Unwrapping Christmas #1
How many of you remember playing hide and seek? Remember how you would cover your eyes and count? Then you would speak those immortal words: “Ready or not, here I come.”
If you hadn’t found a good hiding place, there was a sense of panic. And if you were hiding there was that sense of anticipation. Well, that’s the same kind of feeling we get this time of year. We can almost hear the voice of Christmas shouting to us, “Ready or not, here I come.”
The next few weeks will be filled with so much activity; all the parties, the shopping, the visits to Santa, putting up the tree, the lights, searching for the right gift for all of our loved ones. And then once you’ve found the perfect gift; wrapping that Perfect gift. We go through all of this as Christmas rushes closer and closer. It’s that time of year again.
Christmas is around the corner and this is the season of preparation we call Advent. And boy do we need this time of preparation. Christmas demands preparation. Preparation, not just of our home and our Christmas list, but of our hearts and our families; so, that we don’t miss the true meaning of this season.
And so we begin that preparation today as we start a new series titled “Unwrapping Christmas.” Let’s look at the passage for this morning: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
I. THE GIFT:
According to the Joyful Noiseletter, a department store Santa Claus asked a little boy sitting on his lap: “What would you like me to bring you for Christmas?” Horror stricken the little boy said, “Don’t tell me you didn’t get my e-mail!”
We all know how he felt don’t we? We all have our lists and lists that others have given us. And this isn’t the time of year to be losing those lists is it? Because we want to get the perfect gift and we want to give the perfect gift. There’s a great scene in the movie “The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause” which illustrates just how important and life changing the Perfect Gift can be.
If you’ve not seen The Santa Clause or any of its sequels, Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin. Through a series of events, he has become Santa Clause. He loves the job but after eight years discovers he has to be married in order to keep the job and he goes off in search of a wife. He meets his son’s School Principal, Carol Newman, and the inevitable happens. During one scene, she has invited Scott to the Faculty Christmas party. But the party feels like a funeral. No one wants to be there. But then Scott does something that changes everything. He excuses himself, steps up on the stage, and pulls back the curtain revealing a Christmas tree. Scott takes a microphone and gets everyone’s attention, trying to liven up the party by “say the one word we’ve all been longing to hear — ‘FIRE'”
He means it as a joke — as in “anything to get out of here” — but the crowd is so dead they just stare at him. He tells them that he thinks that they have forgotten “the true spirit of Christmas.” He tells them, “I mean if you’re not willing to dance, laugh, flirt, or risk your lives at the buffet, I don’t think we have much choice.”
He says that they are going to have Secret Santa. Carol rushes up and says that they haven’t planned that, but Scott tells her that there is a big bag of gifts backstage. Then he goes back and pulls out an enormous velvet bag stuffed with presents. He calls out, “What’s in here. Look at this. It…ooh, it’s very heavy.” He reads the name on the card, “John Pierce. Doesn’t your mom call you J.J.? Merry Christmas, J.J.”
John approaches the stage reluctantly to take the present, but when he opens it, his eyes light up. It is a game he loved in his youth — Toss Across — but he says he never told anyone. Smiling he asks, “Who did this?”
From the stage, Scott calls out, “Grace Kim.” Suddenly the room is filled with expectation as Grace comes forward to claim her gift. One after the other, everyone gets a present, and it is exactly what is needed to help them remember the excitement they felt as children at Christmas. The party bursts into life as the people relearn the joy of play.
It’s amazing what The Perfect Gift can do, isn’t it. And that’s what we want. The Perfect Gift. We want to give it and we want to receive it, too. The truth is that while we are out shopping for and wrapping the Perfect Gift for our loved ones, God is trying to use this season of Advent to unwrap and reveal His Perfect Gift to us.
II. THE ELUSIVENESS:
But have you ever noticed just how elusive the Christmas spirit is some years? I think there’s always a moment when Christmas truly breaks in, at least for me; a moment when the reality of Christmas and what God has given us or the reality of the incarnation is made visible through something or someone.
It might be a Card, it might be a gift, it might be a story, a movie, a look from a child, someone offering a hand or doing some kind deed.
For me, those are the perfect gifts from God to enable us to receive THE perfect gift; which for us came wrapped in swaddling clothes.
But I also think it has become increasingly easier to lose this gift under the huge pile of worldly trappings we’ve added to the season. And that’s why the Christmas spirit is so elusive.
