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Edward F. Markquart

Series B
Where Did Christmas Go?

Epiphany Sunday  

The basis of the sermon for today is from three Biblical passages.  From Luke 2: “The shepherds returned to the fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.” From Matthew 2:  “And being warned in a dream, the wise men departed into their own country by means of another way.” From Luke 2: “And the child, Jesus, grew up and became strong in spirit. He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was  upon him.”

This week will once again close the Christmas holiday season. Today is Epiphany Sunday here at our church. Today is the tenth day of Christmas, and this is the last day of Christmas here at Grace Lutheran. Today is the last day that we will sing Christmas carols such as THE FIRST NOEL and ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH. Today is the last day that we hear a Christmas gospel story, the story of the three wise men. Today is the last day that we are able to say “Merry Christmas” to people we meet here at church. Many of you will come out of the front door of the church and say to me “Happy New Year” and I will respond: “Yes, happy new year to you and a Merry Christmas.”  In other words, today is the last of Christmas for this past year at Grace Lutheran Church.

And immediately after the worship service today, people will take down the Christmas tree here at church and the garlands hanging on the back walls. They will take down the Christmas tree ornaments and put them into a box so they will be stored for next year. They will take down the candelabras and candles and put them into storage.

Perhaps you have already done that at your house. Perhaps you have already put Christmas away. Perhaps you have taken down the tree and vacuumed up the needles. Perhaps you have taken down the lights and packet them into a special box to be tucked away in the attic, garage, or storage area. Perhaps you have carefully taken down all those special ornaments and put them safely away in special boxes. Perhaps you have already thrown away those stale Christmas cookies or put them conspicuously on a plate, hoping someone will eat them, or maybe you have slipped those stale Christmas cookies into your children’s lunch box, trying to get rid of them. You can’t bear to throw the stale cookies away so perhaps they are being fed to the birds. Perhaps you have returned your Christmas presents for a better fitting sweater or slacks or maybe you have already broken that plastic toy. Perhaps by now, Christmas is all over and boxed up at your house, or maybe today is the day to end it all, and pack everything away this Sunday afternoon or evening.

Tomorrow is surely the end of Christmas. Monday morning is definitely the end to it all. We all go back to our old routines. Children go back to school. Parents go back to work, if they had days off during the holidays.  And anytime that children go back to school and parents go back to work, you know the holiday is over. Life will return to normal as if nothing has really happened. The ripple in the pond will fade away, and Christmas, 2002, will be boxed up and put in the attic for one more year.

In spite of the quick disappearance; in spite of the fact that Christmas is an enormous amount of work, especially for you wives and mothers, I am always glad to see Christmas come. Why? I am glad to see Christmas come because people are often happier at this time of year. Many children now young adults come home from college. Family and friends often come to visit, or you go to visit them. We receive Christmas cards and Christmas letters from old friends and we get “caught up” on their lives and what happened to them this past year. During the Christmas season, children’s faces are usually happy, and almost everyone enjoys singing their favorite Christmas carols. So, if you add this all up, most people like to see Christmas come because it is a happier time of the year.

I also like to see Christmas come because it is during this time of year that we see the human race more like God intended us to be.  That is, at Christmas time, most of us are a little kinder…to family and friends and even strangers. Most of us are a little more thoughtful, a little more generous, a little more considerate to others. The world is a happier place because most everyone is a bit kinder.

For example, wars between nations are sometimes stop for the holiday season. That happened during World War I, World War II, and during the Korean conflict. People in power called a Christmas truce during these wars and people actually stopped dropping bombs. That is the way that God intended the world to be…at peace.

And often wars between husbands and wives are stopped on Christmas Eve. The kids will momentarily cease their fighting, and there will be a Christmas truce in a family. That is the way that God intended the family to be…peaceful. Not perfect, but peaceful.

So it seems that at the close of the year, humankind is a bit more like God intended us to be. This thought is beautifully expressed in a poem by Edgar Guest:

“Human beings are the finest towards the finish of the year;

We are almost like we should be when the Christmas season ‘s here.

Then we are thinking more of others than we did the month before,

And the laughter of the children is a joy worth waiting for.

We are less the selfish creatures than at any other time,

When the Christmas spirit rules us, we come close to the sublime.

We are ever in a struggle and we are often misunderstood,

There are days that the worst of us is the master of the good.

