Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Christmas comes in many colors. (SLIDE #1)
Red and green are the classic go-to colors for the holiday.
The old carol, The Holly and the Ivy speaks to why
these two colors have become synonymous with Christmas.
The holly, with its deep green leaves,
is associated with the crown of thorns Jesus would later wear, and
its’ beautiful, bright red berries remind us it is through Jesus’ blood ours sins are forgiven.
(SLIDE #2) Of course, there are those who dream of a white Christmas.
This whimsical hope for snow to fall from the sky on Christmas Eve
is best captured in a song first recorded by Bing Crosby.
Unfortunately, the odds of this happening,
however, in Southern California, are pretty small. (SLIDE #3)
And then there is another color that describes Christmas for many, the color blue.
The invocation of this color at Christmastime goes all the back to the king.
No, I’m not talking about Jesus. I referring to Elvis.
At this time of year, Elvis is famous for crooning that catchy lamentation
which acknowledges this holiday isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone.
(SLIDE #4) For many, there is a magic, a spirit, about this season,
but for others, Christmas can be a sad and depressing experience
where it feels like there is not even a spark of joy to be found.
As we return this Advent season to the book of Hebrews,
the writer of this letter is about to, in his own way, acknowledge,
the reality that often gets lost or maybe even covered up during the holidays
– that the picture often painted of life at Christmastime
doesn’t exactly line up with the world we actually see all around us. (SLIDE #5 – #8)
Reminder, this letter is being written to a Hellenistic Jewish Christian community
that in facing increased persecution, is being tempted to embrace
a watered down, less contentious view of who Jesus is.
In response, the writer of this letter is encouraging his audience to
not lose sight of the absolute distinctiveness and superiority of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is more than, better than, any human prophet or any heavenly angel.
Having addressed the superiority of Christ as God’s Son,
the focus now shifts to the significance of what we celebrate at Christmastime, the Incarnation – of God coming down to earth, in the flesh, through Jesus.
(SLIDE #9) The writer begins by declaring yet another way Christ is superior to, is
to be distinguished from the angels, the world to come – is subject to him alone.
To support this assertion, a portion of Psalm 8, (SLIDE #10)
a beautiful hymn of praise to God is quoted.
But if we read this psalm carefully, this hymn seems to be marveling
about the dignity God bestowed on humanity at creation.
In comparison with the limitless and vast reaches of universes upon universes, what are human beings,
so seemingly insignificant against the cosmic landscape of all that exists,
that God should be mindful of them – creating humanity in God’s own image
and even more than this, crowing humankind with the glory and the honor
of having authority over all creation?
This is psalm is about humanity and yet here, the writer is interpreting
these words in reference to Jesus Christ, and not to humankind in general. Why?
The answer speaks to one of the reasons for the Incarnation
– why we needed Christmas to happen.
While it is true, we as human beings are created in the image of God,
and while it is also true that in the beginning, the Lord bestowed the privilege
and responsibility of being stewards over all creation to us, there’s a problem.
In our rejection of this privilege and in our rebellion against this responsibility,
in our repeated efforts to go our own way, to live for ourselves, to ignore,
to deny, and to outright disobey God’s direction and will for our lives,
through our sin, we have fractured God’s image in us. (SLIDE #11)
We have badly damaged our relational connection to our Creator,
and thus, our relational connect to this world, all creation, including our lives.
Our relationship to our Creator, to ourselves, to each other, and with
all created things, is one, broken, chaotic, disheveled, painful, big hot mess.
By reinterpreting this psalm and making it prophetic
in pointing to the coming of Jesus, the writer of this letter,
is revealing one of the reasons God in Christ came down to earth. (SLIDE #12)
God became “lower than the angels for a little while,” become of one of us,
God became human in Christ so that through Jesus,
the Lord could heal the damage we’ve done,
restore the relational connection we’ve lost, and lead and empower us
to fulfill our divinely envisioned purpose and to reach our eternal destiny.
Part of the gift of Christmas, of Christ, is that in Jesus,
we witness the true dignity and potential of our humanity realized.
In other words, the writer wants us to see Jesus is the Man.
He is, as the apostle Paul will elsewhere describe him, the Second Adam.
Unlike the first Adam, who represents the failure of our humanity.
