Christmas Eve 2017 – Journey Home for Christmas
Greenfield Lutheran Church, Harmony, MN – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
It’s Christmas Eve. Here we are gathered together in this warm and loving space to celebrate the greatest gift ever given, God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. So, take a few deep breaths, and let God’s peace fill you from within.
A few years ago, I saw a story on CNN that got my attention. Every year a family in Buffalo, New York sets out in front of their home a brightly lighted manger scene with statues of Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and Shepherds. Two days before Christmas, the family noticed that the Baby Jesus statue was missing from the manger. It was an inexpensive plastic model about 18 inches tall. In its place was a note saying someone needed the statue and would return it in three days. Weeks passed, and then months, and the statue was not returned. Then, one morning in late August, the statue appeared with a note and a photo album. The note said, “We are simply a group of young adults who wished to show the baby Jesus a better life than he would have seen cooped up in an attic crawl space. He has traveled over counties and states, met people and animals alike. We have done our best to show the Baby Jesus the many glorious aspects of our world.” Along with the note was a photo album entitled “The Baby Jesus Chronicles,” and was full of snapshots taken of Baby Jesus at various places all over New York State. There were pictures of Baby Jesus riding a bike, Baby Jesus baking brownies, Baby Jesus getting a bath, Baby Jesus getting buckled into a seat belt and Baby Jesus going on a road trip. The note went on to explain, “We have done the best possible job we could to keep the Baby Jesus safe and in loving arms. During the course of the last eight months, the Baby Jesus has become more to us than simply a plastic religious figurine. He has come with us to parties, on camping trips, and on multiple summer adventures . . . Having to say goodbye made today a sad day for all of us. The Baby Jesus has made us happy at numerous times in the past eight months, so we hope the chronicles of his life with us can pass some of that happiness on to you.” It was signed “Creators of the Baby Jesus Chronicles.”
What started out, I’m sure, to be just a prank can speak to us in profound ways. Does Jesus lie stored away in a box in the attic eleven months out of the year, or do we take Jesus with us every place we go? Is Jesus a daily companion at school or work? Does Jesus go with us to parties, on camping trips and summer vacations? Or does Jesus get packed away, only to be brought out on holidays or special occasions? The ironic thing is that as these young adults brought Jesus along with them that this little plastic statue began to have an impact on them. Including this statue in their daily activities brought them happiness and perhaps a sense of peace. Like most religious symbols, it served as a reminder of God’s presence with them. They became attached to the Baby Jesus statue, even sad to let him go.
For the last 2000 years, the Baby Jesus has been having that same effect on people. Somehow this child brings hope to the hopeless. He brings peace on earth, goodwill to all. And he brings joy to the world. It’s all reported in the real Chronicles of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all report how God became human in Jesus Christ. They write how God came to live with humble people. They write about how Jesus’ presence transformed lives wherever he went. And they tell of the greatest miracle of all, how Jesus death and resurrection brought forgiveness of sins and friendship with God.
I want to show you a gift my kids gave me for Christmas. It’s my pink Jesus statue that I keep in my office, watching over me every day. The color makes Jesus really hard to ignore. He’s kind of in your face saying, “Here I am. Deal with me.” The interesting thing is that Pink Jesus talks back. You ask Jesus a question, shake him and turn him upside down, and Jesus will give you an answer. But beware, Pink Jesus’ answers aren’t always easy to understand. For instance, when I asked Jesus if the Minnesota Vikings were ever going to win the Superbowl, the answer came back, “Repent, you sinner!” I wasn’t sure that Jesus had heard the question, so I asked him again. Will the Vikings ever win the Superbowl? This time the answer was, “Believe!” Pink Jesus’ answers are rather hard to interpret.
This past year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. At the beginning of the summer we passed out Flat Luther and asked people to take him with them on their summer trips and send us their pictures. Flat Luther went all over the world- Alaska, Norway, California, to name a few places. I’m announcing right now that next summer we will do the same thing with Flat Jesus.
Where will you take Jesus this year? Next Christmas can you look back and make a photo album of all the places you’ve taken Jesus? You don’t need a statue or a picture, though maybe it would help. You will find that when you think deeply about all the places you’ve been you were not alone. You never were alone.
This Advent our theme has been Journey Home for Christmas. We’ve been talking about our journey to God’s heart. But the greatest journey is not the one that we take, but the journey that God has already taken in Jesus. The good news of Christmas is that God has come among us in Jesus Christ. We are not alone. God is with us- Immanuel. Baby Jesus is the visible sign of God’s love and presence with us.
The first thing the angels said that first Christmas was, “Be not afraid.” Don’t be afraid. When children are afraid of the dark parents comfort them. “I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” They relax and fall asleep because they trust their parents. Tonight, Jesus fills us with his peace and says to us, “I’m here. Trust me.” Baby Jesus grew up, died for us, and as the resurrected Lord made a promise to his disciples, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He said, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the world.” Even when it seems our world is falling apart, Jesus is there with us. He invites us tonight to trust him, to follow him, to open our hearts to him, to let him fill us with his peace. Amen.