The other night, we were sitting around sharing Christmas memories. Like you, I have a TON of them! But one that always stands out to me was the worst Christmas gift I ever got which also provided me with one of the best Christmas memories ever! I was about 4 years old and we had a babysitter who, because my folks both worked, was very much like a part of the family. We’ll call her Linda. And Linda and I had a special relationship- she was like a 2nd mom to me. She had been telling me for a month that, at Christmas, she was going to give me a bundle of switches for Christmas. And every time she said it, she and I would laugh and laugh. This scenario played out SEVERAL times over the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Then, finally the big day came! I could hardly WAIT to see what Linda ACTUALLY got me! The package from her was about 3 feet long and irregularly round. It was wrapped in bright Christmas paper and I was really excited. I RIPPED the paper off to reveal…you smelled this one coming, didn’t you?…a bundle of switches! I immediately…burst into tears! The joke that had been funny in theory for a month turned out to not be so funny in practice! You might imagine, Linda felt horrible and immediately got out my REAL gift- a wagon with building blocks in it. Somewhere, in a dusty box in a forgotten corner of our house, there is a picture of me in my jammies, eyes swollen and red and a big smile on my face, holding up…yep…a bundle of switches!
This Christmas season, we’ve been taking a nostalgic look BACK to help us take a dramatic look forward. Each week of the Christmas season, our Advent sermon series- A Very Disney Christmas- has melded together three somewhat unusual pieces: 1. a portion of the Christmas story as found in the Gospels, 2. Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah and, of all things, 3. a classic Disney song that helps inform the theme for the day.
The first week, we went back to 1953, looked at the classic Peter Pan and considered Joseph’s encounter with an angel as we looked at You Can Fly! Week 2, we hit the “fast forward” button and jumped to 1994 to look at the instant classic The Lion King and its unarguable massive hit- “Hakuna Matata”. We talked about Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel and talked about letting God bring you to a place of no worries- Hakuna Matata! Week 3, we slid back 27 years to 1967- the day the animated classic The Jungle Book came out. We considered the big hit from that movie- I Wanna be Like You and we looked into the lives of the Wise Men.
Last week, we jumped ahead again, to 1992- the day that the original Aladdin came out. Great movie. Great music. And the biggest hit to come out of that movie was the song A Whole New World. We talked about Mary and Joseph making the trip to Bethlehem. Last night, we took a BIG leap backward to 1940 and the debut of the Disney classic Pinocchio. The big hit song from that movie was When you Wish Upon a Star. Today, we bring this all to a close as we leap forward again, to November 22, 1995 and the debut of one of my all-time favorites- Toy Story. The song
You’ve Got a Friend in Me was an instant classic. If you know the story, and…really…how could you NOT know the story…Andy is a boy whose toys, unbeknownst to him, are alive and interact with each other and the world when humans aren’t around.
The “stars” of the movie are a cowboy doll named Woody and a new spaceman doll named Buzz Lightyear. Oh, I’m sorry- these are BOY toys so they are NOT dolls…they’re ACTION FIGURES! And the story that unfolds is about both the relationship between Andy and his toys and Buzz and Woody. With all of that in mind, here are some of the lyrics from the song:
“You’ve got a friend in me. When the road looks rough ahead and you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed, you just remember what your old pal said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a friend in me.’”
It’s a song about relationship. It’s a song about dependability. It’s a song about being able to count on someone at all times. And it seems like the perfect song to bring this series to a close with.
Today, more than a billion people around the world are celebrating Christmas. That’s a LONG way from 12 ragtag disciples in an Upper Room. And as today unfolds, surrounded by candlelight and carols, the familiar story will unfold again- an angel visits, followed by a trip to Bethlehem. There, a baby is born in a stable and the announcement is made to certain poor shepherds. We all know that the world is full of great doubt and disbelief, but I would argue that, today, doubt isn’t our enemy- familiarity is. It was Mark Twain who said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We know the story so well that we risk missing the wonder. What we once coveted we tend to take for granted. And when that happens, faith becomes routine, ordinary, commonplace. The Bible becomes dry and our testimonies become shopworn. Been there, done that.
