Sunday, December 4, 2016

We Need a Little Christmas

We Need a Little Christmas
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 4, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Isaiah 11: 1-9
2 Corinthians 4: 1-12

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.
Amen.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Coralee has been working on playing one of my favorite Christmas Songs on the piano. It’s “We Need a Little Christmas.” I don’t know what it is about that song because it’s one that doesn’t have much to it, except maybe the catchy kinda campy show tune vibe that it has. . . which of course appeals to me, because I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I am drawn to catchy campy show tunes. And not only does it have the vibe, but it actually is just a show tune, from the show Mame, and doesn’t have much done with Christmas anyway, at least not Christmas like we talk about it here in church. . . it is more of a song that is Hauling out the Holly, the lights, the decorations, all that commercial stuff that Charlie Brown just doesn’t understand. I think these lines are the best
So climb down the chimney
Turn on the brightest string of light I've ever seen
Slice up the fruitcake
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough
For I've grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
I need a little Christmas now

Yes we need a little Christmas, and maybe the tinsel and the fruitcake and lights and presents and stories and Santas, help us to feel a little younger, and remember the child in ourselves, we get those warm and fuzzies, we think about all the great memories of Christmas, like Clark Griswold trapped in the attic watching old videos, every knick knack, decoration, song, and trinket whisks us back to a Christmas Past full of amazing memories, that would melt even the heart of the Scroogiest Grinch. But often the Holiday comes and goes, and in the dreary months of February it seems far away and we need a little Christmas again, but the Christmas we need isn’t the one we get each December, not the one only of our past memories, but instead is filled with the past, the present, and the future, and is the miracle of the Gift of the Christchild in Bethlehem all those years ago, the rebirth of the Risen Christ, Raised, Risen, and running wild in our world even today, and the coming fulfillment of his Coming Again.
And in Advent we take a look at amazing passages from Isaiah, and we think about what it means to wait for a savior, and we think about what they were waiting for, what they sought, and what they desperately needed. I mean the story told throughout the prophets is one of a nation in decline, both spiritually and existentially, for they were split in to two parts, and each found themselves surrounded on three sides by huge powerful empires. The Southern Kingdom of Judah would see the Northern Kingdom fall, and then they would fall themselves, Jerusalem burned, the people exiled to the heart of the conquering empire, Babylon. . . then Babylon replaced by the Persians, The Persians by the Greeks, the Greeks by the Romans. The Jewish people spread to diaspora, living again as a stranger in their own land, squeezed and bled by foreign ruler after ruler. In the context of that 600 or so year history, prophet after prophet comes to spread messages like, Return Now to God, cast aside those idols or the end is near, or do not allow your material success to turn your hearts to stone, for you have a responsibility to justice for the poor among you, or yes my temple has fallen, but never doubt I am in control, or I will use the Persian king Cyrus to work my miracle, to restore the temple, or Here you stand with a second chance, this time, when you regain the land, do not let yourself be turned away from me, do not be tempted by the idols, or somewhere in the midst of it all. . . I will bring forth my messiah, my anointed one, he is coming, he will restore my kingdom, he will bring forth a new covenant, he will be a suffering servant, all ye my sheep have gone astray, but I will be restoring you this day. And you read those messages and you know the history, and you can imagine what it would be like for the poor, occupied, oppressed, paying crippling tax to a foreign government, and you completely understand what they were looking for in a savior, what they thought they needed, and why they needed it. When they gathered and shouted hosanna, which means save us now, it was a scream of desperation.
It makes you wonder what kind of savior we are looking for now, here in rich, independent, first world, superpower, United States of America. Do we even need one? Are we even waiting anymore? Or are we pretty content? Do the powerful images painted by Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Micah and Malachi and others even inspire us anymore? Do they speak to us still? Do we need Christmas? And if we do, exactly what kind of savior do we need? What type of savior are we searching for? What type of savior would we actually accept? Sure, we have riches, but have they turned our hearts to stone, seeking to amass wealth, save it, hoard it, save ourselves with what we have. . . Sure we have power, but at what cost, has violence and force, the implements of war become our hammer, and in such case does everything in the world now then look like a nail? Sure we have relative comfort, but has our comfort made us impatient and envious, jealous of our neighbors, competitive and bitter? Sure we have advancements in technology and have made what many call progress, but is progress the division we see, the polarization we see, the out of touch with reality we find ourselves to be, the distance we actually are from each other, and the isolation we feel because of it. It seems that we are in a very different place than the people BC people, but we need Christmas just the same, and Christmas fulfills our needs, fulfills human needs, no matter what they are, no matter who we are because Salvation is given by God through Jesus Christ, and Christmas is the symbol of that gate crashing entrance into our world, again claiming it, and making it his, making us his, and we desperately need to be.
As I was thinking of a way to get across the universal need for Christmas and the Salvation that comes into our world through it, I couldn’t help but think of the old Jeff Foxworthy refrain, you might be a redneck. . . where he says stuff like. . . If you mow your lawn and find a car you might be a redneck, or if you’ve ever used an ironing board as a buffet table, if your daddy walks you to school because you’re in the same grade. . .they go on and on, it caught wild fire, they made calendars and everything. I thought it would be fun to think about the types of people these days who need a little Christmas. And I’m going to try to touch on every single person that walks this Earth because I know we all do, and I know that our divisions are part of it, so I’m going to do my best and offend everyone. . .
If you’ve complained because 1. They’ve been selling Reeses Trees at Walmart since Halloween 2. They’ve been playing Christmas Music on the Radio since Thanksgiving, or 3. Ever said, it didn’t use to be this way. . . .
If you’ve already watched Elf
If you’ve had your Christmas Tree up so long already that the needles are coming off
If your blood pressure went up because you read a facebook post on your wall by someone you barely know
And if you felt the need to argue with said almost stranger about their viewpoint
If you did a repost of a Share this if you love Jesus facebook post promising you blessings in the coming months for doing so
If you drove by more than one piece of road kill this morning without feeling anything
If you Can name every Quarterback in the hall of fame, but can’t remember the name of the person living next door
If you’ve ever watched Dance Moms
If you actually like the song Santa Baby
If you’ve gotten into a debate about whose lives matter
If you find yourself seeking only news and information that makes you feel better by proving your agenda correct
If you have a problem with what color the cups are at starbucks
If you get mad when people say Happy Holidays
If you get mad when someone says Merry Christmas

