"No Addition Necessary" – Luke 2:1-20
If I’m not careful, I can get all bent out of shape about Christmas. Christmas Eve, more precisely. My Christmas Eve sermon, to be exact.
It is a scenario that has played out regularly over the years I’ve been a preacher; most often around the high holy days of Christmas and Easter. For what seems like hours on end, you can find me staring at that blank Word document screen (is there a more debilitating image than that vast, blank screen with taunts of the mouse cursor, as though each blink was saying, “What ya gonna say? What ya gonna say? What ya gonna say? What ya gonna say?).
In such times, if I’m not careful, I start to think that my job is to come up with something insightful, powerful, and emotional; something that will make your attendance here worthwhile; something you will remember; something that could actually make your life better.
So when I’m not staring into the abyss of the blank page on the computer screen; I’m reading the pages of scripture, contemplating what I could add to make it meaningful in your life.
Hopefully you can see how my line of reasoning is so misguided. Who am I to assume that I could contribute something to make the good news of Jesus Christ even better?
Some of you here will never preach a sermon, so you could well be asking, “What does this melodramatic public self-counseling session have to do with me?”
Well, I don’t think this is a problem reserved for preachers. I think each of us faces the temptation to add something of value to the world above what God has given us. I think we all face the temptation to say, “Yes, the story of Jesus is good, but it’s not enough; I can make it better so that it can mean something more.”
That’s where a lot of our stress around the holidays stems from…the desire to add something of value to the season – the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect memory, the perfect Christmas card, and, in my case, the perfect Christmas sermon.
It’s in these periods of stress where we tend to get ideas about how to make this season better, ideas about how to make people better, and ideas about how to make the good news of Christ’s birth even better. All these ideas, in the moment, seem valuable and inspired; however, these ideas need to be exposed as misguided before we hurt anyone.
Earlier in the week I came across an article from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who seemed to identify a similar feeling in her life and the lives of her friends. In her typical acerbic wit, she set me straight. I’d like to share her words with you now:
“I used to hear in early sobriety that if you had an idea after 10:00 pm, it was probably a bad idea.
I think the same is true about any ideas you may have in the [days leading up to Christmas].
Everyone is very crazy. Some of us are better at covering this up than others. Some people will say how cheerful they feel and how much they love the holidays; but these are very angry people. Try not to be alone with them for any length of time.
Three people I love have called this weekend with these intensely expressed decisions that they felt had to be made as soon as possible. They are without exception highly intelligent and self-aware, really on to themselves, yet without exception, their ideas would have caused damage to their careers, marriages, children, serenity, and in one case, their dog.
I listened, and said the great chemo-therapeutic words, "Me too."
Then I made a subtle kind of hmmm sound, vaguely amused at how we comical we become under stress; delusional, and mad.
The people all grew quiet under the strain of this sound.
I told them about my own experience the day before, when I had woken up early with a number of Excellent Ideas, which had me convinced, before coffee, that I needed to break off contact with a couple of people, correct the misperceptions of another, buy a new car, and either do the Paleo diet, or go on a horrific bender at IHOP.
And--the tiny tiny tip-off that I was cuckoo in the cabeza--that they were things that all needed to be as soon as possible. Today, in fact.
But an amazing thing happened. On the way to the kitchen for coffee, I was stopped….I went back to bed. It was 6:45 a.m. I sat up, hugging my knees to my chest. Then I wrote down all my Good Ideas, of how to correct or impress or punish people, and I gave them all to God. I said, "Here. Knock Yourself out." And She did.
Next, I said three formal prayers I happen to love… I meditated… And I got so happy, because i was back. The princess was BACK, hilarious nutty sweet old me. I had found me in the maelstrom. I knew that all day I was going to do loving things, and that would help me have loving feelings.out.
I remembered an older friend who kept backing up into things, who posted a note on his dashboard that said, Slowly, and Majestically; i wrote s.a.m on my wrist. I pulled on some baggy pants, in case I accidentally ate a few more cookies than might be ideal. THEN, and only then, I got up, and went to the kitchen, where I put the coffee on, and did the sacrament of putter while it brewed.”
So I’m putting away all my Christmas ideas and relying on a single message: Jesus is born.
God could have been perfectly content not to be born into poverty, scandal, and the middle of nowhere just to grow up, change the world, and be killed for it; but God did. Eternal and abundant life is available to us here and now thanks to what began with an angel’s word of peace to a frightened young woman; thanks to what began with a journey to Bethlehem; thanks to what began with the cry of a newborn boy piercing the night air. This is the good news; and it is enough for us.
No amount of hand-wringing or shopping; no spectacular spark of creativity; nor any attempts or admonitions at self-improvement could ever add anything of value to the truth that the God who created us loves us so much that he became us in order to save us from our futile efforts of hand-wringing, shopping, creativity, and attempts at self-improvement.
Perhaps you came tonight expecting to walk away with something more than what you came with. Instead, however, I wonder what it would mean for us to hear the Christmas story as an invitation for us to be content with who we are and what we have. I wonder what it would mean for us to hear the story of the birth of Jesus and realize that Jesus was born for us.
Instead of walking away from worship tonight having received something to add to our lives; a better goal is to walk away from worship having left something behind.
My prayer and hope for all of us is that we could leave behind all our attempts at perfection, our stubborn refusals to admit the pain we have caused others, and our fear we are not enough.
The Christmas story is good news to those of us who are imperfect.
The Christmas story is good news to those of us who have hurt others.
The Christmas story is good news to those of us who live in fear.
The good news of the Christmas story is enough. So hear the story, trust the story, and live into the story.