But the mystery of Jesus Christ is a wonder beyond human understanding! For centuries people waited for coming of the Messiah. And then, unexpectedly, it came to pass. God wrapped His gift to us in swaddling clothes, gave it to us, and then stood back and waited to see what we would do. Exchange it? Return it? Reject it? Or receive it with joy? If we reject the gift, then we reject God. But if we accept the gift, then we accept God, along with His forgiveness, His help and His hope.
In December of 1903, the Wright brothers finally got their flying machine off the ground. Excitedly, they telegraphed their sister Katherine:
“Actually flew 120’! Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine was so excited that she RAN to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He read it, handed it back to her and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He missed the big
News of his generation. Many of us miss the big news of Jesus Christ. We don’t think we need a Savior– we’re good enough, we’re smart enough and doggonit- people like us!
How do you express joy? C.S. Lewis said that joy is incomplete until it is expressed. We praise and share the things that bring us joy. And the absence of praise and joy is a spiritual barometer in our lives. We tend to miss the baby
in the manger for many reasons- we’re too distracted, we’re too busy, we’re too scared, we’re too indifferent. This year, don’t miss the big news of Christmas, don’t miss the wonder and glory of the birth of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow familiarity to rob you of good tidings of great joy. Today, accept God’s offer of the greatest gift ever- a baby born in a manger, The Savior, Christ the Lord.
The Scripture that Joanne read isn’t the typical “Christmas” Scripture. We’ve heard the entire Christmas story, as well as the highlights of the Old Testament prophecy, through this Christmas season. But today, we instead look at the beginning of the Gospel of John. It tells us that, while we celebrate Jesus coming into the world today, in reality He existed before time. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word WAS God.” Jesus is the Word- God’s Word, the personification of God- Emmanuel- God with us.
I have shared before that I am a big fan of the Peanuts cartoons. I remember a Christmas one where Lucy says, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. `Tis season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Therefore, I suggest we forget all our differences and love one another!” Charlie Brown is more than a little surprised, “That’s wonderful, Lucy. I’m so glad you said that. But tell me, do we have to love each other only at this season of year? Why can’t we love each other all year long” Lucy flatly responds, “What are you, a fanatic or something?”
What we spend our time and money on reveals our real values. It all too clearly demonstrates what we truly worship. Are we storing up treasures on earth or are we committed to following Jesus by storing our treasures in heaven? Take time to think of ways you can make first things first in the new year. How will you spend more time with people you love? How will you better demonstrate your faith through service? How will you continue to cultivate your relationship with God? We are called, not just at Christmas but all year long, to seek out and serve those in need. We let our light shine BEST when we let it shine for Jesus Christ. God is leading you down a different road than the one you were on. Where is this new road leading?
In Jesus Christ, God gave us the greatest gift we could ever have. It’s a gift that takes a lifetime to fully unwrap. It’s a gift of enormous value, given freely to all. It’s a gift that enriches everyone who accepts it. It’s a gift that’s ultimately intended to be given away. It’s the gift of life. Before we receive this gift, we walk alone…without hope. But after receiving the gift, Jesus walks with us daily. Before we receive the gift, life is ordinary. But after receiving the gift, life is never the
same again! And what’s the greatest thing about this gift, about the birth of Jesus? It’s that we can experience it personally.
Today, God extends a personal invitation to you to come and see with your own eyes the Messiah. God offers us a gift today, and then He waits to see what we’ll do with it. Jesus came as a baby, into a cold, dark world, to touch our lives, to love us, to show us a better way and to change us forever. Jesus in a manger is Divine love coming down and reaching out to save us from our loneliness and our emptiness. Today is the day when the infinite becomes the infant- Emmanuel, the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And to all who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. On Christmas, He says, “You’ve got a friend in Me.”