Unwrapping Christmas #3
Did you know that in the year 1247, a hospital was built in London called St. Mary Of Bethlehem. Two centuries later it was turned into a hospital for the insane. After that it became known for its noise and confusion. Over time, the name was shortened by usage to Bethlehem, kind of like saying Harris instead of Harris Methodist Hospital of Ft. Worth. Over time, even that name got shortened and run together until it was simply called BEDLAM. That’s the origin of our byword for confusion and noisiness. From BETHLEHEM to BEDLAM!
Kind of describes some of our Christmases past and present doesn’t it. Makes you wonder how the true spirit of this Holy event ever survived. I think it survived in part because of the character of the characters God chose to bring Salvation to a hurting world. Part of that character was the opposite of what Jesus would tell us was our Mission and Mission Statement, Go and Tell. These characters, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph kept Christmas Under Wraps. They kept the good news to themselves. Why? Let’s look at the passage for this morning. Luke 1:26-55 (NRSV)
 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
I. WHY THEM?:
A. Have you ever wondered why God chose Elizabeth and Zechariah or Mary and Joseph? We might understand a little of why Zechariah got chosen, he was a priest after all. But why Mary? Why Joseph? And why would God risk everything on a baby? One of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know?”
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.
Did Mary fully know? Did she understand who this baby was and He would be? Stop and think about it. This whole incarnation thing of sending God’s only Son as a baby, as one of us, was an “All In” bet. Why would God risk everything on one bet? It wasn’t a sure thing. The cards weren’t marked, there were still a few hands left to play. The adversary still thought and still thinks he won the hand when he really lost the game.
Stop and think about Mary. She was from a very small town and we all know about small towns. You know you’re in a small town when:
Your car breaks down outside of town and the news of it gets back to town before you do.
If you call a wrong number, they supply you with the correct one and you talk for 10 minutes before calling the right number.
You decide to walk somewhere for exercise and 5 people stop and ask if you need a ride.
The all night diner closes at 6 pm.
There’s no place to go that you shouldn’t.
Weekend excitement involves a trip to Walmart.
There are more people in the Fourth of July Parade than there are watching it.
Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth were all small town people. They had all the benefits and all the disappointments of small town life.
B. Look at Mary, insignificant, unmarried, innocent Mary. Joseph nearly broke off the engagement because of this pregnancy and the shame it brought.
Mary had to flee to her cousin’s house because tongues wagged. And the hometown crowd looked at her, shook their heads and gave her looks of scorn and ridicule.
But Mary had a secret, one she kept Under Wraps; one she might not have even shared with Joseph had the Angel not intervened and told Joseph the truth. Mary had a secret, a mystery really, held inside her, both physically and metaphorically.
And this mystery, while some may have thought was the object of Mary’s shame and ridicule, was actually the source of deep humility and that frightening exciting sense of being part of something so big you can’t even wrap your mind around it. And yet one day, Mary would wrap it in swaddling clothes.
But until then Mary kept Christmas Under Wraps, she kept it to herself, “and pondered all these things in her heart.”
Both Mary and Elizabeth were told to keep it under wraps, so to speak, and sometimes I think we have a tendency to emulate them. Holding this most precious of news, the news that God hasn’t given up on us, the news that God stepped out of heaven, put on the flesh and blood of our existence and lived among us, as one of us. We emulate them by not telling anyone.
But the truth is, we have to remember to grow up with Jesus and connect the dots of his life, death and resurrection with his birth. Every moment of his life has world changing, life giving meaning. And that’s not something to keep under wraps. It WAS for a season. It WAS for Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth because it was part of God’s plan for that moment.
But it isn’t any more because just before Jesus ascended to make sure there was room in God’s Inn for each of us, He instructed us to “Go into all the world proclaiming the good news.” He didn’t want and doesn’t want us to keep the Good News of Christmas, the Good News of Christ Under Wraps anymore. It’s time to shout it from the rooftops.
Now is the time to shout our joy like Scrooge on Christmas morning after all the ghostly visits in the night. Because our world and each of us, has been given a 2nd chance. God has changed our lives through Christ, and now, we can change the world.
II. NOW US:
A. It’s true you know. And it all begins with a simple “Yes.” That’s what set Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth apart. They said “Yes” to God and through that “Yes” they changed the world, because through them, through their obedience and willingness to be used by God, Jesus was born. And that changed everything because Jesus changed the world.
It’s amazing what one simple “Yes” can do. WATCH
Heifer International started out as a dream to change lives through livestock. In the midst of ladling milk to hungry children, Dan West, a Church of the Brethren relief worker thought, “These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow.” And that’s how it started. And 65 years later it is still changing lives and changing the world.
B. In the near future we have the opportunity to Change the World, actually we have the opportunity every single day was we say “Yes” to God, seek to reflect His glory in our lives, in our marriages, in how we raise our children, in how we treat our neighbors, in how we treat our enemies. But we have some practical ways to change the world, too.
First: Today, as you leave the church, buy cookies from the youth group. They’re raising money for World Vision to purchase a bicycle for a little girl to be able to ride back and forth to school. Be generous, if they run out of cookies, buy some phantom cookies, they’ll have a whole lot less calories and you’ll still get the benefit of doing something that will help change one life. And nobody knows who that little girl might grow up to be.
Second: On Christmas Eve our offerings will NOT be going to the budget. We still need your regular offerings so don’t bring those Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve our offerings will be going to two places: half will stay here and given to the Ministerial Fellowship Aid Fund to help families in need in Somervell County. The other half will be going to support Gaston Nkulu Ntambo, a pilot and mechanic for Wings of the Morning Aviation Ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo providing emergency transportation in hard to reach places.
Third: On February 26 you can help change the world by volunteering in our District’s One Great Day of Mission. We’ll be the host congregation for this areas’ work team. We will host the closing worship service and be the place to embark as we work in the area to make a difference in peoples’ lives. It may just be manual labor, cleaning up, fixing up, making a difference at the camp. Only God knows where that will lead or who it will touch.
Fourth: In March, our local Christmas in Action will be taking place on March 26th.
Fifth: On May 14 – 15th You can join with United Methodists around the world to Change the World. It may be a project to raise money to help eradicate Malaria, it may be more work days in yards and homes, it could be a bake sale to fight AIDS, the sky is the limit but we can join the more than 100,000 who volunteered last year and Change the World.
All by doing exactly what Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth did; by saying “Yes!”
I remember a story told by another pastor about their lighting of the Advent Candles. They had just lit one of the candles and he was attempting to explain about the shepherds being the first to hear of Jesus’ birth. He asked the kids: “Who was the first to know Jesus was born?” One of the little girls popped up and said, “Oh I know, it was Mary!”
It WAS Mary who set the tone for our response to Jesus. It was her initial “Yes” to God which set it all in motion and allowed God to change the world from the inside out. That process is still going on today through US. The time for keeping Christmas Under Wraps is long gone. Let this season be a season in which you say “Yes” to God like Mary, so the Good News of God’s Saving Work is spread throughout the world.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.