The most popular Christmas song of all time has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. The song is “White Christmas,” the song written by Irving Berlin in 1942 during WWII. He wrote it for a musical called “Holiday Inn.” It was recorded by Bing Crosby and became an instant hit with the troops overseas. It pushed on all the nostalgia buttons that make us feel good at times of trouble – Grandma’s cookies, Mom’s apple pie, White Christmas. Not a him of Jesus. In fact, Berlin deliberately set out to write a Christmas song that had nothing to do with Christ – a Christmas song for the rest of the world, so to speak.
Most people don’t know that Irving Berlin actually hated Christmas. Berlin was Jewish, born in Siberia, and immigrated to this country at the age of five. His life was filled with tragedy. His first wife died of typhoid five months after they were married. His second wife, Ellen Mackay, was a Roman Catholic Christian. Their mixed marriage was a public scandal paraded in the newspapers.
In 1928 their first child, Irving Jr, died on Christmas Day of what we would call today SIDS. The Berlins eventually had three girls, who were raised as Christians. For their sake, they put up a Christmas tree and set presents under it every year. As the children opened their gifts, Ellen and Irving would slip out of the house to put flowers on the grave of their son. After the girls were grown and moved out of the house, the Berlins never celebrated Christmas again.
If you take Christ out of Christmas, there really isn’t much left to celebrate.
Our culture seems to have discovered this for itself. When you leave the Child who is God in the Flesh come to save us out of the picture, there really isn’t much to celebrate. You may as well say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and call it “Sparkle Season” or whatever you wish. Without Christ, there is no point to Christmas.
That’s why I am happy that Christmas has disappeared from the cultural radar. I may be a lonely voice here, but I’m going to rejoice in the fact that some grinning sales clerks no longer take the Savior’s name and title in vain in exchange for my money. Now if I could get crosses out of pierced body parts, I’d be even happier. Some people are all bent that our President said “Happy Holidays” to the nation instead of “Merry Christmas”. I for one am not. The President’s job is not to preach, that’s my job. His job is to defend my liberty to preach, and our liberty to worship on Christ’s Mass, the Mass of the Natiivity.
I think Christians who are talking about boycotting stores that forbid their clerks from saying “Merry Christmas” or who have chased off bell ringing Santas have it completely wrong. Don’t people realize what’s happened right under our noses? It’s nothing short of a “miracle on Madison Avenue.” The culture just handed our holy day back to us. Left it on our front steps with a note saying, “Thanks but no thanks. We don’t need this anymore. You can have your Christmas, we’ll just have “winter solstace festivals” and “sparkle season.” We ought to be on our knees thanking God. The trivialization and commercialization of Christmas is over! The war to rescue the solemn Mass of the Nativity of our Lord from the hands of the secularists has been won without firing a shot! The enemy has put down arms and surrendered!
The culture just had one big Irving Berlin moment: Without Christ, Christmas means absolutely nothing. And the culture said, “Return to sender.”
A Jewish stand-up comedian noted that the “Christmas shopping season” seems to have begin on November 1st. He said, “You don’t see that with Hannuakah, do you? Eight days and it’s over. That’s it. Christians – get control of your holiday!”
That very well might have happened. We just may have gotten control over our holiday. Christmas may once again become a solemn holy day instead of some generic end of the year holiday to boost the national economy. The ball’s in our court, my fellow baptized believers. It’s our holy day again, so what are we going to do with it? I for one am not going to waste my time protesting that the culture doesn’t respect my beliefs. Why should it? It’s my job, and yours, to disciple the nations. Only in repentant faith can you have a Christmas that is Christ’s Mass.
So don’t fret over the fact that no one wishes you a “merry Christmas” this year. Celebrating Christmas doesn’t save you. Trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is what saves you. So let’s take back this holy day and look at it. It’s a bit like getting back a stolen car – a little dented and dinged, but still roadworthy and the engine is running fine.
What do you have when you take away the holiday shopping sprees, the piles of presents, the decorate trees (fake or real, take your pick), family expectations up to the eyeballs, office parties, eating, drinking, baking, decorating, Christmas cards, lights on the house, and all the other doo-dads of cultural Christmas? What’s left after eggnog, mistletoe, and White Christmas?
This one little sentence: The Word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us.
The eternal Son of God,
the second Person of the undivided holy Trinity,
the Light and Life of the cosmos,
the eternal Word through whom all things were made in the beginning
and in whom all things are held in existence,
Became human, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,
pitched His tabernacle tent among us
to rescue us from sin and death by His dying and rising.
That’s why angels sang, and shepherds left their flocks in the fields and went to Bethlehem to worship a swaddled Child in a manger. That’s what Mary pondered in her heart. That’s why Christians from the 3rd century on made this day a holy day, even as their culture partied its way through the dark nights of December. They celebrated the glorious fact that on a magnificent night in Bethlthem when the fulness of time came and God delivered on His Promise to save the world through His Son.
