As a kid, I remember my parents getting a lot of Christmas cards. They came from many different places. Dad’s oldest brother lived in Kansas. He had other family out in California. He also had some in Oklahoma. Mom’s family was all fairly close when I was really young but later her older brother and her younger sister lived in Colorado and Spokane Washington in their Air Force days. Dad also had Navy buddies he maintained some of those relationships for a while. Something, however, was missing.
Christmas cards have always been intriguing to me. Some are intriguing unless they are trying to be funny and completely missing the mark. There are also some that actually set their sights on being funny and made their goal. Others leave me thinking there are only so many ways of saying the same thing. Still others amaze me and actually do find a way to say something new.
I am also someone who goes into a card shop or card isle, spend a few minutes looking around at three or four cards, give or take a few, find the one I like best, pay for it and get out of there. I am not going to stand around looking for the perfect card. I don’t have the patience for that. I pick out a nice card (which will probably be at least an attempt at humor), buy it, and move on.
Christmas cards have long been a part, almost 200 years,of Christmas celebration. The first Christmas card, as we know it, was designed in 1843 by artist J. C. Horsley. It measured about the size of a postcard. And Horsley had 1000 cards lithographed and hand-colored for Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the South Kensington Museum in London.
The first Christmas card shows a Victorian era family celebrating the gentle spirit of the Christmas season around the table. Take a look at the screen or on the cover of your bulletin. That is a digital reproduction of the actual first Christmas card. In the picture they’re making a toast to the health and happiness of their family, friends and nation. Flanking the scene of Christmas cheer and celebration is carrying out the biblical concern for clothing the naked and “feeding the hungry “the printed picture includes a lettered greeting underneath.
When I started thinking about this picture, it makes me start to question what our Christmas cards would have to say. That could present some interesting dilemmas in some of our homes.
In our lesson this morning, Paul gives us a great place to start our look for a message for a Christmas card. In this text we really don’t consider a Christmas text at all we can have some interesting thoughts that fit right in line with what a Christmas card should say. The lesson gives us several ideas about how our Christmas cards should look.
First, might we have A Christmas card that says, “rejoice in the Lord?” The idea of rejoicing seems to me to be a great message for a Christmas card. Mary, in a lesson we will look at next week, rejoiced despite what God was asking her to do. In that passage, which the church has come to call the Magnificat, Mary sings praises to God. She rejoices about being a servant of the Lord.
In the nativity story from the second chapter of Luke we can find can read of the shepherds having just observed the newborn Christ child, they left glorifying and praising God. They were rejoicing, being in the presence of God. What a Christmas card picture that presents in our minds when we read the story of the shepherds and the Christmas.
Sometime back, I read a story written by the late Senator John McCain. He told of his time in a Vietnamese prisoner of war. McCain was the one who the others selected to say the prayer and lead the worship service on Christmas Eve. They chose him he said, not because of any excessive virtue someone might have thought he had, but because he knew all the prayers for a worship service, having gone to a Christian boarding school and also an active member of the Episcopal Church.
McCain said he and the other prisoners of war asked for a Bible, and the Vietnamese said they didn’t have any. Later they learned people and organizations in the US had spent thousands of dollars to get Bibles into the hands of POW Christians. It didn’t work.
Four days before Christmas, the North Vietnamese guards made a Bible available to McCain and allowed him to hand copy prayers and stories from the only Bible the Vietnamese said they had.
Finally, the worship service consisted of McCain reading a Biblical passage, followed by an appropriate song sung by a small choir. McCain then talked about the Birth of Christ, then the choir closed the service singing “Silent Night.”
McCain said he looked around the room and there were tears in those men’s eyes. They weren’t tears of anger or fright or sorrow or bitterness or even longing for home. They were tears of joy that for the first time in seven years for some of them, there was a reception a celebration of Christmas together as Americans.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” Yes, it seems to me rejoicing in the Lord’s is a great Christmas card message from Christians to the world.
Second, another great message for our Christmas card might be, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” What in the world could we ever find gentler than a tiny baby? No, a baby isn’t always peaceful. Any of us who have raised children know the shattering of peace in the night that comes with a baby crying. In truth, that same baby, can never hurt another person, at least not in a physical way. God created a baby as a creature of gentleness. It is only as that baby becomes older, bigger, and stronger that we learn and see otherwise. Could it be that such is what God just might be calling us to be. If that is our call and I believe it is, we would have be hard pressed to find a better message for our Christmas card.
