An address from Head of School Joshua Crane, presented at the 2017 traditional Lessons & Carols Service.
Good afternoon, and welcome to our Lessons and Carols Service 2017. This is an event that many of us look forward to each year. The room is cozy, the mood is warm, the food afterwards is outstanding, and if we are lucky, Mr. Hickey might wear his Santa hat and Mrs. Tietjen might sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” again at dinner. Good memories and feelings all around. But the words we are about to read and songs that we are about to sing tonight indicate a much bigger takeaway is available to us. The problem is we are prone to missing it.
Any psychiatrist will tell you that it is part of the human condition to distract ourselves when we are facing big decisions, events, or truths that might cost us something. This is why it is so hard to get men to go to the doctor–we might have to change our routines. This is why we tolerate dysfunctional behavior from friends and loved ones for so long, busying ourselves with activities and strategies that dance around problems, rather than addressing them. It is why when we have a big paper to write or presentation to give that we all of a sudden become so adept at cleaning and organizing our rooms. Oh, we will stay busy, but on everything else except the very thing we need to deal with.
Whole cultures do this too–we avoid difficult topics because they are just too difficult to confront. And yet American culture, in particular, seems to have made distraction techniques an art form when it comes to Christmas. If you are new to our culture, and many in this room are, and we were to ask you what you think Christmas signifies, you might say shopping, houses and lawns decorated with colored lights, parties, obnoxious sweaters, a large man in a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer, frenetic activity, Mariah Carey–the list goes on.
But all of this stuff is distracting us from a historical event that confronts us and causes us to consider this world, its meaning and our purpose in it, in a whole new way. But don’t be afraid–it’s not an ugly confrontation, not one you have to dread- it’s a truth dripping with sugar and honey, strange and mysterious yet deeply warm and tender. What am I talking about? I am talking about the birth of Jesus Christ, which is what Christmas is all about.
What we celebrate tonight and over the next several weeks is that over 2000 years ago a baby named Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea to a carpenter named Joseph and a peasant girl named Mary. It is an indisputable, well-documented historical fact. And while this baby was born just like you and I were, He was no ordinary baby. His birth was one of the two most significant historical events in all of world history (His resurrection from the dead, another historical fact, 33 years later, being the other.) He grew up and inaugurated a Kingdom–one that has been growing ever since and is eclipsing all other kingdoms in size, power, glory, and duration. And yet remarkably, different than any other ruler the world has ever seen, as He rules and reigns over this Kingdom, He has time for and interest in anyone who wants to truly meet Him. No appointment with the secretary, no security clearance, no bribes needed. The joining of His Kingdom is voluntary. He will not trick you, coerce you or bully you into joining.
Once you have joined, He will not use His power and authority to abuse you. There will be no shocking revelations regarding any deficits in His character. He came humbly so that you and I would not be made to feel that we would have to be of a certain race, class, educational or socioeconomic status to be accepted. He knew our frailty, our inability to live up to the very standards we set for ourselves, let alone the ones others put on us–that’s why you never heard him say things like, “Try harder; when you make all A’s, then I will accept you” or “God helps those who help themselves”. No, He was gentle and kind at heart, full of love, full of grace, and full of truth, and because the Bible says that this Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, Christmas tells us what God is like. The all-powerful, all-knowing maker of the universe is kind and humble and invitational.
Christmas confronts us with a God who is reaching out to us in terms we can understand and saying, “I am not so scary after all. I see you, I know you, I love you. I want you to know Me and have a relationship with Me that will fulfill you and satisfy your deepest longings.”
What you are going to hear tonight is a story–the story of Jesus’s birth told through nine selected passages–some of these passages that pointed to Jesus’ birth were written hundreds, even thousands, of years before the actual event. Coincidence is not an intellectually viable option. The passages connect like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that when put together present a clear picture.
That picture confronts us tonight and makes us look past whatever our previous conceptions of Christmas may have been to a deeper contemplation–the reality that we have to confront is not whether or not this happened, but whether God is really this good and our hope really this full. Don’t miss the moment:
Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King.