Christmas Cards I’d Like to See
Dec. 15 2019 Luke 1:46-56; Luke 3: 2-8
The first Christmas card was designed in 1843 by the artist J.C. Horsley. It was about the size of a postcard, and it shows two scenes, side by side. On one side there is a typical Victorian family celebrating the gentle spirit of the season around a table. They are making a toast to the health and happiness of family friends and nation. Alongside this scene of Christmas cheer and celebration is a scene of people carrying out the Biblical mandate by feeding the poor and clothing the naked.
This first Christmas card did not set too well with most church folk in those Victorian times. It contained too much revelry. And the reminder of the desperately poor was too graphic and hard-hitting.
When was the last time that you saw a Christmas card that was truly memorable?. I can’t think of any. They are so syrupy, so sentimental that they all run together in your mind. What brings us joy about the Christmas cards are the people who send them, especially friends in far off places, not the cards themselves.
So today I want to redeem the Christmas card industry by trying to put a little zip into Christmas cards. I want to suggest to Hallmark and their competitors some Christmas cards that no one would ever forget. These cards I have in mind would be scriptural Christmas cards, focusing on the main characters who compose the drama of Christmas.
The first Christmas card would show on the front a wild-eyed unkempt man, who is wearing a scruffy, moth eaten coat of camel’s hair, and a rough leather belt around his waist. His eyes would be the main feature of the frontispiece of this card. They would be deep set into his face, and wide open. There would be something frightening about those eyes, as if they could peer into your soul, revealing all your secrets.
As you opened the card, there would be this message. “Our thoughts for you at this special season of the year are best expressed by the one would said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come’.” Then there would be a reference to the passage of scripture where this comes from, namely Luke 3:7, followed by the words, “Merry Christmas.”
Another scriptural Christmas card I’d like to see would be one with a frontispiece of the maiden Mary. I would picture her as a 14 year old brunette, looking serene, young, and innocent. I would frame her in a window, looking out on the rolling hills of Galilee with a bright star shining in the evening sky. The inscription, from Luke, chapter one, verses 51 and 52, would read:
Our holiday wishes for you were expressed by one who said: “He has scattered the proud…He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. And sent the rich away empty. Merry Christmas.”
Now there’s a card you could well send to any of your friends in high places: C.E.O’s, C.F.O,s, even senior pastors.
Christmas cards are expressive of how this culture views Christmas. In this culture we have unquestionably commercialized the Christmas message. But we have done something more. We have tamed the Christmas message, taking out its bite and its sting. For at its heart, Christmas is about the surprising and strange ways of God.
Communications theory tells us that the more predictable the message, the lower its information value. Conversely, the more surprising the message, the more powerful its impact. Is there a more astonishing example of this than God communicating His word in the soft flesh of a baby? Nothing is so helpless, so dependent, so fragile, so frail as a baby. I know of no other religion so bold as to admit to the possibility of God appearing in so vulnerable a form.
If I were God–and believe me, it would be dangerous to offer me that position–if I had been God and wanted to communicate with the human race, I would have never done it the way God did it.
I would have begun, if I had been God, with a healthy dose of wrath toward the human race. After all, God has watched his whales die, his air fouled, his children deprived, so if I had been God I would have taught the human race some sort of lesson for their sins. I would have had some sort of punishment in mind, had I been God. Some of the Old Testament prophets thought that when the Messiah came, he would come with a message of wrath: “For He is like a refiner’s fire, and who can abide the day of his coming.”
But no, God does the unexpected, and instead of coming with wrath, he come with love. That’s why I think the Christmas message is so surprisingly remarkable. When God comes to speak the most profound word he could speak, that Word becomes a child. A child announced by singing, not by thunder. A child born by lamplight in a silent night, rather than a Word which shakes the mountains, pouring down rivers of unstoppable fire down every side. The word becomes a child, which cannot hurt us, a Word which does not make us afraid. A word which does not condemn us, but invites us to investigate this word further for ourselves.
Yes, I could understand the wrath of God. For I believe God has a right to express his anger and wrath toward us. What is so amazing is that when God comes among us, whatever God’s anger and indignation, God comes not with violence but with love. God comes as a child, vulnerable to our further hurt.
One of the best Christmas stories there is Soren Kierkegaard’s story of the King and the Maid.
Once upon a time a king fell in love with a maid. But the king had a problem. How could he declare his love? He was so great and powerful. She was a peasant, a nobody. The gap between them seemed so great as to be unbridgeable.
So he summoned to his palace all the wise people of his kingdom and put the question to them. They all declared, “Sire, nothing could be easier. Your majesty has but to appear in all your glory before the humble abode of the maid and instantly she will fall at your feet and be yours.”
But it was precisely that thought which so troubled the king. In return for his love, he wanted hers, not fear that would lead to her submission. He wanted her glorification, not his. What a dilemma when to declare your love means the end of your beloved. When not to declare your love means the end of love. Night after night the king paced the floor of his palace pondering, until at last he saw love’s truth: Freedom for the beloved demands equality with the beloved. So late one night, long after his courtiers and counselors had returned to their chambers, the king stole out of a side door of the palace and appeared before the humble abode of the maid dressed in the garment of a servant. And there he declared his love to her, not as her king, but as her equal.
We have heard the Christmas story so many times that we have become numbed to its surprise. In truth, God is so surprising that, odds are, if you miss the surprise, you’re missing the meaning.
And the greatest surprise, and the most startling of all Christmas cards is one that shows a mother, a father, and a baby on the front, and you open it up, and the message is “The staggering incarnation: Born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”