Jesus is quintessential embodiment of our humanity at its intended best
– of being all that we were meant to be to ourselves, to each other, and to God.
In the coming of Christ, the writer is pointing us towards
the vision of a better world – a world overseen & taken care of by humans
living creatively & wisely in perfect concert with and in trusting obedience to God.
It’s the picture of all of those things we sing about at Christmastime
– peace on earth, goodwill to men, ransoming the captives free,
tidings of comfort and joy, no more sin and sorrow grow,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
But here’s the rub, here’s the tension – why Christmas for many
tends to be blue rather than red and green or silver and gold.
If we’re honest, we look all around and this is not the world we see.
(SLIDE #13) Contrary to what we sing, what we experience is a world
still very much full of divisions and anger, of oppression and suffering.
History hasn’t changed much
in the more than 2,000 years since God came down to earth in Christ.
Between sex trafficking, child soldiering, and debt laborers, the yoke of slavery extends perhaps to its greatest length ever in the human experience.
The rod of the oppressor, be it wielded by dictators or opportunistic legislators, continues to be brought down on the backs of those who are being denied
basic human needs and rights.
And the lives of the next generation continue to be sacrificed
and entire communities are decimated because war and violence rage on
around the globe, the boots of the tramping warriors as well as
the garments rolled in blood continue to multiply.
In the more than 2,000 years since God came down to earth in Christ.
our world looks a lot more like the one described by the prophet Isaiah
than it does the one envisioned here by the writer of this letter.
That’s just the big picture. (SLIDE #14)
If we narrow the lens and get more personal, more intimate, more individualized,
the image does not necessarily improve.
For some of us, this has been a year of grievances and losses.
Somewhere along the way in 2019, the script of our lives got flipped
and we are still staggering from all the hits we’ve taken.
The loss of a loved one. An unexpected accident or tragedy.
The diagnosis or worsening of an injury or an illness.
A relapse back into addiction.
The shock and pain of a divorce or other rupture in the fabric of our family.
A sudden dismissal from our place of work and the prolonged lack of a job.
Then there are those of us for whom all of THAT,
was last year or the year before or many years back,
and things still haven’t gotten any better.
In fact, we might even argue in some ways, things are actually worse
as the ghosts of the past, present, and future forever haunt us.
Memories and regrets from our past – of what once was or might have been.
Annoying, destructive and disempowering habits and attitudes
that continue to cripple us.
Nagging fears and growing worries cloud our view of the future.
“Joy to the World,” the song goes,
but not everyone feels joyful during Christmas.
Many of us struggle with meeting the incessant expectations
of holiday cheer that come with this season.
If we find ourselves feeling anxious during the holidays
—whether about the condition of the world, the state of our family,
about the prospect of the future, or about anything else
—what do we do when the lights, the festive music, the decorations,
and the cards, tells all is merry and bright, but all we can perceive is darkness?
Typically, on our own, we make one of two choices. (SLIDE #15)
The first is to retreat into despair and cynicism.
We cut ourselves off from others – physically or at least emotionally.
We are present but we do not engage. We speak but we remain closed off.
Anger or sadness gradually become bitterness and resentment.
We lash out or just silently seethe as others try to coax us to join the festivities.
We take out our frustrations on others but really, its ourselves we are punishing.
And it doesn’t take long for our blue Christmas to become black
as we surrender to the darkness and harden our hearts like the Grinch.
Truth be told, part of the reason some of head down this path,
is in reaction, to the other choice that people make
when Christmas feels more blue than white.
The second choice is to buy into the fantasy of Christmas (SLIDE #16)
– not of what Christmas actually is but what we want,
what we try to make Christmas to be.
I’m talking about the sanitized Christmas celebration
– the one where we keep trying to clean everything up in our lives,
– the one where we try to sweep under the rug
the messiness and brokenness of our lives, the pain and suffering of this world,
by covering it with fancy, decorative wrapping paper & topping it with colorful bows.
We work really hard to make everything shiny and clean, neat and tidy.
We hide the truth behind the magic of make believe.
One of the most common manifestations of this behavior is our tendency
to live in the nostalgia of our idealized and therefore imagined Christmas past.
