December 24, 2006
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 1:39–1:45
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Did you know that Christmas is less than 24 hours away? This might seem hard to believe, but it's true! How have your preparations gone? Have you secured your honey-baked ham? Have you finished decorating the tree? Have you been able to find thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list? Have you finally cleaned the house (or at least gotten all the mess shoved out of the way, into a closet or under a bed) in preparation for the arrival of your guests? Maybe your family and friends have already arrived, and you're still trying to get a few, final details in order. It just doesn't seem like there's enough time for everything that we have to do.
So how about we just push back Christmas by a week or so? That'd probably work out well for a lot of us - give us more time, take the edge off of our busy rushing around. Retailers probably wouldn't mind: more people could get into the stores to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Charity organizations could get more Christmas meals prepared, or gift baskets, like the ones that you supplied and John's Gang sorted for Koinonia, our local aid organization. Another week would probably be welcomed here in the church office, what with all the sermons and bulletins that need to be prepared. We'd have another week of Advent - we could probably even fit another candle on the Advent wreath - giving us more time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus' birth.
But it doesn't work that way: Christmas is less than 24 hours away. Jesus is coming. Are we prepared? As we get caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas decorations and last-minute shopping, as we fly to visit distant family members, as we make plans for the big day, we're missing the point in many ways. We don't respond to Jesus' coming to us as we ought. It's not that we're not putting enough effort into it: we spend money on decorations, we cook special meals, we set aside time to be with family and friends. And Christians generally know that Christmas isn't about the decorations or the meals.
But what about family? How often, when asked what their memories of Christmas might be, will people answer by talking about family traditions or traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house? At this time of year, people who are separated from their families or those who live alone often feel extra pressure. Christmas seems to have a strong connection to family. And yet, many of us have family members who do not believe that Jesus, to whose birth the Advent season looks forward, is the Savior. The Son of God, who being born in little Bethlehem would be the good shepherd. We don't share the faith that we've been given because such sharing might be - uncomfortable. We talk about proclaiming the good news that Jesus is born, but we don't invite our own families to join us in God's family. Where, then, should our Advent preparations really be focused?
Christmas is just about 24 hours away. And this is what Christmas is really about: Jesus visiting us, coming to live among us. In our Gospel lesson today, we learn about the first meeting of Jesus and John the Baptizer, before either one has left his mother's womb. This particular section of Luke 1 is called "the Visitation," when Mary journeyed to visit her relative Elizabeth. Mary has recently learned from the angel Gabriel that would be the mother of Jesus, Son of the Most High God, and that Elizabeth, though formerly barren and advanced in years, is six months pregnant. What can we learn today from this ancient story of a trip to visit distant family? Mary certainly didn't get snowed in while trying to fly through Denver. Elizabeth hadn't gone to buy the latest "Tickle Me Elmo" as a baby shower gift for Mary. Even so, Jesus still came.
When Elizabeth heard her relative's greeting, her baby leaped - not kicked, but leaped - for joy in her womb. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, singing out the truth that Mary's child is one blessed, One who would be a blessing to all the world. Elizabeth stopped in the midst of her life, called by the Spirit to recognize and welcome the Son of God into her home.
And now, as the hours of the Advent season draw to a close, the Spirit is calling each and every one of us, you and me, to do the same: recognize and welcome Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. Welcome him into your home and family by stopping in the midst of your ham-cooking, your house-cleaning, and your gift-shopping to give thanks to God. Welcome him into your home and family by proclaiming the real Good News of Christmas to your family members, because we all need to hear it: God became man to pay the price of our sins. Welcome him into your home and family, even if your home is distant and your family is scattered, by coming here on Christmas morning to gather around his table in the Lord's Supper, where he calls you to be his guest.
Blessed Advent to you! Christmas is less than 24 hours away.