Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Cards of Christmas"

Isaiah 2:1-5

Luke 2:1-14

Introduction: a Christmas card is enclosed in each bulletin.  Ask congregation that as

they listen to the Scripture lesson, consider how their particular card reflects anything

within that story of the birth of Jesus…..or not.

(Read Luke 2:1-14)        

      I’d like to ask for a show of hands.  How many of us still send Christmas cards the old-fashioned way;

you know, using the sign, seal and stamp method?  These days, it seems more and more of us – espe-

ially of the younger set – send Christmas cards online.  Vale and I still mail out Christmas cards like the

dinosaurs we’re becoming.  But with the passing of so many older relatives and friends, our Christmas

card list is way shorter than it was in the early years of our marriage. Instead of a hundred or more, we

now send a couple dozen.  In turn, we receive far fewer Christmas cards these days. We do get a few


      The upshot of all this is that we haven’t had to buy a Christmas card for years.  We now have a huge

reserve of cards we’ve gotten from several charities we support.  Just for fun – and as a symptom of

mild O.C.D. --  I’ve organized those cards into three categories in a plastic storage box:  secular, senti-

mental/nostalgic, and, of course, the classical religious cardsThen I choose certain cards for certain

persons based on what I think they’d most appreciate; on what I perceive their religious sensibilities

are; on what sort of greeting I judge they would most value and enjoy.  When we think about it, the

Christmas cards we most appreciate, value and enjoy tell us something about ourselves; tell us what is

most important to us about the holiday season. 

      The first card category I call “secular” often features language like “Happy Holidays and “Seasons

Greetings;” images like children building snowmen; critters dressed up in scarves and stocking caps; and

of course the ubiquitous Santa with a bag of toys over his back.  They’re great cards.  Just not religious 

in nature.  Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas -- who really was a bishop in the 4th century Greek church, known

for his generosity and his love of children – is central to our celebration of Christmas.  Any religious

connotations notwithstanding, Santa or Saint has been long taken over by the secular and commercial

interest of our culture.  And he shows up on a lot of Christmas cards. 

Whoever has a card in your bulletin which would fall into the secular category, hold it up and wave it.

       Now, I know we preachers are supposed to wring our hands over the crass commercialization of

Christmas, and to admonish all of you to remember the real meaning of the day, and not let Santa get

too central a stage.  But let’s be honest.  Gifts given, and gifts received, are an important element of the

holiday; something of our childhood we never outgrow.  And what child in us is not overjoyed by the

prospect of gifts and goodies under the tree, whether left there by Santa, or by Santa’s helpers, who

look an awful lot like mom and dad. 

      However much we like or dislike the fact that in our society, Christmas has become a secular holiday

as well as a religious one, that’s our reality.  On the one hand, we lament that there are those secular,

non-religious segments of our culture that do not share our faith.  Perhaps we feel that our Christian

faith is exploited by the retail and commercial world.  And all these cards with Santa’s and snowmen! 

On the other hand, maybe we should be glad that something of Christian joy and celebration of the gift

of God has spilled over into every segment of our society; that all of our citizens are conscious that

there is at least one time of the year when giving and sharing take center stage.  And I wonder how

many Salvation Army Kettles and Toys for Tots collections are supported by those with no particular

religious belief; even supported by those retailers we are quick to criticize for hijacking our day? 

      So Vale and I, in good conscience, send out secular cards with images of Santa, snowmen, and cute

critters to those we feel would be most uplifted by these expressions – albeit non-religious – of the

giving spirit of the season; of the season’s childlike side.  And isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth a reflection of

both?  I like secular cards.

     Along with those secular cards we’ve amassed is a second category: the “sentimental” or “nostalgic.”

I have a lot of that type, but I think my favorites are the ones which show groups of carolers singing out-

doors in the snow.  One in particular I just received this year from Salesian Missions drips with nostalgia,

featuring men in top hats and women in long dresses to the buttons of their shoes, all caroling against

the backdrop of gas-lit street lamps, a horse-drawn sleigh, and colonial church with candle-illumined


      Christmas is a time of memories for so many of us, and it creates feelings of nostalgia, and a

yearning for a world that we imagine was simpler, purer, happier.  This type of card says that we value

the traditions of Christmas past.  They feature language like “May the warmth of Christmas fill you,” and

images of home and hearth with a cozy fire; stockings hung over the fireplace; wreaths with bows and

candles in snow-kissed windows.  These sorts of cards reflect how much we hold dear our homes; our

traditional family values; our sacred memories of beloved people and places. 

