Sunday, December 13, 2015

What Does God Want For Christmas?

Sunday, December 13, 2015 - Luke 3:7-18


                             for Commerce Presbyterian Church

Slide: Title
Do you think Christmas is more for children or for adults?

I think Christmas for children is wonderful.
I think it’s great for adults to relive that magical experience through children. The sugar plum fairies, letters to Santa, and the Christmas Eve anticipations -Twas the night before Christmas--can reawaken our sense of imagination and delight.

Christmas for adults, however, is another matter.
I hope there are not small children in the room, because my sermon may not seem very Christmasy :)

I don’t know about any of you, but as Trasie is my witness, I have a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.
I relate more to four characters who tend to emerge this time of year...

Slide: What do they have in common--Grinch, Darius Rucker, Charlie Brown, John the Baptist?
In their own way all four challenge what seems to be the modern day way we observe Christmas.

Dr. Seuss’ reviled character, the Grinch,
But, really was actually onto something. He may have seen the early signs of what Christmas was becoming … people are headed in a direction of hyper consumerism, which misses the spirit of Christmas--so he tried to steal Christmas in order to preserve Christmas…
And he’s still at it.  The AJC reported he was arrested  in Moultre yesterday!

And then there’s Charlie Brown, who, in a Charlie Brown Christmas, worried his friend even his dog , Snoopy, even his little sister only focused on getting all kinds of things and money money money for Christmas. “Of all the Charlie Browns he’s the charlie browniest!” “Good Grief”

And then we have Hootie; aka Darius Rucker. When seeing the title for today’s sermon, “What does God want for Christmas?” Jackie Bishoff asked if I’d gotten the title for the sermon from Mr. Ruckers, Christmas song: “What God wants for Christmas”. The title actually comes from a sermon preached by a mentor and colleague of mine, Rev. Bob Chesnut; and I hadn’t heard of the song I’m glad she pointed it out. Mr. Rucker sees all the to do and wonders what God wants:
  • Something that you can't find in a store
  • Maybe peace on Earth, no more empty seats in church
  • What kind of gift from you and me?
  • More sister, more brother, more lovin' one another
Well, if we wonder what God wants about a certain matter, the Bible is always a good place to go.
Which brings us to our fourth character, John the Baptist.
The gospel of Luke, tells our beloved story of Christmas in the first four chapters gives us some ideas. And while we don’t find John hanging out in Nativity scenes or in CHristmas display windows, he certainly has a prominent place in this Christmas story found in the bible.
Last week, we talked about the birth of John--and he was a cute cuddly precious baby...this week.
Slide: John is a full grown man  
See, You know what he’s eating? When’s the last time he had a shower? (tried to find picture of Bouchard)
Not much sugarcoating with that fellow.
He’s a rough and ready guy who doesn’t mince words.

Yes, John’s role is to prepare the way of the Lord.
That’s the spiritual challenge we face in the Advent season—to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts and in our world. And, John like Rucker Charlie, and Grinch, is concerned about how his people--who he calls a Brood of Vipers--said in love, I’m sure-- are preparing for the very First Christmas.
Santa asks us what we want for Christmas. John tells us what God wants for Christmas.

Check it out:
After getting past the name calling
Slide:John warns his listeners:

“If you want to be ready to welcome the promised Messiah, you’ll have to make some radical changes in your lives. You’ll have to repent. You’ll have to reevaluate your priorities. You’ll have to stop dead in your tracks, turn your lives around and move in the opposite direction.”
Or else!

And People actually listen to this crazy man, not only do they listen, but they take him seriously and seem pretty worried.
And so, we get a wonderful litany of questions.  

Slide: First, from the crowds--so that’s anybody:

Uh, John, can you be a little more specific?

“What exactly do you want us to do?”

Slide: John says to the crowds, I’m so glad you asked:

“The person with two shirts and plenty to eat must share with those who have none.”

Yikes, John’s getting up close and personal, checking out our closets and pantries.
What if we have 20 shirts? Do we still have to share?
Are we just talking shirts here or do pants and shoes count?

For John, two shirts was more than enough, especially in the face of someone not having even one.  

