Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“A New and Glorious Morn” (Luke 2:8-16)
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I clearly remember lying awake in bed on Christmas Eve when I was five years old. Like millions of other children I was beyond excited about Christmas morning. What would Santa bring? But this excitement was tempered with some anxiety as these familiar lyrics raced through my mind:
You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list and checking it twice
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you are sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
As I considered these lyrics various questions emerged: What about all the times I had pouted that year? Yes, I was nice once in a while, but what about all the times I was naughty, especially the times when I thought I got away with it? What about all the times I had been bad? Would Santa leave me any presents at all? These and other questions ricocheted around the brain of a neurotic child who later became a neurotic priest. And yet, each and every year, when I awoke on Christmas morning, I was always thrilled and relieved to see that Santa had indeed come and left me lots of presents.
And it is because of this belief that Santa will come that millions of children write letters to Santa every year. I recently came across a few actual letters that little children wrote to Santa. Here are a few of them:
The first letter is from a future salesman: “Dear Santa, I like you. Do you like me? I would like a DS Mario please. Next year I will give you money. How does that sound? Pretty cool? It does to me. That’s the deal.”
Another letter is from a child who is myopically focused: “Dear Santa, All I really want for Christmas is a turtle. I’ve always wanted a turtle because turtles are the coolest. Thank you. PS—I really want a turtle.”
This brief letter comes from a future manager: “Dear Santa, Please text my dad. He has my whole list.”
While I was Christmas shopping earlier this week I saw a brief letter to Santa on someone’s sweater, “Dear Santa, I can explain…” Perhaps you can relate.
When it comes to God, many people, neurotic or not, wonder if God—who scripture describes as omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere) and omniscient (all knowing)—many people wonder if God likes them, or wonder if God is making a list and checking it twice. Some may wonder if God even exists at all or if belief in God is a psychological crutch for the ignorant and the weak. Internally many people may be thinking, “Dear God, I can explain…”
The beautiful Christmas hymn O Holy Night puts it this way, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” “Pining” refers to suffering a mental or physical decline, especially because of a broken heart. Such a broken heart can result from many things—a relationship that is over, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or reputation—or even sadness at the violence and pain in our world. How many more mass shootings will there be? As yet another child wrote in his letter to Santa:
“Dear Santa, I have a great idea. On Christmas when you are in everyone’s house you could take all of the guns and put them in your sack and hide them at the North Pole and then no one could kill anyone anymore in the world. Thank you.”
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining…” but O Holy Night continues, “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Why? “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”—as we just read in Luke’s account of the gospel:
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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” (Luke 2:8-11).
The angel of the Lord appeared in the middle of the night to shepherds who were simply doing their job “keeping watch over their flock by night,” and “the glory of the Lord shone around them” for indeed “a new and glorious morn” was breaking, “a new and glorious morn” not just for the shepherds, but for the whole world that had long lay in sin and error pining.
God did not send a demand for you to explain yourself. God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to you. Luke notes how the angel emphasizes this—“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Jesus Christ is described biblically in the hymn O Come All Ye Faithful as “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing” who is “born this happy morning.” Jesus is born on “this new and glorious morn.”
Luke writes that the angel then spoke a word of instruction for the shepherds, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (2:12). After this Luke tells us, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors’” (2:13-14).
The gospel is a word of peace from God, peace on earth “among those whom God favors”—in other words among those to whom God gives his grace, which includes everyone, which includes you—as Paul wrote in his Letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). I cannot speak for Santa or whether or not you are on his list, but when it comes to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, there is no need to worry, because you are on God’s list. Jesus was born for you. Jesus was given to you.
After the angels returned to heaven the shepherds “went with haste” to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, just as the angel had told them. Imagine seeing the Savior of the world as a newborn baby.
Jesus became incarnate not as a powerful warrior or a noble king but as a vulnerable baby, which is good news for all those who are one way or another pining away—as C. S. Lewis wrote, “How grateful I am that when God became human he did not choose to become a man of iron nerves; that would not have helped weaklings like you and me nearly so much” (Letters of C. S. Lewis 250).
Jesus, the Prince of Peace, spent his earthly life preaching, teaching, and healing—ministering grace, ministering peace to a world “in sin and error pining.” But the world did not want Jesus or his grace or his peace, and so the world nailed him to a cross, where Jesus himself, experienced mental and physical decline pining away on the cross until his labored breathing stopped.
Scripture tells us that this is how Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brought peace on earth to all the world—as Paul wrote in his Letter to the Colossians: “In (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
After his death, Jesus, who as a baby was “wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger,” was taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and “wrapped in a linen cloth” and “laid in a rock-hewn tomb” (Luke 22:53). But on Easter morning, when the women who had come to this tomb to embalm Jesus’ body for burial arrived, they did not find him, because Jesus was not there, because Jesus had risen. Eater morning was yet another “new and glorious morn.”
How can we respond to this good news of the gospel? We can respond by faith—in other words, by simply trusting in the grace of God given to us all in Jesus Christ. Scripture assures us that “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2).
There is no need to worry about whether you are on God’s list—you are. And under the tree on Christmas morning, and every morning lie lots of presents of grace and peace from Jesus Christ who was born for you, died for you, and was raised for you—which guarantees you an eternal “new and glorious morn.”