Because of Holiday travels, I’m only now getting my Christmas sermon posted. Maybe it will come in helpful for you next year (or if you celebrate “old Christmas”, then it’s just in time!).
It’s just a little bit early to say this, but Merry Christmas! In just two short days, the most anticipated holiday in our culture will dawn upon us.
All across the country this Tuesday, children will be rousing their parents out of bed at the crack of dawn, eager to begin the Christmas festivities that they’ve been anticipating for the past several weeks.
Families will gather in the light of Christmas day, and for most of us, our favorite and most familiar traditions will take center stage.
Some of us might read the Christmas story before or after we open our gifts.
Some of us might prepare a special breakfast.
Some of us might make visits or phone calls with loved ones who live at a distance. (I remember playing an extended game of monopoly on more than one Christmas break during my childhood).
Indeed, in just a couple of days the most anticipated holiday of the year will be here.
And then it will be over.
Some of us are happy about that, and we’re already looking forward to January. Others of us are sad about that, and wish Christmas would stick around a lot longer than it does.
…we all have expectations around this holiday.
Those expectations are what form the reality leading up to it.
In many ways, our expectations are more important to us than the actual Christmas Day that we’re preparing for, right?
For example, if I just can’t wait for it to be over, if I’m expecting Christmas to be an exhausting day that I just have to grin and bear until it’s over and life can get back to normal…if those are my expectations, then I’m not going to enjoy life very much in December, right?
Our expectations are what form our lives.
Actually, you could say our lives are built around our expectations more than anything else.
-So, What is it that you are expecting?
I don’t know if any of you were following any of this Mayan prophecy stuff lately. Friday was supposed to be the last day of the world according to an ancient Mayan calendar or something.
I don’t know how many people actually believed that the world was going to end on Friday, but enough did that I saw some news about people stockpiling food, water, weapons, and ammunition…but my question is: what were they expecting?
We are formed by our expectations.
It tells you something when people anticipate the end of all things, and they stockpile ammunition to prepare for it.
So, I gave this some thought last week, and I started to ask myself how I would prepare if I really thought the world was going to end tomorrow.
Would you like to know how I would prepare for the end of the world?
If we somehow knew with absolute certainty that a big meteor was going to hit the earth tomorrow and it was going to wipe civilization off the map; would you like to know how I would tell us to prepare?
I would tell us to go out and proclaim two words as prophetically as we can in word and deed: Merry Christmas!
That’s the reality that we’re living in as Christians.
Not just in December, but all throughout every year; and it’s as timeless a message as our God is eternal.
And I’m not interested in even entertaining the war on words concerning Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, because that’s not what I’m getting at.
See, we’re waiting for a Christmas that’s already come two thousand times if it’s come once.
Every year it is breathtakingly new; and every year it is exactly the same!
Paul puts it like this:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)
The world is a broken place.
For many, many families in our country as well as the world, this Christmas will be anything but Merry. In fact, for many people , this time of year is much more like the end of all things than it is the hap-happiest time of the year.
And even though I certainly hope nobody here is stockpiling weapons and ammo, the truth is we’re all stockpiling something.
Money. Status. Power. Authority. Security. Possessions.
We are broken people living in a broken world.
But whether the world ends tomorrow or a million years from now, the good news is that God did not and does not avoid the brokenness.
He rather stepped into flesh and lived here as he continues to do!!.
The message of Christmas is the same message it’s always been:
God With Us: Emmanuel!
In our Pain God with us.
In our Joy God with us.
In our questions and our answers and our celebrations and our lonely nights: God With Us!
The Christian future is not full of doom and gloom, whether that future is one day long or a thousand years more!
The future and therefore the present is not full of doom and gloom!
Rather, it’s chock full of as much love and hope and grace as we can stuff into it!
While the world is filled with sorrow and injustice, evil does not have the last word!
So I say Merry Christmas to you: for God is with us as surely as He was with Mary, who sang in response to this incredible news of God With Us.
The hungry will be filled with good things, she sang. The lowly will be lifted up!
God is with the single mothers who are down on their luck and out visiting relatives.
God is with the migrant and the widow who are both despised and often abandoned by the structures of this world.
God is with the young and the old; the innocent and the guilty.
God is with the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor.
We might not even like the fact that God is with the very people we despise; but that doesn’t finally matter: because this advent-kingdom we’re living in is bigger and better than any of us can hope to imagine!
And hope is a very powerful thing.
It leads Elizabeth to proclaim blessing after blessing upon Mary.
In fact, hope is what leads Elizabeth to say “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
We don’t really believe in fulfillment anymore, do we?
At least, I know I’ve taken some pretty big steps towards cynicism rather than hopeful expectation in the past several years. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
Christmas calls us back to hope!
And to this end Mary and Elizabeth stand, beckoning us back to hopeful waiting; hopeful expectation.
The blessing is not in the cold cynicism we have embraced.
The blessed are those who live as if there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord! In spite of the broken surroundings we find ourselves in.
The blessed are those who have the daring and the courage to imagine a future that is different from the present; the blessed are those who have faith that God continues to work among us even when we fail and fall and it looks hopeless.
Mary responds to Elizabeth with a song, which seems like a fitting response when a blessing is passed along from one to another.
“My soul magnifies the Lord” she sings. “And my spirit rejoices in God my savior”.
The unwed mother is set to usher in the end of one age and the beginning of another…and all she can do is sing the promises of God; much like we’ve done already this morning.
Salvation came through Jesus; God’s word was wrapped in flesh to live among us; teaching us in 3-D just how far His love extends.
He is in the habit of showing up in hopeless situations; seldom as we think he should, but always surprising us in one way or another.
Will you have the ears to hear it in this season?
Will you have the lips to proclaim this good news: that God became Flesh?
Will you find the courage that it takes to stuff God’s future with as much grace and love and kindness as the Good Lord allows you to do?
For blessed are you; who believe that there will be fulfillment of what was spoken to us by God.
For your hope will not disappoint and your faith will grow as we wait expectantly.