Three sons left home, went out on their own and prospered. Getting together for Christmas one year, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother. The first said, “I built a big house for our mother.” The second said, “I sent her a Mercedes.” The third smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beat. You remember how mom enjoyed reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. Well, I sent her a remarkable parrot who is able to recite the entire Bible. It took the elders of the church 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. All Mom has to do is name a chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.” Soon thereafter, their mother sent out “thank you” notes to her sons: “Dear Milton,” she wrote the oldest son, “The house you built is too big. I only live in one room, but I have to keep the whole house clean!” To the middle son, she wrote, “Dear Gerald, I’m too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes.” And to the youngest son, she wrote, “Dearest Donald, You have the good sense to know exactly what your Mother likes. The chicken was delicious!”
It’s Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve…and Easter…are to the pastor what the Super Bowl is to the NFL quarterback or the World Series is to the Major League pitcher. They are the highlights of the Christian year. And they are both of great importance to our faith. Without Easter, there is no Christ. But without Christmas, there is no Jesus. On Christmas, we recognize that fact that God decided, after 400 years of seeming silence between the Old and New Testaments, to break into time and space and interact with His people in a new and powerful way. He chose…CHOSE…to enter into the world in the most vulnerable form possible. He chose to warp our injured flesh around Himself, breathe our air and walk our sod. Why? Why would He do that? In a rational world…it makes NO sense. Let’s look.
Those of you who know me know that I don’t tend to be a King James type of preacher- it’s just not my style. However…there are some passages of Scripture that just need to be heard in that marvelously poetic language. The 23rd Psalm. John 3:16. And the Christmas Gospel as it is found in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 2:1-20 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not:for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom as the children drew Christmas pictures. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she came to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
This Christmas, God offers us freedom, joy and peace. God sent His one and only begotten Son to be born in in a lowly manger in a backwater town to so that we might have these special gifts- freedom from fear, the joy of salvation and a peace that endures. And the beauty part? You don’t have to wait any longer to open those gifts- you can come tonight, right here and right now, hold out your empty hands…and He will fill them. That’s the true power of Christmas. Christmas informs culture. Christmas transforms culture. And Christmas creates a new culture.
I did some reading this week about what are considered the greatest moments in human history. Frankly, every website I found had an either slightly or radically different perspective on this topic. But here is an overview of what MIGHT be the top 10:
10. the invention of gunpowder- attributed to the Chinese Tang Dynasty, somewhere around the 9th Century AD, the invention of gunpowder radically changed the nature of both warfare and hunting.
9. manned flight- on December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made 4 brief flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, including one lasting 12 seconds. That 12 seconds has changed the way we travel.
8. The invention of the printing press- in 1440, Johannes Gutenberg created the invention that would revolutionize communication. It remains one of the biggest inventions of all time.
7. Penicillin- on November 26, 1941, Alexander Fleming perfected penicillin. During World War 2, prices dropped from $20 a dose to $.20 a dose. With a viable way to fight infection, millions of lives were saved.
6. Neil Armstrong walking on the moon- on July 29, 1969, for the first time in history, a human stepped foot on another celestial body. The implications will be felt for the rest of recorded time.
5. the assassination of Julius Caesar- his murder, by the so-called liberators, had a long-lasting effect on the whole of the Roman Empire. It led to a series of civil wars in Rome and ultimately the ascent of Caesar Augustus, the grand nephew of Caesar. Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
4. the signing of the Declaration of Independence- on July 4, 1776, 56 delegates of the Continental Congress, representing thirteen colonies, announced their intention to free themselves from the British rule.
3. the two World Wars- The world witnessed two major wars between 1914 and 1945. The lasting impact these two World Wars had the world is still being felt.
2. the first written text- The Sumerians, around 3,000 BC, are credited with the first standardized written language. It was created so that the government could keep better track of the public giving. Some things never change!
1. the “discovery” of fire- somewhere back in prehistoric time, a lightning strike started a fire. Early man realized the benefits. And over time, they figured out how to not only capitalize on natural occurrences but to produce fire on their own.
These 10, plus about 50 more I COULD name, were major events in the history of humanity. They are tipping points. A tipping point is defined as, “the point at which an issue, idea, or product crosses a certain threshold and gains significant momentum, triggered by some minor factor or change.” Simply put, a tipping point is a critical moment or event that leads to a new and irreversible development. And these 10 are major tipping points.
But of all the events that have shaped human history, one moment stands above the rest. The moment was not filled with fanfare or frills…but it was fantastic nonetheless. It’s a watershed moment when the temporal and the eternal came together. It’s a moment that seems so utterly absurd that it couldn’t possibly be real…but it is. It’s that magical moment when two worlds came together to create a hope that has never died. It’s the day when God became man.
All of humankind’s wildest dreams came true the night that Jesus was born. He came to mend the rift that existed between God and His people. He came to do what no one else COULD do- bring us back into right relationship with God. And for my money, in a world so inundated with BAD news, the Good News of Jesus Christ just keeps getting better and better.
