Nothing Can Stop Christmas
A stock feature of Christmas stories is the holiday being endangered. Whether by a Scrooge, a Grinch, or a besetting problem, the prospects of a Merry Christmas are bleak. Of course, Christmas in these stories means the joy of family, food, and gifts, and it always comes through because nothing can stop Christmas. This is true of real Christmas too. Real Christmas is about Christ being born to be the Prophet who will teach us, the Priest who will intercede for us, and the King who will rule over us.
Evil men did all they could to stop Jesus from being our Prophet, Priest, and King; they did all they could to stop real Christmas from coming. Luke lists 8 men who were in power when Christ publicly began being our Prophet, Priest, and King, the things He was born at Christmas to do. All 8 were pagans. Some of them were nobler than others, but you would be shocked to know what even the best of them believed and did. With some you know what they did. Pontius Pilate is the one Jesus suffered under. Knowing Jesus was innocent, Pilate had Jesus whipped half to death, beaten, ridiculed as a prophet, and crucified as a king. Herod cut off the head of John the Baptist and mocked Jesus' kingship. Church leaders Annas and Caiaphas lied about Jesus, beat Jesus, ridiculed Jesus, and demanded He be put to death for being the Son of God.
So what sort of evil men stand in the way of your Christmas? Are you of the political sort and see Christmas threatened by poor foreign or domestic polices? Are you of the medical sort and see Christmas threatened by your state of health? Are you of the financial sort and see Christmas threatened by your economic state? Are you of the spiritual sort and see Christmas threatened by commercialism and Santa?
Evil men, evil plans, and just plain evil can't stop Christmas because God uses them for His good purposes. It may look like the evil around you can do nothing but ruin or at least taint Christmas. But consider what real Christmas was up against the first time Christ came. You had men like Herod and Pilate who would bow to evil if it served their goals, and you had men like Annas and Caiaphas who were so evil they executed the Christ because they were jealous of Him. What can God do with that? You know what He did. The blood that Pilate and Herod spattered when they hit Jesus covered your sins. The pain that Annas and Caiaphas gleefully caused Jesus paid for your sins. Although they did everything they could to stop Jesus from being your Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus taught forgiveness from the cross, interceded from the cross, and reigned from the cross.
In light of this, do you think the evil you see or sense about you this Christmas is going to stop real Christmas from coming to you? O it might put a damper on the Christmas spirit the world knows, but the political, medical, financial, or spiritual evil prowling around you won't devour the real Christmas. It will still be a fact Christmas Day that Christ was born to teach you what you need to know for everlasting life, to intercede for you in heaven, and to reign over your life: even over the evil in your life.
Nothing can stop Christmas, but God seems so far away, so unconcerned with what's going on. Realize that those in the Church in the days of our text felt that same way. Luke lists these 8 powerful rulers. Everyone knew who they were. When they spoke things got done. With just a word Caesar, Pilate, or Herod could take a life. No questions asked; no reasons given. And what about God? The last time He spoke was over 400 years ago in the Book of Malachi. You have the wrong idea if you think people in the Bible were constantly being spoken to directly by God. That happened quite rarely, and for the last 400 years it hadn't happened at all. All they were left was the Old Testament Scriptures. But then out of the blue, "The Word of God came to John in the desert."
You feel God's far away this Christmas too. He doesn't seem to be in the malls as music about reindeer and Santa fill the air. He doesn't seem to be in the peace on earth and the good will among men that people around you celebrate. All you're left with is your Scriptures, and His voice seems distant, cold, maybe just in your head, but this will not stop Christmas, real Christmas, from coming to you.
Hebrews 1:1 says, "At many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." God has always bridged the gap between heaven and earth by means of His Word. God has always dealt with man by means of His Word. Then an incredible thing happened on the first Christmas. The Word took on flesh and dwelled among us.
