Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Everyone has a favorite Christmas song, whether it’s a classic like “O Holy Night,” or Mariah Carey’s ever popular, “All I want for Christmas is You.” There are even regional differences among the favorites. Our neighboring Wisconsinites liken themselves to its’ a “ Holly Jolly Christmas,” while earnest Pennsylvanians prefer Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas. When I was young, a favorite song was “We Need a Little Christmas” from the musical Mame. For me, it captured the anticipation of the holiday of my childhood. Perhaps you know the lyrics.
Haul out the holly, Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now
For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
We need a little Christmas now.
In the Broadway musical, the song is performed by Auntie Mame after she has just lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and decides that she, her young nephew Patrick, and her two household servants “need a little Christmas now” to cheer them up.
That’s how many of us feel when life takes a major tumble. We wish we could fast forward through the messy parts of life and return to something that is familiar and welcoming and joyful- as Christmas should be. Well, I don’t know if Mary and Joseph had a favorite song that first Christmas Eve, though they certainly were the inspiration for many. Unfortunately, the eyes and ears of the world are often more attuned to the pageantry and spectacle of Rome than the dark streets shining of the Little Town of Bethlehem.
It was in Rome, after all, that earth-shaking events occurred; it was there that imperial orders were fashioned, and where laws were formed for the joy and sorrow, and the peace and warfare of the world. Emperor Augustus was the closest thing to divinity on earth. In assessing his own 40- year reign as emperor, he said: “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Yes, Augusts rebuilt the republic of Rome after a great civil war into a unified and mighty empire, twice the size of when he began. He launched a 200-year reign of peace known as Pax Romana. So fully conscious of the far-reaching effects of what he was doing, he signed his decree sending the world into motion and commotion. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be enrolled…and all went to their towns to be enrolled.” The world did as it was decreed. Men, women and children everywhere set about carrying out the will of the emperor. The legions marched, the people moved, the census was taken and the empire was better served.
God too, was in the midst of this great historical decree, but not where the eyes of the world were watching far from the imperial city. That is often where God is most present. Instead, he walked closely with one man and one woman so lowly that they would hardly have been missed if they had not been counted. One man and one woman so poor that their little tax they paid for the whole year would not even buy a soldier a new pair of sandals. But Mary and Joseph packed their meager belongings and set out from Nazareth for Joseph’s home in Bethlehem. “And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.”
We may romanticize that image, but I am afraid that Mary and Joseph may have been singing, “We need a Little Christmas, right this very minute” on the night of Jesus’ birth. After all this wasn’t the way they imagined their infant son would enter the world. They came to Joseph’s home in Bethlehem expecting to be welcomed by family. They anticipated they would be offered a guest room with distant relatives, but instead we read that there was no room for them.
No place for the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty Counselor to lay he sweet head? No room for such a poor family in any home; no room for them except where gold had to clank to open doors and silks and satins and uniforms had to shine to win a bed. Instead, Mary and Joseph found refuge on a lower floor of a home where the animals slept. The animals at least would not object to their coming and sharing their straw. And in the bone-chilling rawness of it all and the heartrending poverty and meanness of such surroundings, the Word became flesh. God entered into the world to be enrolled on the Emperor’s tax rolls- with no soundtrack of favorite Christmas songs playing softly in the background. Jesus did not weep in angry fury at being thrust out into the world. He did not scream at the coarseness of the improvised swaddling clothes. He did not whimper as he was laid on prickly straw nor did he sob himself to sleep at the rough planking of his manger bed. The Son of the Father from all eternity, the one through whom all things came into being, emptied himself and became man.
Now you may be wondering, so why would God send his only- begotten Son to be born in a place where animals were kept and then laid in a manger? How can that be good news? Surely, Jesus, who was greater than the Emperor in Rome deserved a more fitting setting in the most elegant of surroundings. Surprisingly, my friends, it is in that story we find our greatest hope for those moment when we need a little Christmas, right this very minute – throughout the year – and not just in December. Jesus’ humble birth in Bethlehem proclaims an amazing message to all of us. Our loving and all-powerful God knowingly chose to abandon the majesty of heaven to come to you and to be with you – in those darkest moments of life. But instead of coming to earth as a privileged, entitled ruler, Jesus was born in meekness, as one of us. Jesus is not like the distant Emperor Augustus in Rome. Jesus is approachable, accessible, available, and no palace gates bar the way to him; no ring of guards prevents you from coming to him.
Martin Luther once wrote in a sermon for Christmas, “If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him.”
My friends, in those moment when you need a little Christmas, right this very minute, come to the manger again and again. And remember that after the twelve days of Christmas, it doesn’t have to be boxed up and packed away for another year. The manger is the good news that God has come to dwell with us and walks with us. And there you will discover within its bed of straw a God who loves and cares for you this Christmas and every day. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.