Christmas is for the Suffering (Blue Christmas Sermon)

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached at a “Blue Christmas” service today.

It’s almost Christmas, just a few more days and families will gather together, present will be opened, children will be ecstatic, memories will be made. Some of us will be back here again in this place, singing joyful carols like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” listening to the choir sing a majestic anthem, laughing at Kermit the Frog’s antics in the pulpit. That’s one form of Christmas.

Christmas is so many things to so many different people. For some, it’s a day of joy and celebration. For some, it’s about giving. For some, it’s about traditions. For some, it’s about family. For some, it’s about children. For some, it’s about remembering how Christmas used to be different, used to be happier, used to be better. For some, Christmas is the greatest time of year. For others, it can be the worst.

Christmas is many different things even in scripture. Each of the four gospels tells the whole story of Jesus differently, and each of them treats the birth of Jesus very differently.

Mark, the first gospel that was written, has absolutely no Christmas story at all. He just starts with Jesus as an adult. Mark just didn’t think it was important, I guess.

Matthew talks about Jesus’ birth. He focuses on Joseph, a descendant of King David who became the earthly father of Jesus. Matthew tells us about the angel who came to Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary’s child was Emmanuel, the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Matthew tells us about the wise men who traveled from distant lands by the guidance of a star. Throughout his Christmas story, Matthew shows that Jesus, at his birth, was already the fulfillment of prophecy, both the prophecy of the Jewish people and also the prophecy of people from far away. Prophecies that foretold a savior, a king, a Messiah, who would save the people.

Luke tells us a very different Christmas story. Luke focuses on Mary, showing us the humble, lowly woman who sang a song proclaiming that God had looked with favor upon her, that God has shown strength, that God has lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and remembered his people. The humble, lowly woman who would endure the stares and gossip of family and synagogue as her unmarried pregnancy began to show. The humble, lowly woman who would travel, pregnant, eighty miles to Bethlehem and give birth in terrible conditions. Luke tells us of the lowly and poor shepherds who were the first to hear the news that a Savior was born. Throughout his Christmas story, Luke shows that Jesus came to those who were outcast, those who were poor, those who knew suffering.

And then there is John, whose Christmas story I just read. Might not sound like Christmas, but it is. Christmas is about how the Son of God came to be with us, and John’s cosmic poem is surely about that, even if he doesn’t mention a birth. John starts way before that, showing Jesus as the very Word of God, with God from the beginning of creation. Jesus is, and always has been, the light of the world, the life of all people. The light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and no darkness can overcome it. And John tells us that this very Word, this very Light, became flesh and dwelled among us who live in darkness. That’s Christmas.

And as different as these three stories are, there is a distinct pattern among them. All of them are about how Christ came to people who struggle, people who suffer, people who live in darkness. People just like you and me.

And this is the bare truth of Christmas. When you peel back all the tinsel, all the cookies, all the shopping, all the stories of reindeer and elves, all the family traditions…when you peel all that back, the truth of Christmas is this: God came to earth one night. To be with God’s people. And to save them. The true meaning of Christmas is God made flesh. God here, for you. A child lying in a manger is a beautiful image of that meaning, but the meaning is that God is with you. Shining light into darkness.

And that means that Christmas isn’t primarily for those who are already happy today. It isn’t primarily for children excited about presents. It isn’t primarily for those whose lives are all put together. Sure, God loves them as well. But the true meaning of Christmas is for you. You, the people who have come to a Blue Christmas service. You, who know what darkness is. You who so desperately need to see the light right now.

Jesus came here for you. He has not forgotten you. He has not abandoned you. I know it can feel like that sometimes. But he has not. He is here. He may not work the miracle you want right now. But he is here. He will dwell with you, and you will see his glory. And that is a miracle itself.

Matthew tells us that he is named Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus is God with us. Luke tells us that he has remembered his people, and will fill the hungry with good things, and lift up the lowly. Good news is precisely for those who suffer. John tells us that he will shine light in your darkness.

All these voices tell us that Jesus has come into the world. That God has moved into the neighborhood. That you are never, ever alone. And that there is hope. There is always, always hope. For you. For you. For you. God is here. With us. For you.

Featured image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay.

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