December 21, 2020
First Pres, Merry Christmas. Wherever you might be celebrating Christmas Eve this year, I’m so glad you’re here.
I want to share with you one of the feel good stories of 2020, yes, that’s right, believe it or not, there were a few of them. It’s a story about the lengths that a wife went to to be near her ailing husband, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's seven years ago and currently lives in a senior care facility in Florida.
As many of you know, and maybe all too personally, is that one of the many great tragedies and losses this year as a result of the pandemic is that family members have, for many months now, been unable to see, or at least be near for any extended amount of time, their loved ones, particularly those enduring long stays in hospitals or for those living in assisted living facilities.
For months, this woman, her name is Mary, she had been visiting her husband Steve at the care facility every night and would get him ready for bed. But then the coronavirus restrictions came into effect and by mid summer she hadn’t seen him for 114 days. And as you’d imagine, she was devastated, desperate to be with her husband, yet also torn, knowing that there at the care facility he was receiving the care and attention needed given his condition.
And so she did something simple, yet incredibly profound. She got a job there. As a dishwasher.
Mary heard that a part time position as a dishwasher was available, and given that she was willing to do any job they offered for the chance to get inside and see her husband, she of course took it. Her job is now allowing her to see Steve regularly and in an interview she said, “It is worth it to be able to visit him, I get to go again tonight … I'm so grateful. I want to be with him every day.”
There you have it. One of the feel good stories of 2020. I shared this story with Callie over dinner the other night and she started to get all sappy on me, saying “that’s so beautiful.” And she’s right, it is. It is beautiful.
And it’s beautiful for probably a number of reasons, where on one hand, it’s a moving tribute and example of a wife’s commitment and sacrifice toward the husband she loves. And on top of that, you and I have been going through a difficult season that’s reminded us all of just how precious our loved ones are and how precious life is for that matter.
But yet, I’m convinced there’s one more reason why we find a story like Mary and Steve’s so moving – and that’s because it echoes and points to another story, a bigger story from long ago, the very story that’s brought us here tonight in the first place. Of course, I’m talking about the Christmas story.
The story of how long ago God came down in the person of Jesus Christ. A story about how love itself, love divine in Jesus Christ, came to our rescue.
A story in which God didn’t say, “You’ve got to come to me,” no, Christmas is the unbelievable, unthinkable story of God saying, “I’m coming to you.”
Christmas is the story of God saying, out of his great love for us, “I’m pursuing you, I’m drawing near to you, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter which job I have to take, I’m coming after you.” That’s Christmas.
It’s the story of all stories. So many of the stories we love, stories like the Mary and Steve one tug at our heartstrings because they follow the plot line of the greatest story of all time.
And in a hard and challenging and tiring year, the Christmas story is the story we need here in 2020. It’s a story of light shining into our darkness, a story of hope for the hopeless, just as it was for the people of Israel long ago, a moment in their history where hope was hard to come by. It is a story that speaks right into this 2020 moment.
One of the things that I think is really unfortunate about our retellings and renditions of the Christmas story is that, though with good intentions in mind, we make the Christmas story out to be this sweet, cute and sentimental story as if it were some combination of a Bob Ross painting crossed with a Hallmark movie, as if Jesus was born alongside fuzzy little trees with soft lullabies being played in the background.
Yet the truth is, the first Christmas was nothing like that. It wasn’t sweet or cute or even sentimental – in a strange way, it’s far better than that. Because the real story, in all its twists and turns, shows us that we worship a God who steps into our mess, who steps into our pain and brokenness and who shines rays of light and hope into our dark and hurting world, which in the end is part of what makes it truly good news.
You see, the Christmas story at its core is raw and real, it is earthy and messy, challenging and inconvenient, and even more at moments it is violent and to some extent, kind of dark.
Jesus was born the son of a couple poor, teenage parents (they were teenagers!) – and so at the very point in life that you and I were studying for the SAT and trying to decide who to ask out for Homecoming, Mary and Joseph were preparing to welcome the son of God.
The virgin birth, in all of its glorious mystery, meant that Jesus’s birth would be seen and perceived as scandalous – perceived to be an illegitimate child, born out of wedlock, where Mary and Joseph would likely be shamed by the wider community among them.
Mary and Joseph, traveled 90 miles from Nazareth and Bethlehem either by foot or donkey, with Mary about to go into labor. They had their baby in a barn or stable or a cave, we’re not totally sure, but we know this, Mary did not give birth in a place with 5 star accomodations.
In their makeshift delivery room were smelly, uninvited shepherds and wise men from far away who offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which have to go down as the most impractical gifts ever given at a baby shower.
And yet it’s only then that the story really gets dark, as the tyrant King Herod goes on a mission to see that this newborn King, this baby Jesus is killed. And so Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus become refugees, yes refugees, fleeing to the land of Egypt. And in an act of violent rage, Herod calls for all the boys under 2 living in Bethlehem to be put to death. And I am not embellishing the details there one bit. That’s really what happened.
You see, the Christmas story at its core is raw and real, it is earthy and messy, challenging and inconvenient, even violent and dark. Sweet and cute and sentimental it is not. It’s better than that.
Because if Jesus can shine light into the darkness that surrounded his birth, then he can shine his light into our darkness, anytime, anywhere, yes, even in the year that’s been 2020.
There’s a line that we just sung from O Little Town of Bethlehem that I think so perfectly captures the heart of Christmas story and this 2020 moment.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Yes, yes, and yes. That is, everything we hope and long for and the fears we feel when those hopes are unmet find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
So friends, are you tired and worn out, exhausted from a long year? In Jesus, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Are you depressed, lonely and short on hope? In Jesus, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Have you lost a loved one or two this year and struggle to imagine what life is like without them? In Jesus, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling in this moment, run to Jesus, and as you do, never forget that the story of Christmas is that while we were running after Him, God’s been running after you.
And no matter how difficult or dark things get, Jesus has and will shine his light, his love, his hope into our dark and hurting world. He did it at the first Christmas and he’s been doing so ever since.
Merry Christmas, First Pres. Merry Christmas.