Whoever has a card of this type, give it good wave

      If we believe these values have been eroded in modern times, such sentimental cards reemphasize

and reaffirm them in the midst of our cultural upheaval.  And doesn’t it seem fitting that we should hold

close the sentiment and value of home and family life at Christmas?  After all, at the center of Christmas

is the story of the holy family being forced to leave their beloved home; traveling, as Luke chronicles,

from Nazareth to Bethlehem; returning to the “city of (ancestor) David; returning – even though under

compulsion from the Emperor – to Joseph’s hometown.  There, the greatest gift of family would be

born; delivered even in the most difficult circumstances; a “firstborn son.”  Inevitably, the Christmas

story itself prompts us to remember the home of our childhood, and the treasured memories of family

travels; babies born; even remembrances of our family’s struggles along the way. 

      So Vale and I, in good conscience, send out these sentimental cards featuring carolers, wreaths, and

stocking lined fireplaces to those we feel would most value and be most touched by this expression of

the home and family spirit of the season. And isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth about both?  I like sentiment-

tal cards too.

      The category of card we have the most of is what I call the “classical” or the religious ones which

best reflect our long-held beliefs about the true meaning of Christmas; the coming of our Savior Jesus. 

These are the cards I suppose one would expect to receive from a pastor and church friends.  They’re

the ones with language and images which are clearly Christian; renderings of mother Mary and Baby

Jesus, perhaps with father Joseph looking on.  They’re the ones with shepherds on the hillside looking

up to a brilliant star.  They’re the ones with moonlit nativity scenes featuring the holy family, surround- 

ded by angels, shepherds, critters, even wise men from the East, who in historical reality, didn’t make

the scene until months or years after Jesus’ birth. 

If you have this type of card, hold it up and wave it.    

      As much as I love this category, something I’ve noticed about this type is that they are stylized and

sanitized.  What I mean by that is their images have been cleaned up and decorated with things like

gold, and halos, and reverent shepherds and stately animals who don’t smell.  In a way, these cards

which best reflect our religious beliefs about Christmas are artistically far removed from the reality of

that first Christmas; that primitive scene of the original nativity spoken of by Luke; where Mary, Joseph,

and the Baby Jesus share a dirty stable with animals.  These classical cards mostly omit the harshness;

the smells; the crudity and roughness of that first Christmas; even the true ethnicity of the holy family,

which was Middle-Eastern, not Western Caucasian.  Yet for all their theological deficiencies, historical

inaccuracies, and unrealistic depictions, these classical cards help keep us centered in Christ.  And the

birth of Christ, for people of faith, stands alone, above all other expression and beliefs about the

meaning and the spirit of the holiday season. 

      So Vale and I, with great joy, send out these classical religious cards to those we feel would be most

touched by the reaffirmation that the birth of Jesus is, indeed, the reason for the season. 

      Each of our stash of Christmas cards – which today is lighter by almost two hundred cards -- fits into

one of those three categories:  secular, sentimental, or religious.  What if there was a forth category: 

the contemporary, of which we have noneHow might such a Christmas card express the faith of we

Christians living in 2019 America?  As a closing consideration this morning, if we were asked to create

our own contemporary Christmas Card, what would we picture on the front, and what language would

we put on the inside?  How radically different might they look than the cards we’re accustomed to?

      What if – just what if - we were to feature an image of soldier on a tank with a poinsettia in the gun

barrel, with a message of the inside something like:  “May there be peace on earth, and may it begin

with me.”  Or perhaps instead of showing a quaint colonial church with candle-illumined windows, how

about a modern church of steel and glass on the front; the message inside: “Christmas remains alive

and well in this sacred house.”  What if on the front was an image of a migrant family camped outside a

detention facility with words inside like: “Even this Christmas, no room at the inn.”  What if the image

was of mothers and their children streaming to the front door of Central Presbyterian, the inside of the

card reading: “This Christmas, there’s room at this inn.”  Perhaps the card could feature a rendering of

the communion table with the words carved on its front:  “Do this in remembrance of me,” and printed

on the inside the words:  “And I am with you always, this Christmas season, and to the end of time.”   

How would you design your contemporary Christmas card to show that your faith is a living faith for


      Over the course of the next week, we’ll be carefully selecting cards to send to the few dozen folks

still on our list.  Some will receive our best secular cards.  Others will receive our best sentimental cards.

Still others will receive our best religious cards.  All will receive our best and sincere wishes that Christ-

mas touches them in ways that are most meaningful and inspirational.  I guess when we think about it,

it is the Christmas card we create in our own hearts which matters most.  May yours and mine reflect

the love, grace, peace and joy of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which stands at the center of this

season we celebrate.  Amen.