Advent Series: Are You Ready For Christmas?
12-02-18 Be Open To … Surprises Luke 1:26-38 Audio Blog Slides
Input sound file: Audio 12 02 2018.mp3
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. The Christian church, throughout its history, has had seasons for us to focus on certain spiritual themes. The purpose of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas, the purpose of Advent is for us to get ready for Christmas. It’s not Christmas. It’s to get ready for Christmas. Dictionary says this, “Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.” Jesus is coming into our world. That changes everything. We need to get ready. Treasures come out. We all have particular and special decorations that are a part of our Christmas. And that has caused us to have a perspective. Remember we’ve been talking about our worldview, our perspective, for several weeks now. We have a perspective about what it means to have the perfect Christmas. And the Christmas we get ready for is the Christmas that matches our perspective.
What is a perfect Christmas for you? For a lot of us, the external things become very important. The house needs to be clean. The table is set just so because family are coming to us or we are going to family and everything needs to be exactly right. Even though your husband thinks that there’s nothing much better than a bag of Oreos, you have to make umpty dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies. And it may be okay for two or three to look the same, but all the rest of them have to be completely different. 13 different kinds of cookies. That’s perfect for some people. That’s part of their getting ready for Christmas. That’s how they perceive it. And I found this picture. And to me, it just symbolized everything that is not me. Imagine all the work that it takes to make this perfect little dessert, center it in this gold-plated dishes with that whipped cream on top, put there just so, but then, just a little to the side, almost like a hat. That’s a lot of work. But for some people, that says Christmas. That’s what they love. That’s their perspective. And so when somebody asks you, “Are you ready for Christmas?” You immediately think of all the things you have to do and probably because we set our standards way too high for ourselves. You think of all the things that you need to do that you haven’t been able to get done just quite yet. Are you ready for Christmas? Certain things are a part of getting ready for Christmas around here. But for me, that kind of Christmas, that sort of planning for perfect Christmas, there’s just something missing and it dawned on me this week that what is missing so often in our preparation for Christmas are the people. At the first Christmas, there were not golden plates with little desserts on them. But there were people. And so I think there’s two different kinds of Christmas. One is making the world Christmas beautiful. It’s external. But the other one is to get our hearts ready for Christmas, and that has to do with emotions, and emotions, have to do with feelings that we have about other people. And I love to tell you, when you have everything in your house just perfectly organized, the 13 dozen kinds of cookies, the spices alphabetized, the children come and mess everything up. Have you noticed that?
Children are like that. It is a gift that they bring us [inaudible] to just remind us that the world is not orderly the way adults sometimes think it should be. Now, 2000 years ago, I want you to understand that marriage customs in Judea were very different than ours. I want you to know that Mary, in her betrothal to Joseph, her understanding of marriage, their customs were so totally different from ours, you would not in any way, honestly, recognize any similarities. But if the Virgin Mary was a girl living today, her imagination and her plans would be probably something like this, like the cover of this bridal magazine. She’d be spending all of her day thinking and planning about the perfect wedding and the perfect married life and where to go on the honeymoon, and of course, the wedding, that’s when the fun begins. She’d be worried and read the article 12 Ways to Stress-proof Your Wedding Day, and of course, you all know that all happy couples are registered at Target [laughter]. And this is what Mary would be thinking and planning if she was a girl today.
But you know something? God opened the door to a surprise and He interrupted her plans and He interfered with her plans. And in fact, He took her whole world and turned it upside down because this is what she was expecting. She had no idea that it would be this kind of expecting. But an angel appears and says to her, “Mary, you’re going to to have a baby,” and she goes, “But I’m not married. I don’t have a husband.” “It’s something God’s going to do,” the angel says. This is not what Mary was expecting. On the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin, a young girl betrothed to a man whose was Joseph of the House of David and the virgin’s name was Mary. What this meant was is that there was a marriage, probably, an arranged marriage between Mary’s family and Joseph’s family and because they were engaged, it was like a legal contract. They were married but the wedding had not yet taken place. And all of a sudden, an angel appears and makes this announcement to her. How could she get ready for this? The only way you could be ready for this is to have a perspective that says, “I want to be open to surprises, and I’m willing to let God bring me surprises.” The rest of the conversation between Mary and the angel is printed on the back of your bulletin, but let’s move on to where Mary tells the angel whether she is ready to do what God wants her to do. Verse 37, the angel says, “For with God, nothing will be impossible,” and Mary said– please read these words with me? And Mary said, “Behold. I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” On the sign in front of the Church, it says, “Our to-do list is God’s will be done.” This is another way to say that same thing. Mary says to God, “Thy will be done.” And all her plans are turned upside down. And everything she was expecting turns out to be entirely different.
Christmas and when we get ready for Christmas, what we’re getting ready for is the Christian doctrine of what’s called incarnation. The Greek Orthodox Church has a word for it, they call it Theotokos. That Mary is the one who is going to bear God. God is coming into the world, but first lives inside of Mary, and then is born to become Jesus Christ so that we all might live, we all might be forgiven, we all might walk in newness of life. But notice the pattern. It first takes place inside a person, and then what’s inside of that person, Mary, is born and blesses everyone else. You’ll hear this theme over and over again in all the Christmas hymns, but it’s subtle. If you aren’t looking for it, you might miss it. A Little Town of Bethlehem puts it this way, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given, Jesus is born.” And then the point is made, “So God imparts the human hearts, the blessing of his [inaudible].” No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, friends we are still in a world of sin. Where meek souls will receive him, still 2000 years later, still, still the dear Christ enters in. You see, the meaning of Christmas is not just that Jesus came into Mary’s body, but it’s the desire and will of God that Jesus comes into your heart and my heart. Still, the dear Christ enters. Oh, Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin, and enter in. Be born in us today. Not just born in Marry 2,000 years ago, not just born in a stable 2,000 years ago, but born in us, living in us. Born in us to come out from us. You see, what Marry experienced in the first Christmas is a symbol of what each one of us experiences when Jesus comes into our heart. He’s not there to stay. He’s there to be born into our world. We hear the Christmas angels, the great, glad tidings tell. Oh, come to us, abide with us our Lord, Emanuel. That word Emanuel means God with us.
