Sermon for December 24, 2002
for December 24, 2002
Too Old for Candy (Luke 2:1-20)
It was October. Charlie was fourteen and having a difficult fall. Usually Charlie liked October. October was the beginning of his festival season. Charlie's season began with Halloween, then in short order came Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. New Year's Eve. Valentine's Day was an afterthought, but by then winter was almost over and spring would mean that soon school would be finished, and then there was summer vacation. For Charlie, at fourteen years, this miraculous chain of events that gave him so much pleasure began in October.
As Charlie had grown up, the various holidays had all blended into one seamless flow of events. Christmas decorations were in the store as early as Labor Day. Valentine candy could be found at the super market even before the last rehearsal of the Christmas program. It all was one continuous flow of goodness and joy. Charlie loved it.
But Charlie was fourteen now. As happens sometime around that age, his perspective on Halloween somehow had changed. Of all the festivals it had been perhaps his favorite. Who could top an evening of going around the city and collecting free candy. What a delight.
But this year for Charlie, Halloween had seemed somewhat hollow rather than hallowed. At fourteen, the questions begin to creep into one's heart: Am I too old to knock on doors of strangers for free treats? Am I too old now for candy? Will I look kind of stupid doing this? And is free candy really all that important?
The last two years, Charlie had buried the growing question by volunteering to go trick or treating with his younger sister and brother. His parents were stunned that he suddenly had an interest in being seen with the younger ones. With his younger brother and sister, for two years now, it had seemed ok. But this year, even that seemed childish. Maybe it was time to stop knocking on the door with outstretched hands?
Then it was November. Thanksgiving, too, seemed less sacred. Grandma, who usually cooked the turkey, was too ill to have Thanksgiving. They went to his uncle's house for the dinner. It was good, but the food did not taste like Grandma's. His favorite team lost the football game. He and everyone in his family seemed to be trying to have a good time rather than having the good time.
Then December came; and once again, Charlie struggled. He had always looked forward to Santa and the presents. This was an important time to get the good things. At least that is what he had always thought. But at fourteen, he had a growing awareness of something else he could not yet name. For awhile now he had understood how Santa Claus worked. That in itself gave him pause to think about economic questions that he had not before considered. One of his friends on the basketball team came from a family that did not have much money. For the first time, Charlie found himself wondering about Santa Claus and poor people. He was no longer worrying about how Santa Claus fit into chimneys. He was beginning to wonder about how Santa Claus fit through the doors of those who had no homes at all.
Charlie was fourteen. Growing up. At fourteen, the holiday season is sometimes difficult, almost suddenly one is too old to see the holiday as an opportunity for benefits. The hallowed somehow becomes hollow. Things change. People are gone. Places at the table are empty. We become aware of economics, absence and loss. We sense that life is hard for many. And we, like fourteen year olds everywhere, wonder.
Christian brothers and sisters. On this night of wonder,
we wonder not only about the amazing events in the sky. We also wonder about
ourselves, our lives, and the meaning we make of the time we have been given
to live. Like Charlie, we all go through some Christmas's that are harder than
others, as we become more aware of how the world works.
Sometimes we can go for years, treating God as a kind stranger upon whose door we knock in prayer, holding out our bag, expecting the blessings or treats to come our way, content with this view of faith until something goes wrong. For whole decades we can dress God in red and white and transform God into the great gift-giver from whom all good things do come. Sometimes that partial truth becomes our whole experience of faith.
Until we grow a bit. At some point we discover, or re-discover, that this whole thing is not about the blessings in our bags.
In the genuine dramas of life, we turn out to be the ones who open the door, not the ones holding the bags. Life is not about the gifts showered on us, but our own capacities to wear the red and white as we offer both large and small tokens of affection to all those around us, especially those struggling even to get their bags open. At some point, we learn that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that we are called into partnership with God in an effort to make the world better. That is the awkward journey from Christmas mirth to Christmas joy.
Sometimes, like Charlie, we can go for years, borrowing the joy of the season from an older relative rather than experiencing the joy honestly for ourselves. People do holidays so much to please mom or dad or grandma or grandpa. That is a good thing. But at some point, we become aware of the need in us to find our own joy, our own light, our own celebration. Is it time for you this year to stop renting Christmas from someone else and to own your very own Christmas, perhaps for the first time? That is the awkward journey each of us makes as we hear the angels in our own hearts.
Sometimes, like Charlie, we can go for years, even decades, buried
in the emotion generated in the holiday season and on this night. Christmas
makes us feel like we are all children again. No matter who we are, no matter
what our circumstance, this night has the magic to make us all feel young. It
brings us back into touch with some of our earliest feelings and memories. That
is the magic of the night: we are all children. That is good thing. It is a
relief to be free from the adult world for just a moment or two.
Yet, we can be swallowed up in the emotion; content and satisfied, with a Christmas when we get that good feeling again. When that feeling comes, then, we say, it has been a good Christmas. We can be frozen in the emotional quest for childlike revere. And then, as we grow, we sense that on this night, happiness is not universal. And the unhappiness of another limits our own joy until our joy is somehow shared.
Underneath the emotional intensity of the night, underneath the
borrowed Christmas, and underneath the desire to want a God who keeps on giving,
for Charlie and for us, is this simple story from Luke, chapter two, in the
This story is a peasant's story. The family's life is made more difficult because of a forced journey during pregnancy caused by the decree of a foreign dictator. The birth is tender, but also has an emergency quality to it. The infant is placed in an animal feeder. These are common folk, shepherds, who hear the angels' song, follow the directions, and find a carpenter's family in a stable that serves as transitional housing. And there is a young mother who is amazed and also a bit concerned about what this all means for her and the child: a child who is a messiah, and a child who will die.
If Charlie is to journey through his adolescent difficult holiday, this is the story Charlie needs to hear with fresh ears. If we are to make the awkward journey from mirth to meaning, it is the story we, too, need to hear with fresh senses. In this story we learn of God's desire to fellowship with us and to become our partner in this thing called life. In this story, we learn of God's love for us all, especially those facing hardship. In this story, even on those more difficult holidays, is forged, not mirth, but a sometimes awkward joy that begins now and is brought to completion in the world to come.
Rejoice, in this story, Christ is born.