Sunday, November 30th, 2014 – The First Sunday of Advent
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:14-37
Hymns: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “As With Gladness, Men of Old”, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”
The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!
Here we are once again. ‘Tis the season! The leaves have turned, there’s a nip in the air. Festive scents fill our homes, decorations festoon our doors. The mellifluous tones of Bing Crosby’s voice soothe our eardrums as he plies our minds with images of a white Christmas.
But no sooner have we placed those 10,000 twinkle lights on our roof and lit the eight tiny reindeer and Santa on our front lawn when who should come charging in but… well, let’s say Chicken Little, breathlessly proclaiming, “THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!”
And for a moment, Chicken Little runs around in a circle as though his head has been removed from his body. Finally, as he runs out of energy, we look at him and say, “Chicken Little, what’s wrong? What do you mean, ‘The sky is falling’?”
Chicken Little turns, looks at us standing there, silver bells chiming, red and green decorations all around, peppermint hot cocoa in hand, illuminated by the soft glow of a Yule Log burning nearby, and squawks, “THERE’S A WAR ON CHRISTMAS!”
Oh, dear. Here we go again.
Make no mistake – it is not a falsehood to say that a war is being waged on the holiday that we know as Christmas. It’s just not quite the one that we think it is.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. The individual whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas – the one known as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor – well, He could probably not care less when we celebrate His birthday, so long as we follow in His ways. As a matter of fact, given what we know of Him from Scripture, I feel like He’s the kind of guy who’d say, “As long as I get a piece of cake and a card, I’m good. By the way, Happy Hanukkah.”
I’ll tell you where we can find the War on Christmas. Today’s Gospel reading refers to something known as the “desolating sacrilege”. Now, the author of Mark doesn’t go into detail about what the desolating sacrilege is, but it’s been traditionally held that it’s some sort of widely visible sign that runs counter to the coming of the kingdom, that stands in direct opposition to the will of God.
Here’s a desolating sacrilege for you: the corporate hijacking of a religious holiday.
One of the primary fronts in the War on Christmas stands in the grip that the almighty dollar has come to have on this holiday, the day when we commemorate the birth of our Savior. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with giving to your friends and loved ones. Our tradition of buying, giving, and receiving gifts has given us a once-a-year opportunity to truly enjoy the presence of those near and dear to us, and indeed, to become two or three gathered together.
But consider this: on Black Friday 2013, nearly $106 million was spent at retail establishments in the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical Area. Some twenty-seven days later, approximately 3,300 residents of the same Metropolitan Statistical Area spent Christmas Day homeless.
Indeed, with the money spent on Black Friday 2013 in Kansas City, every homeless person in the metro area could have been housed, fed, and insured for two years.
This is not to suggest that any of the persons who spent that money on Black Friday were in the wrong. However, consider LAST week’s lesson: when the Son of Man returns, the sheep will be separated from the goats, and it is those who took care of the needs of the least of God’s children who will enter into paradise. How do we rectify these two things that stand in opposition, one to another?
We can’t. And I say we, for I am just as guilty of it as anybody else.
But yet, there is hope. After all, for what reason did the Messiah come to Earth, if not to reconcile our sins against our fellow man?
NOT SO FAST, says the Gospel of Mark. “If anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ – do not believe it.”
Wait, what? But this is Jesus, the Christ, born of the Virgin Mary! He is the Messiah!
And yet, that six pound eight ounce precious baby Jesus we put in the manger – we so often forget the rest of the nature of that child. Fully human, yet fully God. A trouble-making prophet, a radical – a zealot, even. Upset the systems, empowered the powerless, brought the mighty down from their thrones – all with a few words. Betrayed, tortured, crucified, died, buried, resurrected. The salvation of mankind.
But do we think about that when we consider the baby Jesus? It’s a hard dichotomy, to imagine this innocent baby becoming the rabbi who would cast the moneychangers out of the temple. It’s gut-wrenching to imagine that this newborn child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would later hang on the cross, bloodied, wearing only a crown of thorns. How could they be the same person?