This is a very different Christmas from the Christmas that’s about pretty garlands and Christmas trees. Are you ready for Christmas to come to your heart? Are you ready for Jesus to live within your heart? Are you ready for Jesus to be born so as to minister to the whole world around? This doesn’t just happen in Bethlehem. This is supposed to happen today. This is supposed to happen in our neighborhoods for Jesus to be born and to be alive. Well, that is an interruption. That is an interference. That sort of Christmas can turn our whole world upside down. But when you look around you at the heartbreak and the misery, at what your neighbors are going through, it’s not a bad thing for this world to be turned upside down and God side up if we let Jesus be born in us.
So keep working on the perfect Christmas. Keep working on the perfect tree. There’s always one person here who loves the idea that their tree is prettier than anyone else’s. I hope you get your wish. But work on the Christmas of the heart because if you open up yourself to surprises, if you open up yourself to be willing to God doing something, things will not happen as you expect. God will interfere. God will interrupt, and he’ll interrupt in the form of that person who wants to drag your attention away from the tinsel and the tree. Sometimes, though, you’ve still got to do that. But God will interfere with the way you want things to be. Trust God. Let go of your plans and expectations. And let God help people through you. I would like you to know that on Saturdays, I like to spend the whole day quietly looking over the sermon. I had a committee meeting in Mount Vernon. I was down there until 2:00, came home, stopped by to visit Shirley and pray with her, came home. And my beloved wife said, very sweetly and kindly, “You’re going to come with me on the trip.” And I said, “But the sermon’s not long enough.” That’s what I always say about Saturday. I need that time to think because the sermon’s not long enough. Friends, this time, I’m serious. It really wasn’t long enough.
But the trip turned out to be a beautiful example of God interfering with my plans. And I need to tell you Kim needs to do this. Maybe you’ll do it in by the coffee. But you have not lived until you’re sitting in the front seat of the bus and you find out how happy it makes little girls to see pink pigs and Christmas lights. Because we’re coming up and the pink pigs come into view. And Kim is sort of like the color announcer on the football games. She goes, “And to our left are the pink pigs.” And out of the back seat immediately I hear this chorus of little girl voices yelling, “Take a picture! Take a picture!” Well, it’s the best I could do. It doesn’t look like much. So here’s the whole lesson. I guess you kind of had to be there. But God will interfere in your plans and give you a joy that you would not have realized if you weren’t open to letting surprises happen. Oh, and the surprises just kept on continuing. There was this whole Christmas store. And I thought to myself, “Well, I’m going to go in there and see what kind of miracles are going to happen.” Well, I went in there and the first thing I saw is there were 10,000 places to go shopping. And I said to myself, “That is not a miracle to me.” And then I looked around and every girl was gone. I don’t know if I mentioned I was the only guy. All the women, they were gone. And I said, “Okay, God. What’s in this for me?”
And then I saw the rocking chair. And I sat there and I said, “Lord, thank you for this rocking chair. This is so wonderful.” And then I saw the guitar player. This young man was amazing. My wife came up to me and she had some chips and queso. And she said, “I was going to buy you a cinnamon roll, but they’re $4 and I didn’t have $4. And so I bought these. Would you like one?” And I said, “No.” And then, I ate two of them anyway. You need to be open to surprises. And then, another miracle happened. I said to her, “Would you like some more money?” And she said, “No.” And then, another miracle happened. My second favorite cookie in the world appeared because apparently, she did have a dollar left. And she brought me these no-bake oatmeal cookies. They were really good. And then another miracle happened. She came back and asked for $20. So now, we have something called an infinity lamp. I have no idea what that is. But I suppose I’ll find out because, if I’m open to surprises, God will bring beautiful surprises into my life. And sure enough, the sermon turned out to be long enough.
So here’s the lesson that the Virgin Mary has for us. If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. But don’t forget this. God also has a plan, and His plan is for you to be the means by which the whole world will be blessed. Well, if not the whole world, the people in your neighborhood. Because it’s very possible that the Jesus Christ who was born into your heart will be born and come into your neighborhood. And you will be a Christ-bearer to the people around you. But here’s the thing for us to keep in mind. Your opportunity to be the one who brings Christ to someone else will look like an interruption to your plans. Your opportunity to pray for someone in a way to where Jesus Christ becomes real to them will look like that person interfering in your life. Be willing to let God open the door to surprises. And be willing to let that person who gets in your way when you have something that you think is better to do, be willing to let a little bit of Jesus flow from you into them because I guarantee you they’re going to need it in this Christmas season.
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, Christmas is a sign of stress. It is a time of difficulty. We can’t get everything done because our worldview says that we have to do all these things. But Lord, you have a different perspective. To you, the broken heart of the person who’s going to get in our way tomorrow, that is our chance for Christmas to flow from our hearts into their heart and for them to find faith in Jesus Christ as a reason for all of life to change. And so, Lord, if it’s Your will that we be like a Mary to someone else, Lord, may Jesus Christ be in us and flow through us to test our lives. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen. Let’s sing.
No, let’s not. I keep doing that. Surprise.
The photo …
This post is based on the sermon “___” from the sermon series “___”
*date*, at Kinmundy United Methodist Church.
Slides and audio for this message can be downloaded from http://www.disciplewalk.com/K_Sermons_June_2018.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.