My daughter Rachel and I have been enjoying making some of our favorite Christmas treats this week, especially the one that involves the precise placement of a single M&M on top of a melted Hershey kiss.
We discovered two things during the process: First, you tend to go through M&Ms fairly quickly when you eat two for every one you put on.
Which is how we ended up needing to go to the store yesterday to buy some more holiday M&Ms. You know the ones I’m talking about—the bag that has only two colors—red and green—the colors for Christmas.
It was at an unnamed store that we made our second discovery. It is possible to buy a bag of holiday M&Ms during Christmas week, as long as you aren’t too picky about which holiday variety you get.
All of the bags filled with Christmas reds and greens were missing. In their place were piles of the Valentine bags containing the reds and pinks and whites for that day of all things love.
I considered for a moment that if we continued our tradition of eating two for every one we used, then we could probably get by with the wrong holiday bag and no one would be the wiser. Well, as long as we were disciplined enough to eat only the white and pink ones.
That seemed to be asking a bit too much of us though, so I decided we would just make do with what we had . (We did buy a regular old secular bag of non-holiday-specific M&Ms as a backup—just in case.)
But, and I suppose you know this to be true, sometimes something just doesn’t fit, even though there’s nothing technically wrong with it.
I had that experience with Christmas cards this year. Many times the pre-printed messages that the card makers believe capture the meaning of Christmas for us just didn’t fit for me.
I opened and gave thanks for every card I received, but I couldn’t always bring myself to read the pre-packaged message printed on them. The words always seemed a bit too removed from reality. Especially this year. Those beautiful and flowing words—every one of them true in the strictest sense of the word—seemed somehow untrue to me. Or at least unreal.
They seemed unreal because they seemed to float above the chaos of the world and the chaos of my life. They seemed far removed from the life that most of us know. And while they may have been true, it was a true word that seemed somehow false.
I had about the same reaction to them as I did at the thought of placing a Valentine M&M on top of a Christmas treat. It just doesn’t fit.
But some of the words that people wrote in those cards? Now those words fit.
Especially one that I received this year. Below the stock words and beautiful type-face that the card-makers had stamped into the card was a message written by the sender’s hand. It was difficult to read, but it was true. And it was real.
It acknowledged how tough life can be—especially when you’re down in the valley. “It ain’t no fun,” he wrote, and he knows that truth too well.
And then, near the end, he quoted from one of my favorite hymns. It wasn’t a Christmas carol, but a hymn that lifts up a prayer to God:
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power.
Crown thy church’s ancient story; bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.
Before I knew it, and even though he didn’t include it, my mind was singing the next verse:
Lo! The hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days, for the living of these days.
We need wisdom and courage for the living of these days, don’t we?
In these days, we are dealing with so many things that defy God’s righteousness and love.
In these days, no one is sure whom to trust.
In these days, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, between those with power and those without, between those with reason to hope and those for whom hope is a distant dream.
In these days, war takes our children far from home and we go to bed each night with thoughts of their return and they are our first thought each morning when we wake.
In these days, people we love endure dark nights of the soul that we would give anything to help them escape.
In these days, the economy staggers and good people can’t find jobs.
In these days, the hungry wait to be fed, and the poor to be paid.
In these days, the forgotten long to be noticed, and the stranger to find welcome.
So many things…so much that breaks our hearts…so great our need for wisdom and courage for the living of these days.
I think that’s why the story Luke tells is such a welcome word. Did you hear how it began?
In those days….
I don’t remember ever hearing those words as clearly as I have this year.
Or needing them more than I do.
Luke’s opening words—in those days—break through the darkness of this night.
In those days, Luke begins, and a speck of hope begins to shine in the darkness of these days. And that speck signals the promise of more hope and light and life to come.
And even the darkness seems to tremble at the sound of Luke’s voice, because the darkness knows the truth that it tries so hard to keep us from knowing and trusting. The truth is that the light has come into the world, and that the darkness will never overcome the light.
That’s the story Luke tells.
He lifts us from these days and takes us back to those days when God tore open the heavens and the glory of God rested in the hay.
He reminds of those days when the angels sang of good news of great joy for all the people.
He tells us of what happened in those days as Mary and Joseph said “yes” to the work of God even before they could possibly take it all in.
Luke lets us hear the song from the angels filling the night sky with their stunning announcement that a Savior had been born and that his birth meant the coming of peace.
And Luke shows us the shepherds running to tell Mary and Joseph the marvelous things that they had been told by the angels.
And, just so we don’t forget, Luke reminds us that Mary is treasuring all of these things in her heart, inviting us to do the same.
And you get the sense that what happened in those days has everything to do with the living of these days.
Do you see what’s happened?
We who are living in these days are suddenly greeted by a story that invites us to re-think everything in light of what happened in those days.
I have no way of knowing what drew you to this place tonight.
It could be that you came because you knew it would make someone in your family happy. Or you at least hoped it would.
Or it could be that your life always leads you to worship—to gather with others to thank God for the gift of your life.
And I’m sure that some of us are here for the candles and the singing and the tradition.
But whatever drew you here tonight, there is good news.
My friend ended his hand-written Christmas card message with these words:
“We are with you and we are not going away.”
Which, when you think about it, is the message of Christmas…for the living of these days.