December 24 & 25, 2019

2018 Dec25


Merry Christmas!

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Merry Christmas!

Each year it seems that the Christmas season gets longer. As soon as the Hallowe’en candy gets slashed to half-price, the Christmas music starts playing. This got me thinking about what we and the general public are learning from the incessant Christmas music that has been playing for the better part of 2 months. Are we gaining a deeper understanding of why we are gathered here this afternoon/night/morning, or, in the case of secular holiday season music, are we gaining a deeper understanding of any sort of secular holiday?

This research exercise actually got off to a difficult start. The Spotify list is a global one, which skews the results, and includes obscure British punk music. The NPR list…well…I’m an NPR listener, and I know we skew all sorts of results. And the Good Housekeeping 30 Best Christmas Songs Ever was guaranteed to be skewed by generation. So, I chose the New York Public Library’s Top 18 Christmas Carols 2016 (link at end of sermon). It’s a curated list by Nicholas Parker. I have no idea who he is, but the list seemed pretty comprehensive and therefore a good peek into what is shaping our understanding of why we are all here tonight/this morning.

The ones which fail to impart any understanding of Christmas involve a lot of decorations. First, coming in at #14, we are confronted with a dozen obscure gifts, which, if one’s true love showed a strong preference for any one of them, there would be cause for great concern. #1 instructs us how to deck our halls, to wear gay apparel (whatever that is!) and to fa la la la la a lot. #6 discloses that Christmas trees are green all year-round. And #3 gives us a peek into the transportation preferences of rural Americans and occasionally refers to the personal hygiene of a comic book hero, depending on who is singing it.

Then there are the ones which require a serious and deep theological understanding of the Incarnation and the Bible in order to appreciate. Most people find #18 Little Drummer Boy annoying. I quite like it. However, one must understand that it is with complete humility and generosity that the poor boy’s only gift is one that unmarried uncles (like me) enjoy inflicting upon their siblings as gifts to their young nieces and nephews. At #16, The 3 Kings of Orient are…a couple weeks early because The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. #12 might be another reference to the 3 Kings, because to see 3 ships come sailing into landlocked Bethlehem on Christmas Day would be challenging. If the “ships” were allusions to the 3 Kings’ camels, then it might make sense. Then, bizarrely, coming in at #13, “Do You Hear What I Hear” doesn’t refer to any sort of Christmas bells, but rather the plea for silence in order to avoid the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fortunately, #8 recites the Christmas story to the gentlemen who are instructed to rest merry. But beware: punctuation matters!

If you are familiar with these songs, you will see that we learn almost nothing about the real Christmas through the incessant Christmas serenades, nor do we actually learn anything about a secular holiday, or any winter festival at all!

Of the remaining 8, one I’ve never heard of: #5 is “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”. I’ll just leave that one to Tennessee Ernie Ford. The other 7 are traditional Christian Carols, which:

  • Wax lyrical of a silent night on which Christ was born at #17, and also at #10, the same message, but emphasizing the holy nature of that particular night;
  • Request all the faithful to come see the Christ child at #15;
  • Tell of angels heralding at #11, and similarly at #4, the angels that we have heard on high;
  • Shout the joy that the world expresses at the news of the birth of Christ at #7;

So, there is some education, but it’s cherry-picking, and lacks a comprehensive understanding of a core aspect of the Christian faith. To be fair to the Christmas songs, there is only one sentence in the Gospel reading – the Christmas story we just heard – that indicates the significance of what is happening. The angel says to the shepherds:

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Unexpectedly, #9 on the New York Public Library’s Top 18 Christmas Carols 2016 includes all of the theological aspects of tonight/today, The Incarnation, Christmas, that I want you to know. “Go Tell It On The Mountain” emphasizes the Birth of Christ, God’s power of Salvation for humanity, and the importance of humility of humanity before God – that God saves, not oneself. It’s the song that tells us to tell the world what the angels just told the shepherds.

“Go Tell It On The Mountain” instructs us to tell the world that, out of a Divine Miracle, and out of a depth of love that we will never fully understand, God came to earth as a tiny little baby. This extraordinary event of God coming into this world happened in about as ordinary a way as the rest of us. And that’s another extraordinary aspect of this story: This birth of a baby who was also God had to be ordinary because we are ordinary. Jesus as God is an extraordinary extra-ordinary event that can happen in the ordinary world because with God, all things are possible.

So, to summarize: On a Silent Night, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, with Harking Herald Angels Singing that Away in A Manager, Mary Had a Baby. This is complete and utter Joy To The World, and the call of Come All Ye Faithful is not rhetoric; it’s real. As we celebrate the Birth of Christ, of the Messiah, we have received in human form – in our ordinary form – God’s power of Salvation for humanity.

Good Christian Friends, Rejoice, but remember your humility before God: for it is God who saves, Born in the City of David, The Messiah, The Lord. It is God who saves whether Grandma Got Runover By A Reindeer, or you Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. God is Real, God is Love, and for our sakes – whether you’ve been bad or good – for your sake – not for goodness sake – Love to Come Down at Christmas.


On behalf of the entire St Stephen’s Family, whether you are part of us at this service, or part of us longer term, coming in at #2:

We Wish You
A Merry Christmas.

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