One of the things I love about Christmas are Christmas movies. I know we all have our favorites, and some are related to our generation. My two favorites are The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original, not the Jim Carey one) and Home Alone. What is fun about Christmas movies is we watch them over and over again because we like something about their message. The movies teach us something.
This year, I introduced my younger daughter to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. She was fascinated by the movie, asking all sorts of questions – why they play bad music when the Grinch is around, why he stole all their presents, and why he hits his dog. But the question she asks most frequently has been about the Grinch’s heart. For those of you not familiar with the story, the Grinch tries to ruin Christmas for Whoville by stealing all their presents, decorations, and feast items. But when Whoville does not cry and wail about all that is lost, and instead returns to the town center to sing as a community, without their “stuff,” the Grinch’s heart is strangely warmed, growing three times the size the heart was. My daughter keeps asking me about the Grinch’s growing heart, and her questions have allowed us to talk about what Christmas is really about, and why someone’s heart might grow.
Every year we watch our favorite Christmas movies and cartoons because we enjoy revisiting the lessons the movies teach us. But what is interesting about those movies is, over time, the lesson the movie teaches us takes on new meaning. We meet new Grinches over our lifetime – or sometimes we become them! We get to know presumably creepy or scary neighbors who we eventually learn are beautiful human beings. We experience Christmases where everything goes wrong, but we find joy in the unexpected. We know part of what the story is teaching us, but as we age and mature, the movies speak to us in new and fresh ways.
We tell the story of Jesus’ birth every single Christmas for a similar reason. We tell the same story every year because God did this amazing thing. God is all powerful, and conceivably could do anything God wants – and has: from kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden, to flooding the earth, to cursing generations for one person’s sins. God can rule and govern and do anything God wants, and yet the one thing God does is become human. God becoming incarnate is such an amazing thing that when we say the Creed, many people bow or genuflect during the part of the Creed that talks about God becoming incarnate from the Virgin Mary, being made man. Becoming human is God’s ultimate expression of God’s lovingkindness, that hesed, we have been talking a lot about lately. Becoming incarnate is the way God shows God’s love for us.
I am a part of group that is creating a kindness initiative in 2019 in the Greater Williamsburg area. We will be encouraging the faith community, business community, local schools, and nonprofits to engage in acts of kindness, with the ultimate goal of making Greater Williamsburg the next community of kindness. I like the initiative because I know doing acts of kindness helps me get a small glimpse into God’s lovingkindness; doing acts of kindness helps me honor God, and embody God to others. When we talk about shining Christ’s light in the world, or being Jesus to others, we are often talking about doing acts of kindness. The ultimate form of flattery or honoring someone else is when we do acts of kindness. When we, as persons of faith, do acts of kindness, we honor God by imitating God’s lovingkindness. Any of you who has a sibling knows that siblings often copy what we do. How many times have you heard the complaint, “He’s copying me!” or “She’s keeps stealing my clothes.”? The reasons our siblings do this, besides to annoy us, is because they want to be like us – they want to honor us by imitating us – just like we imitate God. Of course, they would never admit that reality to your face, but the truth is, imitation is the best form of flattery.
Tonight, we tell the story of Mary and Joseph, of innkeepers and registrations, of shepherds and angels because we love the story. The story makes us feel safe, loved, and reassured. And sometimes we really need opportunities to feel good about life, ourselves, and our God. But we also tell the story because the story is formative – the story shapes who we are and how we behave. Over the years, different parts of the story touch us, and as we grow and change, the lesson grows and changes. So we listen to the story to remember who we have been and who we are. But we also listen to this familiar story to remind us of what we will do tomorrow. This story invites us to share God’s lovingkindness like the shepherds. This story invites us to ponder God’s amazing love like Mary. This story invites us to sing loudly like the angels, shouting our love for God and the world like an army of kindness. I cannot wait to learn what hearing the story this year leads you to do in the days, weeks, and months to come! May this favored story not just be a story of comfort, but also a story of action. Amen.