Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Angel's Word (Matthew 1:18-25) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you know the story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas?   It's a children's story of the 1950's by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. The subtext of the story is a critique on the commercialization of Christmas.  The Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small" who lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep high mountain, just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his unloved, but loyal dog, Max.

From his perch high atop, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville.  Annoyed, he decides to stop Christmas from coming, by stealing their presents, ornaments, stockings, trees, and food for their Christmas feast.  He crudely disguises himself as Santa Claus, and forces poor Max, disguised as a reindeer, to drag a sleigh to Whoville, where he slides down the chimney's of all the homes and steals all of the Whos' Christmas presents,  Christmas trees, and the logs for their fire. The Grinch then takes his sleigh to the top of Mount Crumpit, and prepares to dump all of the presents into the abyss.

As dawn breaks, he expects to hear the Whos' bitter and sorrowful cries, but what he hears shocks him.   "They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do! "Their mouths will hang open a minute or two "Then all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!"  "That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,"That I simply must hear!"  So he paused.  And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.  And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.  It started in low. Then it started to grow...But the sound wasn't sad!  Why, this sound sounded merry!  It couldn't be so!  But it was merry! Very!”

“He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes!  Then he shook!  What he saw was a shocking surprise!  Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing!  Without any presents at all!  They are singing. "Why?" he asks.   And the Grinch, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?  It came without ribbons! It came without tags!  "It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.   He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming!  It came!  Somehow or other, it came just the same!  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!  "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"  

Yes, Dr. Suess, you are right, Christmas does mean a little bit more, in fact a lot more, than all the commercialization that has envoloped it over the years.   Thank you for reminding us of this truth. 

Commercialization always poses a threat, a threat to stop the true meaning and message of Christmas.  But there are other threats as well.  Busyness can stop Christmas from coming.  We get so wrapped up in the materialism and expectations and pressures and planning of the season, buying and shopping and preparing, that we don't enjoy and experience its central message. 

There are forces like secularism and humanism that try to stop Christmas in our culture.  Atheism tries with litigation to stop Christmas.  The threat of lawsuits is always a good club to use to try to eradicate Christmas from our culture.  We see it in legal challenges to creche scenes, being displayed in the public square. 

We see it in politics, when towns and cities vote to change the name, and call it a holiday parade.  Or when some schools allow Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs, but ban Christmas carols.  Or in some schools where Jewish and Islamic symbols are allowed, but they ban Christmas symbols.  We see it when the language of Christmas  becomes generic, with names like happy holidays or winter festivals.  I personally prefer saying Happy Hannukah or Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanzaa, than simply going generic, because we don't want to offend people.   And yet despite all of these Grinch-like attempts to stop Christmas, once again it is time to hear the joyful story 

And what is that jubilant story of Christmas?  It is beautifully stated in our biblical narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.  “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.  And Matthew tells us about Mary and Joseph discovering she was pregnant, and Joseph hears a word from an angel - “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus.”  The name Jesus means one who saves.  Christmas announces the miracle of God coming into the world in Jesus to bring salvation.

Christmas announces that God came into the world to save sinners, because the world needed a savior.  We cannot save ourselves.   We invent gods to worship, like power, wealth, hate, empire building, and self.  This truth isn’t a shock to anyone who sees examples of greed, barbarism and bondage that humans apart from God exact on others.  Humanity broke away from God and Christmas announces the glorious news that God sent Jesus to bring us back to be at – one with him.  

Pascal, the French physicist and philosopher said:  “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the creator, made known through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

That’s why God sent us a savior, to break the power of sin, to break the power of guilt over past sins, to free us from the fear of death and from the power of evil, a savior sent to restore our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.  Salvation is about right relationships. Pastor Rick Warren writes:  “God has a great purpose and a good plan for your life.  Salvation also means being given the freedom and power to fulfill God's purpose for your life.

The Gospel of John says: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

A pastor in New Jersey tells about taking his mother into New York City every Christmas to go shopping and look at the decorations in department stores.  The windows of the Macy's Department Store were unforgettable one year.  The first window had a scroll which read:  “The Smell of Christmas is in the Kitchen.”  The scene was an old-fashioned kitchen with a black stove and food cooking on it.  The second window was titled: “The Taste of Christmas is in the Dining Room.”  There was a long table laden with food.  The third window showed a beautiful tree decorated with ornaments and lights, little toys and popcorn strings.  The scroll read:  “The color of Christmas is in the Tree.”  The fourth window scroll said:  “The sound of Christmas is in the carols.”  This scene was a group of animated figures singing Christmas carols.  Then came the store's main entrance.  The scroll in this window proclaimed:  “But the heart and soul of Christmas is here.  In this window, was a stable with shepherds, wise men, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, lying in a manger.” 

Yes, the heart of the Christmas story is that God brought salvation to the world in Jesus.  Praise the Lord.   It is a Merry Christmas because of what God has said and done in His Son.  

And what miracle occurs, when we human beings experience the salvation of our Savior?  I close by returning to the story of the Grinch.   “And what happened then...? Who-ville they say, that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!  And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.   And he brought back the toys!  And the food for the feast!  And the Grinch was warmly invited to the Whos' feast, where he had the honor of carving the Roast Beast.”   Amen!

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