Message from Christmas Sunday, December 25, 2016. The texts are Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-7, Isaiah 11:1-10, and Matthew 2:1-12.
Monthly Archives: December 2016
I like my Christmas traditions.
I don’t particularly care for change.
Last Christmas my traditions changed. Whew. It wasn’t a major cataclysmic change, rather the culmination of a process over the last few years.
We began transitioning to the “empty nest” when our oldest moved out of state. Then when our son married we told him we wanted to see him and his wife (now family) sometime during the Christmas holiday season but it didn’t have to be on Christmas day itself. Finally our middle child moved to her own place. Only she returned for Christmas …
..until she met a young man and got married.
So we faced our second Christmas without any of our children home for the day itself. Since my wife occasionally visits a pen-pal in a state correctional facility, I suggested we could surprise her friend with a visit on Christmas day. Actually, my wife would visit and I would drive. What better day to visit someone in prison than the day we celebrate the birth of He who told us to visit the prisoners.
Our son’s church has a service on December 23rd so the church community could spend Christmas Eve with their own families. My tradition of a Christmas Eve service with my family is no longer in effect.
So, last year we attended the service with our son’s family and then the two of us attended a nearby Christmas Eve service. After which I broke my crowning Christmas tradition. Instead of exchanging gifts Christmas morning we exchanged them Christmas eve so we could get an early start on the three-hour trip to the correctional facility.
While my spouse visited I found a fast food restaurant, which was open Christmas morning! I read, worked on a craft, and played games on my phone before returning to the prison to get my wife for our return trip.
She was hungry so we found another restaurant open and ate a quick lunch. When we were on the road again I commented. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”
Indeed it was a Christmas season unlike any other. Yet, as I thought about my off-handed remark I realized that I may have never understood what Christmas felt like.
My “feelings” about Christmas came from family traditions, many of which are healthy, positive, and faith affirming. But they are feelings centered in my family and happy memories. My faith, though, provides a different perspective.
Christmas is about God entering the human race and walking with us. He came to bring us into a life transforming relationship. A relationship in which our values cease to revolve around “us” and those things which make “us feel good.” He enables us to ground our values in the loving God, who has our best interests in mind in all He does.
So taking time at Christmas to radically reorient the way I celebrate the season and make it a time of service to others – may actually be the real “feeling” of Christmas.
To express God’s love and follow the example of Christ is how Christmas should feel.
“It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”
…I felt Christmas for the first time.
Christmas is a time known for surprises.
My tears unexpected.
As is our custom, we attended a Christmas Eve service. The day before we celebrated with our son’s family at their Church’s service. This night just the two of us visited a nearby church anticipating the joy of this season. No distractions from grandchildren tonight.
I found the service a wonderful blend of traditional carols and newer songs. The antics of the 50-plus member children’s choir brought smiles of reminiscence. What unabashed joy. What complete honesty. How many parents embarrassed by their child’s antics wished they hadn’t insisted on recording the performance?
In the midst of these positive moments I thought, “My parents would enjoy this service.”
With that thought, tears came. My father had died four months ago. My mother five years before that. The very lack of distractions provided the setting for grief. I took the time to worship and met my God. And the tears came.
Gently yet relentlessly the emotional incoming tide engulfed me. I allowed myself to remember my parents. Mom loved Christmas. Everything about Christmas: decorating, cooking, gift-giving, but especially family get-togethers. Those often included Christmas Eve services.
For his part Dad added the wonder to Christmas. He always found a way to surprise us on Christmas morning. When we went to bed Christmas Eve only a handful of gifts (deposited by us kids) adorned the tree skirt. In the morning a veritable gift mountain filled half the living room. (At least that’s what the child me remembers!)
Tears during the service were not simply my missing my parents. They represented a deep gratitude for the gifts my parents gave. As much as I liked unwrapping those gifts Christmas morning, the physical presents were not the ones for which I wept.
My parents presented me with love and presence; they gave of themselves more than they themselves received. They modeled God’s love; released us, their children, to follow God in our own way; of demonstrated hospitality and serving God as partners; and showed us what grandparenting entailed.
Those unexpected Christmas tears also reminded me of all the gifts my Heavenly Father gives. This night the memories revolved around my irreplaceable gift of family. And there are many other gifts God has given me over the years.
All the gifts I recalled that night lead me back to the Gift of the Christmas season. As much love as my parents demonstrated, their love dissipates like morning mist when compared to God’s love in sending Jesus. A birth destined to change history. I know it changed me.
The tears of that Christmas came unexpected and I received them as a gift from my loving Heavenly Father.
Thank you for the gift of Christmas tears: unexpected and profound.
Sermon from December 18, 2016. The texts are John 1:9-14 and Luke 2:8-20. I forgot my recorder Sunday so this is a recreated summary I recorded on 12/23/2016.
What delight I felt when my granddaughter shouted those words and ran along the aisle toward me. Her brother quickly followed and we hugged. Grandma and I had arrived for their Church’s Christmas Eve Eve service. The church has this service so families can be together on Christmas Eve. So we attend their service to remember the season…
…and to spend time with our grandchildren.
I enjoy the Christmas season. The special foods, family get-together, decorations, gift-giving, and the familiar songs. When our children were growing up we implemented many traditions. Now my children in turn are establishing theirs. We took our family to a Christmas Eve service. Now we join our son’s family for their church’s service.
Seeing my grandkids learning the Christmas songs and beginning to grasp the meaning of the season provides hope that what I attempted to impart to my children, they, in turn, are now passing on to theirs.
Having Grandma and me there also helped relieve the parents of the full force of the fidgeting. This service proved most challenging to my almost three year-old grandson. Not only did he fidget he also whined. I could only distract him for brief moments before he resumed his complaint.
“Where’s my candle?”
Good question. How do you explain the rationale to someone that young? He quickly transitions from one activity to another. So forgetting he was holding a lit candle could prove disastrous. Still he had a point. Everyone else in the sanctuary had a candle and as we approached the lighting time while singing “Silent Night” his distress grew more palpable.
“Would you like to help Grandpa hold his candle?”
A simple question. An awesome attitude transformation. Reverently he held the candle with my hand around his. He didn’t move. He looked at the flame and then around at the multitude of flames illuminating the darkness. So carefully did he hold the candle I occasionally released my hold.
The candle didn’t waver.
My delight grew as I realized the gift I’d given him. The gift of inclusion. He so wanted to be a part of the service. Initially I believed it was simply the fascination with fire. But he demonstrated a reverence I experience all too rarely in my worship. In that he was my teacher.
Often have I wanted to feel a part of. From childhood play, to school friendship groups, to a worshiping community, I felt I was on the outside looking in. During this service I received a special insight. I saw my grandson transition from being apart from to becoming a part of the worship experience.
In joining him I, too, embraced the sense of community. In reaching out to my grandson, I came in. I am not always that sensitive when I am around others. In my church and workplace and my family far too often I see whining as an interruption, a distraction from what is important. Yet, my agenda is not as precious as reaching out and inviting another in.
Holding my grandson that night I believed I was teaching him. In actuality God taught me. He let me know I hold the candle he gave me and there is joy in sharing its light.
Where’s my candle?
Always there in my hand.
Sermon from December 11, 2016. Texts are: Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25
Sermon from November 27, 2016. The texts are: Jonah 1:1-17, John 2:1-10, Mark 4:35-41, Colossians 1:15-20.