My Christmas Eve Reflection

Initially I planned on posting the audio but Christmas is a tricky time and we give our tech team the night off so here’s something close to what I said.   In real time, it went about 20 minutes.

The bullet points are:

Read from Luke 2

made fun of terrible looking nativity scene.

the nativity is not the official symbol of Christmas.

poked fun at our nativity scene that we had in front of the sanctuary,

quoted Bono, Brennan Manning, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Tom Turner

All to say that Christmas cannot be ruined by commercialization, seasons greetings, ugly nativities, stolen nativities, santa, reindeer or anything else.  It means to much to by any of these things.

I post it because it actually went pretty well.  Feel free to read the rest.

After reading parts of Luke 2, I said something to the effect of what I wrote below.


What a great story.

Worth remembering, recreating in song, drama, plastic figurines.

A story worth celebrating, one worth owning with our hearts

And friends, a story worth living.


I shared a while ago that there was a house I saw recently that had the worst nativity set that I remember seeing.  It was so bad that I questioned if the house belonged to a Christian or a mean-spirited, non-believer.  The Joseph looked like a giant lego and the Mary was unsightly and it was so bad that I think the plastic baby Jesus itself was trying to crawl out and escape this terrible-looking scene.

(In fact, it made me reconsider my faith and I’m fairly certain that if I were not a follower of Christ, I would have driven past it and it would have re-confirmed my doubts in Christianity.)


I feel that some have made the nativity scene the official symbol of Christmas and while I like a beautiful nativiy scene, I think we need to be careful of them.

They are not always accurate with the shepherd, magi, angels and barn scene. 

Take ours for instance.  We have Mary and Joseph in clothes that won’t be around for 1000 years.  We have Jesus of this puffy snow in the middle of the chronicles of narnia  evergreen forest and look at this Jesus.  This kid doesn’t look Jewish to me.   

But I tell you, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Speaking of symbols, I like Santa Claus.  I think he’s a fantastic figure. Not more important than Jesus mind you, but fantastic nonetheless.  Though I do believe that he is far too exalted, I do enjoy the myth that surrounds him.  I like Rudolph and the other reindeer, the North Pole and the elves and the toy-making and all that goes on with it.  I like the legend of St. Nicholas and I like buying Coca-Cola with Santa on the label. Why? Nothing spiritual about it, I just like it.

Most days, I like the idea of gift-buying.  There is goodness in such tangible expressions of blessings (like coming to the Lord’s table and celebrating the Eucharist). Though it is easily overblown, I confess that I do enjoy buying something “extravagant” for a loved one every so often. What I don’t enjoy (nor understand) is the need to buy a sweater or a gadget for every one you know and I have never been able to comprehend how fruitcake ever came to be a suitable gift for anyone (my personal theory is that it was meant as a prank but someone decided to make some money off of it).

And here’s where I am going with this.  I don’t believe that Jesus can be taken out of Christmas.  I do not buy into this helpless feeling that you can lose the meaning of Christmas (just like you can’t ruin a trip to Jerusalem just because those guys keep trying to sell you the Bibles with the olive wooden covers on them.  If you’ve been there, you know what I mean). 

This is why I like this picture hanging above.  To some it may appear to be too busy, or confused, to me it’s life.

Forget about “seasons greetings versus happy holidays versus Merry Christmas”, Christmas only loses its meaning if you were focused on the wrong parts of it to begin with.  You can’t ruin Christmas.  And if your Christmas has been ruined, then the meaning you claim you have found is too weak.


If it is ruined then it was our own fault for that would mean our hearts were focused phrases and symbols instead of on worshipping and celebrating the Incarnation of our Lord.


The Irish Poet Paul Hewson (otherwise known as Bono the front man of the band U2) said upon reflecting on Christmas.

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the

universe, that He would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That

it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a

child born in straw poverty, in **** and straw . . . a child . . . I

just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry . . . Unknowable love, unknowable

power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was

sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears

came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter

genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on



Brennan Manning writes, “The world does not understand vulnerability.  Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.  The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who see a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel. The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no on exactly say where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.”


Truth be told, it seems there is a temptation for all of us to miss the meaning of Christmas.  I read a story a couple weeks ago to combat theft, some churches were spending a lot of time and money protecting the baby Jesus’ of their outdoor nativity sets.  They were having them installed with GPS locators so they could catch the thieves. 

I thought to myself, why?

For some, the tragedy is that the closest some will come to Jesus is by stealing from this most likely biblically inaccurate scene.  In fact, a creative church might begin a ministry to these thieves, by attaching a note to the baby Jesus’ that could “Dear friend, thanks for coming.  Know that this figurine is a symbol of the Savior that has come to save the world.  You are loved and it is our desire that you also may find your hope.  Come worship with us at 10:30 …

Though ironically, I suspect that they would stop stealing those baby Jesus’, I wonder what the thief would think of that.  I wonder what they do with all the stolen baby Jesus’ anyway.  Do they have a big bon fire or throw them out or do they ever stop and look at it and wonder the big fuss over this baby figurine?  What does it represent? What does it mean?

Thieves cannot ruin Christmas by stealing our nativity Jesus, nor can GPS locators guard the meaning of it.


If you have become angry or bitter this Christmas season, the meaning of Christmas may be escaping you.  The Lord does not need us to guard these traditions, he needs us to guard our hearts so that they will also be bent and broken to Him. 


For some of us, we are bored with this story and it’s annual retelling.

As a youth group, each year we do a Christmas party in our beloved youth room affectionately called The Fireside Room.   In previous years, we had the coffee bar going, the carols, I would give a brief Christmas reflection, we may tell a story, and then of course, the White Elephant exchange.   Well, I love Silent Night, and Rudolph and I pretty much like all the Christmas traditions (sacred and secular) including the White Elephant thing as much as the next guy but it was time to do something different.

