Ugly Sweaters, Songs, and Salvation

Ever since the wise ones, we have wondered and struggled over the quest of the perfect gift.  Like our children helped us illustrate, the perfect gift is heaven-given.  However, this does not keep us from searching for the perfect gift for our family and friends: the toy guide for Toy R Us, the latest and greatest electronic gadgets, or maybe stylish attire.  I wonder if any of you are giving so-called ugly Christmas sweaters?  Did you ever wonder where this trend from?  Maybe we could point to Dr. Huxtable or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for the appearance of the first ugly Christmas sweater.  It was in 2002 that the first recorded ugly Christmas sweater affair was held in Vancouver, Canada.  This fun-filled trend is a seemingly ironic critique of fashion and focus on joy of Christmas.  The frivolity seeks to take us away from the pain and brokenness of the world news around us to recapture the delight of Christmas.  Play is always a healthy way to disengage life’s trials in order to get different perspective.  This is also the hope of the Ugly Christmas sweater parties and contests.

Play is what we do when we imagine ourselves in the nativity.  When we invite our children to put on crowns and ears, halos and headbands, we play and invite them to become part of a living nativity.   Our pick-up pageant reminds us that God involved us in the perfect gift.  Listen to the way the gospel writer tells us: “6While Mary and Joseph were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”

The gospel story has inspired some of the best presents of all times.  It was in Austria in 1818 that the gift of a beautiful Christmas carol was given.  The story goes that the organ had been chewed by mice, and the traveling actors were in to present the compelling story from the gospels of Matthew and Luke to the good people of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, near Salzburg.  A local home, larger enough and open enough had to be secured for the actors to perform there with adapted music.  All had gone well and assistant pastor, Josef Mohr, was reflective after the moving presentation.  He took a contemplative walk home the long way.  In looking down at the peaceful snow-covered village, he recalled a poem he had written about the angels’ announcement to the shepherds of the birth of the Messiah.

Inspired by the spirit of the night, Mohr wanted to connect his poem with music for the Christmas Eve service.  The organist, Franz Gruber composed a musical setting that could be played on the guitar.  Silent Night was debuted that Christmas Eve and spread through the world from organ builder to singer to local congregations.  In the midst of adaptations and Plan B thinking, one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time was birthed from the imperfect people who offered themselves to God.

In this same way, Jesus, the son of God was born.  Mary, an imperfect teenage girl; Joseph, an imperfect father to be; imperfect shepherds gathered around.  Imperfection is a part of the Christmas story intentionally.  Our pick up pageant is a reminder that the incarnation is where Jesus came and took on flesh in all of its complications.  Pleased with us on earth to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.  Pleased to dwell with us in our beauties and challenges, idiosyncrasies and quirks.   And on this night, God shares this with us.  God who knows of our struggles, stands with us and for us, and will not let us go. “We are all, on this night, like the shepherds to whom this good news was first given: met right smack in the middle of our lives, honored by God’s attention, greeted with good news, and sent to bear witness to others.”[1]

Let us worship and adore Jesus and then leave with words of praise and celebration on our lips this Christmas.

This is the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ.