O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
It’s good to be with you all as together we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Christmas for children can often be magical. It was certainly a special time for me when I was a kid.
On Christmas Eve, my family would often go to Mass at the Episcopal Church. Afterwards we’d go over to a family friend’s house for a neighborhood Christmas party. And then we’d head back home, turn on the Christmas tree lights and make hot chocolate. Dad always played an album of goofy Christmas songs. If you’ve never heard Mitch Mitchell and The Gang sing “Must Be Santa,” you’ve been spared an earworm that could haunt you for the rest of your life.
So we’d listen to the Christmas music and drink our hot chocolate. And we’d get to open just one present from under the tree. It was like an appetizer for the feast to come.
My brother and I would help mom and dad make an early start on Christmas morning. And we’d tear into our presents, piling up mountains of wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. It was an awesome experience.
But you know what happened every single year? By about noon or early afternoon on Christmas Day, the buzz of the morning’s excitement wore off. It was like crashing from a sugar high. Surrounded by all my wonderful presents, I’d start feeling bored and restless. Maybe even a bit cranky.
It’s a pattern I’ve experienced many times. I’ve seen it happen with others. And countless wise men and women down through the ages have observed it. It teaches an important lesson about the human tendency to seek happiness and fulfillment where they cannot ultimately be found.
Something gets in the way. Something keeps distracting us. And we end up trying to fill the hole in our souls with people, places, and things that cannot deliver.
But the longings persist.
We long for a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends the busyness of overbooked calendars and the interruptions of smartphones.
We long to know that in spite of the cruel injustices of this world, wrongs will be set right and the forces of darkness and destruction won’t get the last word.
We long to be freed from bondage to our sins.
We long to know that regardless of who we are or what we’ve ever done, and in spite of our worst failings, we are deeply and unconditionally loved. And that the past doesn’t define our future.
We long to be healed of sorrows and losses that have wounded our hearts.
We long for the reassurance that death is not the end, and that somehow love will prevail.
If we put away all the distractions and just sit still in silence for a few moments, we might just feel it - the restlessness of our hearts that’s just below the surface.
That restlessness reminds us that we are made for something bigger than ourselves. We are made for Someone who can bring order out of chaos and direction out of distraction. We are made for Someone who can heal our sin-sick souls and give us new life.
That Someone has come among us with the birth of Jesus Christ.
In the birth of Jesus, God assumed the fullness of our flesh-and-blood humanity. Laying aside all claims to divine status and power, humbling himself to share in our humanity, and willing to experience everything that comes with being human - including temptation and suffering - God entered the world as a naked, vulnerable baby.
And God did it because he loves us so very much.
Jesus Christ is God’s gift to the world.
For in Jesus, God has come among us, not to condemn, but to save. In Jesus, God has lowered himself to our level to raise us up to his. God became fully human in Jesus so that we might share in God’s divine life.
For Jesus is God with us. Jesus is God restoring the dignity of human nature. Jesus is God saving us from ourselves. Jesus is God taking away the sin and sorrow of the world. Jesus is God triumphing over death and the grave. Jesus is God giving us “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Jesus is God calling us to live lives of faith, hope, and love.
This Christmas, we can enjoy the parties. We can take delight in the exchange of presents. We can find comfort in the fellowship of family and friends.
But we can also remember that only in Jesus will we find a joy that lasts for eternity.
C. S. Lewis said it best: “Look for Christ and you will find him. And with him everything else."
We don’t have to look far to find Christ. He’s here among us now. He gives us his very life in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
And he invites you and me to follow him.
It’s a journey that will take us from the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary hill and through the open door of the empty tomb. It’s a journey that will transform us. And it starts right now.
This Christmas, God offers you the gift of great joy in Jesus Christ.
And live it.