What do you want for Christmas? It’s a question we hear and we ask frequently this time of year. Some of us have already completed their shopping. Others haven’t started yet, but are putting together or sharing lists of presents they would like to give and receive. Many have already put up their tree and decorations, and are mailing cards and baking cookies, all while listening to happy holiday songs on the radio. Others will wait for the more traditional 12 Days of Christmas, and do the decorating on Christmas Eve.
Oh, yes, then there’s all the Church stuff to prepare for. Blue Christmas and pageants. Special music to practice, and special prayers to re-discover. Dinners and social activities which will take place here over the next few weeks. It’s a busy time for us, as individuals, as families, and as a church community.
This is a time for activity, a time for doing. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement and activity. We see ourselves as making others happy, sharing what we have with family and friends, sending out little tokens of our love and good wishes.
This is also a time when some become lost in that same excitement and activity; to feel we are not a part of what’s going on around us. It’s all too forced, too fake, too commercial. We believe something is wrong with us if we don’t live up to the Christmas images we see on TV or in the movies. Something’s wrong if we don’t have a special someone with whom to share the Season.
Somethings wrong if we’re not ecstatic about going to the mall, even if we’re trying to live on a fixed income, or we miss someone who was close to us.
So, what do you want for Christmas? Whether you are caught up in all the joy and excitement, or you’re trying to hide out until it’s all over, I believe part of the reason you’re here today is to get some peace of mind. To be in a quiet, sacred space and hear the Good News.
But what we hear, are the words of Isaiah, describing the One who is to come, the shoot out from the stump of Jesse.
“He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
Somehow, those words don’t make me want to sing “O, Come thou long expected Jesus”. I think I could wait a little longer, thank you.
And then, we have Matthew’s Gospel about crazy John the Baptist! He lives in the wilderness, wears the skin of a dead camel, and eats bugs with honey! Then we’re told, “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him”. My question is, why? Why would you purposely seek out this guy? Others were offering ritual cleansing for the forgiveness of sins and restoration to the community, so why go seek out this bug eater?
Maybe it’s not about John. Maybe it’s about John’s message. Maybe the others who were baptizing were offering similar rituals according to the Law, but they were not affecting the people like John was. John, wrapped in camel hair secured by a leather belt, bears a remarkable resemblance to another great prophet, Elijah, who is described in the Second Book of Kings as, “a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” Elijah was a man of great power, even raising the dead was not beyond him. But his power was always attributed to God. So it was, too, with John the Baptist. John knew who he was, and what he was to do. He was to prepare the way for Jesus. Maybe his outrageous appearance and his forceful anger served as a way to make it easier for Jesus to present his own message of God’s love. Maybe John’s outrageousness made it easier for people to accept the social outrageousness of Jesus’ ministry.
John also gives us powerful messages and examples of speaking truth to power. He simply has no patience with those coming to him for, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”. Those who are satisfied with going through the motions of ritual without considering the meaning of it. People who live their lives without considering the meaning of them. I believe this is what John is getting at when he speaks of preparation using the metaphor of the threshing floor. Wheat is threshed, beaten and thrown in the air, to remove the hard shell from the life-bearing kernel of wheat. The shell, or chaff, is discarded and burned for fuel while the wheat is used for bread or other food, to encourage and sustain life.
John is not saying we humans will be separated into good and bad, those who are accepted and those who are rejected. I believe John is telling us that, if we carefully examine our own lives, we can see what’s good or bad in our lives. What to keep and what to let go. We can discern and discard that hardened shell, that chaff, in which we encase ourselves. All those things which harden us, fill our lives with distractions and fear. These things which separate us from God and from each other can now be cast off, let go. We then can hold onto that life-containing, life-giving kernel which can be used for the benefit of others, and which is our true gift from God.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tells that God doesn’t want us separated from each other. God wants us to live in harmony with one another, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Until we remove the chaff from our lives, we are only going through the motions. We remain separated from each other, unable to hear and join in with those other voices. Harmony comes when we discover that great, outrageous gift, that living kernel of truth God put in all of us. By sharing our lives with each other, that’s how we offer our glory to God.
Outrageous people. Outrageous gifts. An outrageous message for an outrageous time.
My friends, use this special time of Advent to think about what is important in your life, and what is keeping you from claiming it. Make room in your life for yourself. Make room for others, and make room for God.
Enjoy your preparations for Christmas. Enjoy the company of those around you, even if you only see them here on Sunday. Let them know you’re glad they’re here.
I leave you with the words of Paul. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
So, what do you want for Christmas?