Romanticizing the past is a tried and true way of constructing a false version
of what was as a means of ignoring or denying the reality of our present,
of avoiding and refusing to engage the trajectory of our future.
A lot of popular holiday music plays on this
– our human tendency to rewrite history –
particularly to edit our recollection of the way things were and to preserve,
to remember the good stuff but to forget everything that wasn’t so good.
And so, we use all the holiday trimmings around this time of year
– all the colorful lights, all the artificial trees, all the decorating and dressing up,
as a way of sugarcoating of our lives, of burying or covering our pain & our grief, of hiding all the everyday blemishes and flaws in our less than perfect lives.
While the Christmas fantasy we try to create may be look sugary and sweet;
it can be hard to swallow when the illusion is shattered, when magic is lost.
But we aren’t limited to these two choices.
The reality of Christmas – not as we imagine it but as it is –
doesn’t ask us to live in a fantasy of blissful denial
or leave us no choice but to end up like a sour, old Grinch. (SLIDE #17)
The Christmas of the Bible doesn’t deny the brokenness of this world.
The Christmas of the Bible doesn’t try to cover or hide life’s hardships, disappointment, and hurt under a cozy blanket of marshmellowy snow.
The Christmas of the Bible never denies that the carols of this season
are sometimes mingled with songs of sorrow.
Because the Christmas of the Bible is about incarnation
– the divine becoming enfleshed, the embodiment of eternity
– of God being present in the real, human, flesh-and-blood living
with all its sorrows and struggles.
The first Christmas, the Christmas of the Bible (SLIDE #18)
was more than blue than it was red, green, silver or gold.
The first Christmas, the Christmas of the Bible was
a bewildering and reorienting life experience.
Despite what we love to sing, it most certainly wasn’t “all is calm, all is bright.”
With the coming of the first Christmas, a pending marriage was rattled,
a divorce was considered, and a family was exiled having to give birth
to their first child in a space normally reserved for animals.
There can be no doubt Christmas doesn’t deny pain and suffering.
After all, a woman labored and gave birth that night.
A newborn babe cried out straining for his first breath
while waiting to be warmly bundled against the stark cold of the air.
Jesus did not come into the picture-perfect world we see on Christmas cards
or safely sanitize for the annual children’s Christmas pageant.
There was blood and there were tears. It was messy and it was uncomfortable.
The angel promise of peace and goodwill was announced
in the middle of a world filled with conflict and violence.
Into the arms of a young, impoverished, and isolated couple,
in the midst of a troubled world
– of an empire ruled by an Emperor who demanded to be worshipped as a god,
– of a territory within than empire managed by a King driven so mad
with jealousy that he literally committed genocide to secure his throne,
into the chaos in which we live, into the darkness that we know so well,
God came down to earth to us in Christ.
So, I want to pause for a moment and acknowledge our grief. (SLIDE #19)
I want us to know, we don’t have to deny or hide our messiness and melancholy.
Some of us need to hear this morning, have it said out loud,
that it is okay to blue when everyone else is green and red or silver and gold.
There’s nothing wrong with you
if heartache instead of holiday cheer is all you can muster right now.
None of us have to put on a pretend face in order to experience Christmas.
If the world was already perfect, if everything was as it should be,
if there was never death, never tragedy, never disease, never evil,
Christmas would not have been necessary.
God came down to earth to us, Incarnation happened, Jesus was born,
because Christmas is a response to the grief – to the havoc of this world,
to the shattering of our lives, to the brokenness of our relationships.
In order to truly experience Christmas, to encounter Christ,
we cannot look away. We have to confront the darkness all around us.
But confronting the darkness doesn’t mean we have to
just give into the pain and suffering we are experiencing.
Whatever we are confronting – our sense of loss or absence,
our feeling of loneliness or isolation, our fear and uncertainty about tomorrow, or even if it’s just bearing a heavy heart for the tragedy and brokenness
of this world, we must lay hold of hope.
Notice the writer of this letter admits the disconnect
between the world to come and the world as it is. (SLIDE #20)
He openly confesses to us,
“at present we do not see everything subject to them – to us.”
In other words, the world is still not as it should be, is still not what it will become.
Up until now in this letter Jesus has not been specifically named.
The writer simply has been speaking about the Son of God,
with the understanding that everyone knows exactly to whom he is referring.
