Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The True Christmas Story

So something happened in our house after worship last week.
I had finished up talking to a couple about their upcoming wedding, and I worked with the youth group on decorating the church.
I went home, and our house was being turned upside down.
The Christmas decorations were out.
I noticed when I walked in that there was a tense feeling in the air.
Then the kids started asking for things.
I could tell that my wife was annoyed.
And after thinking about it I realized what had changed was that Christmas was getting closer.
I know from talking to a couple people this week that this did not only happen in our house, but that others experienced the shock that Christmas was only a couple of short weeks away.
And that we were not really prepared for it.
As of last Sunday we had not decorated our house, bought any presents, cooked any food.
As my wife reminded me on Friday, “our open house is only 16 days away!”
It happens every year doesn’t it.
Christmas is suddenly here, and we are not ready.
It produces in us anxiety.
I felt it on Sunday.

I have tried for many years now to preach during this time some sermon that would help to alleviate this anxiety.
To give us some solace in the idea that we don’t have to worry so much about getting Christmas perfect.
I have given the sermon reminding people to, “keep the Christ in Christmas.”
But I have come to the conclusion that this is not helpful.
I realize that there are simply things that have to be done.
We don’t have to put up decorations, but in reality we are going to decorate our houses.
We don’t have to buy presents, but in reality we are going to buy presents.
We don’t have to bake cookies, but we are going to.
We don’t have to have people at our house, but we are going to anyway.
Well, probably because even though we experience some anxiety about it, and it stresses us out, we ultimately do get pleasure from these things.
We do like them.
And we want to do them.
So what are we going to do?

Today’s Gospel is the start of the Gospel of Mark.
You will remember that in the Gospel of Mark there is no Christmas story.
There are no angels.
No shepherds.
No baby in a manger.
No magical stars rising in the sky.
No visits from wise men from the east.
No travels to Bethlehem.
Mark’s Gospel starts without warning in the middle of the story.
It starts with a declaration, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the son of God.”
It comes not in a slow drip, but out of nowhere.
It comes when people are in the middle of anxiety, of stress.
It comes not with a silent night, but a voice that cries in the wilderness, a voice that tells us to “prepare”.
We of course are used to the other Christmas stories from Luke and Matthew.
We are used to the ones that we have seen countless times in wonderful children’s plays.
It is a cherished story.
And those stories when read carefully have their own pitfalls and dangers.
But over the years we have sanitized them enough, to make them delightful little tales about a perfect holy night.

And perhaps that is what we have done with ourselves too.
We have sanitized our expectations of ourselves, and our own Christmas preparation.
We have seen too many holiday movies where things work out perfect; the wife is a model of ease and charm, the man steady and sure, the children angelic and thankful.
We have seen too many scenes were Christmas is just the right blend of family happiness, and seasonal joy.
But what if Mark is right?
What if it comes upon us all of sudden?
When we are least expecting it.
What the Gospel of Mark does is give us a jolt.
It moves us away from the world as it was and toward world as it will be.
It singles to the reader, to the believer, to you and me, that something new and extraordinary is about to happen.
That the world that once was marked with bad news is going to experience some good news.

That love is about to rush onto the scene.
And we might be in the middle of other things, we might be cooking, cleaning, shopping.
We might be anxious and stressed out, but that cannot stop what is about to happen.
Christmas is not only going to happen, it is actually happening right now.
And what Christmas is about is that God came to dwell with us.
God came to be with us.
Love came to live in our hearts and homes.
God came to dwell in the middle of whatever messed up thing you got going on right now.
God cries out to us to be prepared, to repent, to turn around, to look and see.
But that crying out is not about us getting it right, but merely confessing that we get it wrong.
Our crying out is to confess that we are anxious and stressed out.
And that we don’t like it, but we can’t stop it, because we are going to do it anyway.
And perhaps all we really need is some good news a mist the chaos.
We need for the old to give way to the new thing that God is doing.

And let us just admit to each other that is where we are in this advent time.
We are at the intersection of not being prepared, and preparing.
We are at the place where we are at the end of our rope, and hoping for a hand up.
Things are not all in their place, the stockings are not yet hung by the fire with care, but there is that voice crying out inside us that we are ready for things to change.
We are ready for this good news, the good news that comes when we are not ready.
It comes while we are in a pile of Christmas decorations, not sure if it will all get done in time.
It comes not because we are ready for it, but because God has loved us enough to send us Good News in flesh and blood.
God has sent his Son into our very busy, hectic, imperfect lives, and in the middle of everything offered us good news.
And the good news is that we don’t have to do anything.
We don’t have to cook, clean, buy presents.
But we also can do all those things and you know what God will still show up.
Christmas still happens.
Because we can never forget that what Jesus brings into our lives is good news.
It is the news that says that the hot mess that our lives are now are made redeemable in the love of God given in Jesus Christ.
And this is my biggest complaint about the whole “keep Christ in Christmas” slogan/campaign.
Is that it makes Christmas about us, about what we have done, about the ways that we have kept Christmas.
Instead of what Christmas is really about, it is all about what God does!
God is the actor here!
We can’t mess this up!
God comes down at Christmas!
God gives us God’s love at Christmas!
God gives us a savior at Christmas!
And nothing we can do messes that up!
Even if we are stressed out, even if we are anxious, even if our kids drive us crazy, if we are sad, if we are angry, if we are unprepared.
God comes anyway!

I hope that message is comforting to you this morning and in this advent season.
It is to me, because, this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

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