Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Those Stinking Christmas Letters”
December 18, 2016 (4th Sunday of Advent)
Matthew 1: 1-25
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City
So, tell me, are your family and friends as brilliant and successful as ours at least according to their Christmas letters? Do their mistletoe missives overwhelm you with mind-boggling exploits and sentimental cheeriness? You know: “Little Johnny, only 4 ½ years old, scored twenty-three goals in his first three soccer games as throngs of spellbound scouts from premier colleges looked on. Dazzling Suzie, a few days shy of ten, presented a dazzling accordion recital in October at the local Y; some believe she may be the first accordion prodigy ever to receive early admission to Julliard. As for mom and dad, our countless successes simply cannot be contained in this extraordinarily modest Christmas epistle.”
In all these stinking letters, the marriages are tranquil, the children’s exploits mind-boggling, and the trips exotic. Why isn’t your family perfect? Why does your beguiling teenager, Brock, regard his biggest—and only—achievement to be keeping his acne under control? You would never dare mention that your precious little Abigail spends every waking hour locked in her room with shades drawn, obsessing on her iPhone with who knows whom about who knows what. Add to that, your job stinks and your annual performance evaluation was rotten.
Sometimes coming to church only exacerbates matters. You sneakily look around and everyone seems so cheery and successful. You think and spot HER: I’ll bet she finished her Christmas shopping in September and mailed her 200+ Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving, each with a sweet, personal, hand-written note.
Tell the truth: these idyllic Christmas letters drive you nuts!
Here is some pastoral advice—a Christmas gift really: if you are tired of everyone else looking perfect, read the Christmas story according to Saint Matthew. This gospel does not resemble Luke’s jollier version where the babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes, the shepherds lovingly tend their adorable sheep by night, and the angels sing enchanting melodies from heaven above. Matthew’s account tells us more about Joseph and less about Mary and frankly Joseph comes off a bit the buffoon: Mary is in a family way and Matthew ain’t the daddy. Matthew writes of Joseph’s baffling quandary, “Being a righteous man and unwilling to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, [he] planned to dismiss her quietly.” That is, of course, until an angel appears and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew includes this tawdry mess in his Christmas letter. Can you believe it—there for all the world to read! Would you tell others that your daughter is pregers and no one has yet figured out who pops is? Come on: you would never want Aunt Tilley and Uncle Tito catching whiff of this humiliating scandal.
Today, wishing to spare you the agony, we opted not to read the first sixteen verses of Matthew’s gospel known as the genealogy of Jesus Christ. While the thought of Jesus’ family tree may sound fascinating to you, the church has avoided Matthew 1: 1-17 like liver and onions, never, ever reading it aloud on any Sunday morning in the entire three-year lectionary cycle. And when people attempt to read through the Bible in a year, these long lists of descendants are usually skipped over with ne’er a misgiving. That all means, we never may know the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Jesus’ family.
Just for fun, let me read you a few verses: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…” It goes on ad nauseam until, mercifully, we arrive at this: “…Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”
In those initial verses, you hear things about Jesus’ family that make your blood curl and cause you to feel a lot better about your family. While we won’t delve into Jesus’ entire family history this morning, trust me when I tell you, it is filled with murderers and scoundrels, cheats, adulterers, and harlots. If you don’t believe me, go home this afternoon and investigate who exactly Tamar and Rahab and Jacob and David are; see what mischief and mayhem they mastermind. I warn you: keep your Bible inside a brown paper sack—it is disgusting stuff.
Why aren’t the revolting exploits of Jesus’ ancestors left out of the Bible or at least doctored up so polite company like us will not be offended only a few days before Christmas? And yet, isn’t this the kind of Christmas letter you read from start to finish; its candor makes you feel so much better about your own bumbling family.
Saint Matthew’s Christmas letter tells us the truth about the folks God chooses to hang around with in this world. God does not come to an imaginary wonderland abounding in purity and loveliness; God comes to a real world teeming with mayhem and tomfoolery…a world just like ours.
If you wish, you can look around this room and make believe others are far more perfect than you but I promise you…I promise you…this simply is not the case: no one here today is perfect, thus saith the Lord! In every age, God comes amidst scoundrels and misfits, cranks and foul-ups, among people just like us. To know this is receive the greatest Christmas gift of all because “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
On behalf of all those naughty and zany people in Jesus’ family, I wish you a very blessed Christmas. Like Joseph, may you know the Christ Child coming to you.