Preachers talk when we get together, and most that I know admit that Christmas and Easter sermons are among the most difficult preaching challenges of the year. Odd, isn’t it? The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is such a simple but profoundly complex reality. It’s anything but the trivial sentimentality we too often assign to it. I wonder a lot about why…..
Has the beautiful Christmas story become so familiar that we’ve lost any real sense of what its mystery really means to us? Has the amazement at what makes Christmas truly amazing escaped us, and been replaced with superficial amazement of culturally self-manufactured excitement? Has it become nothing more than an annual food fest of gathered family units, with joyful gift giving, overindulgent parties, and acts of kindness done in the “spirit” of Christmas, without any comprehension of what that spirit is really all about?
Is it no more than a magical time that takes place once a year but wears off within a few days, when we return back to our “normal” lives, having enjoyed what we either considered a “good” Christmas or a “bad” Christmas, depending on our level of happiness or depression? How many ways has the script of Christmas been rewritten to conform to our preferences? The alternative stories are certainly not evil, but neither are they real. Yet they serve to promote good feelings, and that’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about, right? How is Christmas more than that? Or is it? We’re usually too distracted to really have much care or awareness about the incomprehensible. It’s just easier to focus on the simple pleasures of a different narrative.
History is re-written all the time, and always has been. I naively expected to study an objective discipline when I became a history major as an undergrad...amazed and shocked when I found that there are all kinds of varieties and perspectives of history. If we can just focus on the WHAT questions, we get a pretty uniform answer, but when we delve into the WHY, we have a lot more diversity. It can become very subjective then, with lots of levels of interpretive “truth”. And yet, the WHY is essential.
The WHY is the most important question in most cases, as it gets to the depth of the superficial WHAT, and leads us to the whole point of the enterprise we're studying, practicing, believing, worshiping or living. But the WHY cannot be pure speculation or else it's just another perspective among many. It has to have merit based on truth by a clear understanding the author, poet, philosopher, religion or morality, which usually requires spending much more time analyzing the WHAT.
Anyone can rewrite the WHAT with a whole slew of WHY's and be doing no more than guessing what the real “truth” is, of the WHAT. But when one truly observes the WHAT while pursuing the true WHY, without any preconceived notions (if that’s even possible), it at least has the potential to teach and enlighten us as well as reveal truth at the deepest level
For instance, the WHAT of Christmas is a joyful thing to celebrate (however it’s done), but the WHY of Christmas is perhaps the most profound consideration ever beheld, experienced or contemplated by the world…and in many cases, ignored and rejected. Does any of that make sense to anyone?
In a couple of weeks, I’ll preach about something so incredible that one can only fall to one’s knees in adoration if you believe what the Church proclaims. The angel says to the shepherds in the field, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” That’s the WHAT of Christmas. I pray that by the time the gospel is read at the Christ Mass, I will have some compelling words regarding the WHY of Christmas, that will “give flesh,” so to speak, to the biblical narrative…. For unto us a Savior is born, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Have a Blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas!
I’m a 4th generation Texan, born and raised in Dallas, except for the first 9 years of my life. I grew up as an Army brat until my dad retired and we moved back home to Dallas when I was in the 4th grade. I lived in Asuncion, Paraguay as a pre-schooler and was fluent in Spanish and Guarani when we returned to the States. But alas, you lose it if you don’t use it.