Monday, December 19, 2016
Blogging The Week Before Christmas
This is a tough week for me to blog. Usually, this blog is about the upcoming lessons, and I spend the week exploring different themes as I either prepare to write a sermon or prepare to listen to one. The more I read and write and pray the easier it is for me to see what God is saying to me and to God's people. This week, though, I feel a reticence. I feel like I'm on a journey that leads to the stable in Bethlehem, but I won't be ready to get there until Saturday evening. I'm still stuck in Advent, but it's time for me to look far enough down the road to see what is waiting for us at the end of the journey.
Part of my reticence comes from the false belief that I'll only find one good thing to say about Christmas. We preach on the exact same lessons every year. Although there are three options for Christmas Day, I don't know anyone who leaves Luke 2:1-14 out. It may not be a liturgical, rubrical necessity, but all of us need the manger and the swaddling cloths and the shepherds and the angels. Unlike the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, when hardly anyone other than the preacher comes to church knowing what miracle or parable or controversial encounter will be featured in the lessons, on Christmas Eve everyone knows what story will be read. Everyone. What might the preacher say that hasn't been said?
Of course, there's a reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus every year. Like the other principle feasts of the church (Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints' Day, and the Epiphany), Christmas--the Incarnation--is the sort of theological show-stopper that never loses its meaning or power. We don't need to find other ways to say it. We don't need to be creative or else it will lose its pizazz. Christmas never gets old--no matter how many years the same preacher has climbed into the pulpit to preach more or less the same sermon.
This week as much as any, I'm looking to get out of the way. People will come to church on Christmas Eve because they want to make their way to the manger. They want to Mary and Joseph huddled around the manger. They want to look at the newborn king and encounter all of the hope they have ever held all wrapped up in one night. It does not matter to them that they've done it before. They don't care whether this year's sermon is better than last year's. Although the sermon is an important part of our yearly pilgrimage, no one comes to church just to hear it--not even the preacher himself.
Later this week, I'll write about the many different ways that the Incarnation can speak to a congregation--how the message is not static but reflects the various and particular needs that we bring with us to the stable. But to start, I want to focus on the big picture and remember my role in our Christmas celebration--a supporting character in a much bigger show.