This is not to suggest that the baby Jesus is a false Messiah. After all, He is representative of the same Jesus about whom the four Gospels are written, upon whose teachings all of Christianity is founded. However, in Christmas, we must also remember what comes three and a half months afterwards – Holy Week and Easter. When we fail to consider these most important parts of the life of Jesus Christ, then the baby in the manger becomes nothing more than an idol, a graven image.
But yet, there is hope. After all, we as Christians do remember the full nature of the person of Jesus Christ, we remember the arc of his life and ministry, we remember the salvation we receive through his resurrection, right?
NOT SO FAST, says the Gospel of Mark. “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come!”
Mark’s turning into a real killjoy here. So far, he’s got me thinking that the War on Christmas is conducted through our holiday shopping and the nativity scenes we set up. You know what he’s got me thinking about now?
The Great Commission.
Yes, I realize that that might seem counter-intuitive, to jump from, “Nobody knows the time or place,” to “Go and make disciples,” but think about it: if we don’t know the time or place, shouldn’t we be striving at all times to make disciples? Shouldn’t we desire that all mankind should know the love and joy of life in Christ?
I have to be honest, I feel like the holiday season is one of the worst times of year for evangelism, if you will, and it’s all because of one simple phrase: “Happy holidays.” But it’s not because of the people who SAY it; rather, it’s because of the reaction they receive.
Consider this: you encounter somebody on the street. You say, “Merry Christmas!” They say, in return, “Happy holidays!” Why they say it, who knows. Perhaps they have philosophical differences with religion. Perhaps they don’t celebrate the holidays. Perhaps they’re one of those particularly liturgical Christians who won’t say the “Christmas” word until December 25th rolls around. We don’t know.
I will say this: everywhere I’ve lived before here – Arizona, California, North Carolina – I have seen some of the nastiest, most uncivil reactions to that simple two word phrase, “Happy holidays,” that I could have imagined. It usually ends with rudeness, shouting, and more often than not, “Don’t try to take the Christ out of MY Christmas!”
And to me, that is an opportunity lost. Rather than showing the kindness and love that Christians are supposed to demonstrate at all times and in all places, the person shouting has instead shown the person who said, “Happy holidays,” the truly ugly side of Christianity. This person is going to walk away from the encounter feeling belittled by somebody who represents the body of Christ on Earth – truly an opportunity for evangelism not simply lost, but entirely dismissed.
We do not know when the time will come, and if that person we have just shouted down has turned away Christ because of our behavior at Christmastime – well, that’s on us.
And I say us because I am just as guilty of un-Christian behavior as anybody else.
So then, where IS the hope? Where is the way out of this War on Christmas that we conduct against ourselves?
If we look to today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah says, “O Lord, you are our Father: we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
WE are the work of GOD’s hand. Though we are flawed by our own sinful nature, we were made perfect by the divine potter, and perfect we can be made again. Though we lose sight of the least of God’s children, God can reshape us to see them and serve them just as though they were Christ himself. Though we lose sight of the true nature of Christ in favor of a helpless infant in a manger, God can reshape us to see the resurrected Savior and serve Him as we have been called through the Gospel. Though we lose sight of our commission to make disciples of all people, God can reshape us to remember that though we may disagree with them, the people whom we encounter are, just like us, children made in the image of God, people yet to be made disciples.
The Gospel of Mark’s got nothing to contradict that.
So the next time Chicken Little comes running in squawking about that War on Christmas, just smile, say, “Merry Christmas!” and tell him to relax. Let him know that the piece of the sky he felt hitting him on the head was probably just a falling pinecone. Treat him as though he were Christ standing before you, and make sure to share with him the love of Christ in every way that you can.
For even if the sky is going to fall, we don’t know the time that it will occur. So until then, let us do as the heavenly host commanded and proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace; goodwill toward men.”