If I say,
If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a steak of holly through his heart.
Most of you will think of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and the three ghosts – right?
If I say,
You’ll shoot your eye out!
You’ll probably think of Ralphy and his much coveted Red Rider BB Gun
If I say,
Save the neck for me Clark!
Hopefully you’ll think of Cousin Eddie and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. Though a quote Ericka and I say pretty much year-round (sometimes when we’re in the middle of an argument) is, “Why is the floor wet Todd?! I don’t know Margo.”
If I were to scream,
SANTA!!!! I know him
You got Buddy Elf popping into your brain.
If I were to do my best Jimmy Stewart and say,
Zuzu’s petals, Zuzu’s Petals. Or My lips bleedin’ Bert! Hey, what do ya know my lips bleedin’.
Surely, you have an image in your mind of George Bailey running down the snowy streets of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life.
And when you hear these words,
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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 Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord.
AH ah ah….don’t say you think of the scriptures, don’t be phoney holy around here – I know you’re really thinking of Linus in Charlie Brown Christmas…c’mon! Only sorta kidding….
Yes – it is from the gospel of Luke – we just heard read. I think in many ways, just as familiar to most of us as those oft quoted Christmas movie lines. Even if we’re not especially frequent Church-goers, we know this. But did you know those words we hear so often, are actually dangerous words? And that Luke, when he wrote them, was doing something rather bold and daring? And he does so by weaving together the language of Israel with the rhetoric of the Roman empire – in two phrases.
I bring you good news of great joy… AND... To you is born this day, a Savior…who is the Lord
From the poet and prophet Isaiah – in the Old Testament (You who bring good news to Jerusalem lift-up your voice…here is your God & How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation…who says our God reigns)
You hear it, right? But you know what else? (And here’s where Luke gets especially risky.) The entire known world at that time – referred to Augustus Caesar as God, as Lord, as the bringer of Peace and Goodwill. So, when Luke records the angelic host proclaiming Jesus as Lord – he’s saying Augustus is not. And…when a Roman general returned from a conquest or a decisive battle he would stand before the gathered assembly and say these words, “I bring you good news of great joy.” That’s how the crowd knew victory occurred. That’s how the people knew, yet again, Rome was victorious…but not in the second chapter of Luke is Rome victorious. Luke is drawing from both the Hebrew imagination and Roman imperial language, but he transforms it all by ascribing it to a fragile, vulnerable newborn baby in a manger – spoken to a group of peasant shepherds. And isn’t something that this angelic message proclaimed to the shepherds isn’t just “the Savior has arrived” which would be remarkable enough – but that (I bring you good news of great joy) he is victorious.
It reminds me of something theologian Karl Barth once wrote, that “you and I live in a world already won by God, we just don’t have the eyes to fully see it.”
But we catch glimpses of it, don’t we?
Sometimes, even in the most unlikely of places. I’m reminded of one such place – after all this talk of battle and being victorious and imperial language – and it happened on Christmas Eve.
The first Christmas of World War I, the year 1914 at approximately 8:30pm along the desolate Western front sliced open with trenches and pocked with craters and spools of barbed wire. An officer from the Royal Irish Rifles approached headquarters informing his superiors that the “Germans have illuminated their trenches and are wishing us a Happy Christmas.” Utterly stunned British and French troops began to listen intently and heard the Germans singing “Silent Night.” Somewhere along that Western line a British soldier responded in kind by singing “Silent Night” which spread into a joined chorus from what seemed like the entire Western force. Then….something happened, something unthinkable – both sides laid down their weapons, made their way out of their trenches, and joined one another in no-man’s land – shaking hands, exchanging well wishes, sharing food, drink, laughter, even an impromptu soccer game occurred. They spent the entire Christmas day together. Can you imagine?
Of course, they eventually returned to the trenches and that bloody war that was supposed to end all wars marched on for years. BUT…in that moment, in that brief time together, though they wouldn’t have seen it as such, though they wouldn’t have used the same words – they were manifesting the victory of God, the kind of victory ushered in by the birth of the child we are gathered here tonight to celebrate.
In a moment we are going to sing Silent Night – I wonder if you might hear it as invitation out of whatever trench you might find yourself in – because the powers that be in this world love to keep us in the trenches – divided, suspicious, resentful, angry toward others and condemning, embarrassed, and ashamed of ourselves. And maybe you don’t feel any of that, maybe your someone who left the trenches a long time ago – ALL THE MORE REASON THEN – for you to sing loudly and courageously, your voice lifting others out of the trenches.
Lifting them to participate in the worship of God, victorious in and through the life of Jesus the Christ born this night.
Lifting them to join the heavenly host in singing,
Glory to God in the highest and on earth
Peace and good will toward all.