steve teague

We Need A Little Easter, Right This Very Minute

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Christmas Eve

I was a young associate. Before I’d even dived into the shallow end of the clergy pool, a fine, seasoned preacher and mentor nearly changed my mind. “So, Steve, just how many ways do you think a baby can be birthed, or a stone roll away from a tomb?” I got his point. After 42 years of ordained ministry, I figure I have preached 64 Christmas and 51 Easter sermons. Tonight’s number 65, and not to worry – you’re getting one – about Christmas and Easter.

This morning I read an Advent reflection on Luke’s story – of Jesus. Many scholars believe he was born in a cave, not an outback shed. The writer likens the cave of his birth, to the cave of his tomb – the swaddling clothes to the death shroud – connecting his birth and resurrection. I liked that, because it fits the sermon I planned for tonight. I stopped short though, when he said Jesus’ birth is the first step of our salvation.[1] I believe God knew where he was headed with this project before we ever messed it up. Salvation’s first step begins in God’s love that had all of us in mind before the world began. Jesus’ birth is another outcropping of God’s great love for all –God who surprises us, comes for us, with us, and as us. So on Christmas Eve I say, “We need a little Easter, right this very minute!” Hang with me – I’m not the only strange one here.

God’s pretty strange according to worldly standards. God brings good news initially to people who know they’re unimportant and insignificant. Jesus’ mother – a woman of low estate; Joseph can’t find them a room the night Jesus is born. God sends the birth announcement to no account shepherds, through an angelic host lighting up the night with, “Good news of great joy for all people; Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” Strange, shepherds, not kings and priests are first favored. Strange, that shepherds do as told, go see the child, and leave. They stop people on the street, babbling good news, sort of like I imagine we’ll do when we leave here. Luke wants us to know what God’s up to this holy night, and – it’s kinda funny, the unlikely cast of characters God uses to do it, which includes even refined churchy people like us.

Christmas for many is a magical season, “a most wonderful time of the year,” as a cheesy song says. We spend more, eat more, give more, act friendlier – may even drop a quarter in the red kettle. The season doesn’t last much beyond opening presents, draining the nog, and taking the tree to the curb, though.

Joy didn’t last long that first Christmas either. Soon the little family will be on the lam. Jesus grows up, starts his mission by going on retreat with Satan. People get so mad at Jesus they try to throw him over a cliff. Religious leaders want to take him out. His disciples don’t understand him. How quickly the Christmas pageants fade – along with angels and good news for all people, especially his closest. Jesus begins to speak of his death, taking up a cross, denying yourself. What sort of joy and good news is this?

But tonight, we rejoice – though I’m not sure all of us can. For someone, a dear person to you died this year, or has become terminally ill. One Christmas Eve a man visited here and tells me after the service, “Tonight’s the 20th Anniversary of my daughter’s death – killed in a car accident.” The world still is a place of sadness, suspicion and fear, violence and bad news that infects our spirits. Some may wonder if they’ll have a job next year – how they’ll pay for prescriptions, housing or for food. How does the angelic announcement become lasting and real for them, or us? “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” That message fades quickly, unless we hear it – through the filter of resurrection. Too many still walk in a land of darkness, hearing words, yet without seeing light; given everlasting joy, yet not finding any. Without resurrection we miss the enduring joy of Christmas. Without Easter we limp along, thinking we’ll get to the top, coming up empty – hoping for more.

The good news – WE HAVE MORE. Death is defeated. Darkness is overcome. Angel promises have come true – good news, great joy for all people. Easter fulfills the good news of Christmas angels. Jesus is God in flesh who dies, to be raised to new life – and show you how much God loves you and everyone. Now we await completion of what we celebrate this night. It’s the trajectory of God’s love from before creation, as gospel writer John says. God has come not to straighten us out or berate us, but to let us know how much we are loved.[2] That is the good news of everlasting joy. God transformed what people took to be “the end,” into a new beginning, “good news of great joy for all people.”

I once heard a great African-American preacher tie the wood of the crib to the wood of the cross in an Advent sermon. Later he tells me his people got on him. They want joy and good news, not death and suffering. They forgot the light of Easter that fulfills angel promises, the power of divine love unexpectedly – strange, coming as a lowly child, dying, rising, and taking us with him.

There’s nothing wrong with needing a little Christmas, and a little Easter. Otherwise we may be stuck with Santa, opened presents, feasts with friends, family, and the crazy uncle – and then the world returns to normal. The world, not God, changed – when God’s love became flesh at Bethlehem. No Messiah, no Christmas. No Christmas, no Easter. No Easter, no good news of everlasting joy. Keep it all connected. It makes a world of difference. And I think that’s about all that needs to be said. Merry Christmas!

[1] Mark Thorntveit, “God Pause” (Luther Seminary, Minneapolis), December 24, 2015.

[2] David Lose, “In the Meantime” (Christmas Eve/Day/C), 2015.