This week, while other families are watching It’s a Wonderful Life, or that Hoosier classic, A Christmas Story, my family will be watching Charles Dickens being impersonated by the Great Gonzo in The Muppet Christmas Carol. If you’ve seen it, you remember the Ghost of Christmas Present singing to Scrooge, “Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” It’s filled with all the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic lyrics you expect from a Christmas special:
A cup of kindness that we share with another / A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother / In all the places you find love / It feels like Christmas.
It's in the giving of a gift to another / A pair of mittens that were made by your mother / It's all the ways that we show love / That feel like Christmas
A part of childhood we'll always remember / It is the summer of the soul in December / Yes, when you do your best for love / It feels like Christmas
It is the season of the heart / A special time of caring / The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the spirit / The message, if we hear it / Is make it last all year
Whether or not you can sing along, you can recognize the ideas that form a large part of the way we cherish Christmas these days. We show kindness to each other, give generous gifts, go the extra mile, let little annoyances slide with a smile and a “Merry Christmas.” Those are all good things. We’re right to treasure those times and those feelings of love. The Ghost of Christmas Present is trying to give us the hope that, if we can just be nice to each other more often, if we can hold onto the good feelings of this season, the world will be a good place.
But what about when those good times don’t happen? What about when those happy feelings aren’t there? What about those who will spend tonight huddled against the chill, or shivering in fear of who might walk in the door? What about those whose hearts have grown bitter cold because of constant pain and disappointment, or those whose hearts are empty places, hollowed out by abandonment or neglect?
We’re not talking about humbug Scrooges, we’re talking about wounded, scarred, hurting people, trampled down by the normal course of this world. We’re talking about those who are haunted by the ghost of their past sins and guilt, and those terrified of the future which only promises the isolation of a cold grave, so that they can have no real hope in the present.
We’re even talking about you, too, if we’re honest. Your disappointments. Your wounds. Your failures. Your pain. Your sins. Your guilt. Maybe cutting you especially sharply on a day when you know you’re “supposed to be happy.” It’s not always so much a “humbug,” as a resigned, hopeless, sigh.
Can such folk as us really know the love and hope of Christmas? Does Christmas never really come to us, then? If we’re expected to make Christmas by “doing our best for love,” we’re never going to really know Christmas, or real love, because your best isn’t ever enough. Christmas cheer gives us an emotional high, but we can’t keep that up much past opening the stockings, much less all year. We will disappoint and hurt ourselves and each other, like we do again and again in every season. If we really stop to think that true love and hope in this world at Christmas or anytime depends on us, those warm fuzzy feelings vanish like a dream as we wake to the cold reality of sin and death.
So with all due respect to Kermit the Frog, the Muppets have it backwards here. We won’t truly understand love, we won’t have any real, substantive hope at Christmas, if we think about what we do or how we feel; we can’t define love by ourselves. We can’t be the ones to bring the love and hope into Christmas. Rather, Christmas brings love to us. Or more specifically, Christ brings love to us. And that give us hope.
Because at Christmas, Love became incarnate. Love was manifest among us, not kindled in our hearts as a feeling, but born of a virgin and laid in a manger. True Love isn’t really a feeling you see; true love is now a man, Jesus. This man, God in the flesh, Jesus, came with a specific mission. Because He is love He came to rescue us from death, from the power of sin, from the crushing burden of our guilt. He came to heal our wounds and fill our empty hearts with His own love, with Himself. He came to overcome the evil of this world that ravages our souls, to bring us to a new world that is really and truly good, forever.
To do that for you, this child in the manger must grow and face the worst tortures this world and demons of hell can throw at Him. To save you from the wrath that justice demands for your sins, Jesus had to take that wrath upon Himself. The Christ-child we adore tonight, laid away in the manger, must be nailed to the cross to die the death we deserve. This is His love, that grants us forgiveness, wins it for the whole world, and for specifically you. This is His love, that gives us hope for a new life, for a new world to come, a resurrection to come with those whom we love who have died trusting in this crucified and living Jesus. This is love, that God would want us to be with Him always, and never leave us alone, us abiding in Him and He is us. This is true Love: Jesus, Immanuel, God with us to save us from our sins.
John, speaking by the Holy Ghost, says it better than the Ghost of Christmas Present, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
God is love, and so the definition of love is the life of Jesus, laid in the manger, nailed to the cross, raised from the dead, and delivered to you. So wherever you find Christ, there you find Love. Christ is love, bringing Himself to us, even now. In His Church, every time His Name is invoked, Jesus has promised to be present with us. There Jesus delivers that love to you, delivering His gifts of forgiveness and healing and wholeness and hope. There you hear that love in the Word spoken and declared to you. There you taste that love in the body and blood fed to you from the altar. There Jesus fills us with love, fills us with Himself, so that then, yes, only then, we show true love to one another, forgiving each other, giving of ourselves to one another, and singing Christ to one another in our words and deeds. Beloved, if God so loved us that He gave even His life for us, we also ought to love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Filled with Jesus’ love, we can’t help but do otherwise.
Here is the real love and hope and joy of Christmas: that God loves you in Jesus, that Jesus has done everything to save you and give you life and healing, and that no sin, no devil, no death can take away. You aren’t expected to “do your best for love” in exchange for all this. It’s not based on your works, what you can do here. God doesn’t expect you to do anything to earn this. That’s not how love really works. It’s a gift. All you do it receive. That’s God’s love. That’s grace. That’s God with you in the cold darkness, bringing you into His light, the light of heaven on earth, the light of a new life, given to you now, and lasting forever. This is true whether you feel it or not, whether right now you’re happy or hurting or both. God is with you now, Jesus is with you now. And that’s why it’s Christmas. Where Christ is, there is Christmas; there is Love.
So now, thanks to Christ’s birth, life, rising, and coming for us, we can say with the little green flannel Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one.”