Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Day - The Hero we need and deserve

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, born to us this day. Amen. 

The lights go down, the theater goes silent, and the black screen is suddenly ablaze with light. Across that screen, movie after movie about heroes and villains, epic battles, countless explosions, good guys saving the day when things looked at their darkest. And when it’s all over, and the good guys have won the day, the lights come up so we can safely be on our way without tripping. 

Light is such a wonderful thing. Our psyches crave light to keep our energy up, our bodies need light in order to stay healthy, and we need light to function in basic daily tasks, especially to do anything after dark, or even on a cloudy morning like this one. 

So for centuries we’ve sought to control light – first from fires, then making candles from animal fat, then later by oil burning lamps. Now, thanks to the wonders of electricity, light is at our command. WE can shine light on the darkness, by the flip of a switch, or even by an app on your phone.  

But there is still just something about light… a wonder that we can’t shake. We buy more lamps that we know what to do with. We decorate our homes and our Christmas trees in lights. We use light to celebrate birthdays on cakes and light up the night sky on the fourth of July. We turn off the lights on Christmas Eve, and sing Silent Night, as candles are slowly lit from one solitary flame, and the sanctuary grows brighter and brighter, like the coming dawn. 
But now it is daylight, the dawn has come, and we can see more clearly the humble surroundings of Jesus – the details of the damp feed trough he was in, the dark circles under Mary’s eyes after a long night without much sleep, the dirt that the shepherds tracked in, and the bloody towels in a heap in the corner. 

We see that the dawning of Christmas morning might reveal more than we want to see. With more light shining into the world, more things are revealed, and perhaps too some parts of Christmas we may not want to see that the darkness of last night hid. In the dark we could pretend that this year felt way too warm to be Christmas.  It’s easier to hide disappointment in the dark. The darkness more easily hides the a giant wrapping paper mess in the living room, and that half of the ornaments have fallen off the tree, and the cat just threw up two feet of half-chewed ribbon. 

The light can reveal that our holidays are more like “National Lampoons Christmas” than “Miracle on 34th Street.” 

In one of my favorite holiday movies “Little Women,” this difference between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is also a stark one. This movie introduces us to the four March sisters, as they wait up late for their mother to get home from handing out Christmas baskets to needy families on Christmas Eve. Their father away serving as a chaplain in the Civil War. After their mother arrives home, they read a letter just arrived from their father, and then sing a Christmas hymn together by candlelight and bid their mother good night, one by one. A true heartstring-tugging scene.  

But the next morning we see that these four girls and their mother, though living in a fine house, have fallen onto hard times. In the next days, as they weather out the bitterly cold New England winter – remember those? – The oldest sister, Meg, remarks that it just doesn’t seem like Christmas this year without presents.

Amy, the youngest, expresses that she is desperate for pencils to draw sketches with, and Jo wishes she didn’t have to work as the companion for her grumpy but well-off aunt March. They turn to their selfless sister Beth and ask her for her Christmas wish. 

“I’d like the war to end so Father can come home” Beth says.

And her sister Jo responds: “… we all want that.”

Yes, Jo. We all want that. We all want an end to violence and war and the darkness it brings.
Characters like these “little women” are no more than dancing light on the TV screen. But the movies we chose to watch shed light on the world as we would have it. Where Christmases are always merry and bright, even in hardship or catastrophe. Where the joy of the holiday always wins our over our family’s tendency to bicker, over our loneliness or grief, and over things that are beyond our control. 
Epic gods? Epic robots? Not quite sure... Just one example of the epic movies coming out

I think that that it’s no accident that the movie theaters now seems flooded with stories of heroes fighting epic battles against the forces of evil. We, like these fictional “little women,” are caught up and pushed around by forces we have no say in, and sometimes our loved ones are at its mercy. And we are the ones forced to pick up the pieces. 

We want to be saved from darkness in the world that still exists. We want a hero that will fight for us. We want a victorious warrior of the light that kicks butt and takes names. 

What the light of Christmas morning shows us is that God has a bright future in mind for this dark world, plans for a future with hope. But what we GET is not a savior who is might and fearsome warrior, but a savior who dwells with us, who pitches his tent among us, and moves into the neighborhood. 

What we GET is a savior who decides to have skin in the game. What we GET is a window into the very heart of God, with hands and feet and a face. Who was born into the world just as regular people are born, with blood and pain and drama. What we GET is not an unapproachable super hero we could never aspire to be, but instead a savior who looks just like us. 

In this way, in plain sight, God chose to reveal his glory. In this way, in plain sight, God has spoken to us by his son, In this way, in plain sight, light shines on a God who is near us and with us and for us. In this way, in plain sight, God offers the world an actual hand, reaching out to us in love– not a hand closed in anger or fear or carrying weapons of war. Instead, open and welcoming. Instead, the very reflection of God’s glory is a helpless infant. The mighty arm of God comes to us in the form of a chubby baby. The savior comes to us as God disarmed. 

The Prince of Peace has come, and right now he is being rocked to sleep by his mother. He came to dwell with us, not in palaces but in poverty. When he grew up, he did not resist violence with more violence, even when the powers that be threaten his life. He defeated the powers of sin and death, not through bombs and guns in fierce combat, but in the silence of an early morning and an empty tomb. 

And that doesn’t exactly make for a big box office hit. 

But, if the Christmas story is any indication, that’s not how God works, anyway. Not in big explosions or impressive battle scenes against a clearly marked bad guy dressed in black. Instead Christmas sheds light on the fact that God is at work in the ordinary moments, of births and booger-y babies and diaper changing. God is at work, not in heroes but in ordinary people, like shepherds and fishermen. God is at work in ordinary hearts, whether or not we are feeling particularly Christmas-y this year. Though the ordinary light of that first Christmas morning revealed an event that was anything but ordinary. 

When the rest of the world moves on from Christmas tomorrow, thinking that the bright and cheery Christmas movie is over, we know that today is only just the opening scene.  The floodgates of God’s light has been opened – the love that never ceases has come, the light that never grows dim or burns out is shining.

This light keeps shining, from that manger in Bethlehem to now. 

This light keeps shining, in every ordinary moment of love between people. 

This light keeps shining, even in the midst of evil and fear and hate and greed.

The light keeps shining, and darkness has not, cannot, and WILL NOT overcome it. AMEN. 

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