Sermon For the First Sunday of Christmas aka. “Intern Sunday”

Luther’s Prayer for Before a Sermon: “Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us your Holy Spirit who writes the preached Word into our hearts. May we receive and believe it and be cheered by it in eternity. Glorify your Word in our hearts and make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, through your Holy Spirit think what is right, and by your power fulfill the Word, for the Sake of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.”

Luke 2:22-40. So what’s left? The presents are open, our stockings lie rumpled and bunched a corner. The lights are out and our houses in post-party disorder. We cooked the goose, turned all festivities loose. The Fahoo forays and dahoo dorays have all been sung. Children are sluggish with candy, and so are grandpa and grannie. Families have rolled over and gone back to their rest-of-the-year haunts. We have hustled and bustled and jaunted our jaunts. Boxing Day returns have all been run, the dishes are dirty the cookies all crumbs. What once was decoration is now mostly debris. What once was a live nativity scene is now an empty barn behind me.

Christmas, for most of us, has run its frenetic course.

So what is left? I bet many of you feel just as empty as that barn. Looking around our sanctuary this morning we can see how empty we are compared to that Christmas Eve crowd. Many people don’t even have the energy to show up for Church this weekend. Some of us won’t find that energy again until Easter. Often, all that is left after Christmas starts is this emptiness. We wore ourselves out with the holiday. And now, we all need naps. What else is there left to do? Christmas is so crazy a time of year, most of us are lucky if we come out of it knowing which way is north. And if we’re not harried by the holiday, it usually hits us like a ton of bricks that we should have been. Each in our own way, we come away from the 25th of the December feeling empty, disheveled, or just plain exhausted.

This is that difficult and cranky time. It is when we probably should already be in bed, but the world is still turning and so we’re up and expecting there to be something more. We are all rubbing our eyes and asking if there could be just a little more from our Christmas spirit…we are looking for that last thing we can do this morning with the last of our strength. Or maybe we’re too far gone to do it, but it’s the last thing we really need to do anyway. That thing, left at the bottom of Christmas- probably under that squished Reese’s cup that came out of its wrapper in the bottom of your stocking, down there at the very bottom of it all- is praise.

That is what is left at the bottom of Christmas: songs of praise. Now maybe you do not feel them there. Maybe praise is the thing furthest from your mind. There are so many emotions and memories that may have bubbled up the past few days. If the rush of Christmas present didn’t get to you, maybe the ghosts of Christmas past and future did. Still, as hard and foreign as the idea may sound: a song of praise is the one last Christmas gift there is to open here today. When we have that been-up-too-long feeling it is exactly the right time for praise.

It is like a young couple who have just had their first child. Mary and Joseph haven’t slept since they got home from the hospital. The baby is crying through the night, and there is slime coming out of places you didn’t even know slime could come from. You know that look in new parent’s eyes, it’s the same look we all have now this first Sunday of Christmas. It’s the look where we have barely had time to take care of ourselves for the needs of another. Those haggard new parents barely make their way to church for the first time. Running at half-steam, they are probably just glad that they got little squirming baby Jesus into his booties so that his feet won’t get cold on his first trip to church. And perhaps they feel like they have nothing left that they can do, as worn out as they are by the time they stumble into Trinity’s doors. That’s when Gwen Wiser comes over and swoops the baby up in her arms and she sings with the prophet this hymn of praise: “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people! A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” That’s exactly what she says every time, I have it on good authority. Or even if it’s actually nothing more than “agoo-goo-gah gah who has pretty eyes?” There it is: the hymn of praise at the bottom of Christmas. Even if you didn’t think you had it in you. It’s there. In that baby, and the joy he brings to you and to others.

We can learn it too this Christmas morning from Simeon and the Prophet Anna: theirs is a song of praise that even and especially the weary can sing. The prophet Anna is old and frail and at the end of her years, and Simeon has waited his entire life to see the salvation of the Lord. It is from these two tired and weary ones, that today we get this Christmas burst of praise: My own eyes have seen the salvation! And boy do we ever need their help to sing it, because as one commentator put it “wow, is praise ever hard!”

Praise is difficult, because it is not something we do naturally. In fact, all have in us to do when we should sing praise is to collapse. We all want naps! Some of us are probably already dozing off by this point in my sermon. All our natural impulses are saying there is nothing left that we can do. All we can think of is shutting down. And the thing is, those impulses aren’t entirely wrong! Because praise is not a thing we truly can do. But rather, it is the only possible response when there is nothing left for us to do. Let me say that again, we learn praise with hands bound. We learn it as the one thing left when there is nothing left. And we must learn it, weary though we are, because there is nothing else we CAN do. Praise is all that is left. Praise is what carries us through that bedtime, and on to cheery faces the next morning.

So how do we learn this praise? Again, it is nothing that we can do, how could we? We are already spent, broken, and sinful. But the good news is, praise is done to us, in times like this one. It is like learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. It is not so much a thing we do, as a thing our parents do to us when they let go before they tell us we were the ones riding upright by ourselves all along. God just plain does praise to us, here at the bottom of Christmas. And God does it in such a way that we are surprised when we find out how far back he let go of the bike. God let go this new creation, and we have been singing praise all the way since Thursday.

We have praise written in us, gratitude boiling up around our tired edges. You can hear it in each Christmas hymn we will sing today, that moment when we are handed the baby Christ. And praise comes and surprises us as if it was there all along. You were already giving praise this day when we sang I’m So Glad Each Christmas Eve. It may have felt like you needed someone to drag you into the song, it may feel like you still need someone to hang on to the bike. But praise was there, in that song done to you.

We learn praise by God speaking it to us time and again. Every week here in the bread and wine, we are taught praise. You can hear it in every “for you” at the end of every bit of bread broken and every cup of wine poured. Here is Christ, for you, giving and teaching praise. Every week we learn praise when we hear God’s word spoken to us in the Gospel. Every week we learn praise when we come here to wrap one another in community, and love. We learn praise when someone hugs us when we most need it. We learn praise when God shines through the face of our neighbor on a surprise visit when we thought we had no one who cared. Praise is exactly what God has for us at the bottom of our stocking. Praise is what we learn, here this day, in our emptiness. That barn behind me may look empty, but by God’s grace it is full of praise for what it held.

And so today, we sing extra Christmas songs. Today we are exhausted. Today there is nothing left. Nothing left BUT praise. Thanks be to God.

1 Comment

  1. Tommy
    Dec 29, 2014

    I am indebted to Karoline Lewis and her Dear Working Preacher letter “Just Praise” for the inspiration for this sermon. She is my “commentator” that I quote above. You can read her letter here: