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On December 9th, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas made its network debut. It has been playing every year since then. Before one memorable scene, Charlie Brown tells Linus, “Everything I do turns into a disaster.” Charles Shultz faced existential angst and dread head-on. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Charlie Brown cries out. At which point Linus recites Luke 2:8-14.
Tell the story. “Don’t neglect the story” is how one preacher put it when describing what a preacher should do this night. Let tradition reign and let the story speak for itself because we need to be reaffirmed in it. We may lose our grip on the story throughout the year. We may not be able to hear it through the cacophony of voices that would deny the fundamental foundationalness of… God with us. Emmanuel. This night it’s my prayer that we approach this story with wonder. “Let us not lose our wonder in the marvelous truths of our faith,” I pray. “Restore to us childlike wonder at who you are God, at what you have done, what you are doing, what you will do. Give us eyes to see it, Lord. Help us to know what it means to stop and ponder these things in our hearts.
God with us. The light of Christ with us. The light of Christ in us. The light of Christ shining through… us?
And so I’m not going to discuss how there is some question as to which census Luke is referring. I’m not going to talk about how Luke is setting the story of a saviour being born in the person of this baby, who is the Word made flesh, against the power of Emperor Augustus who was hailed as the saviour of the world. I’m not going to talk about the powers that would purport to save us, the “isms” that would demand our allegiance (be they nationalism or consumerism or materialism or simply the empire of self) against which I rage and rail (and I will rage and rail against them again, just not tonight) and against which, if you’re anything like me you struggle. I’m not going to talk about how the room in which Mary gave birth was likely the bottom floor of a dwelling place and the issue was not so much that Joseph hadn’t made a reservation at the Motel 6. I’m not going to talk about the symbolism in Jesus being born on the margins. I’m not going to talk about the social status of the shepherds. Those are all really good things to know and to ponder, but we’re not going to do that tonight. Tonight I want us to wonder. It’s no wonder that the children of Charlie Brown resonate after so many years. There is no wonder like childlike wonder. I remember one March break being at our local mall, which puts on events for children each March break. This day, the kids were getting a chance to meet Paw Patrol. The kids were lined up down the entire length of the mall to high-five them, hug them, and have their picture taken. I looked at the scene and thought of childlike wonder. Imagine Paw Patrol at our mall! Imagine these EMS dogs that are my daily companions here at our mall, where I could get a chance to meet them! Do you remember feeling like that?
May we feel something of that this night. Imagine the creator of all things at our local mall. Imagine the creator of all things in my house. Imagine the creator of all things in me, and in you. Imagine the light of the world bringing life. Everyone gets this. We all want to know life. That scene at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is so poignant and so true, as George Bailey slumps over the bridge railing in a posture that looks a lot like prayer and cries out “I wanna live again…I wanna live again… I wanna live again… Please… God… let me live again.”
And God says “Here I am.” We’ve talked about waiting, about the hope to which we look forward of God with us when this age ends, and justice will be known in its fullness, and there will no more mourning or crying, pain or tears. We talked about peace – the Prince of Peace who conquered sin and even death – the things that keep us from God, from harmonious relationships with one another and with all of God’s good creation. The way of peace has been made so we make be makers of peace. We talked about joy in Christ that transcends circumstance. We talked about the blessing of being at home in the love of God.
And tonight, I want us to wonder in the light of the candle of Christ. I want us to consider those shepherds. The shepherds get a bad rap. They weren’t considered polite company. They were thought of as light-fingered. Be careful if you saw one in your neighbourhood. The thing is, Bethlehem was known for producing lambs that would be sacrificed at Passover. Unblemished lambs. Without spot or mark or scar. You needed to keep an eye on them. They were keeping watch. Alert. “Stand up and lift your heads,” said Jesus once.
A light shines on them as lights are shining on us tonight. “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” The answer to that plea, “I wanna live again… I wanna live again… Please… God let me live again!”
- Life. God with us. The wonder of it. My father said that the angel chorus broke through, it could not be contained, because the angels had never seen God do something like this. “He’s become one of them!!” What wondrous love is this, O my soul, indeed! They can’t help but sing out “Glory to God in the highest heaven, And on earth, peace among those whom he favours!” The wonder of it all. The light. The life.
Not every night is going to be like this for the shepherds. Not every day is going to be like the one in the recital hall for the Peanuts kids. They’ll go back to their fields, to their worries about weather, predators, their families, paying bills. The Peanuts kids will go back to footballs never being kicked, security blankets, a dog with a rich inner life who at the end of the day is still a dog looking to have his dinner bowl filled. We’ll go back to our lives.
When we do, remember the light of Christ dear friends. A beacon calling us home. A light to our path, even if it lights up nothing farther than the next step. Let that be enough. May it be our prayer that we might see everything in the light of Christ, who is hope and mercy and forgiveness and pardon from sin and a peace that endures and grace and love. Who is life. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same. God is with us. May we continue to live in the wonder of God’s love, and may this be true for all of us. Dearly beloved of God, Merry Christmas to you all.