A sermon preached by Bob Keller on December 11th, 2011, the third Sunday in Advant, based upon Luke 1: 47 – 55.
Are you ready?
No, not for one of those tremendously inspiring sermons that I so often deliver. C’mon. You had to have been asked by now – are you ready for Christmas?
Forget about that “take a deep breath” thing that Pastor Jeff mentioned a couple weeks ago. There’s no time for that now. We just lit the third Advent candle! Christmas is sneaking up on us. Time to get going!
There’s a tree to put up – and decorate and remember to allow time to adjust the ornaments if you have small children. Can’t have all the ornaments hanging at just the bottom two feet of the tree.
And Christmas cards to write and mail. Gotta mail them early this year – the post office is slowing down.
And the gift list has to be finalized. What size does she wear? Now let’s go shopping – and don’t forget your pepper spray!
Somewhere we have to make time to bake cookies. Can’t be Christmas without cookies.
The lights have to be hung. Where’s the ladder? Did I fix the broken rung on it?
Need a new wreath for the front door. Did I mention shopping?
Should I buy matching sweaters, again!, for this year’s Christmas photo?
Have to get the guest room ready – translation: find a place to put the stuff I’ve been hiding in there – so Uncle Jack and Aunt Emma have a place to stay. Does she like skim milk or 2% in her decaf? Or is it Uncle Jack that likes the decaf?. Why do they have to be so difficult?
We’re guilty, aren’t we? Everything has to be “just so,” or Christmas just won’t happen.
Pastor Jeff’s advice was good. Join me in taking that deep breath. Breathe in deeply. Now let it out slowly. Forget the pressures of all that we think we have to do and join me in “being in the moment.”
Do you remember back in early 2001 when inventor Dean Kamen teased us by telling us that “It” was coming? He was good! He had us wondering what “It” was. What would “It” do? What was “It” for? The teasing went on through spring and summer and tumbled into fall. He built our interest, our anticipation, and our expectations. It was the Advent of “It.” We didn’t even know what “It” was, but we knew we would probably want one.
You may remember Kamen as the guy who invented the insulin pump and the first portable kidney dialysis machine. This guy had done some fantastic things. This new “It”, said no less than Steve Jobs, would be something that would rival the personal computer in importance.
“It” was finally unveiled on the Today show. “it” was the Segway, little more than a motorized skateboard with gyroscopes that had an average speed of 8 miles per hour and a top speed of 12 miles an hour and had a range of 15 miles – all for about $3,000. When Diane Sawyer saw it, she literally said “That’s it?’
“It” wasn’t really worthy of all that hype and anticipation. Its claim to fame was a few laughs that it got when the over-sized mall cop had misadventures on one in the movie of the same name a few years ago.
There was also an expectation 2,000 years ago. God had promised that Messiah would come. He would come and deliverIsraelfrom its enemies. He would turn the world around as He ushered in thekingdomofGod. I can’t say for sure, but I think that most people, if they had the opportunity to look into that stable, would have said, like Diane Sawyer, “that’s it?”
However, in this case, unlike with the Segway, the reality was far greater than the expectation. Very few could have imagined the impact that this tiny baby would on the world. But Mary knew and she sang about it several months before the birth of the baby. The passage that Pastor Jeff read for us this morning is often referred to as “Mary’s Song.” It’s full of Old Testament references
The first thing we see in Mary’s song is her recognition of her need for a Savior when she says, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Notice that she says “my” savior, not “the” savior. Mary claims the savior personally. And we can, too.
She goes on to say that “He has performed mighty deeds.” The world was upside down, but God would overcome and turn it right-side-up. She sang about God scattering the proud. She said that he brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. He filled the hungry, but sent the rich away with empty stomachs. God would turn the tables on the world. Those who were proud and arrogant, having power in this world to oppress others, would be scattered by God. Those who ruled with injustice would be pulled down from their thrones, and the humble servants would be put in their place. Those who used their wealth to oppress the poor would live in spiritual hunger, while those who were the poor of this world would be filled with all the good things of God. All of this would take place because of what Jesus would do.
The third thing in Mary’s song was the statement that He has helped his servantIsrael. What she was referring to was God’s covenant withIsrael. And covenant is the keyword here. A covenant is one of the most important concepts in the Scriptures. Covenant is important because it means that God keeps his promises. He does not forget. He does not get sidetracked. And even when it looks like nothing is happening; God is at work behind the scenes. Those who were expecting the Messiah, and growing weary in their waiting, were blessed as they saw the promise of God come true. We are bound to God and He is bound to us through His son. Being in covenant with God means that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Remember the words from the 31st chapter of Jeremiah: “This is the covenant I will make with the house ofIsrael after that time, declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
And through all of this, Mary was humble. And before Jesus was even born, she worshipped.
I don’t usually like bumper sticker philosophers, but there is some wisdom found in this particular one: “God loves you, whether you like it or not.”
All of this Christmas anticipation tends to work us into frenzy. In fact, according to Bill O’Reilly when he was a commentator on Fox a few years ago, there is a war on Christmas.
Following are a few comments from Matt Appling. Appling is a teacher and a pastor at a house church called Levi’s House inKansas City,MO. His blog is at www.thechurchofnopeople.com.
“The holiday decorations are up in malls and homes. Shoppers are out in full force. And soldiers are enlisting, once again, for the all-important annual tradition, the war on Christmas.”