Slide: the tax collectors, tax collectors! Come to him and ask, What should we do?

I’m so glad you asked:

Do not collect from the people more than they owe!

Ha! Simple enough.

That’s a little easier to swallow...i mean no one wants the IRS to collect from us more than we owe...
Tax collectors were notorious for taking more than was owed to the state.
They took their cut
But, What happens when, billionaire Warren Buffett says he pays less in taxes than his secretary….maybe this gets into tax structure and how much people should owe....
What does Buffett know anyway :)
Besides the government and how it uses tax dollars...sorry..

Moving on. Next!

Slide:  Even Soldiers, even soldiers!
come to the Baptist and ask, what about us.
And to soldiers, he said: I'm glad you asked,

"Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

That’s reasonable enough…
I was with a friend yesterday--who did a tour in Iraq as an officer--and he told me a major emphasis in their training of Iraqi soldiers was to discourage this type of behavior, which is common in societies all over the world.  
Abuse of power for financial profiting
when in a position of power and there is little oversight, there is great temptation to take advantage of people.
--mordida is the word in Mexico--want to say it, Mordida. No mas mordidas
And, I suppose this could go for anyone in a position of authority, tempted to give themselves a raise.
Politicians, who so often end up with greasy palms and it’s not from the fried chicken.
Police officers, who find a little cash stash after a bust, and slip some in their pockets…[or worse in light of tragic serial abuse by former police officer.]

Preachers, who demand more tithes and offerings…”You will be blessed!”
There I go again getting off track. I’m bad about that! the way, has everyone gotten the pledge cards in?

Oh, John...who is this trouble maker anyway….?

So, from all that, do we have a better sense of What God wants for Christmas?
Of how to prepare our hearts for the coming messiah?

SLIDE: Really, if we sum it up, John’s notion doesn’t look that bad.

Be compassionate, fair, and honest with one another.  

That’s a good Christmas message!
And at the heart of it, it seems to be about relationships, ending patterns of living which lead to division, and living in a way that leads to reconciliation and peace.
Because John is preparing the way for the Prince of Peace.

John is calling the people to do simple things, that will bring folks together, to help the prince of peace reign over a kingdom of peace.

Be compassionate, fair, and honest with one another.  

that’s what God wants for Christmas..for people to come together in peace.

We see this message throughout Luke’s Christmas story:

We have the song of Mary--the Magnificat--her response when the angel tells her she would give birth to the Christ:

God puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.

In doing so, people come together.

The angels strike a similar chord to the shepherds:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all…

yes, coming together in good will even to Muslims.

Even Jesus gets in on this Christmas cheer in his first sermon at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth:

The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and liberty for the oppressed.

Bringing people who were nobodies together with the somebodies.

Slide: santa
Christmas helps to imagine a fanciful world….

Which can be nice when we see so much division:

So much division in our presidential campaigns,
statements from candidates who say they long to be public servants, but spend most of their time not talking about how they would serve, but, instead, how bad the other candidates are.
In Washington, partisanship usurps patriotism.
Turn the news to the next page, and what do we find? More division:
threats and violence and fear about ISIS and al Qaeda and North Korea and Yemen and Iran and thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum from the terrors of their own nation, and nations states wringing their hands about how to respond.
In our own country we observe seemingly increasing divisions between blacks, whites, and Latinos---
between minorities and law enforcement,
between the straight community and the LGBT community,
between the haves and the have nots.
We see widespread abuse of the vulnerable, both the very young and the very old.

It can feel a little overwhelming! Who are we in the face of such divisions and difficulty?
Do we even dare ask, like the crowd, what can we do?
What can we do?
Well, who was John--a poor country boy.
Who was Mary--a poor country girl.
Who were the shepherds.....
They were people who sought after what God wanted for CHristmas.
Who are we? What is the church?

There is a voice calling in the wilderness to you and me, inspiring us to seek what God wants for Christmas,
to prepare for that Someone who comes to inspires us to live with compassion, fairness, and honesty, person by person, encounter by encounter, until at last this old world may well become new. Amen.

Hymn - Prepare the Way


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