"All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of Good News" - Sermon, December 3, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of Good News”
December 3, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Isaiah 52: 1-12
Matthew 1: 18-25

What do You want for Christmas?  Whenever I am asked, I admit that it’s a tough question for me to answer, although ask any of the kids out here and we could get quite a list going.  As I get older, I realize that my wants and desires for Christmas become simpler: peace in our world; living in a world where truth and justice prevail; clean water, food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, services for mental health.  Okay, maybe not as simple as first thought, then again we can always have a grown-up Christmas list.  On the other hand, our wants can also be on the silly side, such as “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” or “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…”
It seems appropriate to ask what do you want for Christmas, as we begin the season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  Advent is typically a time of preparation, of longing, slowing down (yeah right), and centering our hearts as we wait for Christmas to arrive.  Except in reality, the Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year with all the extra events around town (which are fun to be at, like Sparkle this past Friday), winter concerts, the Courthouse Sing next Sunday afternoon that our choir will be participating in, Christmas pageants, shopping, parties, lots of eating, and more shopping.  Before seminary and entering pastoral ministry, when I used to work for Raley’s and for many who work in retail or grocery, it often felt more like we were just ready for Christmas to be over with.  At the same time, Advent can be a time to rethink why we are so busy and why things are so hectic, as Advent can be a good way to add spiritual practices, while also thinking about the gifts God gives to us, not just at this time of year, but all year-round.  As we embark on this Advent and Christmas series, “All I Want for Christmas,” my hope is that we will think about how we open the gifts of God’s grace while opening ourselves to those same gifts.  In both our messages on Sundays and in the small group study on Monday mornings or Wednesday afternoons, we’ll be thinking about the gifts of good news, a new understanding, a strong foundation, a new style of living, and Christmas gifts we can pass on to others. 
Not to keep harping on it, but it feels like lately we live in a world of constant bad news and darkness, especially now since it starts getting dark around 3:30 when the sun goes behind Claremont Ridge or when we turn the 4 or 5 pm news on.  We could certainly use some good news, and that’s one of the gifts we can receive at Christmas, even if we may not readily see it in plain sight or right away.  In the book this series is based on, All I Want for Christmas, James Moore explains that
Christmas gives us the gift of good news of Jesus’ birth, the good news that God is with us.  This gift of good news truly is a gift that keeps on giving, because it inspires our faith, grounds our hope, and leads us to love.  Through the good news of Jesus, Christmas gives us the gifts of faith, hope, and love.”[i]

            In Matthew’s Gospel that we just read, Joseph, who will be Jesus’s earthly father is having a crisis of faith over some news.  While Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is often recited on Christmas Eve or other television specials and movies at this time of year, we get a little perspective of Joseph in Matthew’s account. Following a thorough genealogy of the line from which Jesus came from, we encounter Joseph learning that his fiancé, Mary is pregnant through the work of the Holy Spirit, considering they quite aren’t married yet.  He’s afraid that if people around town see that she is pregnant, both of their lives would be in danger.  According to the law at the time of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Ron Allen, Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis explains that
neither party in a coming marriage could have sexual relations with an outside person. Mary’s pregnancy catches Joseph by surprise. According to Deuteronomy 22:23-27, Mary could be tried publicly and then executed. By resolving to “dismiss her quietly,” Joseph seeks to avoid public humiliation while also fulfilling the law.[ii]

