Unwrapping Christmas #5
I read a story about a little boy who was really mean and disobedient and extremely selfish. No matter what his parents tried, he continued to be self-centered, selfish and – well – mean.
Christmas was coming soon, so the little boy, in his usual selfish way, made his “Dear Santa” letter – twelve pages of gadgets and toys!
When his parents saw the monstrous letter, they were outraged. The father picked up the little boy and carried him to the living room, setting him firmly on the floor in front of the family’s nativity scene. “I want you to sit right here and look at this scene until you remember what Christmas is all about. Then I want you to write a letter to Jesus.”
So, the little boy sat there for awhile and then returned to his bedroom. Finding paper and pencil, he begins to write: “Dear Jesus, if you will bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole year.”
When he was finished he reads it again and then tears up the paper. He writes again: “Dear Jesus, if you will bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole week,” but once again he tears up the paper.
The little boy quietly leaves his room and returns to the living room, looking intently at the nativity scene. He gently reaches down and picks up the figure of Mary. Returning to his room, he places the figure in a shoe box and sets the box in the back of his closet.
And then he writes another letter: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
There have been times in my ministry when I’ve felt like that little boy kidnapped Christmas or that Christmas was being held hostage by the consumerism of the world invading our lives. But even when I’ve felt like that, this night, this Holy night, melts my heart with it’s simple message of hope and grace and love born and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Tonight I want to look at that simplicity as we Wrap Up Christmas.
SCRIPTURE Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
 All went to their own towns to be registered.
 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
 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.
I. A SIMPLE MESSAGE:
A. Years ago I read a story, I think it was by Norman Vincent Peale about a father of four who found himself with the chore of watching the kids while mom did some Christmas shopping. Dad’s idea of baby-sitting was to sit and read the paper and let the kids do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t bother him.
All of a sudden, the oldest daughter came bursting into the room and said, “Daddy, we have a play to put on. Do you want to see it”?
He didn’t .But that was beside the point, so he followed the kids into the family room. Right away he knew it was going to be a Christmas play because at the foot of the piano stool was a lighted flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a shoe box.
Rex (age 6) came in wearing Dad’s bathrobe, with a towel draped over his head and carrying a mop handle. He sat on the stool and looked at the flashlight.
Nancy (age 10) with a sheet draped over her head and all around like a shawl, stood behind Rex and began, “I’m Mary and this boy is Joseph. Usually in this play Joseph stands up and Mary sits down. But Mary sitting down is taller than Joseph standing up so we thought it looked better this way.”
Then Trudy (age 4) entered at a full run. She never has learned to walk. There was a pillowcase draped over her each arm. She spread them wide and said only, “I’m an angel.”
Then came Anne (age 8). Dad knew right away she represented a wise man. In the first place she moved like she was riding a camel. She had on a pair of her mother’s high heels. And she was bedecked with all the jewelry available. On a pillow she carried three items, obviously the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
She undulated across the room, bowed to the flashlight, to Mary, to Joseph, to the angel, and then to Dad and announced, “I’m all the wise men. I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance and mud.”
That was all. The play was over. Dad didn’t laugh because, even though Anne got the words wrong but she got the intent right. And really she got the message right, too. If you stop and think about it, gold, circumstance and mud are very precious gifts.
B. GOLD, CIRCUMSTANCE AND MUD
1. GOLD: This is the season of gifts, isn’t it? And while our gift giving might reflect the tradition of the Wise Men bringing gifts to this new born king, God sent God’s greatest gift of all, Jesus, more precious than Gold. This child, whose birth we celebrate tonight, is the most precious gift of all. And God sent this gift to each and every one of us.
2. CIRCUMSTANCE Jesus most definitely entered our circumstance. He became one of us. Because of that we discover if we can’t find God in the routine of home and work, then we probably won’t find God at all. That’s what circumstance means. Naturally God is present in the special and spectacular. But the Good News is that God is present in a father who forgot to make a reservation at Day’s Inn, and mother with a bawling baby and dirty diapers on her hands. God is present in that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Sandra Verhagen writes, “Part of my job as a public-health nurse was to teach new parents how to care for their infants. As I was demonstrating how to wrap a newborn, a young Asian couple turned to me and said, ‘You mean we should wrap the baby like an egg roll?’
‘Why yes,’ I replied, ‘that’s a good analogy.’
‘I don’t know how to make egg rolls,’ another mother asked anxiously, ‘Can I wrap mine like a burrito?’”
God is present in the ordinary, nitty-gritty burdensome agonies of life in this world. That’s what Circumstance means.
3. MUD That’s the easy one. Jesus not only entered into our Circumstance but He put on the flesh and blood of our existence. He entered into the very sinfulness of our lives.
A little boy was saying the Lord’s Prayer one night as he was preparing for bed. It was only a couple of days until Christmas and it became obvious what was really on his mind when his mother heard him pray: “And forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
We do that don’t we? Sometimes we inflict Christmas on others.
That’s the way we are. Without the help of Christ, without the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we find ourselves on a spiraling slide going downhill very fast.
That’s why Jesus entered into the Mud of our sinfulness. So that we could not only do better but be better through and because of Him and His love for us.
II. A SIMPLE LOVE:
A. One of the greatest messages of this night is that although we try to complicate God’s love and grace by setting up systems of qualification, God’s love is still very Simple. We could sing one song that express the depth of that love and the simplicity of that love it would be “Jesus loves me.” Sing with me. (This is the participatory part of the sermon) Sing along. Sing like you mean it.
B. That’s how simple God’s love for us is. God loves us. That’s it, end of story, no mas, fini, all in. God loves us plain and simple. And all we have to do is accept that love and then return that love for God by living as Jesus taught. And the incredible news is that even if we don’t return that love, God’s going love us anyway, no matter what. I think all of that can be summed up in a short video.
If you’re a cat person or just not a pet person, that may not mean much to you. But I’m a dog lover and the simple truth of this video touched my heart. Dogs reflect a portion of God’s love for us. A dog’s love is unconditional. So is God’s. And through that unconditional love dogs have for their owners, dogs reflect the whole idea of Grace.
Gifts are a part of these holy days. Don’t forget that this child in the manger is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. He is not a sign of God’s love, he is God’s Love Incarnate, the greatest gift of all who is waiting patiently for you to return and will dance with glee when you do.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day