Tomorrow is Christmas. By now, all the plans have been made. Every year, we ask the same question: “What are we going to do for Christmas?” Most answers fall into a couple of categories: either we’re going somewhere to spend time with someone or someone is coming to spend time with us! The truth is that, no matter how you actually approach that question, the answer doesn’t usually don’t get much deeper than that. We have an inherent expectation that at Christmas, what we do is spend time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts.
It’s what the holiday season is all about…right? But did you know that the word “holiday” is an Old English word that translates “holy day”? Even our language defines what Christmas REALLY is, but we’ve changed the meaning.
So what IS Christmas? Is it more than just giving…and expecting…gifts? Is it more than spending too much time and money going places to buy those presents? What IS it…really?
Don’t misunderstand- visiting family and friends, giving and receiving gifts…those are good things. But they aren’t the MAIN thing. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Christmas is SO much more. Christmas is a major tipping point in the history of the world.
Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In the book, Gladwell invites us to look at the world around us. He says that, while it may seem like an immovable, implacable place, it’s not. He says that, with the slightest push, in just the right place- the world can be tipped. He says, “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.” That is the very essence of a church family- a community around which new beliefs can be practiced, expressed and nurtured. We are NOT hundreds of individuals, totally disconnected to each other, who happen to show up at the same place and the same time periodically. We are hundreds of individuals who, collectively, make up one body…the body of Christ. Some of those parts might be more readily visible than others, but ALL are welcomed. All are important.
Gladwell, in his book, also says, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.” I couldn’t agree more. And this congregation has found that exceptional person who is capable of starting an epidemic…of joy and peace. And it is HIS birth that we celebrate this evening and tomorrow. Jesus Christ is the center of who we are and what we do. We are an imperfect congregation, with an imperfect pastor and imperfect members, who are, collectively, at this moment, with the overwhelming help, support and love of Jesus Christ…perfect.
A tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a trend that can take off like wildfire. God is moving in powerful ways in this congregation. We have crossed the threshold, tipped, and His love and forgiveness are spreading like wildfire. And I can’t think of a better place to be than in the middle of this tipping point. Because, in the end, tipping points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of action.
Have you ever been in a situation where your life’s busyness collided with your priorities? When this happens the important is snuffed out, allowing the unimportant to move into first place? Something happens that brings you to the truth you were too busy to see. One crisp December day, a kindergarten teacher and her class were packing up their Christmas art. One cute 5-year-old girl caught the teacher’s eye. “Know what I want under my tree this Christmas?”
“What,” the teacher said, pulling tape off of the back of a picture, “what do you want under your tree this Christmas?” In the midst of the busyness, the little girl’s answer stung like a bee. “You. I want you under my tree this year.” The teacher stopped dead in her tracks. The glittering paper angels, the cotton ball Santa beards and the joyful laughter from the other kids watching the Christmas DVD all melted away for a moment. All the teacher saw was the little girl’s heart and all she heard was that sweet little voice. She reached out to the little girl. “You want me, Abby? You want me under your tree?” It was the nicest compliment she had ever received. A small child wanted this frazzled, hurried, harried teacher under her tree! And she never quite got over what the little girl said. On her worst days it haunted her and on her best days it challenged her. And every time she reflected on the little girl’s request, it caused the teacher to ask God what He might want under HIS tree. Every Christmas, his answer was the same. “I want you- I want you under My tree.”
I wonder: Can I chop off enough personal pride to make myself small enough to be a gift under God’s tree? Can I pinch off enough of my ego to be able to fit there? Is it possible to shave off the gray shadows of past hurts, irreconcilable conflicts, and worn-out grudges to be under His tree? Can I become transparent, vulnerable and able to survive the challenges of dying to broken dreams, heartaches, and unmet goals? Will God want me as a gift under His tree if I insist on being full of myself, always having to be right, unable to admit my own lapses in judgment, my own struggles with sin, my own indulgent nature?
This Christmas, we need to ask God to shave off the rough edges. We need to ask Him to trim us down, pinch us off, correct us and teach us until we are the people He wants us to be. And even if we don’t quite fit, even if we don’t quite deserve it, we need to ask Him to keep us there, under His Christmas tree, as the gift we want to be for Him. That little girl reminds us that the best gift we can offer God is a loving relationship. We should want to be His best gift. We should pray that He saves a spot for us under His tree. We should not just hope…but choose…to be a gift to God this Christmas.
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky has faded, when the kings and princes have all gone home, when the shepherds are back tending their flocks…then the real work of Christmas begins. When the songs of the season are stilled, when the tree in the living room has faded, when the aunts and uncles have all gone home, when the kids are back to playing with their toys…then the real work of Christmas begins. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to bring peace your fellow humans, to help connect people to Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world- that is the real work of Christmas.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- The Collective Sigh