I am unqualified to stand here. I am not a pastor. I have not studied at seminary. I have only taken a few college classes – never officially enrolled. I graduated from high school and took some classes at a vocational technical school.
And yet – here I am.
I turned 65 this year and probably should let singing and preaching be for a younger generation. It’s their time – mine is passing.
And yet – here I am.
Most of you didn’t know me until I started coming here. There was no meeting where a discussion was had, a consensus was reached, and a vote was taken to affirm that I should be a lay speaker.
And yet – here I am.
The only reason I am here speaking on a Sunday morning is because I said yes.
John the Baptist was a wild and wooly guy that lived in the wilderness. He wore animal skins and ate bugs.
Mary was a child. Probably poor, and lived in a small town.
Joseph was a carpenter – he built things with his hands.
Herod was a bit wackadoodle, power hungry, insecure, confused about his religion.
The wise men were more than likely dream interpreters from Persia.
The baby who would grow to be the savior of the world, was born in the downstairs area of a home – might even have been a cave, where there was a sterile area with a physician and a soft baby cradle…No! It was the area where the animals were kept.
If we were to get together and decide that we needed a plan to save the world – even if by some crazy stretch of the imagination we decided that God should come and live among us, would our plan look even remotely like the one God made?
Would we form a nominating committee and maybe decide that maybe a retired police officer would be the dad because he has been in law enforcement and this child is very important and would need someone who could protect him.
Who would be the mom? We might want someone who would be a good cook because we want this child to grow up healthy and strong. They would need to be someone who has been going to church all their lives.
Where would this happen? We would need to appropriate funds to build a house fit for the savior of the world. He should have his own room and the best computer and an area for study because he will need to learn all 613 of those Levitical laws.
How would we point to this event and this person? Would we post it all on social media? Have a big conference/concert? Give out free prizes and wear matching tee shirts?
Maybe we would never get this whole thing out of the planning stage because we might not be able to agree on who is qualified to play the important roles in this endeavor or who should chair which committee. I’m afraid if we were the plan makers things would be hopeless!
I don’t know about you but I have a really difficult time with the unknown. I like to know what is coming. I want to prepare. I want to make sure the house is clean, any food preparation that can be done ahead should be done, laundry needs to be caught up.
I like to leave the house earlier than necessary in case something happens to cause a delay. Being unprepared makes me anxious.
But maybe during advent, I need to be reminded that God works through the most unlikely to accomplish what we cannot even imagine and that sometimes preparing doesn’t mean doing things. Sometimes it means just being still. Waiting and listening with our hearts.
We hear Christmas songs telling us that Santa knows if we’ve been bad or good and that he is making a list and checking it twice. As children we go sit on his lap and tell him our wishes. Come to think about it, if humans designed this whole salvation thing – the savior would probably be a lot more like Santa Claus. There are a lot of reasons why this would be a bad idea but one glaring flaw is that with Santa and the secular idea of Christmas, not all children will receive and it will have nothing to do with them being bad or good. Also it would seem that Santa’s only interaction with the story is to keep a list and then visit people one time a year. We invented Him.
Joseph wasn’t uniquely qualified to raise the son of God. Mary wasn’t the perfect typical neighborhood kool-aid mom. (But they both were obedient – even when things didn’t seem to make any sense – they said yes!) The wise men were not local pastors who would be part of Jesus’ spiritual education. The shepherds lived out with their sheep which means they would not have been able to keep all the Jewish purity laws so technically they were unclean and yet an angel appeared to them to tell them the good news!
This whole plan designed by God does not make sense by our human standards.
In fact – it is completely unrealistic that Jesus even survived to adulthood! Born in a straw-filled place where animals sleep to a mother who was little more than a child and to an earthly father who by all rights should have shunned the mother for being pregnant before the wedding. He was hunted by a powerful man that wanted to kill him and as a tiny baby went for a long donkey ride to another country. He once was left at a temple in a city where he knew no one and was stuck there until his parents figured out he wasn’t with them and journeyed back to find him.
He did survive though and then He was enthroned in a palace and whooped the Romans all the way back to Rome so His people would no longer be oppressed and his people worshipped him and they all lived happily ever after…right?? um no.
That is how the story might have ended if we humans had written it.
I don’t usually get to speak on Sundays that are so close together but today I want to refer back to the last Sunday that I spoke. There was part of the scripture reading that I want to mention.
Matthew 24:44 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
The author of the birth story has thoughts and ways so much higher than ours and He wrote a salvation story that is nothing like a plan we could come up with. No wonder Mary said “My soul magnifies the Lord!” No wonder Isaiah talks about a desert that is not only now green and flowering but it has become a swamp! With a highway for God’s people to travel on!
And then? Jesus turned the preconceived ideas of who is first, who is righteous, who is worthy, and what God desires from His people, completely upside down!
So back to the scripture about the house being broken into. We think that being robbed is a bad thing. But what if this year, instead of a Christmas wish list, we made an advent list? What if we ask Jesus to rob us of the things that place a wall between us and each other and between us and Him?
What if we ask the Christ child who according to our church calendar is about to be born, live, suffer, die, defeat death, ascend and will come back for us…to prepare our hearts for that time when He returns.
Jesus could break into our lives and steal our preconceived ideas of what it means to be qualified because sometimes like the invalid by the pool of Bethesda, that just means picking up our mat and walking.
-To steal from us our ideas of who is deserving and who isn’t so that we can remember that grace is not a gift you receive for being good. Its given to us in our weakness so the weaker you are? Guess what! The more grace you receive! 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst”
-To rob us of our judgmental thoughts about suffering and sin. Jesus suffered and he was perfection so help us to have understanding and compassion for each other when suffering happens because as scripture says “Hebrews 2:10-11 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
We could ask Jesus to take from us our need to be right and certain of what we think we know so we can be surprised and delighted by a God who has always been faithful and hear the Christmas story fresh as though we are hearing it for the first time.
John 1:1 says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Matthew 4:4 says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” Stories are made of words. The Christmas story is a story of how the WORD came and dwelled among us and became part of our story as we respond and participate in this wonderful mystery of the faith story of the world. Now THAT is something to try to wrap your head around!
No wonder John the Baptist sat in prison and pondered everything the messiah was doing and asked “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
So this season of Advent, read the story in your bible, sing the story in church, and go out and tell this story of hope to the world. Better yet, live out this story in your little part of the world. No animal skins or honey and locusts required….
Rejoice! This is good news! Amen!