So you want a Merry Christmas?
"Have yourself a Merry little Christmas." "We wish you a Merry Christmas." "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night." A Merry Christmas is the goal. This is what you, especially women, plan, work, and strive to provide. But, you've been down the ho, ho, ho path many times before, and where did it get you? If it was to a Merry Christmas, then why was it a relief when Christmas was past? Mary, Elizabeth, and Baby John can help. There all had a Merry Christmas. God can do for us what He did for them.
God can make us leap for joy this Christmas. The burden isn't on us to make a Merry Christmas. We don't have to try to make ourselves merry or to get ourselves into the Christmas Spirit. In fact nothing we try can help us. Unlike the weather people, snow wouldn't help. Unlike retailers Christmas music doesn't help. Parties, decorated homes, or particular clothes don't generate the true Christmas Spirit.
The true Spirit of Christmas is a gift from God. You can't generate it, create it, or fake it. No matter how many lights we put up on our house, no matter how loud the carols are played in our ears, no matter how many Christmas parties we go to, the byproduct of these will not be the Spirit of a Merry Christmas. O it might be fun, exciting, a distraction for awhile. But the Merry Christmas spirit of the world gets put away with the parties, food, decorations, and carols.
The Merry Christmas Spirit can't be manufactured by you or caught from the world around you. He (not an it but a He) is a gift of God. God gave Him to John the Baptist when he was only 6 months old in his mother's womb. He caused Baby John to leap for literally extreme joy' at the sound of Mother Mary's voice. John heard no carols play, saw no decorations, and hadn't been to any Christmas parties. Yet he leaped for joy. The same was true for Mary. The Spirit of Christmas made her spirit extremely rejoice, again without a Christmas tree, carol, food, or gift.
A Merry Christmas is a gift from God. Isaiah 9 says God will increase our gladness in His presence "as with the gladness of harvest." Isaiah says that God is able to give you more merriment than worldly people get from their harvest festivals. I say, God is able to give you more merry of a Christmas than you ever got from the world or your own attempts. And God can do it without all your planning, preparing, and trying. In fact God can give you a Merry Christmas no matter what your circumstances are this year.
How can I say this so confidently? Because look whom God gives a Merry Christmas to in our text? A six month old preborn baby: a baby totally incapable of getting himself into the Christmas Spirit; a baby who can't be pumped up with positive thinking or produce one joyful thought on his own. Even if you're this incapable of having a Merry Christmas, God can still give you one.
But what if things are really bad for you. Let's see? How bad could it be? What if you're a young woman pregnant, engaged to be married, and the child you're pregnant with doesn't belong to the man you're engaged to, and you've yet to the break the news to him? Think your Christmas would have to be mirthless in that situation? Well the Virgin Mary was in exactly this situation. Sure she knows she's with child by the Holy Spirit, but her fiance doesn't. Yet, still God was able to make her spirit rejoice greatly even before she broke the news to Joseph.
Maybe you're not a young person faced with a difficult problem. Maybe you're an older one faced with a health problem this Christmas. What if you're an older woman past 50 and pregnant? Your pregnancy is considered high risk. They tell you you're chances of having a child with a birth defect are higher. Your life might be in danger. This was Elizabeth's situation. Yet do we find her consumed with worry or fear? No, the Holy Spirit was able to give her a Merry Christmas because He is the Spirit of Christmas. And He can do the same for you no matter your medical condition or age.
What is the basis for the Merry Christmas the Holy Spirit gives? Jesus of course. You know the cliches. He's the reason for season. It's His birthday. All this is true, but we have to get past the cliches, the sayings, the pat answers. You know them already, and they haven't brought you a Merry Christmas in the past, have they? Mary, Elizabeth, and John have a Merry Christmas in Jesus, but specifically it is in the fact that God has become man. God has taken on flesh and blood.
Baby John leaps in the womb with extreme joy because the Holy Spirit has brought him the news that the One who is stronger and better than even perfect man was in the Garden of Eden has arrived to crush the head of the snake Satan. Because His Savior was in the womb like he was, John rejoiced that His victory over Satan would reach all the way to the womb.
