Christmas Eve 2018

            A couple weeks ago, it was a Monday morning I think, I walked into the sanctuary and noticed our crèche.  It was early in Advent, so there wasn’t much in it yet, only a couple of livestock.  But there was also something already in the cradle, and it caught my eye because it looked like a purple plastic Easter egg.  Purple is good, because that’s the color of Advent, but my initial thought was, “Who in the world would put a purple plastic Easter egg in the manger?  And my second quickly followed:  “Please don’t tell me that the baby Jesus is inside – that would just be too kitschy.”  And he wasn’t, he was still safely tucked away awaiting his appearance tonight.  But seeing the Easter egg in the nativity scene got me thinking about the multiple connections between Christmas and Easter.

            Christmas and Easter are, of course, the 2 axes of the church year, our two biggest holidays.  The nativity and the resurrection are also probably two of the best known Bible stories as well – I bet everyone here tonight, regardless of how much else you might or might not know about the Bible, can describe the story of Jesus’ birth and the story of his resurrection.  Both holidays are preceded by a season of preparation, the four weeks of Advent before Christmas and the seven weeks of Lent before Easter.  And the music is not only familiar, but many of the hymns are nearly interchangeable.  “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come” is a Christmas song but could pass for Easter as well, for the resurrection when the Lord is come again and the world is joyful.  Or here is a line from an Easter hymn that could also be sung at Christmas:  “On this most holy day of days / our hearts and voices Lord we raise / to thee in jubilee and praise…”  And as we sang together last week, “Christ was born to save” could also be sung on both holidays.

            In fact, one of my favorite church jokes is about the interchangeability of Easter and Christmas hymns:  a couple was leaving church after Christmas Eve services and the husband was furious.  “That is the last time I’m ever going to that church.”  And it took his wife by surprise, because she thought it had been a nice service.  The choir sang gorgeously, the sanctuary sparkled in candlelight, the poinsettias were lovely, the children were great and the preacher delivered a pretty good sermon.  “What was wrong with the service?” she asked her husband.  “Every single time I go to that church they sing the same songs over and over… if it isn’t “Silent Night,” it’s “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today.”  Just the same songs over and over again…

            There’s a lot of interconnectedness between Easter and Christmas.

            And as I looked at that purple plastic Easter egg, I found myself wondering, as one sometimes wonders when considering an egg, “Which came first?”  Christmas or Easter?  Chronologically, of course, Christmas did – Jesus was born before he rose again, right?  But in terms of significance, I would suggest it’s the other way around.  The reason we celebrate Christmas is because of the resurrection; if Jesus had not been raised from dead, we would not be celebrating his birth.  If there were not an Easter, there would not be a Christmas.  The earliest church as much as acknowledged this in that from the very first, the resurrection was celebrated regularly – in fact every Sunday was considered a “little Easter.”  The church didn’t think to celebrate Jesus’ birth until some time in the fourth century.  So we might say that Easter gave birth, gave life, and gave meaning, to Christmas.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so kitschy after all if the baby Jesus were in that purple plastic Easter egg.  These are some of the thoughts that went through my head when I saw that egg that morning.  In fact I had pretty much written my entire Christmas Eve sermon in my head when I saw it.

            But then I looked closer, and what I saw in the crèche wasn’t an Easter egg at all, and I thought, “Great – there goes my whole Christmas Eve sermon out the window!”  It wasn’t a purple plastic Easter egg – it was a purple plastic Easter egg-shaped noisemaker, the kind the choir likes to use when they get jazzy.  So when I wondered who in the world put a purple plastic noisemaker in the cradle, the list of suspects suddenly narrowed.  Considerably.

            But I love it!  Jesus the noisemaker!  Jesus the one who shakes things up!  Jesus the one who finds a way to grab your attention!  What did Mary say about him before he was born?  “He will bring down the powerful from their thrones; [he will] lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things; [he will] send the rich away empty.”  This is the Jesus who would grow up to turn the tables in the Jerusalem temple.  This is the Jesus who makes the last first and the first last. This is the Jesus who feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, comforts the prisoner, heals the sick, welcomes the immigrant.  This is the Jesus who rebuked the scribes and elders, or the church leaders of his day.  This is the Jesus who not only brought down the mighty from their positions of power but who overcame death itself.  I like the idea of Jesus as a noisemaker, as someone who shakes things up and challenges the status quo.  This is the Jesus who doesn’t allow us to get too comfortable, even on Christmas Eve.  This is the Jesus who reminds us there are still hungry people to be fed, there are still homeless in our communities, there are still prisoners needing our attention, there are still strangers and there are still refugees waiting to be welcomed.  What Howard Thurman calls “the work of Christmas” still needs to be done, and that work is ours to do.

            So we go to our homes, or a neighbor’s or a friend’s tonight to celebrate his birth yet another time.  And perhaps we can see those places in our world, or in our churches, or in our own lives, where that birth has the power to shake things up and turn them upside down, to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, as Mary said about her son.  If God is truly gracious, and God is, very gracious, we will recognize the opportunities before each of us, to make a little noise, and to transform the way the world is to the way God wants the world to be.  And when you wish one another a Merry Christmas, and I hope you do, listen closely for the sound of the purple Easter egg.  Whatever happened in the manger that night has the power to change the world one heart at a time.   Amen.

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