But at Christmastime, kindness rules us and we put ourselves aside,

Our petty hates are vanquished and our hearts are open wide.

O, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to be,

That at Christmas time…we are almost…what God meant us to be.”

But…but… where does it go? Where does it always go? For some people, the spirit of Christmas peace and Christmas generosity is boxed and put into the attic or storage area for another year. The Spirit of Christmas peace and generosity is confined to one or at the most twelve days a year. It is merely Christmas peace and merely Christmas generosity, intended only for the season, just like Christmas cards and Christmas carols.

There is a story about an old man who was sitting in his house one day in January and he thought he head the voice of a little boy singing. The old man heard a knock on his door and he slowly got up and shuffled over to open that door. There was a little boy singing, HARK THE HERDALD ANGELS SING and the little boy sang the chorus with real gusto, GLORIA. The old man was not amused and he spoke gruffly, “Sonny, don’t you know that Christmas was four weeks ago? Today is January 25th and Christmas has been over for a month?” The little boy replied in his excited voice, “Yes, but I had the measles at Christmastime and then I got the small pox, and I just got out of the house. I wasn’t able to do any Christmas caroling this year, so here I am. HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING.  The crotchety old man grumbled and slammed the door. The old man had mistakenly understood that Christmas was for only for one day. The crotchety old man did not understand about Christmas.

Today, I would like to examine with you the three Scripture passages that give clues as to where the original Christmas actors went. Today I would like to briefly examine with you where Christmas went for the shepherds, the wise men, and for Jesus. What happened to them after Christmas was over?

Where did the shepherds of Bethlehem go? The Bible says, “They returned to their fields, glorifying and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”  Where did they return? To their simple everyday tasks of taking care of their sheep.

The shepherds had heard the angels singing on that starry night. They had gone to the manger and seen the baby Jesus. They had been filled with the Spirit of Christ which could last all year. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, there were sheep to be tended and pastures to be cultivated and fences to be mended and little lambs to be guarded and wool to be sheared. There was a lot of routine work to be done.

Life is like that for most of us. We return to our old steady routines, our appointed tasks. We too go back to our everyday living.

Now, the Bible could have said, “They returned to their jobs.” That is common. But the Bible adds that “they returned to their jobs …  glorifying God.” That is uncommon. They returned to their old routines glorifying and praising God.” That is unique. That is distinct. I love that line from the Bible, “They returned to their fields glorifying and praising God.”  What an attitude. What a gratitude.

But, what does this mean for you and me as we return to the same old office, the same old store, the same old shop, the same old office building, the same old kitchen, the same old sink, the same old school, the same old conflicts, the same old problems…that we all faced on December 24th. What does that mean to go back to our old routines and old jobs, glorifying and praising God?

It means to return being more thankful to God for his goodness to us, for his generosity, for his gifts, for his beauty, for his grace to us. It is a feeling, a profound awareness in our hearts, that Jesus Christ was a pure gift to us, and Christ is full of grace and peace.

It is to be aware that God is with us in our ordinary tasks of our daily lives. When God chose to become a human being, God chose to become a down to earth carpenter of all occupations. That means, that Jesus experienced the frustrations of hitting his thumb with a hammer, the frustrations of bending a nail, the frustrations of drawing a line that wasn’t straight…for the third time. Jesus experienced the same old carpenter’s shop with its dusty floors, the same old tools that didn’t work, the same old customers with their same old complaints. At Christmas, we hear that God became a full human being like us and was fully human. Christmas is the great message that God is with us in our ordinary jobs of life; that God is with us in all those dumb, boring, monotonous details that you are going to be doing tomorrow morning.

It is through the ordinary routines that God works in the world. We are called to make this world a better place by doing the ordinary things of life graciously and peacefully. Jesus consecrates the ordinary jobs of life and makes them holy even though those jobs don’t feel holy at all. Doing dishes? Cleaning the house? Making another meal? Do wash? Going to an office? Handling one more detail on the job that I have handled a thousand times before? These jobs are holy? These routines are sacred?  Yes, it is the heart of the person that makes the common and ordinary job holy and sacred.

