A Christmas Message
Preached by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at First Church in Sterling, MA
9:00 pm candle light service on Christmas Eve, 2017
Do you all have a Christmas movie that you have to watch in order for it to be truly Christmas? For some of us it is “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Miracle on 34th St.” or “Elf” or “Die Hard.” For me, it’s not Christmas until I watch the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Dr. Seuss 1960s version, not the Jim Carrey version.
The Grinch is short because it was made for TV. When you rent it for the exorbitant price of 6.99 on Amazon video, it comes with both the Grinch and Horton Hears a Who, which I am sure was to justify its price tag by making it longer. I am a “no non-Christmas movies in December” purist, so I have always found it odd that they sell those two together.
Anyway, I love the Grinch. I live for the moment when the Grinch puzzles over the Who’s singing and Christmas coming anyway. I live for the moment the narrator says “what if Christmas,’ he thought, “doesn’t come from a store, what if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
It occurs to me now, though, that “Horton Hears a Who” is the true story of Christmas. The story of a very large elephant named Horton taking care of the teeny vulnerable folks who live in a tiny town perched precariously on the thistle of a clover. Powerful, mean animals try to kill off the Who’s because they don’t believe they are real or worthy of saving. The littlest of all of lets out a loud “YAWP” at the end which saves the whole town. The Whos voices are finally heard because of the smallest of all.
The moral is…a person’s a person, no matter how small.
Love means taking care of what is fragile. Anyone who has ever loved a baby or a small animal or a democracy…anyone who has tended a garden, or a faith the size of a mustard seed, or someone’s fragile ego knows this. Anyone who has tended to a marriage of any length knows this. Love is cultivating and tenderly nurturing that which is vulnerable to harm.
It makes sense, then, that God sent us a baby to teach us how to love.
The sky was brighter than usual the night that Jesus was born. The shepherds noticed it because it was far easier for them to keep track of the sheep. And then it got really bright—the sky alit with angels, terrifying the shepherds. You would have thought that all that “glory” shining was the sign the angels spoke of because most of us look for great big obvious clues about God’s presence.
But the angels spoke of something far more ordinary. 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
There is nothing more ordinary than having a baby. It’s how the species perpetuates itself, after all. It literally happens at the rate of 255 babies born every minute.
And yet a baby! A new born, helpless baby in a feeding trough was it—the sign the shepherds are looking for. God chose to be born into the world not in the form of power and might, but in the form of a poor and vulnerable baby boy.
God decided there was no better way for us to learn about Love than having to care for one as helpless as a newborn. A tiny, tiny person born to save us all by reminding us of our own humanity.
This is the Love that comes down at Christmas. Love in the form of someone vulnerable to care for. Something fragile to protect. Something helpless to hold. Something both human and divine.
One of you came to me once saying that you came back to church because you realized that your kids thought that Christmas was solely about Santa Claus presents, the Elf on the Shelf, and reindeer. You knew that you wanted your kids to have that Grinch moment of realization: “what if Christmas,’ he thought, “doesn’t come from a store, what if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” You realized that you wanted them to know the meaning of this season was something far deeper and more powerful than that.
If you are here tonight because you are in the same boat…if you are here for the yearly reminder that Christmas is about something far deeper and more powerful…good. Here’s the deep and powerful message of Christmas: God’s Love means caring for the fragile.
And therefore, love comes down. Love comes down to our fragile dying planet. Love comes down to lift up those on the margins, particularly the religiously persecuted ones (the Muslims, the Jews, the Sikhs, the atheists). Love comes down to lift up the gay ones, the brown and black ones, the poor ones, the weird ones, the sad ones, the vulnerable ones, the mentally and spiritually ill ones.
Love comes down when we stand up for the bullied.
Love comes down when we fight for those who can’t.
Love comes down when we feed the hungry and visit the prisoner and heal the sick.
Love comes down when we give our money away.
Love comes down when we care for our mortal bodies as houses for God.
Love comes down when we protect what is most vulnerable in us: our hearts, our relationships, our earth; our communities; our country’s precarious unity.
If you want to teach kids the true meaning of the season, teach them that Love comes down.
Don’t tell them that coming down is a sign of weakness. Don’t think for one moment that this kind of love doesn’t hold power and influence over empire. Because this Love doesn’t just come down, it brings down. This love brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. This love has the power to unseat vicious kings and fight corrupt governments. This Love has the power to bless the forgotten people, the least, the last and the lost--with justice and righteousness. This Love has the power to change the world we live in to earth as it is in heaven.
Imagine lifting the most fragile among us onto the seat of a king’s throne. Imagine peace on earth, good will to all.
So rejoice, for unto us a child is born. And the government shall be upon his tender shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.
Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his Gospel is peace. Bring Love down this Christmas.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org