22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).– Matthew 1:22-23, NIV
For four weeks we have been in the season of Advent. Advent is all about waiting, anticipating, hoping, and pacing in expectation of Christ’s coming into the world. It marks five themes, including the Christ Candle that is lit today. Themes of joy, peace, love, and hope were observed. Today we observe that Christ came into this dark world to be “with us”.
God of the universe came to this dark world to bring a shimmer of light. This world is dark because of our own nature and own desires. It is not what God intended for us. As we look around this woIn Jesus coming into the world we see a light, a sense of hope that was not there before.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”- Matthew 1:20-21, NIV
Days like today I often reflect on my Christmas memories. Of the days waiting at the top of the stairs in anticipation of seeing what Santa had brought us. Or those Christmas Eve’s hanging out with my cousins. Or the times that I spent all morning throwing wrapping paper at my sister. At times those memories bring a smirk to my face. I am in the middle of creating those same memories for my children. Those times in a decade or two where they will remember and smirk as well.
While I enjoy creating those touching moments for my kids there is a part to their story which I want to impart. While Christmas is all about a number of traditions and memories the DNA of it is reflected in Matthew. That Jesus came to earth to begin the redemption story. Tonight many will take away from services that God became flesh, it is more that that, a reason for it existed. Our sin and desires created division between God and ourselves. A division that could not be solved by anything we did. The solution came from God, and God alone. Jesus came to save us from our sins.
Beginning of the story, not the end. Christmas marks Jesus coming to the world, but its not the end. It’s a momentus event, but not THE MOMENTUS event. That comes at the celebration of Easter, where Christ died and rose again for you and me.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.– Matthew 2:10-11, NIV
When I was dating my wife I loved showering her with gifts. Since I was a poor college student at the time, it was more the thought that counted rather than the worth of the gift. There would be times that I would make her dinner or make simple gestures that would show her how much she means to me. It was gestures of a budding and mature affection for someone that means a great deal.
As the Magi brought gifts to Jesus it was not simply because it was socially appropriate or what they were suppose to do. There was more to it. They came to worship the child. Jesus to them was more than just another infant. There was something special about this child. While the Magi could not completely put their finger on it, something was different. Was Jesus to be truly the King of the Jews? The Magi came to Jesus with items that was of value to show how much they cared about this child Jesus. It was an outward response to an inner working in their lives.
As we approach Christmas and the many worship service that will be held the next couple of days, do we come in worship? Or do you come simply because that is what your family does? We come and gather in these times to worship and give back to show what this season means to us. As we come to worship, truly give yourselves. Just as we gave gifts and gestures to the loves in our lives, we must do the same with the God of the Universe we came to this world for you and me.
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”– Luke 10:41-42, NIV
Phew. December is almost over. December is a mix of a sprint and a marathon. All out one day but long enough if we sprint it we will be worn out. Between trying to get to Christmas Parties, work events, school events, getting a tree, shopping, and everything else in between… I am tired. Chances are so are you. I am looking forward to the drive home after the last Christmas Eve service. It will be a long winding drive home as I exhale from a long month. You too will probably have that same moment. Whether it is after the gifts are all assembled or when Christmas dinner has been served. The moment when we can just let the long month go. (exhale here)
The verse today describes a scene when Jesus is visiting the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is trying to manage a number of tasks while Mary is simply being with Jesus. Mary understood the priority. It was to be with Jesus. Martha was too busy to understand that all the material things did not matter, we are to simply BE with Jesus.
All of our Christmas seasons have been at breakneck speed, in fifth gear. All to prepare and make Christmas better for everyone we know. To make sure that everyone is happy. While we were doing that we have missed the focus of the season. Jesus does not require cookies under the chimney nor a fancy present. What is required is our attention. Where is you attention today?
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”- Mark 12:30-31, NIV
There is an episode of Friends that discusses selfless good deeds. Joey says that it does not exist because we all feel good about what we do. Phoebe for the remainder of the episode attempts to do a good deed without feeling good about it. Many times we do good deeds and we blow ourselves up with pride over it. We gloat to our friends how we helped others and we get patted on the back. Or you have others that do service for others and take a number of staged pictures to put in on facebook or your newsletter.
Balancing publicity, pride, and all the other human emotions is a difficult one. This morning I had the opportunity to be a driver for our Presbytery as they provided Christmas gifts to 25 families that were and continue to be affected by Hurricane Sandy. Our Presbytery church family stepped up to help these families. It took three vans and a trailer to bring the numerous amount of gifts to the school.
It does feel good to be able to help others or have the ability to do it. There were no shameless pictures of our group. We simply went in and left. We did not even see the families that will be recieving the gift. It had nothing to do with ME or making ME feel good. I mearly had the opportunity to be part of the extension of God to those families. We are called to love, and take care of each other. It may sound cheesy but our faith is reflected in how we care for those in need.
This was all about a selfless good deed… it had nothing to do with ME but everything to do with an expression of God’s love to those that need it.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.- James 1:2-4, Message
Ever feel ovewhelmed with your situation? Don’t know where you are going to get the money for presents, let alone the mortgage? In a job situation doing something you hate? Got a medical report that shows some abnormalities? Going through life rudderless? Sure we have all been there at one time or another. Let me throw in a different wrinkle. You are in the situation but you KNOW you are there because its part of your spiritual/ faith journey.
I have been there. In Seminary, with very little income, no job offers despite the endless applying for anything that pays, BUT on the course that God has set for me. Sure the circumstances where less than ideal, but in many ways I still long for those times. Those were times where my faith was stretched. At times it may have felt flimsy, but in the end became even stronger. The times in worship on Sundays as I came knowing that God moved in my life that week… makes times of worship even more meaningful and not a routine. In those years I came to know (really know) a God that deeply cared about my needs and was not a distant absent God.
In the New International Version it says “consider it pure joy”. While I am sure many of us disagree that trials and times of hardship are not to be recieved joyfully. The Message version puts it a differently. It is a gift. Times of hardships are a gift. And as we open that gift we become more aware that we are not alone, that there is a God that cares and loves us. It is in these times of trouble we gain a deeper sense of faith and knowledge that the Creator of the Universe loves us intimately.