I call still hear Dr. Morris Wee preach. I can still hear the sounds and echoes of his voice. He was my teacher, my mentor, my example of what a pastor could be. Of what a pastor should be. I still can hear him preaching his Christmas sermon and his words echo in my heart: “Christmas continues when we are able to say: I raise my children for God. I am an engineer for God. I am a schoolteacher for God. I pound the typewriter for God. I do all of these things for God and God’s kingdom.”  Yes, God is found in the ordinary jobs of life.

I love the limerick: “It is not so much where you live but how and why you live; and as you live, to the world your highest give.” I want to repeat those lines:  “It is not so much where you live but how and why you live; and as you live, to the world your highest give.”

Where did the shepherds go? Back to their sheep, praising God. Back to their fields, praising God. Back to mending fences, praising God.

And where do you and I go after Christmas? Back to our fields, praising and glorifying God. Back to our kitchens. Back to our shops. Back to our office buildings. Back to our routines at work,  glorifying God. Knowing that God love us. Knowing that God with us in the ordinary routines of life. Knowing that it is through the common and ordinary routines of our petty lives that we carry out God’s work in the world.

Well, where did the wise men go? What happened to the three magi after Christmas? The Bible says, “Being warned in a dream, they departed to their own country another way.”

I think that the wise men returned to their own countries being wiser people. Why wiser?

Because they knew that they had found God in the least likely places. They found God in a stable, in a manger, and forever after, wise people would be alert for the signs of God’s presence in common places. Wise people would find God in the most common of places…in their homes, their jobs, their schools, and in the ordinary routines of the daily lives. The Christ child was found in a manger and not a mansion. The Christ child is still to be found in the mangers of our lives, in those common and ordinary places such as within family, friends, and jobs. You don’t have to go to a cathedral to find God in the manger. You don’t have to go to church buildings to find Christ in the inn. The mangers of life are in stables and barns and in most places we would label “irreligious.” In other words, the wise men became wise because they found out where to look for the presence of God.

The wise men returned happier because they returned lighter. They had come bearing heavy gifts and they returned without their gold, without their frankincense, without their myrrh. They returned with their indescribable lightness of heart that every generous giver knows. The wise men had left their generous gifts with the holy family, with Mary, Joseph and the baby. In lifting the burden of Mary, Joseph and the baby, the three wise men gave the financial resources for this poor family to escape and travel to Egypt. As they gave to a poor family in need, the wise men had found a key to happiness. The wise men were wiser still because they discovered God’s secret is the giving of themselves as God had given of himself to them. The wise men returned home lighter because they had given to the holy family in their material need.

And you and I return from Christmas in the same way. We have an added lightness, as we have given of ourselves to the holy and needy families around us during this Christmas season. We don’t feel heavy and burdened with huge financial bills from purchasing expensive gifts for family and friends in the spirit of a Christmas secularity, but we feel lightened by giving to those families near us and around the world who are truly poor and needy, as Mary, Joseph and the baby were on his first Christmas Eve.

Where did the wise men go? They went back to their homelands but in another way. They were much wiser than before because they finally knew where to find God, but they were not only wiser but lighter and happiness because they had given of themselves to the holy family in their needs.

Finally, we ask one last question: where did Jesus go?

A young child asked the question of his mother, “Mommy, did the baby Jesus live happily ever after? Did the story have a happy ending?”

Well, the story did not end in Bethlehem. There was a murder of innocent children by the monstrous King Herod who killed all the little boys two years and younger. There was the flight to Egypt; then the return to Nazareth where Jesus grew up in a carpenter’s shop. There was his great ministry: his parables, his teachings, his miracles. Then there was the arrest, the trial, the painful execution, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven. And finally, more recently, the Spirit of Jesus came to Seattle and Des Moines and Kent and Federal Way and all of south King County. For more than two thousand years, Jesus is still bringing the Presence of God, peace, justice and mercy, filling us with the experience of grace and gracious love.

Where did Jesus go? Into your heart and mine. Into your life and mine. Where did Jesus go after Christmas day? His Spirit of God’s grace and peace are now in you, as you return to your fields, glorifying and praising God.

We began this sermon by asking: Where did Christmas go? Too often, Christmas goes into the attic for one more year, boxed up and put away for another twelve months. But…the shepherds went back to their fields, glorifying and praising God. The wise men? They went back to their countries, families and friends…wiser and lighter. And Jesus? He has come to live in your heart and mine.

I love the line from a song by Irving Berlin. “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.” Christmas has ended but the melody lingers in our hearts. Amen.

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