2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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An Upside-Down Christmas

Micah 5:2-5, Luke 1:39-55

 Twice this week as I was visiting with people in the parish, I heard these words, spoken once with joy and once with sadness: “Well, Christmas is really for children, isn’t it.”

 I have been thinking hard about that statement this year, and I want to talk with you this morning about it, about whom Christmas is really for.

 Yes, indeed, it is for children, among others, but not, perhaps, in the way you think. Listen again to the words of Mary:

 My soul magnifies the Lord

 And my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,

 For God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

 And lifted up the lowly.

 God has filled the hungry with good things,

 And sent the rich away empty.

 God’s blessing and gift of word-made-flesh, of God-with-us, Emmanuel, this year is for the children. It’s for the young Israeli child who is alive to celebrate Hanukkah because of the gift of a lung donated by the parents of a Palestinian boy who was killed for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. God’s gift is also for that Palestinian family who grieves the loss of their son and brother. We know Christmas comes in the midst of war because of decisions like that of this family who saw only a child in need and not an enemy.

 Christmas this year is for the hungry and hopeless children in North Korean orphanages and farms whose pictures I cannot see without seeing the faces of my children, and not just because they, too, are Korean. The hope of the unjust powerful being brought down and hungry ones filled, of God coming as a baby, hungry, laid in straw, this surely is for them.

 Christmas this year is for the homeless children in this country, who do not understand either the arcane politics of welfare or the mistakes their parents have made or the arbitrary nature of disease, or even how some people can just fall through the cracks. All they know is cold and fear and uncertainty and no place like home. That God might come to earth like one of them and know, even for a moment (the stable birth, the terrified flight to Egypt) what it’s like to be in their place, that means even more than any lovely toys they receive at shelter parties. It is the hope that something in their lives might change for good. If God understands, maybe other people, with voices to speak the truth, might understand as well.

 Christmas is for all those children.

 Many people have said to me with compassion in recent weeks that this must be a hard time of year for me, since my father’s untimely death was so recent. I suspect others of you who have suffered loss this year of one kind or another have heard this, too.

 And yes, I miss not thinking about what gift I might give to him, not talking to him on Christmas Day. And I’m sad because I know especially my mother and my ten-year-old nephew, who was so close to his Grandpa, will miss him around the tree. But, you see, in another way I am able this year, in the wake of my father’s death, to touch in just the smallest sort of way the depth of whom Christmas is really for. The incredible gift of God-made-human is precisely for those human beings who need God most: the broken, the estranged, the grieving, the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the hungry, the powerless, those who need to be forgiven and those who need to forgive, those who are frightened by the presence of angels and those who need to hear a proclamation of peace, those at war with guns or words or silences, those whose burdens are too heavy to bear, those who have decided that God is no longer present or doesn’t care, those searching for, hoping for, home.

 If those people are children, then Christmas above all is for them.

 If those people are adults, then Christmas is for them, too.

 And they, we, will recognize Christmas in our midst not in silver or gold packages and ornaments, though they bring delight, but in the gifts to us that come form the weakest places in our lives and world. Places like Bethlehem, the least prestigious address in Judah, and a pregnant teenager and her reluctant fiancÚ, whose credit was not even good enough for the cheapest hotel in this two-bit town. A helpless child, a dirty stable, God with us. It’s only when we go to the weakest and smallest and of least account, to the saddest, the most scary, the most broken places in our lives and world, that we stand, also, in the stable and receive the gift of knowing Christmas. Then we can celebrate it with the kind of deep joy that outlasts the needles that fall from the tree and the wrapping paper carted away in the trash.

 God turns the world upside-down, not doing at all what she expected, disrupting her five-year-plan, and Mary calls it a good thing. That’s why Christmas was for her that first year. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

A Sermon By Rochelle A. Stackhouse