Okay. So anyone who actually attended worship at either Wesley Heights or Cotton Grove knows I did not actually preach on Micah last week. I got up Sunday morning and God had a different message for me to share so I went with it. What follows is the message I preached Sunday Dec. 20th. The title is “What is Christmas Spirit?”
Sermon Script: Matthew 1:18-25
Sermon Title: Reminders & True Meaning of Christmas
(Hold up Polar Express bell.) Do y’all know what this is? It’s a bell. We took the kids to the Polar Express in Spencer, North Carolina Friday night. They gave everyone in our car one of these bells and called it the “first gift of Christmas” the way they do in the movie. The bell – like Santa Clause, is supposed to be a symbol of Christmas. Too often I think we get the things confused and the symbols of Christmas become Christmas. So with Christmas five days away I thought I would give Micah a break this morning and take some time to consider the true meaning of Christmas.
Now, if we are going to really consider the meaning of Christmas I think we have to start with the first gift of Christmas. What is the first gift of Christmas? (pause) Church, what is the first gift of Christmas? (pause) The first gift of Christmas is the baby Jesus, born to poor people taking shelter in a barn because there was no room in the inn. However, before there could be no room in the inn there had to be room in Mary and Joseph’s hearts. Joseph was a devout man with a problem. The young woman Joseph was betrothed to was pregnant, and the child was not his. Joseph likely knew that to publicly break off the wedding would have disgraced Mary, and according to the Law in Deuteronomy the punishment for a woman caught in adultery is to be publicly stoned. Joseph did not want to see this happen to Mary so he decided to spare her life and divorce her quietly. Joseph had displayed compassion for Mary and this child by not wanting to see her humiliated and hurt. Having love and compassion for others is absolutely a form of worship.
Listen to me now. The great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” According to Jesus the second great commandment is, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40; Lev 19:18). What if these commandments are not really one and two? What if these commandments are the same command? What if these commandments are what Christmas is really all about? (pause) What if these two commandments sum up what Christmas is really all about? (pause)
Y’all stay with me now. I have been reading a great book by retired Asbury seminary professor Robert Mulholland called “The Deeper Journey.” It’s one of those books I am required to read for RIOM. Dr. Mulholland makes this point. Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might; and loving your neighbor as yourself are not two different commandments. They are instead two sides of the same coin. You might say they are the symbiosis of life. Truly loving others comes from loving God. The depths of abundant life and joy do not come from hours spent in the prayer closet; although, prayer is certainly important. The gifts of joy and abundant life come from serving God by serving others. One feeds the other and gives life joy.
Jesus makes joy possible. I am not talking about walking around with a warm fuzzy because you helped someone out. I am talking about lasting joy which lifts people up when they are feeling down and carries us through when life does not go our way. Jesus makes joy possible is because Jesus is God – God with us, or Emmanuel. Nothing on earth can fill our hearts, fill our minds, fill our souls or fill our lives with joy like being close to God. When Jesus was born on earth Jesus became God with us. And with Jesus was born the hope of no longer being tied down with the heavy chains of selfishness. We could finally let the “I wants” of life go, and be free from the chains of selfishness.
But that’s just the thing. When we think about Christmas today it has become all about “I wants”. “I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas.” “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” I swear the “Toys R Us” Christmas catalog came out in October this year. I’m sure y’all have heard the tried and true slogan, “Every Kiss Begins with Kay.” Do you know I have tried three different times to unsubscribe from e-mails that send advertisements to my inbox? Stuff, stuff, stuff – How did Christmas become so much about stuff.
Let’s look at Santa Clause for a minute. There he is, a kind hearted old man with a sweet spot for Children at a time when there were no child labor laws. Life was hard and very often harder for Children. A kind person decided he wanted to share a little of the love of God with children so they would grow up with a better out look on life. So he started making little toys for Children and handing them out December 25th. However, today we all seem to carry a sense of entitlement. Instead of thinking with whom will I share the love of God we seem so much more focused on what will I get?
Let’s have a little reminder this morning. Do you remember the story of how Christians came to be called Christians? The story is told in the book of Acts. A church had grown up naturally in the city of Antioch so the apostles sent Barnabus to first look for Paul and then the two of them would go to Antioch. There they met with this new church for a whole year and it was while Paul and Barnabus were tin Antioch the followers of the Way of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). These followers of Jesus Christ acted so much like Jesus in their care for each other and in their care for others the only put down the people of Antioch could use against them was to call them Christians. Today we have the celebration of Christmas. A day when we celebrate Christ’s birth, and the birth of hope in salvation Jesus brings. Do we celebrate Christmas in such a way as to be made fun of? Do we show our love for God in the love we offer others? How would the people we meet on the street see us as being any different from the rest of the last minute shoppers we see in the mall or Target, or Kohls or at Sams? Where is the Spirit of Christmas alive and well in us? Let’s see how Joseph handled it?
Joseph was in a pickle. He could choose to spare Mary. Joseph could choose not publicly disgrace her, and he could chose to send Mary away. Yes, it would spare Mary from being humiliated and possibly stoned – it would spare her baby. However, it was not as self less as it might seem. By divorcing Mary quietly he would save himself a lot of head ache and disgrace as well. At the time for a man to raise a child that was not his own with a woman who had run around on him would have brought shame on Joseph. Joseph’s judgment would have been called into question, and a man with questionable judgment could not be trusted. As a result Joseph’s ability to find work would have suffered, and Joseph would not have been as able to provide for himself, much less his family. Accepting Mary as his wife and taking Jesus as his own son would have held heavy consequences. However, when the angel came and spoke to Joseph in a dream Joseph chose to be obedient to God. Joseph chose to allow his love for God to be seen in the way Joseph showed love for Mary.
When it’s all been said and done I think Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior by showing love for God in the way we show love to others. They are two sides of the same coin. When we love others as a way of loving God our prayer lives are enriched, our understanding of Scripture is given new meaning, and our lives are changed for the better. Sisters and brothers let the love of Christ ring out in your Christmas celebrations this year. Merry Christmas!
In the name of Jesus Christ,
 RIOM is Residency In Ordained Ministry: a UMC Discipline required covenant group for all those who have been elected provisional members of the Annual Conference on the journey toward ordination into full connection.
 Robert Mulholland Jr, The Deeper Journey, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2006) 106.