I tried to volunteer our group to throw a Christmas party at either a children’s hospital or an assisted living/nursing home.  No one wanted us.  We may have a terrible reputation that I am unaware of or it points to groups and individuals focus on this time of year more than other times. 

In keeping with our “you can’t ruin Christmas theme”, I had asked them to bring $5 Starbucks money and our evening began at a outdoor nativity at a nearby church.  Reminding them of the infamous scene from this movie called Talladega Nights where Will Ferrel  plays a racecar driver named  Ricky Bobby.  And in this scene, he wishes to express his thanks for all the races they’ve won and all the money they’ve received and so he  prays to baby Jesus,   And his wife tries to correct him that Jesus grew up.  But in Ricky Bobby’s mind, he prefers to think of him as the baby Jesus. 


I shared with our students that this was how we usually picture Jesus,  laying asleep in the manger.  The meaning of Christmas is so much bigger and everywhere. 

After breaking up into our small groups, their assignment was to find moments of Christmas and to find ways how they could be bring a moment of its meaning to others in the mall.  The rules were simple, they could not spend any of the money on themselves or on anyone on their Christmas list.  We were here to experience God and the “other”.

It was great; two groups got together and bought several coats and donated them to a coat drive.  Some even gave their own coats.  One our of students had a conversation with one who sold trinkets and cheap jewelry from one of those little stands that are outside bigger retailers.  This conversation led to an exchange of small gifts that were given to others as  a gift of encoruagement.  They’re all longer storreis and there were many  of them but it was evident they were catching the point. 

The meaning of Christmas is captured in many places including at the mall watching families and people shopping for others.  Not everyone is giving out of formality, some will actually be a blessing.  Some are making gifts that will do a similar thing. Many are donating their time, their coats, their resources.  It’s my opinion that we tend to look to much to the negative and annoying aspects of the holiday and overlook moments like these and sometimes you have to bring the meaning of Christmas to these places.  Even in the den of commercialization and materialism, we can remember the love of Christ.  We were encouraged, strangers were blessed and I believe God was glorified more by this than another party in our beloved Fireside Room.  

Because friends, the meaning of Christmas is so powerful and so beautiful that it’s meaning cannot be overcome by a man of red polyester suit or from big sales at the mall or by flying reindeer.  The words that angels proclaimed to shepherds, Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to people ….  This story can be missed by the distracted, can be ignored by the stubborn but it cannot be ruined by its rivals. To say that would give such things too much credit and would miss the supremacy of the angels’ proclamation recorded in our Scriptures.  


One of my friends has been writing a poem each day for Advent.  He’s brilliant and talented and I had to share this one.

O Morning Star!  Shining Light! Born to all,

The child of God. Remember us now, Lord,

As we remember you, our own, our flesh,

Our own in want, in hunger and desire,

Remember us when you come again,

As we remember you, our own, our flesh,

Who is flesh, a child born of young Mary,

Born of a woman, born of human kind,

Into our collective trust of a fallen world,

A morning star, bright light, to our darkness


Couple weeks ago in my devotions I read a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It was from an Advent sermon he preached over 70 years ago:  


Advent is a time of anticipation not for the harmless baby surrounded by lights and presents, but for the dynamic savior who is born into our midst in a way that must forever change us. “Do you want to be delivered?” asked Dietrich Bonhoeffer in an Advent sermon more than 70 years ago. “That is the only really important and decisive question which Advent poses for us. Does there burn within us some lingering longing to know what deliverance really means? If not, what would Advent then mean to us? A bit of sentimentality. A little lifting of the spirit within us? A little kinder mood? But if there is something in this word Advent which we have not yet known, that strangely warms our heart; if we suspect that it could, once more, once more, mean a turning point in our life, a turning to God, to Christ–why then are we not simply obedient, listening and hearing in our ears the clear call: Your deliverance draws near!”

I want to be delivered.

This was the first year, I didn’t get a gift for a grandparent.  My first Christmas without one.  Back in June, my last grandparent passed away into the merciful hands of God, and for the first time I didn’t have to go to Macy’s to find a gift for her.  But I went in to Macy’s carried Nathan on my front holster and just browsed through the section that I browsed through last year.  And thought wow, how God works and answers prayer.  Last year I was shopping here for my grandmother, this year Susan & I are at Babies R’ Us.   I am thankful for deliverance.  I’m thankful for salvation. Thankful for answered prayers. 

Thankful that God came near.


In our staff devotions this morning, Pastor Sam (another prayer answered this year) read out of the Daily Bread devotional, and he read, “In December, it seems that more of us are willing to suspend disbelief and entertain the possibility that nature is not the final authority.  Even the non-religious yearn for miracles.  Deep down, everyone wants to believe that darkness, disease, and death can be overcome.”


We as believers hold fast to the super-natural.  To the virgin birth, to what the angels proclaimed, to the star, to the teachings, the promise to the cross, and to the Resurrection! 


This is why the angel says in luke 2:11, Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to  you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord was born for you in the city of David.”


Maybe you’ve come here distracted, angry, confused, hurting, or disbelieving, or out of obligation, among many other reasons.  And please know should you need anything, to come to an elder or one of us pastors and we’d be happy to sit and talk with you.  Some of you have come feeling secure and feeling blessed by the Hand of God Himself and many of us are in are sort of in between all that. 

As you sing these final songs, light our candles and pray together, it is my hope that we all leave this place encouraged, at peace, maybe even joyful.  For as the angels said, Do not be afraid.  I bring you good new of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today a Savior has been born to you.  

And that is a story that cannot be ruined. 

Merry Christmas.

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