In his book, Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller says that Christmas is the only Christian Holy Day that is also a major secular holiday. Sure, there’s a secular component to Easter. We’ve got the Easter Bunny and the Egg Hunts to go along with the cross and the resurrection. But Easter’s secular side pales in comparison to the onslaught of lights, carols, sales, TV specials, and SALES, SALES, SALES! Easter has Good Friday; but, nothing to compare to Black Friday – consumerism’s kidnap of Christmas.
As I was writing this sermon, I was listening to a Christmas song by Rodney Crowell, “Christmas Everywhere:”
Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas everywhere
Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas pullin‘ out my hair
Shoppers lined up out the door
Traffic backed up miles and more
It’s Christmas time, so what the heck
Let’s go spend the whole paycheck
But, when you focus all your annual financial success on this one month, one weekend, no expense is too great to draw customers in. So, Christmas, real Christmas, is hidden beneath a mountain of secular images in an attempt to make money.
I recall one “Black Friday” I spent in the University Mall in Tuscaloosa. Technically, it still felt like Thanksgiving Day – we left the house about 10:00 pm (so, we hadn’t been to bed!). I sat on one of the benches, just like all the other “old men!” Thousands of people hustling back and forth with bags and boxes representing even more thousands of dollars in cash purchases and credit card debt. They carried sale flyers, celebrating each acquisition with glee.
Over the din, I could hear the faint strains of Christmas carols over the loud speakers:
“O Little Town of Bethlehem . . .”
“What Child is this, who laid to rest . . .”
And perhaps the most ironic – “Silent night, Holy night . . .”
There was very little “holy” about that night. No child “on Mary’s lap” would sleep through this commotion. The “hopes and fears of all the years” probably wouldn’t meet until the bills came due in January.
In America, its “Hark the Herald Angels” versus “Holly Jolly Christmas.” We know who wins. Santa takes it every time!
The secular, consumer side isn’t going away any time soon – not when there’s so much money riding on it! But, really, we Christians shouldn’t worry about all that. The true, holy roots of the season will always be present.
The problem comes when the secular, consumer side drowns the holy roots that seek to sink deep in our hearts. Buying lots of presents isn’t the problem. The problem is when the accompanying greed drives compassion out of our hearts.
It’s bad when we move away from the justice and righteousness that God brings during Advent.
Jeremiah was a prophet of longing. His ministry, his preaching, came during a time of great suffering in the land of Israel and Judah. They had been defeated in war. Most were taken off into slavery and exile in Babylon. It is common for the First Sunday of Advent to draw our attention to the longing for a coming Messiah. Our desire for peace, justice, and righteousness isn’t much different from the longings of the ancient Jews.
Today’s scripture is from Jeremiah:
14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
Jeremiah speaks of longing, but uses words of certainty:
“The days are surely coming . . .”
“When I will fulfill . . .”
“He shall execute justice and righteousness . . .”
The season of Advent – the lead-up to Christmas Day – is a season when the church can no longer contain the unfulfilled desire for all God promises. A cry breaks out, “O Come, O come Emmanuel!” Lord, hurry up! Come and fulfill your promises! “Execute justice and righteousness” in our world!
My longing breaks forth into a cry when the prevalence of hate begins to “turn my stomach.”
I want to cry out when I see people dragged down into addiction and poverty.
I want to do more than cry when I see people shot in malls and children tear-gassed at our borders. Merry Christmas, y’all!
They say that despair is the absence of hope. Maybe it’s hope that is the most hidden in all this worldly cynicism. The God for whom Jeremiah longs is not absent – not hidden. He is coming, and, for us, has come!
Even amid all the hype of Black Friday, the holy roots of Christmas can still be found. Christ can be found in the everyday lives of his people. Christ can be found in our acts of love. Christ can be found when we show compassion.
Like a Christmas Carol refusing to be drowned out by the noise of shoppers, if we listen closely, we hear the hope! We hear the hope as we sing:
“Glory to the Newborn King . . .”
“God and sinners reconciled . . .”
“Born that man no more may die . . .”
“Born to give us second birth . . .”
If we listen closely, we discover the source of all our hope, even under the sound of cash registers and commercials. If we open our hearts to the presence of “God with us,” Emmanuel, we will see . . .
That the days are surely coming . . .
That God’s promise will be fulfilled . . .
That justice and righteousness will burst forth in all the land!