Pastor Whitney Rice writes: “Christmas is not an event. Christmas is not a holiday. Christmas is not a church service. Christmas is not a set of familiar carols or decorations of red and green or a jolly man in a red suit with eight tiny reindeer. Christmas is not an occasion or a party or a festival. It is not a piece of history or time off work or a gathering with family. All of these things are connected to Christmas, but fundamentally, Christmas is not an event. Christmas is a choice.”
I’d like to say that this is pretty much the sermon and step down, but I suppose it’s not quite as simple as that. So, here goes.
Christmas is a choice. There are a lot of things that aren’t a choice right now. The pandemic isn’t a choice—it’s here, and we’re stuck dealing with it. The political division among us isn’t a choice—though, our response certainly is. Climate change isn’t a choice—not anymore. Sin isn’t even a choice. It’s very much a reality, as every newspaper can attest to, though we may disagree on which actions are sinful and which are not. No, the world is broken. That is a reality. What are we going to do with that reality? That is a choice.
I’ve appreciated the statement that “we’re all in the same boat” when it comes to the pandemic, but I appreciate even more the counter statement that while “we may all be in the same storm, some of us are in yachts, some in canoes, and some are just lucky to have life vests while they tread water and try to keep their heads afloat.” Yes, we’re all in the same storm. We can’t choose the weather. And for many, we can’t choose the circumstances from which we ride out the storm. We can’t choose skin color or gender orientation or ethnicity. There are many things we can’t choose—so many things beyond our control.
But Christmas is a choice.
Mary had a choice. And she said, ‘yes.’ However, she didn’t choose to be unwed when that choice was given. She didn’t choose the nation in which she resided, nor the nation that oppressed her people. She didn’t choose the faith into which she was born, nor did she choose the God who would choose her as the first face to welcome the Messiah. She didn’t choose the timing of the census, nor did she choose a manger as the only option for a crib.
She didn’t choose Christmas. Christmas chose her. God chose her. And from that center of love, she said yes. She chose to participate. She chose to be a vessel for the Word. She chose to give birth though it would mean being shunned by her community and possibly her fiancée. She chose to bring the Messiah into the world, though she couldn’t imagine how that life would end so tragically. She chose the complexity and messiness of this unique and mysterious relationship over her own comfort, her own safety, her own well-being. Because she trusted that God would do something amazing through her and through her child.
My colleagues often send around posts that poke fun of the song, “Mary Did You Know?” Because, of course she knew! At least, she knew a lot of it. She sang about what she knew—about the changes a Messiah would bring to the world. She didn’t know how, but she knew it would happen. She trusted it would happen. She hoped it would happen. And she held to that with her whole heart.
Christmas is a choice.
The shepherds said ‘yes.’ When the angels told them about the miracle happening just inside the city’s walls, they went to see the baby. If you don’t know, that’s just ludicrous! They were smelly, as well as ritually unclean. But the same men who would never be allowed near the Temple without going through a cleansing process were sent by God to enter the very house where the Messiah lay. They were told to bypass the Temple and go directly to the promised God in the flesh—Emmanuel. And while they didn’t choose the rituals that kept them from fully worshiping with others, God chose them out of everyone else in the area to be the first to worship God in this humblest and most common of places.
Christmas is a choice.
We come from all kinds of different backgrounds. None of us are perfect, no matter how hard we try to be, no matter how we want to convince others and ourselves we are. We are broken people. We did not choose to be broken. We did not choose to need a Messiah. In fact, most of our lives are spent pretending that we can take care of ourselves—that we can manage our lives without divine help, more or less. More often than not, we choose money as financial security, weapons as physical security, and surround ourselves with like-minded people to provide social security. And yet, when these things fail—and they always do—we may look to God, but we don’t choose God. We don’t choose a Savior who shows up as a weak little baby or who dies on a cross. We tend to choose powerful figures—figures who will fight on our behalf, make our paths straight, who will make us wealthy and cure us of our diseases. We choose gods who make promises that sound too good to be true because they are.
But we don’t choose the God who loves us. We don’t because we can’t. In Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Luther said, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” Christmas is a choice—but it isn’t our choice. It’s God choice.
God chose to turn the whole world upside by coming to us through a helpless babe, born to an unwed teenager, worshiped by unclean shepherds, and bedded down in a feeding trough. The least auspicious coming of a king was made known by angels instead of court-appointed heralds. God chose Christmas because God knew we never would. God chose a cross because God knew we never could. And God chose an empty tomb because God’s promises are always fulfilled. So yes, Christmas is a choice. Christmas is God’s choice for how God continues to save us and love us and show us the way to abundant life.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour's Lutheran Church