SERMON from 11-27-11: “The REAL Real Christmas: What’s That?”

 John 3.16

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.


Revelation 3.20

20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

The REAL Real Christmas: What’s That?
This past Friday, a 4-year-old boy was detained by store security person because he had been shoplifting–the busyness of the day had prevented the dad from seeing the event.  To be fair to the security officer, the little boy had opened a bag of treats and set them back on the shelf.  However, he was detained by the officer, kicked out of the store and made to scribble on a piece of paper as evidence that he was aware that he was being banned.  I wonder how binding that signature is in court.
Also, while waiting for a palate of “doorbuster” merchandise to be unwrapped and dispersed to the bombarding masses, a women pulls out a canister of pepper spray and douses her fellow shoppers with it in hopes of gaining the upper hand at obtaining the discounted merchandise.  She injures 20 people, luckily turning herself in on Friday evening.  Pepper spray–with little to no exception–is not the pleasant experience it is often portrayed to be.
As I checked my Facebook page before heading to bed on Thanksgiving evening, I saw story after story of people having horrible experiences shopping on “Black Thursday/Friday.”  One girl was nailed in the eye with a DVD player.  Others were smothered against shelving and pushed out of the way.  Most people I saw were complaining about the “crazy” people they saw while they themselves were out shopping–never once thinking that anyone knew the definition of irony!
It reminds me of an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, The Office.  Early on, the show is about a struggling paper company that is perpetually in danger of having to fire people.  The boss attempts to put on a great Christmas party in hopes of raising everyone’s spirits.  During the party, they were supposed to do “Secret Santa”–where everyone bought gifts specific to the person whose name they drew.  Everyone did that, but after receiving a gift he didn’t appreciate, he turns “Secret Santa” into “White Elephant.”  This is where you have all sorts of gifts that are traded and exchanged as the game progresses.  This turn of events ticks everyone off and the party turns into a huge failure.  At which point, the boss (Michael, who caused it all) says “Happy Birthday, Jesus. Sorry your party was so lame.”
I think we have all felt like that from time to time.  We all know what “The Real Christmas” is about.  It’s about Jesus.  Unfortunately, we have built up a tradition around this thing we now celebrate as Christmas that is unrecognizable from 7 lb. 8 oz. baby Jesus in his golden fleece diaper (some of you will get that reference).  It’s about the baby which very few cared about or had room for, but everyone needed.  That baby came for a purpose.  That baby came in the midst of some very dangerous and less-than-ideal circumstances, and we celebrate it by complaining about people who say “Happy Holidays” and whether or not a nativity scene is allowed here or there.
Yes.  Eventually–and it may have already begun to happen–you will hear the phrase “The War on Christmas” appear across the bottom of your television screen.  This is one of the battles of the great “culture war” that we have been told is happening all over.  The ACLU and other insidious organizations are planning an underground takeover of the holiday we love so much–or so we have been told.  They are “taking the CHRIST out of Christmas.”  Television personalities begin efforts to boycott stores because their employees only say ‘Happy Holidays!”
All this does is serve to further rile some Christians more than they already are.  It isn’t productive, or healthy.  Without fail, you can drive up and down streets and highways and find houses, churches, businesses and even some government buildings which carry the Christian-centered decorations they always have.  What some might call “The Real Christmas.”  And we don’t need to be riled any more.
Why not?  We have to get the cookies baked and taken to our friends house.  We have to get to the store and pick up another turkey so our extra out-of-town guests have something to eat.  Oh wait, the dinner has been moved to their house.  Those 25,000 twinkling lights are not going to hang themselves.  I have my work party.  You have your work party.  We have the Jones’ party.  We have to get the kids to see Santa.  We have to send out our Christmas cards.  AND I need to check the Sunday paper for ads, because I HAVE to get my Christmas shopping done.
That’s how crazy Christmastime can get for us.  There is always more we can seem to find to fill up our already packed schedules.  It’s busy and we get worn down.  By the time it’s over, we may struggle to remember it–or just be so relieved it’s all over.    
Maybe you even went to church.  Maybe you even took time out of your busy schedule to make it down to church.  Are you really here when you are here?  Did you take the time to think about what it is you actually come here for?  “Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Sorry your party was so lame.” Yeah.
Today is the first week in Advent.  I spent my first few years in the United Methodist Church not quite knowing what it was.  That’s not anyone else’s fault but my own.  The pastoral leadership at the church I went to was superb and I have not had better pastoral leadership since.  (NOTE: My father-in-law was that pastor and he is worshipping with us this morning)  Maybe, then, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to remind ourselves what Advent is.
Advent is a time of preparation in the church.  It encompasses the 4 weeks prior to Christmas and Christmas eve.  We prepare our minds and our hearts to celebrate the great love inherent in God sending God’s son to earth–and what that means to us.  
Hence, the reason I have been getting to…The REAL Real Christmas.  I call it The REAL Real Christmas because too often the Christmas that we Christians celebrate is no different than the Christmas that everyone else celebrates–except we may go to church a few more times.  
The REAL Real Christmas causes us to slow down and really take an inventory of who we are in relationship to God.  Just as it says in Revelation, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  Why does this verse have anything to do with Advent?  
We view Advent as a time that we prepare the coming of Christ, but that’s a tad presumptuous because Christ is already here.  Christ is there knocking at the door.  We don’t have to prepare they way for him because he is there.  What is Advent, then?  It is us answering the door.  Advent is God reaching to us and knocking once more upon our hearts and desiring to come in.  That’s what God does, he desire a relationship with us.  All we have to do is answer the door.
What is on the other side of that door?  According to the gospel of John, eternal life to all.  Why is it we have access this most important of gifts?  Because God…loves…us.  The Christmas message can be summed up by two verses which seem to be in no way related to each other or to Christmas.  Together they say, “I am here at the door, waiting on you to answer.  My father loves you and wishes to be a huge part of your life.”  What we do this Christmas is a response to that question.  What will your response be?
When you get to December 26th, will you have worn yourself down to the nubs to the point that you would rather shove bamboo chutes up your fingernails before you look at another ornament?  Will you have eaten yourself into a diabetic coma?  Or, will you have done all of that knowing full well that it is meaningless if we don’t come out of it knowing the full meaning of the babe in the manger?  And no matter how poorly we celebrate the holidays, the heavenly father of that baby will stop at nothing until you are his.  That’s what the REAL Real Christmas is all about.  Maybe get the diabetic coma thing checked out by a doctor, though. AMEN! 

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