Cheap, Small, and Plastic: a Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

I have been asked to post last year’s Christmas Eve sermon. You can listen to it or read a transcript.  The progressive version of God Rest Ye Progressive Christians appears in the transcript. I searched without success for its source. If you know who wrote it please let me know.

Listen to the sermon


Last night, while suffering from a serious case of writers’ block, panic set in as I desperately struggled to figure out what to say to you all this evening. I’d spent most of the afternoon in my office, reading and re-reading chapters, articles and sermons, searching for a way to express the inexpressible. Christmas Eve is a challenge for a preacher. You all know the story so well that there’s nothing new that I can say.  Then there’s the fact that many of you don’t make it to church all that often, so we preachers kinda want to make our Christmas Eve sermons something special, in the hope that we might just inspire you to come back some Sunday morning. Add to that the fact that we at Holy Cross fall in to a category of Christianity that has been called “progressive” which means that we’re pretty clear on the fact that the Christmas stories in the New Testament  are full of metaphors and symbols that point to various truths about the nature of the MYSTERY we call God, as well as truths about ourselves and our life in the world.

As Progressive Christians living in the 21st century, we are fond of using the best scholarship available as we study the scriptures and so we know that the New Testament stories about the birth of Jesus are not actual historical accounts of the events of Jesus’ birth. So, last night as the panic began to get the better of me, I did what writers do when we are in the midst of a serious block, under the threat of a looming dead-line, I looked for a way to distract myself in the hope that if I gave my brain a rest, something might occur to me. Well by the time I made it back to my computer, I was determined that I’d throw caution to the wind and write a very informative, scholarly sermon which would give you all a progressive Christian view of the nativity. But you can all relax because, thanks to the arrival of an email, you have all been saved from Satan’s power. The email was from a colleague in  Australia for whom the Christmas Eve deadline had already come and gone, so he was feeling more than a little smug about having finished his sermon. His message to me came in the lyric of a song, which I’d love to sing for you. But most of you know that with my singing voice it is better that I just read to you what he wrote:

“God rest ye Progressive Christians, let nothing you dismay.

Remember there’s no evidence that there was a Christmas day.

When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

There was no star of Bethlehem; there was no angel song.

There could have been no wise men for the journey was too long.

The stories in the Bible are historical-ly wrong.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

Much of our Christmas custom comes from Persia and from Greece.

From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East.

We know this so-called holiday is but a pagan feast.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.”

Well after singing that over to myself, I shut down my computer and went to bed. I went to sleep longing for the good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I could enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one were Alistair Sim plays Scrooge. I told myself that if I just went to sleep, something would come to me and I’d wake up knowing just what to say to you all on this night of nights. So, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”

It may not have been the ghost of Christmas past who visited me last night, but it certainly was a Christmas from my past. I must have caught a glimpse of it earlier in the day, when the box of Christmas decorations was hauled upstairs. It’s a small thing really. Something I bought to adorn my very first apartment. You see, my first apartment was just a small studio, everything in one little room, so there was no room for a Christmas tree. So, I decided that if I couldn’t fit a tree in there, I might just be able to manage a nativity set. But I didn’t have much money to spare and all the nativity sets I liked were outrageously expensive and then one day I saw it on a store-shelf, a tiny little nativity that I could actually afford. It had been marked down, from $16 to $12.95. From where I was standing it looked like it had been carved out of the finest wood. I knew that I just had to have it. When I reached out to take it off the shelf, I realized that it was actually made of plastic and suddenly the $12.95 price tag seemed way too much to pay for this mass-produced piece of plastic. But the longer I looked at it the more I knew that my little apartment needed it. Would you like to see it?

It may be small. It may just be a cheap imitation, but when I look at it I see all the hopes and dreams of all the years as they are told in the story of stories. No more ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I woke up knowing just what I had to do. You see Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of this movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you. When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts?  We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well. Continue reading

The Power of Love Who Lives In Us: a Christmas Eve Sermon

cloth nativityA sermon preached on Christmas Eve 2011 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story.[1]  Tonight, as we celebrate the greatest story every told, we also celebrate our own stories. As families gather and festivities progress we will tell our stories to one another; stories that move us to a deeper understanding of who we are; stories that in their own way compliment the greatest story ever told. Every family has them, those little stories that we love to tell one another because they remind us of our deep connections to one another or reveal a truth we treasure in one another. Christmas is a time for stories old and new, stories grand and glorious, happy and sad stories that will cause us to remember, to laugh and to cry.

So, this evening, my story, like the story of Jesus birth, begins with the stories of two pregnant women. The Jesus’ story begins with the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, two cousins who were great with child. My story begins with the news that two of my nieces Ashley and her sister Sheri Lynn, were also pregnant. Ashley was expecting her first child, Sheri Lynn her second. My niece Sheri Lynn’s little girl is my great-niece Isabella.

Isabella is just 3 years old and last month she and her mother, Sheri Lynn, travelled here from Vancouver, so that Isabella could be the flower-girl at my wedding. Before they arrived the story was already being told of Isabella’s response to the news that her Aunt Ashley was going to have a baby and that that baby was going to be a little boy. Isabella proudly announced that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy was going to be her new little brother. Well meaning adults tried to correct Isabella by gently telling her that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy would in fact be her cousin and not her brother. But Isabella insisted that he would be her brother. Various family members tried to convince Isabella that the baby her mommy was expecting would be her little brother or her little sister, but the little boy that her Aunt Ashley was expecting would be her cousin. But no matter how hard or how often they tried to explain it, Isabella went on insisting that her Aunt Ashley’s new baby would be her brother.

One day, while they were visiting, I snapped at the chance to look after Isabella while her mother did some sightseeing. I had some errands to run and it was marvellous to have a little 3 year-old along to help me. It gave me the opportunity to do some great-auntie stuff. And that’s how Isabella and I ended up in the local Christian bookstore trying to find a lightweight nativity set that she would be able to carry home with her on the airplane. I wanted her to learn to tell the greatest story ever told in her own unique way. Continue reading