Elizabeth rejoices at the knowledge that Mary carries Jehovah Himself in her womb. She calls Mary, "the mother of my Lord." Lord in Greek is Jehovah in Hebrew. The God, who walked with Adam and Eve, ate with Abraham, wrestled with Jacob, spoke with Moses from the burning bush, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and dwelled in a cloud above the ark of the covenant, was now in flesh and blood.
Mary too is merry at the incarnation. The insert misses this translating, "For the Mighty One has done great things for me." What she really says is, "The Mighty One has done great things to me." Jehovah, the Second Person of the Trinity, laid Himself in her womb by the power of the Holy Sprit. Mary rejoices because God has joined Himself to one of her eggs, implanted Himself on the wall of her uterus, and has been growing there for about a week now. Do you see how this eclipses any of the miracles, wonders, or reasons to be merry the world knows?
The miracle of God becoming Man is what made Jesus merry too. We know this from Hebrews which says, "Therefore, when Christ came into the world He said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me!" This made Christ merry because of His desire to help you. God the Son needed a body in order to take the place of everybody underneath the Law which nobody could keep. God the Son needed a body so that all the sins that anybody ever committed in their body could be loaded upon His body and punished. God the Son needed a flesh and blood body so that He might pour out His blood to atone for the sins of the world. Without blood being shed nobody's sins could ever be forgiven.
God arriving in our flesh is the reason we have a Merry Christmas. Because this means, in the words of Christmas hymns, "no more does sin or sorrow reign"; "God with sinners is reconciled"; "light and life to all He brings." Our Merry Christmas is certain because all of these things, the end of sin's reign, God being reconciled, light and life coming to us are done by God with or without Christmas parties, decorations, carols, or gifts.
You know what that means? No matter what your circumstances. No matter if your lips are chapped from tears, bitten from anger, or turned down from frowning, God can still bring strains of holy joy from your lips this Christmas. Why? Because like Mary, you can rejoice that God is your Savior. God being your Savior isn't based on how well you plan or prepare for Christmas. God being your Savior isn't based on how happy you are or on whether or not you're in the Christmas spirit. God isn't like someone else we know who might not come if we're crying or pouting. Go ahead and cry; go ahead and pout; Christ the Lord is still coming to town to save you.
This Christ, just like the other guy, knows when you are sleeping and knows when you're awake, and yes, He knows if you've been bad or good. But you can have a Merry Christmas even if you've been bad. You can have a merry little Christmas even if you have been seriously sinful. Why? Because God hasn't forgotten to be merciful to you. He's coming to town not for the sake of good boys and girls but for bad ones, real bad ones. Christ comes to town to carry sins away, so He isn't surprised to find them here. Christ comes to be punished for your sins, so He sure isn't coming to punish you for them. Christ comes to sinners for the sake of sinners to save sinners. He doesn't come because we're so merry and bright but so sinful and dull. He comes to take our sins and give us His joy.
But, but, I'm not ready for this? Not ready to be merry at Christmas? Friends, it's the other guy who looks for the stockings to be hung by the chimney with care. It's the other guy who expects fresh cookies and a glass of milk waiting for him. Your Jesus delights in coming to you just as you are without one plea. He came to John, to Elizabeth and to Mary though not one of them had everything ready, not one of them was in the Christmas spirit, and though not one of them was merry before He arrived. Mary was just another sinner planning for a wedding; John was just another sinful embryo, and Elizabeth was just another sinful woman pregnant unexpectedly. But Jesus came anyway and brought a Merry Christmas with Him.
What Jesus loves to do is rejoice the downcast, cheer the cheerless, and lift up the depressed. What Jesus loves to be is light for the gloomy, balm for the wounded, food for the hungry, forgiveness for the sinful, and merriment for the mirthless. He doesn't come expecting to find your life already lit, your wounds already healed, your stomach already filled, your sins already forgiven, or your Christmas already merry. Christ Jesus brings a Merry Christmas, not to those who do everything possible to make one, but to those yearning for one from Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday in Advent (20061224); Luke 1: 39-55