Thanks to Rev. David Mueller for submitting this sermon that he preached Christmas day in 2005, the last time that Christmas fell on a Sunday. This being the 12th day of Christmas it still fits the season.
Rev. Mueller talking:
Since then, Eddi’s Service has become a December newsletter staple for me. With two tiny parishes (23 and 13 on Christmas morning, and I was quite pleased with that turnout), I often wonder whether I ought to change my own name to Eddi. “I dare not shut His chapel / On such as care to attend.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You know I can’t pass this over without comment. This from the Christianity Today Weblog, week of December 5th (2005): “While Christian groups are warring to make sure that business and government workers say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”, one place you won’t hear either greeting this December 25th is at many of the largest churches in the country. That’s because…those churches won’t be open that day. Now, in most years, that wouldn’t be terribly surprising: Protestant church offices have closed Christmas Day since the time of the Puritans…. But this year, Christmas falls on a Sunday, the day when most churches (excepting [groups like the 7th Day Adventists]) hold services. Not this year. Willow Creek Community Church (near Chicago), Southland Christian Church (near Lexington, KY), Mars Hill Bible Church (near Grand Rapids), North Point Comm. Church (in Alpharetta, GA), and Fellowship Church (near Dallas) (Hmm. These churches are near large cities, not in them. Hmm.) are among the churches hanging up “closed” signs after their many Christmas Eve services. These 5 churches have a combined weekly attendance of more than 645,000.
And yes, it’s a conspiracy. Megachurch officials around the country consulted with each other before deciding to take the day off. The reason? “It’s more than being family-friendly,” Willow Creek spokeswoman Cally Parkinson said. “It’s being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy.”
Not offering services on a day that almost everyone has off is lifestyle-friendly how? They’re so busy trying to fit in church that the solution is to cancel church? Parkinson explained further, “Christmas tends to be the one time of year when lots of those unchurched people show up at Willow; why not give them a gift?”
So, hang on, said one non-Christian-associated blog: You reward people for coming to church by… not making them come to church?
Says Gene Appel, the senior pastor: We don’t see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas—hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day.
But if that holds true for Christmas, doesn’t it hold true for every other Sunday?
What’s going on here is a redefinition of Christmas as a time of family celebration, rather than as a time of the community of the faithful celebrating the birth of the Savior.”
This blog goes on, but you get the idea. What does Christmas mean? It means time to build up the family unit, strengthen the morals of the families of a nation, by having them spend time with just each other that they normally wouldn’t, hopefully creating a bunch of sentimental shared experiences that will make them all feel like they’ve really had a good Christmas. Frankly, I think it’s just the leaders of these megachurches looking for an excuse to sleep in on a Sunday morning.
Oh, and by the way, it’s not just megachurches. I did hear a rumor—for what it’s worth—that one (perhaps more) of our own Newton County houses of worship is also closed today.
But it shouldn’t surprise us. Sinful man is always in danger of forgetting—no, always is working to forget what Christmas really means. To be sure, these particular people will emphasize that they are not forgetting about the birth of Jesus, that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But when a church skips church on a Sunday, and uses Christ’s birth as an excuse, they’ve lost the real meaning.
But, like I said, it shouldn’t surprise us. We’ve gone through yet another December (and a good chunk of November, or even all of it, back to Halloween) listening to all kinds of confused messages about the meaning of Christmas. Watch TV, and you get the idea that it’s mainly about spending a whole lot of money (which has the side-benefit of boosting our economy) on things people may or may not need, on food and drink to excess, and on travel to the place where we’ll do all that spending.
To be sure, there’s a lot of people who do realize that Christmas has Christ at its foundation. So, they find a way to work Him in, too, with all kinds of fuzzy notions. Twisting His birth to fit whatever political agenda they have in mind, liberal or conservative. Jesus’ birth is about homelessness. Jesus’ birth is about government oppression and high taxes. Jesus’ birth is about class warfare. Or, people just plain don’t know what to make of Jesus, but they know it’s about Him, somehow, so they just kinda make it up as they go along.
