When I was in seminary, one of our preaching classes had some time dedicated to non-traditional preaching. We were told one day to prepare for preaching in a coffee shop and you only have 8 minutes. Another day, we were told to think about being at a Christmas dinner for a civic group and someone comes up to you and asks you to share a few words about the meaning of Christmas. We were given two minutes to prep and needed to talk for at least 5 minutes.
It was this last one, an impromptu Christmas meditation that really stuck with me, and I’d like to share with you some of what I said that day.
What is the meaning of Christmas? We think of a lot of different things this time of the year. With Thanksgiving and Christmas, many people will gather with their families and celebrate the end of the year. The Germans have a great word to describe the atmosphere and attitude of a warm friendly hospitality, and general cheerfulness when you are surrounded by family, friends, the hearth, and good food. The word is gemütlichkeit. I talk about gemütlichkeit in my previous post, but since it has been nearly a year, I think it is safe for me to say it again. Gemütlichkeit. What a fun word.
Gemütlichkeit captures the idealistic view of Christmas I had growing up going to Grandma and Grandpa Schultz’s farm in eastern South Dakota. It was great. All the cousins would be together. We’d slide head first down the basement stairs and eat supper in the green room so that the adults wouldn’t bother us (I’m sure that is what was going on). We’d run throughout the backyard to gather snow for Grandpa Schultz as he would make homemade ice cream just inside the walkout basement door. We’d open presents together and watch movies and have so much fun. I have very fond memories of Christmas.
Christmas is also a time of sadness and mourning for many people. As the year wanes, there are mistakes, regrets, things left unsaid, and loved ones who are missed. Christmas has the ability to bring both the happy and sad into sharp focus.
Yet, in the midst of all that we experience around the build-up to Christmas, there is, at its core, a very simple and yet deeply profound truth. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, born to a virgin in Bethlehem. Jesus does more than just fill a space in our imagination. The amazing thing about Christmas is that it is true. Jesus Christ, God with us, was indeed with us. Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world was born.
Jesus not only was born but he lived, died upon the cross for you, and rose again so that you would know the testimony of love God has for you. In this life, we will experience great things. Things like the gemütlichkeit of those childhood Christmases will be etched in my mind forever. But in this life we will also face terribly sad things, such as the loss of a sibling, a spouse, or parent. It is natural as we come to Christmas, a time where we have such strong memories, to feel many different emotions and even to be sad while singing Joy to the World.
Yet the undeniable, historical truth is that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world for you is a joyous occasion. That is because Jesus Christ is the love of God for you, not only expressed in words and ancient writings, but in a person who sees you, hears you, knows you, and loves you. That is what Christmas is all about.