"The Nativity of God"
I always said if my mom were to cheat on my dad it would be with Santa Clause. I know having said that I might be encouraging you to break a few commandments, but that is not my intention this morning. Yet that’s my mom for you. She’s in love with Christmas. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized our summer vacations were always cleverly mapped out around Christmas outlet stores. More often than not, we would just so happen to stay were there was always a “Santa’s Workshop” nearby. Even my father dare not pack clothes he liked because there was always the chance that someone’s suitcase would have to be sacrificed if Mom found a killer deal on Christmas decorations.
Many years ago, Kathleen and I went on a vacation to Costa Rica with my parents. We spent a week on a beautiful sandy beach. After that we took another week to visit rain forests, volcano craters, coffee farms, and yes Christmas shops. And so here we were, in a small, remote town with only one restaurant and one hotel whose rooms made the Bethlehem stable look luxurious…but by golly…they had a place to buy Christmas ornaments. This particular one however, specialized in hand-carved decorations from exotic woods. The place was just as much as an art gallery as it was a store. Almost instantly Kathleen and I found this beautiful nativity scene, carved out of an old coffee root.
This is not your typical holiday ornament. There’s no glitter, or glue. No fancy bows. And its not painted the traditional colors of Christmas. With a quick glance you might not even recognize it as a nativity scene. It is often mistaken for a piece of art. Suffice it to say it never felt right to simply pack it up with the blinking Christmas lights and plastic garland. Instead it is always on displayed in our living room. Like “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” this nativity is an unusual reminder for me to keep my path straight…to stay focused on the Nativity of God.
In a Christmas sermon given on December 2, 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger.” Advent reminds us of what we are waiting for in December. Why we celebrate the 25th day with great joy.
My question to you this morning is this: what do we have in our lives that reminds us
that we are also actively waiting in October and February and June? The story of the Nativity, though beautiful and familiar, is as easily put out of our minds as Christmas decorations are put in boxes. On certain sides of the calendar, a carved Nativity scene looks amiss. Sitting on my mantle in the fall or the spring, it seems somehow far away from home, far from the blinking lights and greenery, longing for the Christmas fanfare. But looking at it with thoughts of Advent near, our longing hangs on the hope, love, joy, peace and light of Christ Jesus.
Shouldn't every day be like Advent? I'm sure if my mom had her way, Christmas would come 365 days a year. But I think she'd be missing something important. The waiting and longing of Advent. She might not see the reminder that we are all troubled in soul, looking for something greater; the nativity of God reminds us that we are poor and imperfect; we long for our God to come down to us and gives a gentle knock at the door. To call us out into the world as we are inviting him in.
Mark begins his story of Jesus looking back at the Prophecy of Isaiah, who said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” You see, God needs our help as we need God's. To prepare the way of the Lord requires us to do something. In the last two weeks you may recall how we are to be active in this world if we are to see the face of God in others, and to stay awake for Christ. Today, we are called to be active yet again, in preparing our hearts and minds in love as God prepares the way for our salvation. (Remember, our salvation does not rest solely on God’s grace, but requires us to be active and give God’s grace freely to the world and all that dwells in it.) To quote the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
Let us prepare the path of righteousness, by humbly practicing righteousness with each other. This idea of walking humbly with God reminds me of a story... of sorts. It was the first Sunday after Christmas, and we were taking down the decorations around the church. I was put in charge of the oversized nativity set. As I was carefully boxing up the sheep and the lambs I notice the baby Jesus was missing. As I was walking back to the Church office to report the theft, I notice this kid with a little red wagon walking around the church campus. He could not have been any older than 6. As he walked I noticed there in the wagon was the figure of the little infant Jesus. I approached the kid with both anger and puzzlement. I asked him, “Son, where did you get the little infant?” He smiled and replied honestly, “I took him for the church.” “And why did you take him from the church?” With a sheepish smile, the boy said, “Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to baby Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas I would give him a ride in it.”
Advent is about actively waiting for the one who embraced our human sorrow and bodily pain. The Christ child who called out to us, and to walk the path of righteousness beside us. It is not December that reminds us we are longing for God to come nearer, but the Nativity of God, the Incarnation of the Christ in the baby Jesus. As we prepare the way, may we never lose sight that each day is touched by the promise that Jesus has already prepared the path for us, and that he will again come breaking through, into our world, into our longing, into our sin and death to bring us back home. Until then, Jesus left us with this meal as a reminder of his promise to be with us. Dearly beloved, this is the joyful feast of the people of God.