Lessons and Carols Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
There is light.
There is darkness.
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not—it cannot—overcome it.
Perhaps you’ve recently come across the phrase hocus pocus.
Perhaps you’ve known the phrase for some time, that it has connotations of things magical.
I don’t know the local, young atheist who put up the red sign on the square in Virden.
If I did, I’d invite him to church so he could learn a thing or two about God, religion, and truth.
Regardless, his sign implores us, this “holiday” to give up the hocus pocus.
You might know me to be particularly fond of words, so there’s no surprise that I greatly enjoy the choice he made of his.
Holiday and hocus pocus.
Give it up, he says.
But does he know what his words mean?
First, what’s a holiday?
The way we use the term, a holiday could be anything from a president’s birthday to the celebration of the birth of the Son of God—and there’s supposed to be a limitless gap between those two examples.
Holidays, as we use the term, consist of groundhogs, leprechauns, arrow-shooting-cherubs, discount fireworks, graveyards, band concerts, and days-off of school.
Being born in September, I thought Labor Day was the day moms were supposed to go into labor, which was why everyone was off work.
Be honest—deep down, you know what a holiday is and isn’t.
September nineteenth—International Talk Like a Pirate Day is not a real holiday.
But the remembrance and celebration of the birth of the Son of God into the world—that’s a day to remember.
The word holiday can’t even hide its origins: combine the words holy and day and you get holyday, holiday.
It’s not difficult to see.
The reason we need so many fake holidays and bank holidays is because we fail to observe a real holy day, a sabbath day, a day of rest.
If you’ve ever needed to recuperate after a vacation, that’s what I mean. It’s not a vacation if the whole point is to stretch yourself thin—financially, emotionally—because God knows when the next one’ll come.
But everyone does it—so it must be normal and fun.
I’ll gladly give up all the fake holidays out there.
You can even take some of the sentimentality away from the real holy days.
I’m not a Christian because I get to hang up Christmas lights—or, rather, because I get to enjoy the Christmas lights that more adventurous people hang up.
I’m not a Christian because the radio plays “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as though they’re only songs that exist.
I’m not even a Christian because of the United States flag or the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I’m thankful for the freedom to worship the Living God, but who, exactly, could ever take that freedom away from me?
Christians worship God and observe holy days, not because they’re free to do so, but because they believe in the Lord Jesus.
Holy days—true holidays—call to mind actual events.
We remember them and observe them because they’re real.
The day on which we observe Christmas doesn’t matter. But the thing we observe does.
Why is December twenty-fifth a holy day?
Because it’s nine months after March twenty-fifth, another holy day, when the Church celebrates the Annunciation—when Mary was asked, “Did you know?” and she answered, “Yes, of course. The angel told me.”
I won’t give up the holy days grounded in fact.
Jesus was born. He lived and walked upon the earth.
It’s foolishness to say otherwise.
Aside from the—historically speaking—insane amount of textual evidence from the Christian tradition that confesses the historical Jesus, there’s still that Jewish historian, Josephus, who references the stoning of James—but not just any James, James, the brother of Jesus, the one called Christ. We know Him.
Josephus, elsewhere, mentions the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. We know that guy, too.
And—most well known of all—Josephus writes: “[At] this time there lived Jesus…one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly…He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
We haven’t disappeared because we’re real—based on real things—because we’ve kept the feast. We’ve remembered the Sabbath day and kept it holy. We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). And we rejoice in the mighty works of God—done on the most holy of days, including this day and all the days we gather to hear God’s Word and rejoice in it.
So that’s a holy day, a true holiday.
But the young man also used the phrase hocus pocus. I don’t blame him for his mistake—I want to teach him—but I wonder if he knows the origin of that phrase.
You can rarely say with certainty where a phrase like that comes from, but most likely, hocus pocus comes from the Latin mass of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Words of Institution, when Jesus says, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you,” the Latin of “This is my body” is hoc est corpus meum.
Hoc est corpus. // Hocus pocus.
See how that works?
We hear, learn, and repeat things incorrectly all the time…
Using the word “holy day,” telling me to give up the hocus pocus, the body of Christ, given for me, for the forgiveness of my sins, during the season that celebrates God becoming flesh—having a body—I think it’s safe to say that this young atheist doesn’t know 1) what he’s talking about and 2) how to properly shame Christians.
Cause that’s what atheists are after.
They want you to look foolish for believing the truth.
When a child waves a stick and says abracadabra, hocus pocus, we laugh at them for their imagination.
But if you believe that God created the world out of nothing—the world thinks you to be just as foolish.
Do you believe that God became flesh and dwelt among us—living perfectly—dying for the sins of the world—and rising again on the third day?
There are people who wouldn’t trust you with their children, because you believe in the resurrection.
Do you eat the body of Christ and drink His blood for the forgiveness of your sins as Jesus says?
The unbelieving world has accused Christians of cannibalism for such claims.
In Canada, two foster children were removed from their foster parents because they didn’t teach about the Easter Bunny and Jolly Old St. Nick. Against them, one lawyer said, “The children’s right to have that magic for as long as they can keep it is something the society felt was important to protect.”
What a bunch of hocus pocus nonsense…
Now, I’ve said that so I could say this.
There’s no reason for you to be embarrassed about what you believe.
So you believe that God created the world in six, twenty-four hour days—so what. That’s not just what the Bible says, that’s what Christians have always believed—we didn’t recently arrive at that conclusion.
So you believe that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, born of a virgin, that He lived perfectly, died for you, and rose again—so what.
It’s the very definition of Christianity that you believe and confess the resurrection.
It always has been.
If Christmas dinner with your family is anything like Christmas dinner with my family, there’ll be that moment where you can confess the faith to your unbelieving family member—and make things really awkward—or you can remain silent and hope they hear the gospel from someone else sometime soon.
Maybe this year’s the year.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Don’t be ashamed of the truth.
Don’t be afraid to let the Light shine.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Help others to believe it.
St. Paul writes to Timothy: “Persevere in these things, for by so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
There is light.
There is darkness.
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!