Christmas Day, 2022

Merry Christmas!

What cheer that greeting brings, wouldn’t you say?!

Discounting the exceptions—that is, the humbugging Scrooges of this world who’d be rid of Christmas if they could—“Merry Christmas” is one of the few salutations with the muscle to stoke the cooling embers of a tired heart. Indeed, a weary soul is made young again, even if only for a moment, when a smiling passerby says, “Merry Christmas.”

Truly, it’s a greeting like no other.

I heard the greeting countless times last night at the Christmas Eve service. As I did, I was reminded of days long since spent, past seasons from childhood to adulthood. In a way, it could be said that unlike other greetings, this one stands at the door of here-and-now inviting memories to come inside. “Remembrance, like a candle,” Charles Dickens said, “burns brightest at Christmastime.” He might be right. “Merry Christmas” is spoken today, and a favorite toy from decades ago is remembered. It remembers a special moment with family. It remembers bygone friends. It remembers so many things.

Rarely would I add anything to Dickens’ wisdom, except to say it’s not just our pasts being invited to join us. I think our hopeful futures enter, too. Hope comes in to sit beside memory’s flickering flame.

I slept here at the church last night, mainly because I’m getting a little older and more easily tired. I don’t usually get home until well after 1:00 AM on Christmas Eve. Knowing I’d need to turn right around and come back in barely a handful of hours, combined with the treacherous roads, this year I decided to stay. I’ve done such things before. Besides, those who know me best can assume I was accompanied by a warming beverage before bed, one furnished by the Scots. I also happened upon a poetic scribbling from Alexander Smith, another product of Scotland. “Christmas,” he wrote, “is the day that holds all time together.” Like Dickens, I think he might be onto something. The very event of Christmas, if anything, begins the divine intersection of past, present, and future.

The Lord’s birth is the first effort of God’s plan to save us. As it begins, a much fuller Gospel message can be seen on the horizon. The angels sing it. The shepherds share it. The wise men are drawn to it. The Devil, through Herod, is fearful of it. And why? Because in its completeness, it will be a message that meets with the past, present, and future. It will herald what Christ has done, is doing, and will continue to do for humanity relative to Sin. This is the timelessness of “Merry Christmas.” This is the greeting’s forward thrust.

To grasp it, it’s as simple as digging a little deeper into the greeting. The salutation’s innards are not far from “Be joyful! Christ is present bringing salvation!” A Christian stands in the middle of the intersection by these words. To say “Merry Christmas” is to see all of time being held together. It is to give and receive the best answer to the hardest questions plaguing anyone’s past, present, and future.

If a troubled soul were to ask, “How can the Lord love me for what I’ve done?” The answer must be, “Fear not! He does! Merry Christmas!” If the concern continues by asking, “Will my disfigured past ever obstruct the Lord’s view, making Him unable to love a person like me?” The answer must be, “No. He knows what you’ve done. Still, He inserted Himself into the tarry horribleness of your dreadful past to claim you. Merry Christmas!”

Unconvinced, a person might continue, “As hard as I try, I continue to fall short. Will my everyday imperfections disgust Him enough to push me away? Will He ever walk away when I fall? Will He ever distance Himself from my continued shame?” Again, the Christmas answer must be, “No, He will not do these things. Certainly, you are not perfect. But He is. Trust Him. By His great exchange on Calvary’s cross, He takes your sadness into Himself and gives to you His righteousness. Merry Christmas!”

“But what about the future? As with anyone else, won’t He one day grow tired of this exercise? As with so many others, won’t He one day turn me away?” Christmas closes the book on the discussion, offering kindly, “No, He won’t. He sees your penitent faith, even if you don’t. He intends to heap mercy upon you until He returns in glory on the Last Day. Be joyful! He came at His nativity to save you. He’s coming back to take you home! Merry Christmas!”

Dear Christians, please know that all is well by faith in Jesus, the divine Child we celebrate today—Christmas Day! The intersection of your past, present, and future rested in that manger in Bethlehem so long ago. He came. He was who He claimed to be, and He accomplished what He said He would. Your salvation is secure. You are His, and He is yours. This wonderful friendship is His gift to you (John 15:15). Moreover, it’s a divine exchange meant for presenting you as Jesus’ most precious possession before the heavenly Father (Titus 2:14). By His work, you are justified (Titus 3:4-7). Covered in the pristinely white wrappings of Holy Baptism and topped with the bloodstained bow of His salvific work on the cross, what else might the Son say amid this grand and heavenly gift-exchange but “Merry Christmas!” (Romans 8:34, 1 John 2:1, and Hebrews 7:25)? It certainly seems appropriate.

Again, the greeting is like no other.

With that, Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope to see you later this morning for worship at 9:30 AM. If you can make it, please know that the heat is on, the lights are beaming, and the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament are ready and waiting to be received.

Man’s Deepest Need

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

I wanted to take a quick moment to interrupt your morning festivities by sharing a few potent sentences from a Christmas Day sermon given by Martin Luther in 1531. He wrote, and subsequently preached:

“The world is happy and of good cheer when it has loaves and fishes, means and money, power and glory. But a sad and troubled heart desires nothing but peace and comfort, that it may know whether God is graciously inclined toward it. And this joy, wherein a troubled heart finds peace and rest, is so great that all the world’s happiness is nothing in comparison.” (W.A. 34. 11. 505.)

Luther’s words demonstrate a firm grasp on the meaning of our Lord’s arrival at Christmas. Within a relatively short span, he describes how the world sees Christmas as little more than a passing opportunity for happiness born from selfish indulgence. Not much has changed in the last five hundred years. The world still takes comfort in transient things—food, money, earthly authority and the prestige that accompanies it, and so many other trappings. It does this forgetting that all of it has an expiration date. In contrast, Christians know that when it comes to meeting the challenges faced by an honest heart cognizant of its eternal predicament and its absolute inability to do anything to change it, something more than what the world can give is needed.

Christmas is the first movement of the divine “something” put in place to meet the need.

The birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, is God taking aim at Mankind’s deepest need in preparation for pulling the Good Friday trigger. And when this ferocious need is finally met on Calvary’s cross—when Sin, Death, and the devil are taken down once and for all by the provision of God’s Son—for whoever believes this, Luther describes the eruption of an otherworldly joy that simply cannot be outclassed by anything the world might think to offer in trade.

A troubled heart will never know more peace than what the Gospel gives. Money can’t surpass it. Power cannot compare. Not even a life of glorious ease will ever come close to the rest God promises that lasts through and into eternity.

As it meets with this wonderful Gospel, my prayer for you this morning is two-fold. Firstly, I hope as you are opening gifts you will remember the temporary nature of such things, and as such, will know to give thanks to the One who has given you the greatest gift this world could ever know. Secondly, I hope you’ll be moved to interrupt the temporal moment of gift-exchanging in order to join with your brothers and sisters in Christ in an eternal moment—holy worship—meant for receiving the merits of the greatest gift given.

The Lord bless and keep you.

And again, Merry Christmas.