Neither John the Baptist, you, nor I can bridge the gap between us and God. We can speak to God, but we can't make God speak to us. But when God decides to speak nothing in heaven, on earth, or even in hell can silence Him. Christmas, real Christmas, is God speaking His final Word to mankind in, by, and with His Son. People denying that God can speak; people muddling up what God speaks; people babbling their own words and opinions don't stop God from speaking.
God spoke to a virgin and she conceived the Word of God in her womb. God speaks and water rebirths you to everlasting life even when you're surrounded by death. God speaks and the pastor's lips send your sins away from you forever even your guilt about not being in the Christmas spirit. God speaks and Bread becomes His Body and Wine becomes His Blood and you have what Mary had and if that's not real Christmas what is?
Nothing can stop Christmas not the evil around us, not God apparently far from us, and not even our own failure to prepare. I know when you say, "I'm not ready for Christmas," you don't mean the real Christmas. You mean the gift-giving, food-eating, family-gathering one. You can be ready for that Christmas, and this is what throws you. Because there isn't any way you can be ready for the real one.
The Word John proclaimed describes the impossible. People who didn't know of backhoes, excavators and motor graders didn't hear John speaking of valleys being filled in and mountains being made low and say, "Okay, I'll get my shovel." No, they said, "If I must fill in valleys and lower mountains for Christ to come, then there's no way He's coming." And that's what you should say about Christmas coming to you, but you don't. You think you can make Christmas happen, but you're thinking of the gift-giving, food-eating, and family-gathering Christmas not the real one. So, you think you stop real Christmas from coming if you don't do certain things and feel certain ways. Then you feel even worse, wonder why you're not in the Christmas "spirit," and just try to make it to January.
Repent of getting your Christmases confused; then repent of thinking you ever could be ready for the real one. You can't make ready your heart to hear the last Prophet God ever sent. The ruts of unbelief and misbelief are way too deep for you to fill in. You can't be ready to receive the Priest who will intercede for you. You're mountain of pride is way too high for that. And how can you ever be ready to receive the King of kings? How can you're crooked heart full of pride, greed, lust, and bitterness be a fit place for royalty?
That's the Word of the Lord that came to John in the wilderness. It was first devastating law not a doable law. It was damning to hell law not daring people to pull themselves up by their sandal straps and make ready for Christmas. But after the Law came the Gospel. Prepare the way for the Lord and make straight paths are commands. Whenever you're commanded to do something that's Law. That is to convict you of your sin and let you know you can't save yourself. The rest of John's words aren't commands but promises. They don't command what you should do, but indicate what God will do. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain shall be made low, the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways smooth. God here promises that Christmas, real Christmas, is coming and no deep valley, high mountain or crooked, rough road is going to stop it.
There are little things that can get in the way of fake Christmas. Your lights might not work; your kids may be fighting; the gifts you ordered online may not arrive. And there are real evils that can get in the way of fake Christmas: evils like sickness or death in your world or poverty and war in the world around you. But little evils or big evils can't stop real Christmas because God alone is the One who brings it.
Catch this Spirit, the real Spirit of real Christmas, this Christmas. Rather than trying to make yourself in a Christmassy mood, pray in the Collect for the Lord to stir up your heart and make ready for Christ. Rather than trying to feel better about your relationship with God, chant in the Introit for God to restore you and to make His face shine upon you that you may be saved. Rather than thinking you have to pull Christ out of heaven by your piety or good cheer, hear the cantor tell you unequivocally to rejoice greatly because your King comes (not might come) with salvation (not judgment, not presents, not happiness but salvation.)
Nothing can stop Christmas. In the stories, it's the fake Christmas that nothing stops. But what if that was stopped? What if Scrooge doesn't get the Christmas sprit, the Grinch doesn't give Christmas back, and the movie doesn't end with everyone standing arm and arm around a Christmas tree? What if that tree was blasted bear of all its needles, stripped of all its limbs, sawn in two pieces and one nailed across the other? What would you have then? Then you'd have a cross. Then you'd have a real Christmas. Then you'd have what you have had, will have, and do have: the crucified Christ who is and brings real Christmas. Amen.
The Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Advent (20061210); Luke 3: 1-6