This has been something of an anticpation filled week-end. Here in Carmel, we had the opening of the Christkindlemarkt including the ice skating rink that will be in operation until early March. The new market, technically in English the “Christ child market”, will be an annual event – a local grouping of vendors representative of the German Christmas markets so common around the world since the Middle Ages that sell food, ornaments and trinkets from now until Christmas Eve.
We haven’t been there yet, but there is a ton of press about it and it is just one more example of Carmel trying to attract all kinds of events to our community. Throughout the world, millions of visitors are drawn to these attractions throughout Europe and the rest of the world. In fact, one of the newest, in Romania, has been holding its annual Christmas market since it started in 2007. And it is believed that the oldest market first started back in 1298 – in Vienna, Austria.
It seems that these markets were first established to provide small gifts, food and various forms of entertainment during the weeks leading up to Christmas – during the Advent season. In fact, Martin Luther, the religious reformer, helped change the Christmas tradition by suggesting that children should be given gifts from the “Christ Child” – hence, the beginning of the markets selling items that had been locally created as gifts for the children on Christmas morning.
Prior to this, the custom was to give gifts earlier in December – either the day of St. Nicholas on December 6th or the day of St. Martin on December 11th. The giving of gifts as late the December 25th was a real boon to the markets that stayed open later, and in some cases, past Christmas into the new year.
Our market here in Carmel will be closing on December 24th and those of us who live in this community are anxious to see how successful this inaugural market is. One of the attractions of the Christmas markets around the world is the fact that the toys, trinkets and treats that are sold are locally produced so even in a country with many hundreds of markets, each one has its own individual identity.
In fact, many of the Christmas markets were started around the local church in the community. After all, the market vendors were reaching out to the people who believed in Christ and wanted to share in the exchange of gifts on Christmas. Especially in southern Germany, Christmas Eve was the most important day of the year. So shops would close in the early afternoon and they folks would attend church in the late afternoon or evening to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Sometimes, the crowds around the Christkindlemarket were so large that churches complained that they couldn’t get their parishioners in to worship.
After church, parents would tell their children the story of the birth of Christ. In many families, even today, the telling of the Christmas story is a highlight of Christmas Eve. And for those folks who couldn’t attend church in the late afternoon or early evening, they attended at midnight – the same as our traditions today.
The verse for this evening, as we await the start of the Advent season, is the beginning of the Christmas story. The reason for the whole season of Christmas. Almost like the first verses of Genesis, you can feel the anticipation that the apostle Luke brings to his Gospel in recounting the story of the Christ child. He tells us, in Luke 2:4-7, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
How many times have we read these words? Yet every year, we come back to them and celebrate the birth of Jesus – when God became fully man to live among us. How could any believer not get exited about hearing the Christmas story? My encouragement this evening is that Jesus loves us and came to live among us as a model of what true love looks like. My prayer is that as we approach the beginning of the Christmas season next week that we will remember the love of Christ and demonstrate that love to one another this holiday season. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…