I was watching the movie “Elf” earlier this week…one of my Christmas favorites. If you don’t know the story, the plot centers around a baby who accidentally ends up at the North Pole where he is raised by Santa’s Elves. When the baby, known in the movie as “Buddy,” grows to adulthood and finds out he’s actually a human being, he travels south to New York City to find his real family. Where it suffices to say that the family reunion is not a smooth one, as Buddy, and the elf culture he was raised in, constantly clashes with the workaholic family culture and the human culture of the city that never sleeps.
One of my favorite moments in the film is the scene of the first family dinner. “Mom” makes spaghetti and as the family begins to eat Buddy asks, “Please pass the maple syrup.”
“It’s spaghetti,” mom reminds him. Buddy, with his insatiable sweet tooth, doesn’t miss a beat, however. “Oh, I think I have some right here!” And he reaches up into the sleeve of his elf coat, pulls out a bottle of maple syrup, and proceeds to empty it over the top of his spaghetti.
Buddy does things differently than the rest of us. Despite growing up in a different culture, though, Buddy brings with him to New York City the ideals he has learned from childhood…joy, peace, hope and love. All of those ideals represented, symbolically at least, by that maple syrup up his sleeve. Which Buddy is not afraid to pour liberally on everything in sight, even though everyone around him thinks he’s out of his mind…
Being a Christian, especially during this often secularized Christmas season, can feel like being a part of a different culture. And as a form of resistance, maybe this was the year you resolved to “keep Christ in Christmas.” This was the year you decided not to get caught up in the commercialism. This was the year when you refused to give in to stress and exhaustion and debt. This was the year when it was time to think about alternative gifts. Never mind the newest IPhone when you could give someone in Uzbekistan a goat instead.
But every year at Christmas time our Christian values clash with our cultural values. And it’s hard to find a balance. Is it still okay to put lights on the house? How many presents are too many presents? Do I need to buy gifts for everyone in the office, for my neighbors and our favorite teachers, for all the relatives in the extended family? Not to mention trying to fit in all those worship services and seasonal activities at church…
The truth is sometimes we get to Christmas Eve and the whole plan to keep Christ in Christmas has failed. But the good news is it doesn’t have to. No matter how many lights you have outside your house or how many cookies you’ve baked or how stressed you might feel, you haven’t missed it. In fact, if you didn’t know it, God has a big bottle of maple syrup tucked away just for this occasion.
You see the first Christmas happened much like this one…amidst the stresses and the busyness of real life. The emperor ordered a census and everyone had to drop what they were doing and make a trip to their hometown to be registered. Imagine for a few moments what that chaos must have been like.
The roads around the region were crowded with ordinary folks traveling in all directions. Everywhere you turned, you bumped into couples, families, and single people on the move. And somewhere in the town of Bethlehem, having walked for nearly ninety miles, Joseph showed up at the door of a local inn with his very pregnant fiancé.
All the guest rooms were full so the dog tired couple, desperate for rest, were willing to take shelter in the stable out back. And there, in the middle of a night ripe with animal smells and a bed made out of piles of hay and a night filled with singing angels and starry lights, Mary delivered her baby. Together with Joseph they wrapped their son, God’s son, in bands of cloth. And they laid him in a feeding trough to rest.
In the middle of the night, there was loud knocking outside the stable door and Joseph dragged himself up. He opened the door only to find a bunch of filthy, rugged looking shepherds on the stoop. They told Joseph about the angels and how they needed to drop what they were doing to come and see the baby. And Joseph, who knew from firsthand experience a little about angel visits, decided to go with the flow. So he let the shepherds in.
In the middle of the stable, in the middle of the ruckus, in a makeshift cradle, the Christ Child slept. The shepherds walked up and ooohed and ahhhed. The townspeople began to gather and they whispered excitedly to one another, occasionally tiptoeing over to give Mary a congratulatory kiss on the cheek.
Some prayed. Others understood the gravity of the Savior of the world being born that very night. Still others had no clue and they were just along for the ride afraid to miss something. Over the course of the night the gathering continued, the celebration continued, life continued.
You see, in the end, the story is why you haven’t failed at keeping Christ in Christmas. Because Christ is Christmas. Regardless of whether we show up at the stable door in the middle of the night having witnessed a heavenly host of angels, or we shuffle through the whole Christmas season concerned about making lists and fighting traffic and drinking lots of coffee, Christmas will always be about Jesus Christ. We can commercialize it or Santa-ize it or bake through it or shop through it…but we cannot take Christ out of Christmas.
The main reason why is because Jesus Christ can’t take you out of Christmas. You are the reason there is a Christmas. You are the reason Jesus was sent here in the first place. It’s about God’s great love for you and for me…for us! Because God loved, Jesus came to earth bringing with him the foundation of everything he knows…love, peace, joy, hope.
God loves you and me more than we will ever know tonight and tomorrow and every single day if we are willing to receive...and even when we’re not willing to receive. God loves us whether we are stuffing turkeys or singing carols or buying goats for a family in Uzbekistan. God loves us whether we are thinking about Christ this Christmas or not thinking about Christ much at all.
Tonight God’s hand is reaching up God’s sleeve and pulling out a bottle of maple syrup. Emptying every single drop of God’s joy on our world and on you and me and all over the place. Merry Christmas!