Sunday, December 13, 2015

Their shame into praise

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 12: 2-6 and Zephaniah 3: 14-20, OT page 877 Sermon Title: Their shame into praise I love Christmas cards. I bet that you love Christmas cards too, and I hope that you receive a lot of them because they’re so nice to get. The thing that I love the most about Christmas cards is seeing how my friends, who I remember from high school or college, well I knew them before they ever dreamed of becoming the respectable people who now grace the front of their Christmas cards. It’s so good to see them. The kids grow each year. Dad’s hairline recedes more each year. And Mom’s getting better and better at maintaining that smile while saying, “sit still” to her children through gritted teeth. These cards bring with them more than Christmas cheer, don’t they? I was a part of a conversation just last Wednesday. One of us was about to get those Christmas cards out, another already had, and the third said, “Well, I’m thinking that this year we’ll send out a Happy New Year’s Card.” People are serious about Christmas Cards. You feel good if you get them out early, you feel guilty if you don’t get them out in time, and we were shamed because we got our first one a full month ago. These friends of ours – they so have it together that they sent out a Happy Thanksgiving Card – and if that doesn’t make you ashamed about not getting your Christmas Card out by Christmas I don’t know what will. So on the ball as to get out a Thanksgiving Card. Puts us all to shame, doesn’t it? And with it came an announcement that dad got a promotion. Oldest son is six, but has learned to read, and youngest son is four but is going off to medical school in the Spring. I remember one Christmas; my grandfather was reading one of those Christmas letters that are usually really nice to receive. You get an update on what all has been going on, who’s been to camp and who’s playing the piano, all that stuff, but my grandfather was so offended that he said what I think is a word he just made up. He read the sentence about where all this family had been on vacation, and he said, “Well, this is so full of braggadocio I don’t want to read another word.” I’m not sure that “braggadocio is a word,” but you know what he means. This year we already sent him a Christmas Card, but we’ll be keeping a vacation report to ourselves. Of course the point of the Christmas letter, just like the point of the Christmas card – it’s just to say, “Merry Christmas” and let me tell you how we’ve been doing. You are receiving one because you are loved, but sometimes, sometimes these things, they inspire a little bit of envy. So the wife puts down the Christmas Letter and says to her husband, “Would you look at that; the Johnson’s have been to Paris?” and he knows exactly what she’s trying to say. In the same way the husband puts down the Christmas Card from the out of town friends and says to his wife, “Would you look at Sally. Doesn’t she look great? I wonder if she’s been working out or something?” That sounds like an innocent question, but his wife looks into his eyes and wonders what this picture – meant to say nothing more than “Merry Christmas” has inspired in her husband’s mind. Christmas Cards. We put our best foot forward for these things. If it’s a family picture that’s going out to all our friends and family we want to look our very best, like a family who has it all together and is doing just fine. And sometimes we are – I suppose that’s what we call normal. That’s what we hope for each Christmas. A tree, presents under it, a nice dinner where everyone is thankful and happy – but the truth is that sometimes Cousin Eddie shows up with his Rottweiler who chokes on a bone under the dining room table. The truth is that sometimes not everyone who you want to be around the dining room table is there, and sometimes there’s someone there who you wish wasn’t. The truth is – sometimes that smile on everyone’s face is covering up any matter of brokenness. What’s normal at Christmas? I suppose we project our Christmas hopes and aspirations on our Christmas cards, but the reality – the reality is different. I ran by a man on Friday morning. He was sitting in his car with the window rolled down. I could smell his cologne from 10 feet away, and it made me wonder, what smell is he trying to cover up? You look at a woman with too much make-up, sunglasses too dark. A smile too bright. A laugh too loud. An attitude too cheery – because we are all using whatever is available to keep the world from seeing the hurt that’s really there. I love the Christmas Cards – they say, “Merry,” “Bright,” “Joy,” and “Happy,” but what so many of us are ready to say is that “I am a broken man in need of a savior.” Maybe that’s you, maybe it’s not – and if it’s not than thanks be to God for you are not as normal as you are miraculous to have the peace that so many are longing for. 2 parents and a dog. 2.5 children and a wife – don’t you be fooled into thinking that such a thing is normal, for such a family is nothing less than a miracle. Have you ever seen Christmas at a nursing home? Or at a prison. Have you ever seen Christmas at a prison? We see these pictures, and not just on the Christmas Cards, we get this image in our minds of a turkey and tree and lights and love but don’t you think for a minute that the perfect Christmas you have in your mind is a normal Christmas, because Christmas for a whole lot of people in this world will be very different. Last Sunday a man walked up to our church. You might have seen him. He was carrying a big sack, a green duffle bag with straps and inside that bag was his every possession. His clothes, his bed, an old Folgers can with dry grass and leaves that he used to start the fire that would keep him warm at night. It turns out that he’s the kind of person who rides trains from one place to the next, and he was heading south to the Gulf Coast. Where will he be on Christmas? To take seriously our second Scripture Lesson is to take seriously the promise that regardless of where he is on Christmas Day, with the promise of the Christ child comes the promise that God will bring him home. In verse 20 we read: “At that time, I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” This word from the obscure book of Zephaniah speaks to the man who wanders from place to place. The man who has left something and hopes to find something else. The man who told me “that ridding the train is a good way for a man to lose himself, but it is also a good way to get found.” The promise of Christmas according to the book of Zephaniah is a promise that he will be one who gets found. Now that’s a different idea than a lot of what floats around this time of year. According to Zephaniah this isn’t the season for sugar plumbs and elves and toys for good girls and boys. According to Zephaniah, The child who will receive nothing on Christmas morning The child who will hear her parents say that Santa Clause just couldn’t make it to the house this year. The child who was sure that this year would be different but it wasn’t – can you hear in this prophecy the promise that one day she will sing for joy? We want to put our best foot forward in times like these. We want to be OK already, but that’s not Christmas you see. Christmas isn’t about getting all the perfect presents underneath the tree and worrying that someone might be disappointed – Christmas is about the promise that in all this time that you’ve spent trying to prove that you’re not a disaster, God has been working “to remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.” This time of year – it’s about a gift that we’re too often afraid to admit that we need. That’s what I know this church wants for every child in this entire county. Every year I see that pile of presents for the children who might go without. A full 80 children in this community will have a gift on Christmas morning thanks be to God, thanks be to you. And to top it all, there’s a mother at the county jail. Last Tuesday, thanks to one of you who made it happen, she signed her name to some little gift tags. On Christmas morning she won’t be there by the tree, but her children will open up presents from their mother because one of you was bold enough to buy those presents on her behalf – one of you was faithful enough to this promise in the book of Zephaniah that a piece of it will be true on Christmas. Our focus this time of year – it can’t be on ourselves and it can’t be on the presents. Our focus must be on the God who, like a warrior will bring victory. Who will rejoice over you with gladness, Who will renew you in his love – and not just you – for Christmas is the time when imperfect, broken, hurting people rejoice knowing that the savior is born. “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; Let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Amen.

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