Christmas Eve 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
What is it for you? What is the classic smell of Christmas for you? What is that one aroma that brings you back to Christmases long ago? There is a powerful link between the sense of smell and memory. Smells can evoke powerful remembrances and emotions; both good memories and bad.
Scents are powerful; a certain perfume, the locker room after a game, burning leaves, a baby’s breath.
It is probably very weird but I like the smell of diesel exhaust, because for me it reminds me of overseas trips when I was younger to work on construction sites. The smell invokes for me a sense of adventure and excitement. There are also smells that remind me of sad times; the smell of hospital disinfectant and latex gloves. I once performed CPR on a young man when I was a lifeguard in high school. He was a smoker and every once in a while the smell of someone’s breath will bring me right back to that pool deck 33 years ago.
Smell is powerful and we are very sensitive to smells. There are a lot of smells we want to cover up. At Wal-Mart there is about half an aisle dedicate to air fresheners, not to mention all the shelves of body deodorants and also sorts of scented products to try to make you smell like fresh sheets hanging on the clothesline. It would be unthinkable to actually smell like what we really smell like, so we strive to cover up the scent of real life. We have air fresheners for cars, shoes, kitchens, lockers, and of course the bathroom. We have fans, fresheners and Febreze so we can pretend nobody actually uses the bathroom. We do a lot to mask and cover up the smells of real life because smells are powerful.
What smell brings back for you good Christmas memories?
What is the classic, quintessential smell of Christmas for you? A pine tree? Baking cookies? Spiced wine? Gingerbread? A ham in the oven? A fire in the fireplace? Peppermint? Cinnamon?
What is your smell of Christmas?
What was the smell of that first Christmas 2,000 some years ago in Bethlehem? We’re not sure if Jesus was born in a stable or in a house, but we are sure that he was laid in a manger; an animal feed trough. So there is the smell of hay. There is the smell of animals. There is probably the smell of smoke from a fire for cooking and heat. There is the smell of real, unfiltered humanity emanating from the people gathered there who did not bathe or wash their clothes nearly as frequently as we do. And since there is a manger where animals eat we can be pretty sure it is also where animals poop. So there is the smell of manure from whatever animals ate there. Sheep, goats, cows, donkeys. What is the smell of that first Christmas? The scent of donkey dung. Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.
Jesus is born into the unmasked reality of human life. Jesus is born into the genuine smells of real life. No fans, no air fresheners, no Febreze. Jesus gets the full on stench of reality.
What is the smell of that first Christmas? The scent of donkey dung. Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.
What does that smell like for you? What is the fragrance of real life?
I am amazed by the scented candle industry. I figured you just need to have scented candles like vanilla and cinnamon. But I was naïve. You can buy scented candles with an incredible variety of scents.
You can buy a scented candle that smells like the Haunted Mansion at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. You can buy a candle that smells like wine. You can buy a scented candle that smells like a place. A Brazil candle or Australia or France or Denver, San Francisco, New York. There is even a scented candle for Ohio in which scents of fresh, fragrant carnations, honeysuckle and orange zest are balanced with powdery musk and an herbaceous blend. I guess the Buckeye Tree doesn’t give off a recognizable scent.
What would be the smell of a scented candle of real life? Scents of sleep deprivation, fresh, fragrant anger, lust and greed, balanced with fear, and a guilt, shame, failure blend.
What is the smell of grief and sadness? What is the scent of loneliness? What is the aroma of feeling lost?
What is the odor of a fractured family and broken promises? These are smells we would rather cover up and keep to ourselves and we do our best to cover up the stench of our lives. We use the freshener of self-righteousness and the Febreze of pretending to be good. But there is no covering up our true scent to Jesus. Jesus sees you for who you really are. Jesus can smell the true you.
These are the smells that Jesus is born into. Jesus comes into the world to the smell of donkey dung and human sin. That little baby boy doesn’t live a sanitized life in which all the bad things and foul odors are covered up. Jesus’ nostrils are filled with the unfiltered stink of humanity.
Jesus comes as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. He who is without sin becomes sin. Jesus is baptized into the stench of sin and He takes it into Himself to remove it from the world. The pure and holy Jesus takes the rottenness of your sin into Himself and carries it to the cross.
The smoke from the temple sacrifices made by the children of Israel are a pleasing aroma to God. In the same way the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a pleasing aroma to God as the sin of the world is atoned for; as your sin is paid for. What was broken by the first Adam has been restored by the second Adam. God and man are reconciled.
Jesus has given you the cleansing bath of baptism to wash off the stink of sin. Jesus offers His gift of forgiveness to all people and continues to distribute His free gift of forgiveness. Jesus continues to freshen you throughout your life with His word of forgiveness and His body and blood in Holy Communion.
The quintessential smells of Christmas such as pine and gingerbread trigger in us fond memories of Christmases past but I fear that too often as the years go by our memories become sanitized and idealized and when compared to the reality of Christmas present it can never live up to our idealized past with all the wonderful smells. But remember the true smell of Christmas, the smell of donkey dung, the smell of reality, the smell of our sin and trouble and failure, and know that Christmas cannot disappoint when we know the true gift that comes wrapped in hay in a manger near the dung pile. The gift of a real savior who takes on real human flesh in order to save real people from real sins by offering Himself as the real fragrant sacrifice for real stinky sins.
Christmas this year is as good as any other year because the joy is not found under the tree; joy is found in the manger of Bethlehem. The true gift of Christmas is your Savior Jesus. Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Amen.