If you’ve ever said that people who don’t vote can’t complain
If you’ve ever didn’t vote but decided to complain anyway
If you think that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is racist
If you don’t think that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is racist
If you think Trump is going to make America Great again all by himself. . .
If you think Donald Trump is going to destroy America all by himself
If you’ve ever allowed an election to cost you a friendship
If you stand from the pulpit blasting both wings of the political spectrum wondering why people can’t just get along while all the time proudly standing safe in the self righteous middle
If you’re  happy or if sad, If you’re lonely, hurt, sick, gluttonous or starving, thirsty, bitter, angry, lost, found, seeking, ignorant, educated, rich, poor,
Now I know some of these are silly, and we’ve had fun with them, and I hope I haven’t trivialized our need for Christmas by enumerating such seemingly small things, but the truth is Jesus by entering our hearts, offering us salvation, makes a difference with even the smallest of things because it is about everything even the smallest of details. . . total transformation. . . he asks us to leave everything behind and follow him. . . If you think about Isaiah’s promise about the lion and the lamb, both would need to change, and change utterly. . . It seems our hearts have a long way to go before we beat those swords into plowshares, but the annunciation has been made, there is a call from the desert to make the paths straight, and the star already beckons us. . . and if you open your ears, especially today you will have heard an angel choir. . . or if you’ve heard something today that challenged you in some way. . . do not be afraid. . . the geese are getting fat. . . Black Friday has passed. . . and Christmas is Coming, Salvation is near.