In the name of the God of Hope, and despair, and everything in between. Amen.
Sometime over the next couple of days, amidst all the busyness of the holiday, I invite you to give yourself a little gift. The gift of joy. Go onto Google, and search “Hallmark Christmas Movie Meme”. If that doesn’t put you in the joy of the season, I’m not sure anything will.
Basically, the premise of what you’ll find in that search is that the premises of all those movies are always the same. The most popular one shares a message like this: it says, “The plot of every Hallmark Christmas movie is the same. It’s about a career woman from the big city who is too busy for love, but she has to go back home to her small town, where a handsome local bachelor teaches her about the true spirit of Christmas. It starts snowing, and they kiss. There is also a dog. And the mysterious old man in town is actually Santa.”
I tease my mother mercilessly, because she records these movies every time they come on, and she watches them all year long – as if Hallmark weren’t already playing them basically all year long. But even so, there’s a certain charm that comes from these silly little made-for-TV movies. They may not offer much in the way of substance or social commentary, but they do tug at heart strings. They make us feel the “Christmas feelings”.
The problem is, the “Christmas feelings” are pretty far removed from the reality of the Christmas story. The actual Christmas story, as we read part of it tonight, is a story of scandal and intrigue. It’s a story of the fear of betrayal, and learning to trust – both in God and in people. It’s not just about sentimentality, and feeling warm, and surrounding yourself with gifts and comfort foods and family. The real Christmas story is a story of uncertainty and vulnerability.
In the real Christmas story, we hear of a traveling young family – straining under the burdensome requirements of bureaucracy and an oppressive, occupying foreign government. In the midst of meeting their obligations, the little family grows by one. The young woman gives birth. The image we typically see is of this beatific mother kneeling over her cooing child, but I’m sure every mother here would attest that the whole night didn’t look like that. Just before the picture we hold so dear, there was the real picture – of flesh and pain.
But once the child was born, that’s when the real craziness began. Angels began singing to shepherds in their fields. And the shepherds left those fields and drove their flocks into town to see the amazing thing that had been told to them – that the Messiah, the Savior from God who had been foretold for all time, was finally there.
The story is almost too crazy – even for a Hallmark movie. And it doesn’t leave us feeling squishy.
But the problem with Hallmark Christmas movies, and other stories of the season like that is that they leave us expecting that that’s how we’re supposed to feel. And while the movies can sometimes make us feel that way, it doesn’t mean that we’ve somehow failed if real life doesn’t make us feel that way.
The point of Christmas isn’t the “squishy feels”. The point of Christmas is finding Christ. And the crazy, amazing reality of God is that we tend to find that holiness that’s prepared for us in our lives when least expect it.
Christ came to earth in a package no one expected. He came as a defenseless child, in a time and place of political instability, in an inconsequential town, to parents embroiled in scandal, just trying to make it work – when all the odds seemed stacked against them.
If you hear nothing else this Christmas, hear this: God doesn’t need a perfect package to change the world. God doesn’t need the best of circumstances. God doesn’t need the most important, or influential, or powerful, or wealthy people. God doesn’t need everything to “go right” or even feel good.
God is straining to come into the world (and into our lives and our attentions) like a mother pushing all of her hope into the world through her newborn child.
So even if you’re not “feeling it” this year (and even if you are) – that’s not the point. The point is, God can work with any old mess – even us. Even Mary, and Joseph, and some dirty, possibly delusional shepherds, and yes, even us. Even we aren’t too messed up for God to bring hope into the world. Because that’s how it’s always done. Thanks be to God. Amen.