“There’s no doubt that that the war on Christmas continues. …. Over the next few weeks, the good cheer of the season will be peppered with stories of oppressive governments and secular retailers facing off against valiant defenders of Jesus’ birthday celebration.”
“And as the battle heats up again, I realized that when it comes to this annual tradition, I’m a card carrying Christmas pacifist.”
“Every year, the fight over Christmas centers on a few key battlegrounds. There’s the debate over retail cashiers wishing shoppers a bland, apparently anti-Jesus “Happy Holidays.””
Bing Crosby apparently can slip by, even though in the movie “Holiday Inn,” he sang “Happy Holiday. HappyHoliday. May the calendar keep bringing Happy Holidays to you.” Not enough syllables in Merry Christmas to fit the music, I guess.
Back to Appling: “Santa’s little helpers revolt against local governments who decide to either forego displaying a Nativity scene on the courthouse steps, or perhaps worse, surrounding a Nativity scene with stars of David and Muslim crescent moons. And there are always a few skirmishes around random occurrences of school administrators acting extra Grinchy toward students, or neighborhood associations putting a curfew on Christmas lights.
Put it all together, and it certainly looks like Christmas is under attack and it’s up to the few, the proud, the Christians to save Christmas.
But I’ve got news for you. Christmas is not under attack. There is no war to fight. Put down your holiday pitchforks.
If you want to know how to enlist in the Christmas army, it’s pretty easy to find information. I liked this website, the aptly named waronchristmas.com. The opening sentence of the website gives visitors this battle cry:
“Preserve and protect the most beautiful of American holidays.”
In case you don’t see what I immediately saw, the site continues by calling itself:
“A place to treasure and…preserve our traditional American culture.”
(Kind of makes you wonder if Jesus’ swaddling cloths were red, white and blue, doesn’t it?)
That sums it up. The war over Christmas isn’t about preserving Christmas. It’s about America…or what we think America should be. When was the last time any Christmas soldier took the fight to Japan or Russia to ensure that Christmas was being properly acknowledged in those Christmas loving places? Never. Because this isn’t about Christmas. It’s about American culture. Japan loves Christmas, even though it is one of the least Christian nations on earth. But we don’t care about that.
Key battleground number one: “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas.” People who care about what a retail cashier at Target says to them during the month of December do not have important things to care about. Let’s see, why are you at Target in December? To max out your credit card on stuff that if it was really needed, you would’ve already purchased it in August? Exactly. You’re shopping in the first place because you’re celebrating Christmas no differently than the secularists celebrate.”
“Key battleground number two: Christmas decorations in public. We deal with stores putting up Christmas decorations in October (or even in September now, right after the back-to-school sales and alongside Halloween items) now. Clearly, people have more access than ever to gaudy, mass produced holiday “décor.” But people go berserk if a wreath is taken off the door of a government building.
I ask you again: does it really matter? Was anyone ever walking around the town square in the midst of a spiritual crisis and, seeing a cheap plastic Nativity scene in front of City Hall, turned his life over to sweet baby Jesus? It seems unlikely.”
The fact is, we’re fighting the wrong fight. Christmas has ballooned to an American consumerist monstrosity that no army could kill. And Christians have bought into all of it, while Jesus languishes in the background. The real Christmas is being killed, in the hearts and homes of every Christian who picks a fight over petty and meaningless traditions.
Maybe God is even using the politically correct “war” on Christmas to show Christians all the things they can do without this holiday season.”
Take a moment to remember what Christmas is really about: it celebrates the story of God coming among us in the most humble of circumstances. Christ was born in a stable to a homeless teenage girl named Mary. These humble beginnings are in keeping with the ministry of Jesus which was focused on the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Jesus taught that the way we treat “the least of these” is how we treat him. It’s a story about God coming among us, meeting us in the middle of our need.
So what if we remembered that this Christmas, and spent a little less on all those gifts we don’t really need. You know, the ones that will really make memories. Then instead of standing in line at the mall or stuck in traffic, we spent more time with people we love. And what if we took all that money we saved, and gave some of it away to people who are really in need? To the poor, the hungry, the hurting, the lonely, the sick?
Here are some startling facts I learned at Adventconspiracy.org. Americans will spend 450 Billion dollars this year on Christmas. More people die every day in this world from not having enough clean drinking water than from any other cause. Do you know how much it would cost to provide clean drinking water for everyone in the world? About 20 Billion dollars. Think about it – $450 on mostly useless ‘stuff,’ or $20 Billion for clean water to drink.
Is that war on Christmas worth fighting, if, indeed, there is a war? Do I really care if a clerk wishes me Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday? Chances are the clerk is over-tired from being over-worked and is likely under-paid and I should be happy to get a greeting at all. And I really don’t care if Jesus is on the lawn at town hall – He’s in my heart, where He belongs. And He is in your heart, too. Keep Him there always and share His love with others, even when it’s not Christmas.
The third Advent candle is pink, or rose colored, to remind us that the waiting is nearing its end. Christ’s birth is imminent. The third candle is traditionally called the joy candle. Joy is that deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment.
As we face the weeks ahead, let’s slow down. Let’s give the gift that Jesus gave – presence. Be there for those you love. Share the joy, the happiness, the hope and the contentment that comes from the birth of Jesus.