            It’s a tough situation that Joseph feels like he is in and he sure could use some good news at the moment, as he wants to follow the law and do God’s will.  And, upon hearing this passage for the first time, it could be somewhat discomforting in the same light for many of us, especially in light of the sexual harassment claims we keep hearing about in the news of late like a broken record. Or as I was reading on Twitter from someone who was haunted from past events, this passage brought back a lot of bad memories and am fully aware that this morning’s gospel can trigger some bad memories among any of us too.  In Joseph’s case, the angel shows up and brings a small dose of good news to Joseph in his moment of fear and questions about what is right, as his role as Jesus’ earthly father is all a part of the prophecy.  As we just read in verse 23, Emanuel, the same hymn which we will be singing at the very end of worship this whole month, means that God is with us, giving us hope, and being our power source, or as I like to say, our spiritual batteries.[iii]
            There are times where our spiritual and even our physical batteries feel like they’re running on low or empty, more so at this time of year with all the extra stuff happening around us, along with all that tasty rich food.  At the same time, when we see a lot of bad news, or make our focus primarily on the bad news, that too can drain our batteries a little bit.  I know it drains my batteries and saps my energy when it becomes my focus.  Back in January when we were experiencing some significant rain and wind storms, we lost power for a good portion of the day and I found my LED flashlight to come in handy.  Only thing is that I apparently used it a lot more than I thought, as when I went to use it to look under the house I live in to turn off the water that controls the hydrants in the backyard in October, I found that the batteries had died.  So, time to get new batteries just in case we get any major storms that may knock out power.  The same thing can happen to us when we are constantly go-go-go, or when we focus too much on the bad news around, or if we aren’t practicing good self-care.  Our bodies, minds, and souls can get a little or a lot out of whack. 
       When we intentionally take the time to quiet our hearts and prepare our minds during the season of Advent and Receive the gift of good news,
Christmas reconnects us to our power source.  As we look forward to the birth of Jesus, we feel God come close and recognize that nothing else can fulfill our longing for a better world.  The reminder of God’s presence ignites our faith and reinvigorates our life in Christ.[iv]

            Now this is the very aspect about Christmas that reinvigorates my soul and helps give me a significant recharge to my faith, as I try to quiet my heart, focus my mind on good news, add some extra devotions and time with God, as well as try not to over-indulge in all the tasty treats or eggnog.  Try being the operative (although I do have a couple people, or angels who remind me D-I-E-T).  Even pastors can find our faith in a bit of a rut at times, and I know that mine has been sure tested quite a bit these last few months, with the Minerva fire, not always practicing very good self-care, losing beloved members of our congregation, still growing into the role of Pastor to this church and community, and just everyday events that can bring on the stress.  Even though I know I don’t have all my stuff together all of the time, or when I find myself falling into a rut, I get some kind of reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing, just like the angel showed up with Joseph to bring him good news and remind him that his role as Jesus’s earthly father is just as important.  Each of us has probably been in that situation too, where a life event has happened that might just sap your energy and drain your spiritual batteries.  Then God shows up, reminding us that we are God’s beloved.  And, God is still with us, bringing us good news in a bad news kinda world.  As James Moore puts it, “the Christmas gift of good news is the knowledge and assurance that God is with us!  Christ came to underscore this good, joyful news that God is with us…and nothing can separate us from God.”[v] James further explains that “even during life’s worst times, when we think we are alone, God is with us.  And that gives us a powerful hope that strengthens us no matter what happens.”[vi]
          Even if we can’t necessarily see God right before our eyes, yet we get signs and little reminders, like those amazing sunsets this last week.  Even if we can’t see God, our faith in God can give us hope.  That is a gift of good news in itself, especially as we lit the candle of hope earlier on in the service.  Or as our choir sang, God leads us to the way, the truth, and life when we are willing to say yes to God, willing to follow God, and put our trust in God because “through the good news of Jesus, Christmas gives us the gifts of faith, and hope, and love.”[vii] As we prepare to come to the table of Holy Communion and take part in the sacrament, we have this sustaining presence of God represented in the bread and grape juice that can reconnect us to God.  We are invited to become one with God and with Christ when we eat and drink at the table of grace, the table of abundant life. 
As we move through this journey of the season of Advent and think about God’s gift of good news and opening the gifts of God’s grace, who do you know around you that needs a gift of good news, hope, or Love right now?  And how are you taking some time to re-charge your spiritual batteries and give your faith a boost if it’s been running on low or empty as of late?  Joseph received a serious dose of good news when the angel stepped in during his dilemma, as Joseph received the good news that God is with him, that this child he will become earthly father to will be called Emmanuel, God with us. 
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, AMEN!! 

[i] James W. Moore, All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 11. 

[ii] "Commentary On Matthew 1:18-25 By Ron Allen". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed November 30 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3092.

[iii] Moore, 12. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 
[vi] Moore, 13. 
[vii] Ibid.  


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