The Word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us. It strains the brain to think about it. This is bigger than E=MC2, and that was pretty big too. That rocked the scientfic world when Einstein conceived it. We would never look at matter and energy the same again. “The Word became Flesh” means we can never look at God and humanity the same. God became man in Christ. The Creator became the creature. The Infinite dwells in the finite.
Here again, Christianity stands alone and parts ways with all other religions. All other religions have man reaching up to touch the face of God. Some religions even have man becoming a god. But the Christmas gospel declares the opposite – God became man. The Word became Flesh, and in the flesh, He dwells among us full of grace and truth.
The Word became Flesh. Humanity is honored by God. God tabernacles here. He dwells among us in the flesh. Never again can we excuse ourselves by saying, “That’s only human.” Christ is human. Never again can we say, “To sin is human, to forgive divine.” Christ is sinless humanity, and Christ in his humanity forgives, just as he commands us to forgive. He is the image of the invisible God, and He restores the image of God to fallen humanity. This little Child, sleeping in a manger, cooing in His Virgin mother’s lap, nursing at her breast, is perfected humanity come to save sinful humanity. He is the new head of the human race, the 2nd Adam come to trump Adam’s death with His own death and life.
That’s why I don’t get upset when the stores stop wishing me a “merry Christmas.” Instead I want to thank them for not trivializing the holy Mystery of Christmas That’s why I’m caught short and forced to think about what I’m saying to other people when I wish them a “merry Christmas,” without knowing whether or not they are baptized or whether they are believers. How can you be merry without knowing that Christ has come to conquer your sin and death? How can you rejoice in the midst of suffering and death without recognizing that though we die yet we live in Jesus Christ, and whoever lives and believes in Him never dies forever?
The good news of Christmas is so much better than “rejoice and be merry.” It goes so much deeper than holiday sentiments and warm fuzzies with the family that get packed up in boxes and put back up in the attic for another year, or that get left on on the curb with the torn wrapping paper and the dried out tree. The good news of Christmas is the news of the angels who said to the frightened shepherds, “To you is born today in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” That’s the good news drummed into your ears this morning, as valid and certain as if angels from heaven were serenading you with their Christmas hymn. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace among men with whom He is pleased.” God and man are reconciled in the Reconciler, the Redeemer.
Christ is born for you. Let those words be your Christmas greeting. Not simply, “Merry Christmas.” That’s not what the angels sang. They preached the Gospel. They said, “For you.” The words “for you” require every heart to believe. He is your Lord, your Christ, your Redeeemer, your Reconciler. Now trust Him, this humble little Child. Trust Him with all your heart and soul and strength. He is your Life, your Light, your Salvation.
Had Irving Berlin known and believed that, he would not have had a hollow White Christmas; His Christmas would have been blessed and merry, knowing that his little son was safe in God’s Son born for Him.
Christ dwells among us still. He hasn’t stopped dwelling among us just because we can no longer see Him. In a sense, every Sunday, every time we gather to hear the Word and to eat and drink His Body and Blood, He manifests His dwelling among us full of grace and truth.
He is full of grace – undeserved kindness toward sinners,. So don’t be afraid to come to Him. And don’t think you need to be pure before you stand before Him. And by all means don’t think you have to bargain your way into His favor. This Child came to save you. He has the name Jesus because “He will save His people from their sins.” He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in His death. Jesus sinners will receive with open arms, but only sinners receive Him. in faith.
He is full of truth – the truth of your sin (He knows it far better than you); and the truth of your forgiveness. He is the Truth of God in human flesh, the only Way to the Father, the only Life the world has or needs. Those who worship the Father worship in the Spiirt and the Truth who is Jesus. And to those who receive Him through faith, to those who believe on His Name and trust in His work of salvation, He gives permission for us to be called “children of God.”
He was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, so that you might be created anew in Him through Holy Baptism. He was conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin so that you might be “twice born children,” born of water and Spirit, born of holy mother Church, with God as your Father and His Son Jesus as your Brother and the Spirit as your Guide and Friend. He was born that you might receive His sacrificial body and blood as your food and drink to keep you strong and steadfast to your death. He was born to die, so that in His death you might die to sin and live forever in Him.
His manger is the Word, the water of Baptism, the bread and wine of His Supper. Oh, come, let us adore Him. Here is the essence of Christmas. Here is the Christmas you have when you have Christ: You have the Mass of the Christ in which you come not to give but to receive al that He died to win for you. “And then from here to tell abroad His goodness proudly, who our race has honored so, that He dwells with us below.”
God in Christ himself abasing,
Our adoring love enshrining,
Here the sun of grace lies shining.