My sermon for Christmas Eve at St. Mark’s Church. Based on Luke 2:1-20.
Word made flesh, life of the world, in your incarnation you embraced our poverty: by your Spirit may we share in your riches. Amen.
The Elf on the Shelf has been all the Christmas rage the past few years. For the uninitiated, you can find local “adoption centers” like The Paper Store and Target to bring home an elf of your own. I’ll let their website explain it more fully. “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition includes a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts a scout elf and gives it a name, the scout elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the scout elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their scout elf each morning.”
There are a couple of rules: The children cannot touch the elf or he will lose his magic. The elf can listen to what the children tell him, but cannot talk back, that’s Santa’s law. And, of course, the elf will report back each night, so you better be good! Tonight, all those elves will magically transport back to the North Pole and will not be seen again until next December.
Call it a carrot or a stick or whatever you deem appropriate, however the message is the same: Good behavior equals gifts. Bad behavior brings the opposite; the modern day equivalent to coal in your stocking. The naughty and nice list has been around for a long, long time, so this isn’t new per se. But it’s the constant eyes watching that take this to the next level, the fear that something may happen to have Christmas come crashing down all around you.
On Tuesday, WNBC in New York reported that 7 year old Isabella LaPeruta of Old Bridge, New Jersey called 911 in a panic. Here’s how they describe the call:
“911, What’s your emergency?” [Pause] ”Hello?”
“It’s Isabella,” the girl says.
“Hi. Hi, Isabella. Why are you calling 911?” the operator asks.
Suddenly, the girl panics.
“Don’t come to my house!” she shouts. “Don’t!”
“I was trying to call my dad” to tell him about the accident.
The operator responds, “You can just say you made a mistake.” [ref]http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Girl-Calls-911-Elf-on-Shelf-Santa-Emergency-363303221.html[/ref]
As you likely know, the police are required to check up on 911 calls by children. When they arrive they find the girl in tears and then got the full story. While her mother was taking a nap, Isabella had accidentally knocked her Elf on the Shelf off its perch and touched it, breaking that cardinal rule just a few of days before Christmas. As Old Bridge Police Lt. Joseph Mandola put it, “To her, it was an emergency when she touched the elf, and she’s going to ruin Christmas, so that was her emergency.” Needless to say she learned her lesson, and she apologized to her scout elf, who hopefully took the message back to the Big Guy. I guess she’ll find out in a few hours if it all worked out or not.
On a chilly night a long time ago, some shepherds who lived in the fields around Bethlehem got the scare of a life time—one that might have led them to call 911 if it had existed back then. An angel of the Lord appeared out of thin air right in front of them as they tried to stay warm and protect their flock from nighttime predators. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel tells them, which I suspect is met suspiciously at best when a heavenly being breaks into the darkness with God’s glory shining all around. The angel continues with these words taken from the Message Bible, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in [Bethlehem] David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and [Lord]. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
You know the story cold, of course. After the glorious song from a whole host of angels, those shepherds hightail it to Bethlehem. They find the stable with Mary, Joseph and the baby inside. I suspect they looked on in wonder at the newborn wrapped in a blanket while mom and dad beamed on. They eventually told those new parents about everything that had happened to them. And then, recognizing that everyone looked a bit drained and needing some sleep, they headed back out to the fields for the rest of the night. But they couldn’t stop thanking God for everything that had happened to them. To think that God’s messengers would come to them, modest shepherds, and share such good news. It was truly incredible. They were nobodies in the grand scheme of things, but God came to them of all people.
And God comes to us. All of us. The birth of Jesus was meant for everybody, worldwide. His birth came as a pure gift for all of us, for the Palestinian living in Gaza and the forgotten kids in the slums of Calcutta. This good news comes to the young man dealing with depression, and the woman facing Christmas alone for the first time in 15 years. The gift of the Christ child comes to Isabella and police Lt. Joseph Mandola. It comes to the Trump supporters and those feeling the Bern. And here’s the greatest thing of all: Jesus comes to us even when we’re more naughty than nice. Even if we had a scout elf rushing back to God to fill God in on all the gory details of our lives—the uncharitable thoughts and the times when our pride took over—even then, Christmas would still happen and Emmanuel would come to us on a Silent and Holy Night.
Although we like to dress it up on our Christmas cards with tranquil scenes of the most immaculate manger ever known to humanity, the truth remains that Jesus arrived in a smelly old barn, and the fanfare of his arrival came only to a few poor shepherds who happened to be nearby. But that’s the reason for its immense beauty. God came not to a castle or a mansion or a palace, rather the messiah was born into what clearly must be described as a messy part of our world, and perhaps into the messy part of our lives as well. With a single event, God proclaims that this gift of salvation comes to us all, naughty or nice. Jesus is pure gift, and the peace he brings is for everyone, worldwide. Not just the ones who say or believe the right things, nor the ones who claim to have the inside scoop.
He doesn’t need a scout elf to tip him off about the hidden details of our lives because it doesn’t matter. Christmas will never be ruined by not following the rules. It comes again just as it always has before in glorious majesty. For to us is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. For to us, all of us. May we welcome him into our hearts and lives again this year, and may he work in us so that we too can share in proclaiming his gift of peace and love to our world. Amen.