Welcome to worship this day! It is good to have you here on this day on which we remember the birth of Jesus our Lord!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. It will have the order of worship along with all the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW and page numbers out of the Tree of Life booklet, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also included on this page after the video.
If you would like a fuller worship service at home, you may have a lit candle for the whole service and something small to eat and drink for communion.
May God lift you up in love with joy, even in these pandemic times!
Holy God, through the power of your Spirit may your Word be illuminated in our hearts, that we might see Christ, your Word made flesh in and around the world. Amen.
So… this isn’t the Christmas we wanted. This isn’t the Christmas we were looking forward to. This isn’t the Christmas we were hoping for.
The Christmas we wanted wasn’t supposed to be just online, but in person, sharing the joy of the season together. The Christmas we were looking forward to had people all around us as thoughts of meals and get-togethers with friends, family, and loved ones danced in our heads. The Christmas we were hoping for didn’t have snow on the ground and the threat of a lot more in the forecast waiting to be shovelled, in spite of what the song says. No, the Christmas that was supposed to happen would have been better than… this.
This Christmas where the pandemic isn’t just raging on, it’s getting worse. This Christmas where I’m alone here in this freezing building without the ability to see your faces nod in agreement with the profundity of my words or hear you chuckle at my jokes. This Christmas, where we won’t be gathering with our extended family and friends without being severely frowned upon. This Christmas isn’t better, this Christmas, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, sucks.
*check for lightning bolts crashing at me… which wouldn’t be so bad if it melts some snow while they’re at it*
The point is, as far as Christmases go, this one gives us a lot to complain about.
But then I think, when did I, just me, Nathan Fong, ever have a good Christmas? Don’t get me wrong, my Christmases weren’t like John McClean’s Christmases in the first two Die Hard movies where he had to save a bunch of hostages from terrorists with his own “die hard” attitude. Nor were my Christmases like Kevin McCallister’s in Home Alone where he had to protect his house from relentless thieves while he was “home alone”. No, nothing super dramatic like that, but it was always something, you know?
As a raging hormonal teenager it could have been that girl I liked not giving me the attention I was hoping for. When I was working retail throughout most of my student life, I was likely working long hours throughout all of the holidays. After I finally finished my schooling and became a pastor, I was definitely working throughout all of the holidays. But there were other things as well, like that one Christmas I sat at the hospital with my dad because he had a fall. Or that other Christmas where I was legit really sick and so I had to stay home all by myself. Or yet that other Christmas when I was literally so tired that I slept through like 80% of it, waking up just for the food and going right back to sleep again. Well, maybe that one isn’t so bad, but I did miss all the festivities because I was in la la land.
But it seems like no Christmas is ever perfect. There is always something. And I’m not trying to make light of those who have had really bad Christmases, worse than mine, like with a break up of some kind or a car accident or maybe something even worse like a death in the family. All those would make a pretty bad Christmas. Whatever it may be, it’s clear that Christmas is never like what we think is a perfect Christmas, where the snow falls lightly but doesn’t stick to the driveway so it doesn’t need to be shovelled, where the lights and decorations are perfectly placed and no bulbs are out, where everyone is happy and joyful and whatever problems might arise are resolved just in time for that big Christmas dinner.
Maybe that is the Christmas we think we should get. But we don’t. Not by a long shot.
But maybe that’s ok, because being perfect isn’t what Christmas is about. If we learn anything from the Nativity story, is that life is messy, inconvenient, and barely ever goes as planned. I mean when you take away the angels and carols and the romanticizing of it all, Jesus has kind of an awful birth story. One that is full of unexpected plot twists, crazy hair raising situations, and the thought of being born in an unsanitary barn with all the smells and sounds that you’d expect, just leaves a particular taste in your mouth… at least it does now if it didn’t before. That is not exactly what I’d classify as a “perfect” Christmas story.
Or is it?
Because today’s Christmas story, the one we get out of John, the one that many first time hearers wouldn’t even classify as a Christmas story, tells us otherwise. It tells us of God’s Word, as in, God’s wisdom, God’s promises, God’s very character… becoming flesh and living among us. This Word, who was God and is with God is the foundation of the whole world, with whom we have the power to be children of God and through whom we can see God’s glory, full of grace and truth.
I dunno, sounds pretty Christmasy to me. Even with no mention of angels or shepherds or wise folk from the East. No mention of a star or a manger or an inn that had no vacancy. Not even mention of a baby born to unwed parents, which many of us might think is the point.
But there is mention of God. Of God’s character. Of God with us. And that is Christmas.
Because by God’s very nature, we are given grace. God looks upon us with love and mercy and wipes away our imperfection. Not to make us perfect, mind you, but to forgive us and remind us that we are perfectly loved by God and given the chance to share that love with others.
Friends, this is the story of Christmas. This is the story of love. This is the story of God with us. God with us in the hardships that we go through. God with us in crazy plot twists of life. God with us even when things aren’t exactly perfect or go as planned and welcoming us into God’s kingdom as God’s very own beloved children.
And so it’s ok that this Christmas isn’t perfect. It’s ok that any of our past Christmases haven’t been perfect. It’s ok that we’re stuck meeting online and not in this space physically together. It’s ok that our possible big dinner plans have been limited to just another household or 10 individuals, which by the way doesn’t seem to make any sense to me whatsoever. It’s ok that we might have the back-breaking chore of shovelling our walks. It’s ok to have a Christmas that sucks. Because none of that could ever cease Christmas. None of those could ever stop God with us. None of those could ever snatch us out of the palm of God’s gracious and merciful love, filling us with all joy and peace and granting us the hope of God’s Word made flesh.
The story of Christmas shows us how God enters the world in the messiness of it all. It tells us that God can be seen with us even when the going is tough. It tells us that things don’t have to be perfect when it comes to God, but God continues to fill them with grace, mercy, and love.
Ironically, all that makes Christmas… every Christmas… perfect.
So in this Christmas season, full of unexpected twists and turns for us in this pandemic and otherwise, may we see the unending grace and steadfast love of God with us in our midst, in our homes, and in whatever imperfection comes our way. Thanks be to God. Amen.