Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Surprisingly, in spite of this being the second year of a global pandemic, and yet another covid variant on the horizon, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Everywhere you go.”  Last year, we were fretting about how we could spend Christmas in a lock-down. This year we have returned joyfully to our old patterns- some good and some not.  We are spiritual as ever or as writer David Barry noted, “We come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”  We have come through the pandemic a bit more honest about childhood memories and the pandemic 15.  “You know you’re getting older when Santa starts looking younger.”  We are regretfully just as cynical, “I bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying ‘toys not included.’”  And after a year of Zoom calls and virtual gatherings, we are just as generous in our relationships, after all, “Sending Christmas cards is a good way to let your friends and family know that you think they’re worth the price of a stamp.”

Fortunately, we have all become a bit more childlike.  As Charles Dickens, the author of A Christmas Carol wrote, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”  Who doesn’t love a good Christmas film the whole family can watch?  Remember the delight of the character Elf, “I planned out our whole day. First, we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Toll House cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.”  Yes, we smile loudly, when children write their messages to Santa, “Dear Santa, last Christmas I asked you for a baby sister.  This year I want you to take her back.”  We may even chuckle when our children are still a bit confused about the real meaning of Christmas.  Even in the pastor’s home, amidst all the discarded wrappings, two boys could be overheard whispering, “I sure hope Joseph and Mary have another baby next year.”  Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Everywhere you go.”

Of course, ours would not be the first generation to be confused by the meaning and importance of Jesus at this annual Christmas celebration. The traditional story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem often takes listeners by surprise when they hear it read on the First Sunday of Advent. There is something strange about the waving of palm branches in late November, and the shouting of hosannas in a cold winter breeze. It seems out of step with our expectations for the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem and the singing of angels on Christmas Eve.  It just doesn’t fit our festive notion of decking the halls with boughs of holly, garlands and mistletoe.  But perhaps that is the reminder we need more than any other this year as we face a second Christmas in a global pandemic. Yes, my friends, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and thank God for that, and it will be a festive Christmas too, all because of God has done to make it so.

2000 years ago, the people in Jerusalem who watched Jesus riding a donkey into the city were certainly curious and confused as well. We read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”  They shouted that he was the Son of David. But no king of Israel had ever appeared riding on a donkey.  They always entered Jerusalem riding a horse.  “Who is this Jesus?” could just as easily be the question asked in our own time and place.

I remember my first Christmas Eve in Riga, Latvia as a missionary pastor just a year after the breakup of Soviet Union.  Most people didn’t know the story of the Christ’s birth in Bethlehem or of his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.  Instead, they celebrated New Year’s Eve as the time for revelry, music and gift giving. Our church building in the capital city had not yet been formally returned, so we shared it with the Riga Technical University Spiritual and Cultural Center.  After our Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols with the university male chorus performing, the director the Center thanked me for the musical experience. She enjoyed everything about it, but she didn’t understand the purpose of the ugly, wooden manger in the center of the church.  Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Everywhere you go- “But who is this Jesus” at the heart of it?

There is more than just confusion that makes it difficult to celebrate what this season offers.  There are conflicting and joyous images.  We have all experienced the excitement, energy and the anxiety of Christmas, but so many are confused as to who and what this excitement is all about.  Is it a bearded old elf in a red suit with flying reindeer?  Is it the merchants who depend on the holiday season to break even and turn a profit by the end of the year?  Is it the people who are unusually generous at Christmastime, or is it perhaps the beneficiaries of their generosity?  Or maybe Jesus is the reason for the season? Any or all of these could be what it’s all about as far as the world is concerned, but nobody can say for sure who the source of all of this excitement is.

Then there is the desire to return to a bright and merry Christmas season which has never been so palpable as it was in the pandemic year that has passed. Even now are all waiting for something new to happen, some new door to open, some new victory to be one. Yes, we want some new triumph to help us end this year well.  We can see the light of Christmas light at the end of the tunnel, we just don’t know how long it will be.

Our gospel reading reminds us that Jesus does not come as the conquering kings and warriors of the world, nor does he come on the reigns of flying reindeer, or the magic of the touch of his nose. Rather Jesus comes humbly to win your heart and your affection, so that all the power of his kingdom may be yours.  He comes humbly.  And there is no one, so lowly or so needy, that he is not willing to meet, to bend down and over, and to lift up.  No, not even death can separate you from his love. For his is an unshakeable kingdom that knows no pandemic.  His is a kingdom that begins now and finds its fulfillment in the life to come.  That is his promise and victory to all who open their hearts and lives to him. So how, will you receive him?

My friends, let the assurance of Jesus’ message of hope and wonder is just as important now as it was a year ago, when we knew that there would dark days ahead.  There are lives that are still broken and tottering on collapse.  Many are still wandering in darkness. But with Jesus’ entrance into your life, you may be assured that he can make all the difference in your future.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Everywhere you go. But only you can answer:  So who is this Jesus, and how will you receive him?  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.