In medieval times there was a wonderful legend, which said on Christmas Eve the Christ child wandered through the world looking for places where there would he would be welcomed. Those who loved him, hoping he might find their homes, they placed lighted candles in the windows to invite him into their homes. No one, of course, knew for sure in what guise the Christ child might appear. Perhaps he would come dressed in the rags of a beggar, or he might come as a poor and lonely child. He also might appear incognito in the form of a disabled person or a blind person who were put out to roam the streets of medieval cities. Or, maybe he would come back as a person who had lost a loved one and needed someone to listen to their story.
So it became customary for devout Christians to locate and welcome into their homes who cane to their doors on Christmas Eve. To turn any away might have meant the rejection of the Christ child who had come in unfamiliar garb during the advent season. Remember the Christ child wandering our streets, looking for homes where he will find warmth and shelter. New candles in the windows, the candles in the windows of our homes and the light of the advent wreath candles in our church symbolize to all our community that Christ is our guest. Here is a place where there is room in our hearts for him. When he is in our hearts, it says our gentleness is, or at least should be, evident to all who see us. What a great Christmas card message that would be during the advent season. We remember The Christ child is wandering in the streets, looking for homes where he will be where he will find warmth and shelter. In candles the candles in the windows of our homes and the lighting of the advent wreath candles in our church symbolize to all in our community that Christ is our guest here. This is a place where there is room in our hearts for him, if we allow him into our hearts, Scripture says our gentleness is, or at least it should be evident, for all to see who see us . What a great Christmas card message that would be.
Third, our Christmas card might say, “The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take a look at the world around us and see peace isn’t the norm. One look at the Evening News can tell us more than we want to know. From Afghanistan to Iraq and ran to race riots and even more, there is turmoil saying there is anything but peace. At the same time, we don’t even have to look that far. While we would love to say we are the exception, the truth is, such actions are far more the norm than the exception. For so many , peace is the thing last thing on their mind.
A young woman approached Christmas when her life was in turmoil and the holiday frenzy made it even worse. Exhausted from cooking and shopping and decorating, she found the pressures in her personal life threatening to push her over the edge. She threw her hands up in despair and went to seek comfort from a friend. She said, “I’ve lost any sense of peace and serenity.”
“The world can’t give you serenity,” her friend replied. “the world can’t give you peace. We can only find serenity and peace in our hearts. That’s the bad news. The good news is, by the same token, the world can’t take it away either.”
The lesson doesn’t speak of peace in the world. It speaks of God’s peace in our hearts. As long as there are people in the world, mayhem and chaos will be part of it as well. If we want to find peace, we need to look to God and the place it can be found in our hearts. God’s peace is the only real peace we will find. It is the only piece guarding our hearts and minds.
There is a benevolent ministry near San Diego called “friend to friend.” shortly before Christmas a few years ago ayoung woman it came to “friend to friend” in the middle of the night. She was homeless, living on the streets, LA many mentaly ill, addicted and high. She came through the door crying, barefoot and with torn clothes. She had been assaulted and beaten- it was cold and rainy and she had nowhere to go. It would seem she should have had limited knowledge about real peace. She had seen the white of the ministry center, knew of its reputation , and had taken a chance she would find help. The volunteers and climate clients who were there found her a change of clothes, heavy socks, and some old tennis shoes, a new jacket, and a blanket, food and first aid. She finally stopped crying and said, much to everyone’s surprise, “this is such a peaceful place. God must be here with us tonight.” A woman who seemed to know no peace, also knew real peace.
A great message for our Christmas card is, “the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” that would be a great Christmas prayer too.
Former Yale chaplain and seminary president John W. Vander stoel writes, “one of the meanings of Christmas is, God does not want to hurt me or you.” in spite of the fact that, “God must watch his whales diet, and our submarines increase,” God comes to us with a message of love, not wrath.“ that is why it seems to so remarkable to me when God comes to speak God’s word to us, that word becomes a tiny child. A child announced by singing, not by Thunder. A child born by lamplight in the silent night, rather than in a world which shakes mountains, has pouring rivers of unstoppable fire down every side. The word becomes a tiny child which can be revealed and received and cannot hurt us: a word which does not make us afraid. I am prepared for the anger of God, and believe God has the right to his wrath. What is so amazing is, when God comes among us, whatever’s hurt whatever is indignant About God, God comes not with violence, but with love, even as a child vulnerable 2 hour further hurt.”
In Paul’s words, words that are really not a Christmas message, we find three great Christmas messages for the Christmas cards of our hearts.“ rejoice in the Lord… Let your gentleness be evident to all… And the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Any of those would make a great Christmas message. Together, however, what we may just find is, God’s Christmas message to us. It might just say, “rejoice with gentleness and peace in your hearts and in your minds.”