Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas Day beginnings

Sermon 12-25-14

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from his son our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

We love beginnings. I think this is why people love babies and weddings so much. We go all-out when we hear a baby is on the way – baby showers and gifts, and later documenting and celebrating EVERY SINGLE MOMENT that happens - baby’s first Christmas, first tooth, first step, first word, first birthday. And weddings too, we pull out all the stops for - elaborate gowns and ceremonies, food and decorated reception halls. After all, who doesn't love to see brides and grooms and chubby babies?

I don’t know when Christmas became all about nostalgia, but this month I found myself watching all of my favorite Christmas movies. And my husband has gone on a Christmas candy-making rampage, completely taking over our tiny kitchen with melted chocolate and almond bark, corn syrup and red and green sprinkles.

Christmas movies and making candy, babies and weddings all take us back to a time that seemed simpler and happier. That’s probably we like to remember beginnings so much. They’re not messy or complicated with real life problems. We can remember the good stuff and forget about the bad.
Maybe this is why we also love to hear the beginnings of our favorite stories. “Once upon a time” and “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” “It was a dark and stormy night.” “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

What about this one? “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”

And so began the greatest story of all time, a story could not be contained on just one book, and could not take place in the span of one lifetime. It is a story that begins at the very beginning and tells of a God, who created a world that was good and full of life and light, and wanted to share it with us. Even though we tend to mess things up, over and over and over again.

So God decided to begin a new chapter to the story. And this one also began with “in the beginning.”
In an example of divinely sanctioned plagiarism, this is how John chooses to tell us the Christmas story. There are no angels or shepherds or censuses or managers or even Mary and Joseph. Instead, John takes us back to the very beginning, to the dawn of time, to tell Jesus’ birth story like a dramatic crane shot that zooms out and out and out until you can see all of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
And so God’s word became flesh and living among us. The word made his home with us. He bought a house in the neighborhood and moved in next door. God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life.

In order to tell you more about him, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite stories. It’s adapted from old folk take called “The story of the three trees.”  (I did not write this story)

Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town, maybe preparing to have their in-laws over for Christmas dinner. She said, “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years passed, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” 
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest!” the first tree said.

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” 
“I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!” thought the second tree. 

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he said. 

The first tree rejoiced when she was brought to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was made into a simple fishing boat, taken to a little lake.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter left her strong beams in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the she wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God...”

Many, many days and night passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox. “This manger is beautiful,” the mother said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

But the story does not end here. That baby, of course, grows up. And there are two more trees left to hear about.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as they sailed out into the lake. Soon a mighty storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain. The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. And every time people think of the third tree, they think of God and the great gift that God gave to all of us in his Jesus. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

But the story doesn't really end here. God’s story continues, the gift that keeps on giving, all the year through. Christmas is just the beginning. So stay tuned for what else God has in store. Amen.

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