You see, this is a season when we try to figure out “Why?” Why, God still loves us so much. And it’s the season to rejoice in the almost incomprehensible fact that God DOES still love us. And yet, we still wonder why?
I mean, just look at how we’ve treated each other and the world. The vitriolic rhetoric that goes on in the name of politics and the public good is asinine and has reached the point of being anything but Christian as each party tries to convince their followers how Christian they are and how much better the country will be run with them in power. Then come the beginning of the new term and nothing really changes except the names and whose side is in charge. Nothing of really seems to get done. And the wedge that has been driven into what unites us only gets driven deeper.
It’s no longer Herod and Philip and Caesar. It’s our own political leaders, corporate presidents, boards and agencies; it’s greed and who knows what else. We’ve opted to let other sources tell us what to believe rather than digging into the issues ourselves. We claim to be a Christian Nation, demand that the 10 Commandments be displayed in our courthouses and prayer offered in our schools and yet, according to a recent survey, Muslims, Jews and Atheists know more about our faith, more about Christian history and more about our Bible than we do.
And in spite of all of that and more, God still loves. God still thinks there’s hope. God still tries to break in to our lives and into our world in subtle quiet ways.
Sometimes, sometimes out of the clear blue, it hits us. The smile of a child, the refrain of a hymn, the smell of the crisp air or a Christmas tree brings us back to the stable; a cave really, out of the wind, away from the crowds, smelling of hay and straw and dung. And suddenly, it hits us and we understand why.
In that brief moment we understand Christmas. We get “Why” God still loves us, sinners as we are, fallen, hopeless, lost like sheep, bleating our hearts out in fear because life is going by so rapidly and everything is changing faster than we can blink an eye.
Into all the cacophony and confusion of life comes Christmas with its simple message of hope; a message of hope in the flesh. Flesh and blood. One of us.
So we gather like poor shepherds, stunned and awed and afraid all at the same time. We gather like shepherds, hats in our hands, shuffling our feet, ill at ease in the presence of royalty. But we gather.
We gather because lying in the hay; lying there in the manger, because there was no room in the crowded Inn, is the Son of God. And we’re hoping beyond hope for just one glimpse, one little peek of the promise offered to us, the promise made flesh. Why? Because that one little glimpse, that one small taste of hope can feed our faith and lift our spirits for an entire year.
And the Good News is that it seems no matter what we do to it, God’s Perfect Gift of Christmas can’t and won’t be destroyed. The grace of this season always seems to penetrate the layers upon layers of veneer and wrapping paper we bury it in every year.
The Angels and John the Baptist all cup their hands over their mouths, and shout the Good News, hoping beyond hope that somehow, somewhere, their message of great joy and hope and salvation for the world will be heard above all the sounds of our celebrations. And break through all the layers of sentimental veneer and wrapping paper we’ve covered it with so we can hear and experience the wonder of the simple story once again.
Not only is it hard to hear but we’ve heard it so often that the minute we hear the first words of the story our mind switches to automatic pilot mode and says: “Oh, I know that story. I know how it starts and how it finishes. I don’t really have to listen again.”
But it’s in that listening again, really listening, that God is able to break through; that the layers of wrapping paper, gloss and glitter fall away to reveal the truth and the beauty of this simple yet Perfect Gift from heaven.
We hustle about, running in haste, trying to find this elusive Christmas Spirit, looking in all the stores and under all the trees and in all the packages and the mounds of mail. WE want just one look, one taste, one deep breath so we can take in the fragrance of heaven once again. Why?
Because we know that this glimpse, the infant child wrapped in swaddling clothes, is the Perfect Gift, God’s Perfect Gift to a world in desperate need.
Don’t get so caught up in shopping for the perfect gift for others that you miss God Wrapping the Perfect Gift for you. You DO know this gift of the Christ Child is for You, don’t you? So many people don’t know that this “Shoot from the stump of Jesse upon whom the Spirit of God rests who stands as a signal to the peoples, whose belt is righteousness and faithfulness,” this Prefect Gift from God is for them and they leave it under the tree. They’re afraid to open it. They’re afraid that it’s mismarked and it will be taken away.
But it IS for YOU. Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes but God has been Wrapping The Perfect Gift from the beginning of time. Just for you.
All you have to do is open it. Don’t miss it. Hold it, hold Him, close to your heart. Prepare yourself and your family this Advent; for the Spirit of Christmas, this Perfect Gift from God could break in any moment now. Be ready. Be ready. It really is for you. All you have to do is Open it.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.