December 25th, 2015
At my house, we never opened presents on Christmas morning. We did the German way—we opened them on Christmas Eve, when it was dark outside, and church was over. I remember sitting in church and just throbbing with boredom and the desire to go home and rip open the wrapping paper that clearly covered books, so I could eat cookies and read them. I remember the cold winter that would sneak inside your coat and crinkle into ice on the window shade. And I remember passing around my mother’s Bible around the Christmas tree and singing hymns—my sister would say, Why are we doing this, we just did this at church?—but as we got older, the presents grew fewer and the hymns and talking got longer. And we’d open the gifts, with the cold night outside, and the glow of Christmas lights and the Advent wreath inside, and we’d all love each other and go to bed happy and warm.
This was a family Christmas. It was about God and and us being together, and I think most good Christmases are about sharing life together, a common life, a life lived despite the darkness and the cold. Even as I left home and began to spend Christmases in other places of the world, especially in places that had summertime Christmases, even sometimes with people who didn’t even care or believe in Jesus, I could still see the importance of the family trying to love as best as it can, at least for one day, and I saw the pleasure fathers and mothers took in making their children briefly but deliriously happy and having fun until they fall asleep.
I think of this text from John as a story that a father might tell his child on Christmas. He might lift the child from the floor and place him on his lap, under the lampshade. He will point to the star on the tree and tell him the story behind the star. Or he might simply tell him a story from a book. It doesn’t matter the story, really, because it matter more what the child feels—the child feels love, because his father holds him and cares for him and has done what it takes for the child to be happy. Because underneath, that’s the real story—the story of the love the family shares.
Christmas morning worship, I believe—I hope—feels like settling into the lap of God, to listen to his story to us. And also to feel the sign of his love in a gift, the gift of his Son. There is no greater sign of love than this—that Christ came to love us to death, and beyond. And Christmas is about feeling this love of God for us. To feel as a child feels in the arms of his parents, in a warm home, with good things all around. God is the giver of all good gifts, and that’s why we should delight and be joyful in all the things God gives to us. God wants us to be happy, and assures us of joy, because he has even given us his Son, who has taken our flesh to make us part of God’s family.
There is always room for you in the lap and the bosom of God. God’s door is always open to you. If you are lost, or have strayed, or feel a deep confusion, do not be afraid to return again to God, who waits patiently for you, and indeed, even seeks you out as you travel your road. And if you are here today, you are here in God’s house, with God’s family, keeping Christmas around the great gift for everyone, God the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Reverend John Flack