The sinful unbeliever in every man doesn’t want to know the real Jesus, doesn’t want to know Who He Is, and what He came for. It’s too uncomfortable. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” That’s the world we live in, and boy, if that part about “His own did not receive Him” doesn’t just fit those vacationing churches today!
But doesn’t that fit you and me, too! Sinful man forgets, wants to forget the real meaning of Christmas. And you and I fit into that bunch, too. Day by day, week by week, we live and do as though Christmas doesn’t really mean anything. We are not immune from the danger of re-interpreting the Feast Day itself, either—making the less-important, extra stuff the center of the day’s meaning. And then, on the 26th, and more and more as the new year begins, perhaps, our lives fall back into the same sinful ruts. And we deny with our lives what we’ve sung so joyfully with our voices for a few days in December.
Christmas, dear friends, is “Christ’s Mass.” Mass, of course, simply referring to the Divine Service of Word and the Lord’s Supper—a perfectly good and ancient word which we have allowed ourselves not to like because it sounds like it belongs to a certain heterodox confession. But that’s what today is: Christ’s Mass, with all that that entails. But come to think of it, doesn’t Christ’s Mass happen every Sunday? To be sure, even though we celebrate Christ’s Mass—Christmas—every week, our sinful flesh still forgets its meaning. Just a day to rest and recuperate for Monday, but not for eternity.
What Christmas really means, we forget. But God remembers. To be sure, when all is said and done, what’s most important about Christ’s Mass, this Sunday, every Sunday, is that God remembers.
“But when the kindness of love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, [not because we were so smart to remember the real meaning of Christmas], but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace, we shall become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” In that washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit—that is, in Holy Baptism, God remembers the real meaning of Christmas—His mercy, and washes us clean from our sins in the blood of His eternal Son, poured out for us on the cross. Washes us clean even from the sin of forgetting His real meaning of Christmas—the very same mercy, reminding us of it—and not just once, to be forgotten again, but daily, for the rest of our lives. And so, having been thus justified, declared righteous and holy, we are now His heirs. In other words, His children. And this is nothing less than the whole foundation of the whole Divine Service, Christ’s Mass, each Sunday and holiday/holy-day. In fact, God’s real meaning for Christmas, in your Baptism, is the foundation for your whole life, every day.
“The people who walked in darkness [the darkness of their own willful forgetfulness of the real Christmas] have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has a light shined…. For unto us a Child is born, unto us the Son is given.” Our Father in heaven remembers Christmas, so He sends His Son, even today, to be born to us, and His faith born in us, each Christ’s Mass each week, as His Word, the Gospel of His sacrifice for our forgiveness is spoken and preached to us. And “unto us His Son is given” in His very body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of our sins.
Our Father remembers Christ’s Mass to us, and remembers us in it, so that we may remember, and so believe, so that to us “He gives the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.”
“Born of God!” Do you know what that means? Christmas, since it’s truly Christ’s Mass, every Sunday, carrying us through each day in our Baptism, really is, then, the day to celebrate with your family. You are born of God, so here is your family—your everlasting family.
The real meaning of Christmas is that God our Father remembers His mercy for the sake of the Baby born in Bethlehem, the man crucified outside Jerusalem, in order to make us His family. That’s why the Church will always be here for Christmas. She can’t do otherwise.
Listen to Rudyard Kipling express it:
Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.
But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well,
Nobody came to the service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.
“Wicked weather for walking,”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
“But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.”
The altar-lamps were lighted,—
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.
The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.
“How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is my Father’s business,”
Said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.;
“But—three are gathered together—
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!”
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
And he told the Ox of a Manger
And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
That rode to Jerusalem.
They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word,
Till the gale blew off the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.
And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
“I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend.”
Thanks be to God, He remembers His Christmas, and even opens His doors to asses and oxen like us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.