always falls somehow short. But the point of faith – the point of celebrating the joy of recognizing “God with us” in Christ – isn’t about obtaining perfection. It’s not about the perfect Christmas dinner, or the perfect Christmas gifts, given or received; it isn’t about the perfect holiday portrait, or decorations, or even worship.
The point of recognizing that God is with us in Christ, is more about the normal stuff. The everyday stuff. The baby. The Word. Because Christ is with us every day. We set aside some time each year to look for Christ – to renew our looking for Christ – because it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to get lost in the everyday humdrum of life and to forget this magical reality that God loves us so much, that God wants to be with us, and that God wants us to know and to recognize that God is with us.
God is with us when we open presents, and even when we’re disappointed with what we find. God is with us when we’re capturing the beauty and joy of our family, and when the babies cry instead of smile in those pictures. God is with us when we’re reveling in the glory of time with our families, and when we’re dreading it, or even when we’re missing it.
God is with us when we’re at our highest and brightest and happiest, and even when we’re not.
I love the majesty that we celebrated here last night. I love the candlelight and the choir and the ceremony of placing the baby in the manger. But for me, one of the most important parts of our celebration of Christmas happens here, this morning. A smaller celebration that feels a lot more “normal”. An almost everyday celebration. Because the fact is, that’s where we’re most often going to see Christ when we look: in the everyday moments of life.
I hope your Christmas is filled with joy. I hope it rises to meet all of the dreams that led you to this morning. But no matter what, I hope you see Christ. Somehow. Somewhere.
Merry Christmas. Amen.