Please Pass the Maple Syrup A Christmas Eve Sermon
Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
******************* Part of my addiction to movies includes Christmas movies. And I’ll watch all of them- it doesn’t matter if they are on "Hallmark" or "ABC Family" or" fa la la la Lifetime!" If there’s holly berries and candy canes anywhere on the screen- I’m in!
I love the movie "Elf"- a film about a baby who ends up at the North Pole and is raised as an elf, by Santa's Elves. When "Buddy" is an adult he finds out he is a human, and he goes back to New York to find his real family. His new found family reluctantly take him in expecting him to fit in to their NY lifestyle. However, the culture clash proves more than they bargained for. For example, Buddy still dresses like a North Pole elf, and his actions match the customs and traditions he grew up with.
One of my favorite moments of the film is the scene of their first family dinner. “Mom” has served spaghetti and as they begin to eat, Buddy asks, "Please pass the maple syrup." “It’s spaghetti…” she reminds him. Buddy doesn't miss a beat, but says- "Oh… I think I have some right here!" And he reaches up into the sleeve of his coat, pulls out a little bottle of maple syrup, and proceeds to pour it all over the top of his spaghetti.
Buddy does things differently than 'the rest of us.' And although he is immersed in a different culture, he brings the foundation of what he knows with him... joy, peace, love, and hope... represented, if you’ll allow me some poetic license, in that little bottle of maple syrup he pulls out of his sleeve. And he’s not afraid to pour it out on everything and let it flow all over the place; even though everyone around him thinks he’s out of his mind!
This Advent season, we've been talking a lot about 'singing in the dark.' We've discussed how to find out voice, to cry out, to proclaim the light of Christ, despite living in what can be a very dark world. We've also talked about making Christmas about more than shopping and decorating and doing- and this year, to make space for the light of Christ to shine into and through our souls. We've actively tried to put "Christ back in Christmas" if you will forgive the cliché... to bring the foundation of what we believe (faith) in a strange culture.
Perhaps you’ve tried to do that this year as well. Maybe you had resolved to “put Christ back in Christmas"… to bring the foundation of what you know into a strange culture. Perhaps you even started planning with great intentions. You may have thought- “This year I’m going to do it- I’m not going to succumb to commercialism! I refuse to be exhausted and stressed out and in debt- and I’m going to make presents for people, or give some of those alternative gifts I’ve heard about. Yeah... forget the iPhone Xi! What will my teenage nieces and nephews enjoy more than knowing that a family in Kenya got a goat in their name?" That type of planning is great. But then the ‘season’ hit- and sometimes our resolve to do things differently… well... let's just say we have traditions that don't quite mesh with our alternative Christmas plan. When cultures clash we think, "Wait a minute… I can still put lights on my house, can’t I? And how many presents are too many presents for the kids! One gaming system won’t hurt… And I have those parties- people expect me to be there… and I have to pick up something for the people in my office- they all exchange gifts… and I need to stop off and get more wrapping paper and some of those little meatballs everyone likes so much… and how am I going to find time to do all this in the middle of baking for the 75 extra advent activities the pastor planned at church?" And sometimes by the time we get to Christmas Eve, it feels like your whole plan to keep Christ in Christmas failed. But it doesn’t have to. No matter how many lights you have on your house or how many cookies you’ve baked or how stressed you feel … you haven’t missed it- and if you didn’t know it… you have a little bottle of maple syrup up your sleeve.
The first Christmas happened much like this one… amidst the stresses and busyness of real life. The emperor orders a census and everyone had to drop what they’re doing and make a trip to their hometown to be registered.
Now imagine for a second what that must have been like. It’s the equivalent of all of your extended family traveling to your little house- your sisters and brothers who moved to California or Maine after college who now have three or four kids each- your parents if they are still alive and certainly their remaining siblings and their families, including the cousin you haven’t spoken to since the day he stole your girlfriend in 7th grade, or the obnoxious uncle who always wanted you to pull his finger at family get-together's… they are all coming to stay with YOU!
