An Untraditional Traditional Christmas

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Christmas Eve – December 24, 2017

Have you ever noticed that when we are little, Christmas is wonderful- almost magical? Then we have children and we try and recreate that same magic for our own kids.

Christmas, we decide, will revolve around Jesus. We will make amazing Christmas traditions: we will all sip hot chocolate while we decorate the tree.

We will always make time to watch all our favorite Christmas shows and movies.

  • We will carol in nursing homes,
  • bake cookies,
  • We’ll light the advent wreath every Sunday,
  • And – the piéce de résistance–we’ll have a love-filled Christmas day with a spectacular turkey or ham and all the trimmings.

It’s a nice dream. Let’s sit here a moment take it in.

But real life– it’s a lot messier. I’m sure Mary and Joseph didn’t anticipate having a baby while traveling for a census– far from midwives and family. It’s probably not the way they planned it.

They certainly didn’t anticipate having to bed down in the place where the inn sheltered their animals.

And I’m sure it wasn’t their first choice to have to let their baby sleep in a crude feeding trough– still filled with the straw that was meant to feed the animals.

Mary was a teenager—not experienced in either census taking or birthgiving.

Joseph–like all males of his era– had probably never even been present for a birth– much less having to assist in one. The whole night– the whole trip— was not as they planned.

But I’ll bet they discovered things about themselves– found hidden resources within themselves– that they didn’t even know existed. And this night– full of unplanned details– became a tradition for the world.

We celebrate all the little details of that first unplanned Christmas. Joseph and Mary’s strengths as a family were forged in things that they had not anticipated. And isn’t that how our real traditions develop? Not our idealized ones. The REAL ones.

Each years in our clergy family, we hardly ever had time to hang our own outdoor lights. So– every year– sometime before Christmas –we would put on our pajamas, bundle up in blankets, and drive around looking at other people’s Christmas lights, while singing carols in the car. That became our tradition.

Each year we would get out all our stuff to decorate, and then nearly come to blows over the tangle of lights which needed to get from the box onto the tree. By the time the tree was finally lit, everyone was mad at each other, and we needed to take a break before we attempted to handle fragile Christmas bulbs.

When my daughter Zoe was little, we decided that a girl -destined to be an only child, – and a PK –AND the only female grandchild — stood a better than average chance of being spoiled with toys.

Since the wise men brought 3 gifts– we decided– we would enforce a 3 gift limit for each of us each Christmas. That resolve lasted approximately 3 1/2 minutes.

By the time Christmas day arrived each year- our clergy family was exhausted. At that time we lived thousands of miles from any relatives who might want to cook for us. So our tradition was to go out for Chinese on Christmas Day.

About 8 years ago our family went through a really lean Christmas. We called our daughter – who has just started college– and explained that we only had a very small amount to spend on each of us. She looked worried, but gamely said she understood.

It was tough, making sure each of us had several gifts under the tree. It took creative shopping. Each of us had to search out alternative sources for gifts.

When Xmas was over, my daughter asked if we could do it again the next year. Then she asked the next year to do it again. And the next. I guess it was more fun to really have to think about what each person wanted and have to plan the spending carefully. A new tradition was born. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

Traditions are born from real life situations. Mary listened to God, and decided she would bear this son. It wasn’t easy—it went against the common wisdom of the time. It took faith on Mary’s part, it took faith on Joseph’s part. But making ourselves open, with joy and expectation—to what God actually gives us—rather than our fantasies of an idealized life—is part of the fun. Part of the trust. Part of the adventure of following God’s initiative.

And God is funny like that. Just when we think Christmas –or our lives– should be one way or another, God smiles and gives us– like Mary and Joseph- the life that is to be ours alone, with traditions borne out of our own experiences, our own families, our own sense of God’s call.

And the unexpected becomes our tradition. Like it did for Mary and Joseph. An untraditional “traditional Christmas.”  Amen.