Before I begin, we owe a debt of gratitude to a list of people, beginning with Michael Beattie, our Director of Music. Then we have the sopranos (no, not the television show): Karen Bonner, Sarah Brantley, and Meredith Bailess. Next, there are the altos: Sarabeth Clark, Emily Katherine Dacus, and Cheryl Welch. On down we have the tenors, John Hamman and Brock Winstead. Finally, there are the bullfrogs: Brett Bailess, Jon Hosler, Andrew Moore, Whit Rayner, and Bill Staples. Our choir has been hard at work for weeks, perhaps even months, diligently rehearsing for our annual festival of Lessons and Carols. The first festival of Lessons and Carols was celebrated at King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve in 1919. It is one of the best of Anglican traditions and there is no better way to prepare for the birth of Christ. Thanks again to the choir for sharing your gifts and love of music.
With that being said, there was no sermon at the 8:45 and 11:00 services so consider this your sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent if you attended Lessons and Carols. Matthew is the primary gospel we will read over the course of this year, so the gospel lesson this Sunday is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is in stark contrast to Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth. That tender and warm touch so unique to Luke is missing in Matthew along with some of Luke’s characters. Where are the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night? Where is the heavenly host praising the miraculous deeds of God by proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest?” There are no swaddling clothes, there is no manger, there is not even a stable. All of this is missing in Matthew.
Matthew gives us anything, but a silent and holy night. Matthew gives us a scandal so bad that Joseph almost calls off the whole thing if it weren’t for an interceding angel. Furthermore, the drama does not stop there. After Jesus is born, the holy family is on the run from the wrath of King Herod. They are rendered strangers in a strange land. Foreigners in flight as they settle in Egypt until Herod dies. Even after returning to the land of Israel, they settle in Galilee instead of their home of Judea for fear of Herod’s son who is ruling over Judea.
Every year we are in search of the perfect Christmas. We fill our lives with lights, decorations, parties, gifts, food, family and friends to help us achieve the perfect Christmas. Yesterday, Matthew reminded us that the first Christmas was anything, but perfect. It was a scandal, it was life-threatening, it was lonely, it was anxious, it was despondent, it was oppressive. In our search and attempts to make this Christmas season like a “picture print of Courier and Ives,” may we remember the first Christmas was not perfect and it still is not so today despite our trying. There is still evil and suffering in our world. There is still hatred, oppression, and racism. There is still abuse of power and slaughter of innocent people.
The perfectness of Christmas lies in the Incarnation. It lies in the belief that God came into our suffering world and wore our flesh. God knows what it is like to be us. God knows what evil is like because God, in the little Lord Jesus, fled from it into Egypt. God knows what suffering is like because God, in Christ, was crucified by the hands of sinners. Wherever Christmas finds you this year, remember that it is already perfect. It is already perfect because God did not hold back himself from us, but he loved us so much that he was willing to expose himself to the worst our our humanness and die for the worst of our humanness. That baby lying in a manger, he is our God. He is Emmanuel, “God with us,” and that is perfect. Merry Christmas!