Joseph is among those relatives- and he shows up at your door with his pregnant fiance that you didn’t know was coming, and as no small aside, happens to be in labor... great! And on top of that all the guest rooms (and by the way that is the real word for" Inn"… we translate it as no room in " Inn” but it really means, guest room, or upper room of a house) In any case, the guest room is already full. Uncle Russ & Aunt Martha came in earlier this afternoon from Scranton and she has a bad back and he has some type of gastric disorder and they need the bed- so you tell Joseph and his about to give birth girlfriend Mary they can sleep in the living room on the pull out couch. It's the best you can do!
The living room back then, was a multipurpose room- the family would hang out there during the day, but at night, it would be cleared out and the animals brought in for warmth and shelter. The next morning, the animals would go back outside- the room would be swept and cleaned out and family was back in business.
So the dog-tired couple- desperate for rest- put up with the animals and the hair and the smells, not to mention that bar poking them in the back all night long. And sure enough, Mary delivers her baby… and she and Joseph… the ones chosen to raise God’s son, wrapped their newborn in bands of cloth. And to tuck him in nice an cozy- laid him in a feeding trough… God’s beautiful new miracle- in a manger. And the exhausted family drifts off to sleep.
But in the middle of the night, there’s this persistent knocking- and Joseph, drags himself up and opens the door only to find a bunch of filthy, even worse smelling than the animals, SHEPHERDS, on the stoop. He tries to place their faces as maybe distant relatives- every family has their share of “shepherds”- but they tell him they have seen angels, and they are here to worship the baby! And Joseph, who has had a visit from an angel himself-and has learned the hard way to go with the flow…, lets them in!
And by now the whole house is awake, and Aunt Martha puts on a pot of coffee and starts stuffing the turkey and Uncle Russ turns on some music, and the kids break into the cookie tins and the leftover cheese n crackers and it’s a party!
And in the middle of the room, in the middle of the ruckus-in his makeshift cradle, the Christ Child sleeps- and folks go by every now and then to 'oooh' and 'ahhh'… and to kiss Mary on the cheek or grab a cigar from Joseph- and perhaps even whisper a prayer of thanks to God for this miracle that is barely hours old. And some may recognize that the Savior of the World is has just been born in their midst and some have no clue… but life continues- the gathering continues, the celebrations continues, the culture continues.
But later that afternoon, when the football game is on and everyone is munching on nachos- Joseph will look knowingly at Mary, and he’ll take a little bottle of maple syrup out of his sleeve… and he’ll pour it on top of his cheesy salsa… and he and Mary will share Christmas for the first time.
You see, this is why you haven't failed at keeping Christ in Christmas. Because Christ IS Christmas... and regardless of whether we show up at the door in the middle of the night after a divine encounter with a host of angels, or shuffle through the whole experience more concerned about coffee and gastric distress, Christmas will always be about Christ. And we can commercialize it or Santa-ize it, or bake through it or shop through it… but we still can’t TAKE Christ out of Christmas…
And do you know why? Because Christ can’t take YOU out of Christmas… you are the reason there IS a Christmas- you’re the reason that Jesus was sent here the first place- because of God’s great love for you…because of God’s love for US! “For God so loved the world that God gave God's only son!” For God so loved each one of us… because God loved, Jesus came to earth- bringing with him the foundations of everything he knows- love, peace, joy, hope…
And truly I tell you- that God loves you so very much- that tonight, and tomorrow and every single day that you are willing, (and even when you’re not willing…) when you’re stuffing turkeys and singing carols, or buying goats for families in Kenya, or just watching the game - whether you are thinking about Christ or not thinking about Christ... a nail pierced hand is reaching up into the inside of a sleeve, and pulling out a little bottle of maple syrup- and is pouring its contents out on everything- and letting it flow all over the place… Merry Christmas.