SERMON from 12-4-11: “The REAL Real Christmas: Xmas Redemption”

 
Hosea 3.1-51  

The Lord said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine. 3 And I said to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” 4 For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. 

 
 Xmas Redemption 
 
 The REAL Real Christmas is about redemption. We will get to what that means by starting with the candy cane. 
 
 At some point in your life–maybe you have done it yourself–you have seen someone attempt to explain the origins of candy canes. One version begins with a candy maker from Indiana. The story goes that he was in his shop when the idea came to him that he should make a candy that was also a witness. So, he took the sugar, water and mint and melted it together. When it had cooled enough, he pulled enough of the mixture out to make a stick. He bent it into a “J” shape to represent the name of Jesus. Then he stained it with red stripes to signify the bloody beating Jesus sustained at Roman hands. Anyone hungry yet? Other versions don’t mention the Hoosier candy maker, but note that the stick was bent to represent a shepherd’s hook–because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And, since it was also a candy, it could be shared between believers without those who would persecute them knowing they were candy with a witness. 
 
 Eh, no. The candy cane was originally a stick with European origins. It was a Christmas tradition which gained popularity as Europeans attempted to decorate their trees with something that children could eat. This also worked in church. It is noted by snopes.com–check my information with them if you would like–that a choir director used some to quiet children during Christmas services. That tradition continues to this day–we just call it a children’s sermon. There you have it. The candy cane: European Christmas tree decoration. 
 
 It’s when we come to the Christmas tree that the story surrounding Christmas staples gets more messy. The tree–and lights and other things which adorn it–don’t actually come from a Christian tradition. The beloved Christmas tree–a symbol you have seen plenty of lately–is actually a pagan symbol. The tree and Christmas never grew out of anything having to do with the branches or needles pointing to the heavens. Christians took this symbol on as their own. We stole it from the pagans. 
 
 The point I am trying to make is that our understanding of these types of things can be messy. 
 
 And speaking of messy, it was also from the pagans that we mainly derive our tradition of gift-giving. Giving gifts is not a bad thing, it’s actually a good thing. What have we done with this thing? We take a figure like Santa Clause–or any of the other names from any of the other traditions we want to mention–and turn him into a God-like figure who watches us for good or bad behavior and rewards us with every desire of our heart. If we are not replacing the idea of God, we may certainly be skewing it. 
 
 Don’t be discouraged by this. I am not attempting to put a damper on your holiday merriment. I am not telling you that Christmas is a pagan tradition that we need to put an end to. Certainly, we can pervert the Christmas season into a gift-giving, self-indulgent, secular monstrosity. 
 
 Consider the commercials we see come out this time of year. Best Buy has one. A mother is holding a bunch of gifts for her family. She is speaking to a store associate who is saying, “Santa better watch his back, huh?” The next scene is Santa attempting to fill stockings that are already full and put presents under a tree that is already stacked high with gifts. The mom is smirking at the man in red and saying something to the effect of, “move along.” Not to mention the Lexus commercials that tells us that our loved ones will only be happy if they are given a car with a big red bow on top. Of course, there are other ways we can pervert the meaning of the season, but this is the a big one that comes to mind. 
 
 However, like with so many things in our life, God has a way of co-opting something we have made a mess out of–and making it something that glorifies him. 
 
 That’s what brings us to our scripture. Hosea has taken a wife, Gomer. Gomer is a prostitute. During their marriage, Gomer takes lovers and has children outside of her marriage. Even though she has done this, God commands Hosea to go to her again and take her as his wife. Why does God do this? 
 
 It seems strange to us, but God does it to illustrate his love and desire to continually seek out his people. God–through Hosea–is illustrating how Israel has turned from God. He brought them out of slavery and they turned to other gods in the midst of it. Once they were in the Promised Land, Israel turned away again. They took up practices and gods that stood in direct competition to God. They took something that God had done for them and turned away from that to their own desires. 
 
 To make this right–in only a way God could do it–God tells the prophet Hosea to take a wife who would mimic Israel’s actions. Hosea had taken her out of her own form of slavery. Once he had done that, Gomer turned to the comfort of other men. Instead of having him wash his hands of her, God instructs Hosea to go after her again. Without assurance that Gomer wouldn’t do it again, Hosea took Gomer back. That’s not exactly right. Hosea bought Gomer back–with gifts and offerings. Gomer didn’t seek out Hosea; it worked the other way around. It was at that point that we come to in the scripture; at the point where Gomer is reconciled to Hosea, and Israel comes to the Lord “in awe.” 
 
 What does God say to Hosea? “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” What are the other gods which you love? What are the things that pull your attention and resources away from the One who is supposed to be your focus? 
 
 At Christmas, it’s so easy. A celebration which began as a religious recognition of the gift which God sent us to signify his love for us has turned into this. We create elaborate stories surrounding prominent, secular signs of the season in order for us to feel better about focusing on more of the secular portions of this holiday. Why? Because “Christmas,” as it is recognized in this country at this point in time is no longer a mainly religious expression. In fact, it teaches us to embrace many things we view as “sins.” Greed. Gluttony. Envy. Pride. And if we include many people’s actions on Black Friday; wrath. When someone pours too much cream in their coffee, someone might say, “Hey, you want a little coffee with your cream?” In the same way, someone should say to us, “Hey, you want a little Jesus with your Christmas?” 
 
 The remedy to all of this lies in understanding The REAL Real Christmas. Just as Hosea didn’t stop pursuing Gomer, and God never stopped pursuing Israel, God doesn’t stop pursuing us. Never. No matter how far we turn from him or how long we have stayed turned, God never stops pursuing us. Just as God took the story of Hosea and Gomer and made it a happy one, he does it with Christmas, too. 
 
 No matter how far we take our secular indulgence into the holiday season, there is always God. It’s not just during Christmas, either. No matter how far we think we have fallen, God calls out to us. No matter how horribly we think we have sinned against him, God calls out to us. No matter whether or not we think we are worthy, god is calling out to us. The entire story of scripture is one of redemption. It shows God’s persistent desire to be reconciled to his people. God is calling out to us continually. He calls out to us in order to let us know of his desire to redeem us to himself. At Christmas, he uses a baby in a manger. He uses a child born in a stable amongst the animals. God doesn’t use a shiny, silver Lexus with a giant, red bow on it to get our attention. He uses the babe in the manger. To realize the message in that, we have to tune out all the noise around us and draw near. And that’s what The REAL Real Christmas is all about. 
 
 And with how crazy the holidays can get, I can only say thanks be to God for that. AMEN!

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