December 2, 2007
First Sunday of Advent
"The Guest List"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
I remember an old FAMILY CIRCUS cartoon, Dolly was sitting with her baby brother on her lap and was telling him the story of Christmas. It was something like this: "Jesus was born just in time for Christmas up at the North Pole surrounded by 8 tiny reindeer and the Virgin Mary. Then Santa Claus showed up with lots of toys and stuff and some swaddling clothes. The 3 wise men and elves all sang carols while the Little Drummer Boy and Scrooge helped Joseph trim the tree. In the meantime, Frosty the Snowman saw this star...."
That was quite a Guest List Dolly dreamed up wasn't it? At Christmas we all start making our lists and checking them twice. We get out the Christmas Card list and update all the addresses and decide to whom we're going to send cards and who we're going to take off the list. We start planning Christmas dinner or the Christmas family gatherings and start looking at the Guest List of who's going to be there. And the ones hope won't show up because nobody really wants them to be there. (It might not be right, but we all have those lists in our heads, don't we?)
I got to thinking about those Guests Lists. And I got to thinking about the first Christmas and who was on that Guest List. We get a clue from the Gospel of Luke:
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The shepherds probably on anybody else's Guest List except God's. They just didn't fit into society that well. At one time they were very respected but over the years their reputation had plummeted until they were looked on like Gypsies. And yet, here they are at the top of God's Guest List. Not only were they invited, they got the gold plated invitation and the Red Carpet treatment.
A. If you compare God's Guest List with our guest list, you'll notice that we don't always have the same people on it as God. We heard that list when we heard the words of Isaiah. God complied that very first Christmas Party Guest List long before the actual event. God had Isaiah and the other prophets proclaim the Good News of who was invited. Do you remember what God said through Isaiah: [1-2] The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
That's not exactly the folks who are on our Lists is it? The folks on God's list make most of us uncomfortable. And yet, sometimes, God moves through those people to break down the walls and barriers that separate us.
B. Hugh Hildesby, rector of the Church of Heavenly Rest says one of his parishioners is an angel. His name is Phil, and he is a street person, what used to be called a bum. Phil refuses to stay in a shelter. He sleeps in doorways and maintains a careful routine covering his neighborhood in daytime, or when the weather is cold, he sits in the church. He's filthy. He dresses in rags. He never washes. He smells. He talks to himself, muttering as he plods along.
A few years ago about a week before Christmas, the church held a Christmas party after the service, and the parishioners were in back with cookies and coffee, when all of a sudden, out of the church rose a magnificent voice, singing, "O Holy Night." It was a trained professional voice, radically beautiful, and everyone listened, awestruck, then rushed into the Sanctuary to see who was there. Rev. Hildesby said, "It was Phil and God." (6)
The Bible says that sometimes we entertain angels unawares. Maybe Phil was one of those angels. I don't know but at Christmas we're reminded to treat everyone with dignity and love. Who knows who might be an angel in disguise? We're called to treat every person as if they were Jesus. You see, they just might be one of those people on God's Guest List.
A. That very first Christmas party wasn't a somber event. The Shepherds came. And Mary and Joseph celebrated. And there was music at the Party. The Angels sang.
Today the music of the party is drowned out with advertising jingles, secular songs, the sound of cash registers and the empty promise of "Buy more stuff and then you'll be happy." The true sounds and music of Christmas are being drowned out by the world. And sometimes we get to feeling like we're just not doing any good. So why keep singing if nobody is listening?
William P. Barker tells about attending a Christmas party in a crippled children's hospital. Fred Rogers and his pianist, Johnny Costa, were entertaining the children. One little boy who was suffering from cerebral palsy asked to sing a carol. The child's speech was halting and uncertain.
When he began to sing "Silent Night," the sound was wavering and halting. The boy not only had difficult in framing the words for the carol, but shifted key on every note. As he began painfully to meander through "Silent Night," the rendition was so impossibly bad that nearly everyone shuddered and tried to shut out the discordant sounds.
Johnny Costa, however, quietly began to provided background music for the little boy's solo. On the portable organ, Costa wove beautiful chords with each note the child sang, and no matter how off-key the line was, brought beauty and harmony into the child's singing. Costa seemed to anticipate where the little boy's next croak would be on the scale and worked the boy's note into one of the loveliest performances of "Silent Night." (2)
B. A lot of what we see and hear during the world's Christmas frenzy is like that little boy's solo, discordant, wavering and off key but as the Church, we're like Johnny Costa, we weave the beautiful chords of the Songs of Heaven quietly in the background. Were it not for us and our music, all the world would hear is the uncertain croaking of the barkers selling their wares in the circus they've made of Christmas.
You and I are called to be the music in the background that allows the world to hear the true message of Christmas. The message that tells us that the party God is throwing doesn't require us to bring any presents. Instead, when we come, we receive the greatest gift of all. We're called to keep singing because at some point in time, there's a moment of silence or quiet. The cash registers quit ringing. The crowds have all gone home. The doors to the stores are locked and silence blankets the world. And then, the beautiful strains of music can be heard.
In the comic FOR BETTER OR WORSE, little Elizabeth is sitting near the Christmas tree, looking at the neatly wrapped gifts. Her father says, "Elizabeth, it's too early to open anything yet."
Elizabeth replies, "I know. I was just thinking about all the kids who don't have presents to wake up to. I was thinking about kids in the hospital, kids who are lonely . . . I was just thinking how lucky I am." Then she pauses, looks up, and says, "Christmas is Jesus' birthday, isn't it, Daddy. I wish I could give him something."
Dad smiles, gives her a big hug and says, "Honey, you already have!"
You and I have been invited to the greatest party of all, not only that but we've also been asked to help host the party. We're in charge of refreshment for the soul, offering the water of life and the milk of human kindness.
We're in charge of all the aspects of the Christmas Party here on earth except one. The Guest List. The Guest List is solely in the hands of God, Who announced it through the prophets and then turned it over to Jesus.
We're called to make sure OUR Guest List coincides with God's Guest List. We're called to be ready to welcome God's Guests to the Party because God has given us the best gift possible, His Son. When we have done that, when we welcome the folks on God's Guest list, then we're offering God the best gift of all. And the music of heaven, the music of that first Christmas will heard even above the noise of the world. And once again the music of heaven will become flesh and blood in our hearts.
1. Sophy Burnham, A BOOK OF ANGELS (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), pp. 196-197.
2. TARBELLS' TEACHER'S GUIDE, Frank S. Meade and William P Barker, ed. (Old Tappan, NJ, 1983).
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