But now, at this pivotal moment, having acknowledged all we cannot see,
the writer as he goes on to point out the only thing that is visible to us,
explicitly, for the first time, uses the name, the name of the only One we can see:
(SLIDE #21) “But we do see Jesus…” Are we seeing Jesus?
Whenever we feel isolated and lonely,
wherever we become burdened with a load of cares and sorrows,
in whatever way we find ourselves overcome with worries and doubts,
we can be tempted to think God doesn’t understand
– that the Lord doesn’t know how hard it is or what we are going through.
Part of the hope we lay hold of at Christmastime is
that God makes Himself able to be seen by us. “But we do see Jesus…”
God makes Himself visible in the person of Jesus,
God came down to earth in Christ to show us He gets it
– what we are feeling, all we are going through.
Hearing our cries, Jesus came to stand in solidarity with us.
More than just companionship, God in Christ seeks to bring us through
to the other side of all our troubles – self-inflicted and otherwise.
Anywhere we are tempted to resign ourselves to fear, to loss,
and ultimately to death, remember and do not forget, “But we do see Jesus.”
Jesus is born, Jesus comes to fight for life – to fight to the death for our lives.
Or as the writer of this letter phrases it, (SLIDE #22)
God in Christ comes “to suffer death for us”
– “to taste death for everyone” so that we might eternally feast on God’s grace.
That life, this world to come, is the Christmas for which we are now waiting.
For Christmas on this side of the manger,
is about more than sentimentally looking backward to the birth of a child.
The Christmas to come, guaranteed by the work of the Cross
and the victory of the empty tomb is about looking ahead,
looking forward to the gift of a new heaven and a new earth,
the end of a long winter and the beginning of a new, everlasting summer.
Christmas is about believing not in make believe magic of Santa or elves
but about having faith in the deeper, real magic of the Gospel
that we sing about this time year – the promise and the hope of a time,
of a life without grief – a life without mourning or pain or tears or suffering forever.
By the way, this is the whole reason why (SLIDE #23)
earlier Christians placed the celebration of Christmas on December 25th.
The biblical description of Jesus being the Light that has come into the world,
the Light that overcomes the darkness was being connected with what people were experiencing at this time of year.
Namely, the winter solstice observances when the darkness outside is
at its apex & the light was most needed and therefore, shone most beautifully.
None of us are strangers to darkness.
We have or we will experience darkness in other forms besides the night sky.
Darkness falls when we lose someone dear to us
and everything suddenly grows dimmer because of
the absence of someone who once brightly illuminated our world.
Darkness falls…but we see Jesus.
Darkness falls when stumble and fall into the hole of depression,
where every effort to move up and on is a struggle that seems
to push us down deeper and further away from those whom we love.
Darkness falls…but we see Jesus.
Darkness falls when we find ourselves estranged from someone
we once were close to, as conflict and disagreement forge a barrier
or worse, burn a bridge, between a family member or a friend.
Darkness falls…but we see Jesus.
Darkness falls when we reach out limit and max out our resources
– financially, emotionally, or physically – and we begin to live our lives
on borrowed time, out of a deficit, a place of recurring debt
that just continues to spiral out of control. Darkness falls…but we see Jesus.
Darkness falls if we dare turn on and tune into the state of the world around us
– as reports of corruption and abuse, hatred and violence, death & destruction, seem to perpetually be the news of the day. Darkness falls…but we see Jesus.
We have to be honest about the struggles of this life
– our heartbreak, our loss, our disappointments and our fear.
For those whose lives feel like they are just hanging by a thread,
for those who have nearly given up, for those who only know tears,
the darkness is real.
Christmas, however, is God’s response to the darkness.
Christmas is God’s consolation in the midst of the reality of our grief.
But Christmas is also God’s delivery to us of living hope
– hope that is pregnant with possibility, hope that springs eternal,
hope that does not disappoint because it is the hope of God with us & for us – always.
The darkness is real. But the darkness is not all there is for us to see.
Christmas is about being able to see God in the flesh.
Christmas is about choosing to see and to take hold of the Light
that has come into the world, the Light that shines in the darkness,
the Light that the darkness cannot overcome. The Light that is Jesus. Amen.