From the Desk of Pastor Mech
The signs started popping up in 1977, exactly forty years ago, on billboards, church lawns and other places: Keep Christ in Christmas. It was a reaction to the increasing secularization and commercializing of a Christian holiday which seemed to have forgotten Christ, a birthday celebration where they forgot the birthday boy. This message was shored up by equally clever and ubiquitous signs stating Jesus is the reason for the season.
I don’t know how you felt about these signs, but I liked them, and still do, as they pop up here and there four decades after they made their first appearance. Christmas is a day to celebrate God’s great gift to us, a gift promised to our first parents.
“When the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
More recently, a new sign has appeared, reflecting the falling church attendance numbers across our nation: Keep the Mass in Christmas: Go to Church. I saw it as a Facebook meme, then as a physical sign on at least one lawn. Truth be told, I like this one, too. After all, the word “Christmas” does not mean “Christ’s Birthday”; it means “Christ’s Church Service,” preferably with Holy Communion. It means the people of God gathering repeatedly around the gifts of God, to remember and celebrate the Word of God becoming flesh, and marking that remembrance with joy!
Certainly, my joy was fuller because of the luminaries, the choir and school children, the hand bell choir, Sunday School, the candle light and the brass accompaniment. The enormous attendance swelled the singing of beloved hymns to magnificence, and the dedication of Kimberly, Mike, Jason, the Altar Guild, Elders, ushers and others who handled the extra services with such grace was inspirational. My chief regret was that I used the Christmas Eve sermons as the capstone of the Advent series I had written, rather than have it stand alone, for there were many visitors that night who had not been to any of the midweek services and therefore could be excused for wondering what all this emphasis on the Pre-incarnate Christ now made flesh was about.
In fact, a couple of people remarked that I should have saved an illustration I employed only in the 10:30 am service, and used it in the Christmas Eve sermons. On reflection, I think they are right, so having missed the opportunity before, I would like to share it now:
We don’t have cable TV or dish at the parsonage, so we rely on over the air transmissions. For whatever reason, there are more channels available that way now than ever before. One of the newest is ION television, and it is my wife’s new favorite. ION airs unceasing re- broadcasts of Psych, Bluebloods, Criminal Minds and Law and Order, which means we have a never-ending parade of rape, torture, murder, larceny and violence in our family room. In the weeks leading up to Christmas this has been interrupted only by specials about ‘the real meaning of Christmas,” which, if they are to be believed, ultimately comes down to receiving an engagement ring. I’m not kidding; almost every Christmas Special they have aired ends with an engagement to be married. How can this be the real meaning of Christmas? Then Christmas would have meaning for most of us only once in our lives, because the ideal is that you would get married only once. On top of that, Christmas would be for very few indeed: certainly not for children (that would be creepy), nor for any of us who are happily married or recently widowed. The real meaning of Christmas is on ION, however: it is in all those shows about human crime and cruelty, those sins not all of us act upon but many of us are tempted to. Our sin is the real reason for the season, the reason God became flesh to redeem His hopeless creation.
Master hymn writer Paul Gerhardt put it this way in one of the few Christmas hymns we did not sing this season:
Hear! The Conqueror has spoken:
“Now the foe, sin and woe, death and hell are broken!”
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son now is one with our blood forever.
Softly from His holy manger
Jesus calls one and all,
“You are safe from danger.
Children, from the sins that grieve you
You are freed; All you need I will surely give you.”
Paul Gerhardt, “All My Heart Again Rejoices” Hymn 360, verses 2 & 5
from Immanuel’s Epistle newsletter, January 2018