"All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Understanding" - Sermon, December 10, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Understanding”
Pastor Andrew Davis
December 10, 2017
Luke 1: 39-56

            If it sounds like a broken record of what a week it’s been these days, that’s because it seems like each week has something exciting that’s taken place.  This last week, we had a couple great sections of Advent small group on Monday and Wednesday, then on Tuesday and Thursday, had the joy of welcoming many of our children here for Christmas pageant rehearsals, which will take place this next week as well on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for next Sunday’s pageant.  I am always amazed at the level of energy kids bring, although I also tend to forget how much energy kids have.  Helps keep us on the young side too!! 
            As I think about the kids and the adults here in the church, this is a wonderful opportunity that we have before us in seeing more kids in our midst and an opportunity to be mentors and a positive role model.  Yeah, kids run around, make noise, and do all sorts of things that might raise our blood pressure a point or two, except kids are kids.  There’s actually a church in SoCal, Hope UMC in Torrance whose website is noisychildrenwelcome.org, and in all honesty, I would not have it any other way, even when it might unsettle a few of us at times.  Kids are curious, kids will act up here and there, and kids will be noisy and run around, even when it’s not always a good time.  And, we love them anyway, as it’s loving God and neighbor.  We have this wonderful opportunity to teach our children, teach them and learn together with them, this amazing story of God’s love and how we can all gain a sense of awe and reverence around us; and right now, we have the amazing opportunity to hear and share the story about the birth of Jesus and how this baby boy born in Bethlehem some 2017 years ago changed the world. 
         When we still had cassette tapes, there was one by the group Air Supply who have a song, “In the Eyes of a Child” that goes,
In the eyes of a child there is joy, there is laughter
There is hope, there is trust, a chance to shape the futureFor the lessons of life there is no better teacher
Than the look in the eyes of a child.[i] 

            I’m often finding that we need to look to the eyes of a child to receive the gift of a new understanding, as a new understanding is one of the many gifts of God’s grace that we can open at Christmas. 
            Whenever I read this morning’s Gospel lesson from Luke, I would love to have been there to eavesdrop some on Elizabeth and Mary during their visit.  Mary and Elizabeth are cousins and when Mary goes to see Elizabeth, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with Jesus’s cousin, John who we will know later on as John the Baptist.   Now the fact that Elizabeth is pregnant is a miracle in itself, as Elizabeth had been barren, or previously unable to bear children and is a lot older in age.  Meanwhile, her husband, Zechariah, a priest, and older gentleman himself, was literally rendered speechless, as the angel had Zechariah’s mouth bound for not believing in the miracle that Elizabeth would bear a son.  If you get a chance between worship and the Courthouse Sing today, I invite you to read what comes before this morning’s lesson, as it definitely has some good stuff in it (and if you want a Bible for the home, see me)!  Elizabeth, and even her infant in the womb, knows there is something special happening when Mary comes to their house, as the baby leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, which had to be a little more intense than a kick, although Elizabeth radiated pure joy when she saw Mary enter. 
            Like we heard in Joseph’s account last week from the Gospel of Matthew and how he was startled, it had to be quite startling to a young person like Mary to find out she was pregnant, having not had any relations with anyone.  Just as the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to tell him not to be afraid, Gabriel tells Mary the same thing six months later, that this baby she is in the early stages of pregnancy with will be no ordinary baby, but instead a baby who will be the son of God, great, and Holy.  Mary is left in awe, then when she learns of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she goes quickly to see Elizabeth, not an easy journey in itself.  In his 2011 Advent study, The Journey, Rev. Adam Hamilton explains that
Mary was seeking out an older woman, a maternal figure who was not her mother.  Elizabeth seems indeed to be the perfect person for Mary to visit.  She was married to an older priest named Zecheriah and together, they were the New Tesament’s Abraham and Sarah.[ii]

            Elizabeth was a sustaining, positive role model for Mary and both women could give each other a new understanding.  For Mary, Elizabeth was “someone who could help [Mary] gain perspective on what she was facing; someone who would listen to and believe in her; someone who would encourage her.”[iii]  Ultimately, Mary will come to understand that “she was chosen by God to bear the Messiah.”[iv]
            What about us?  How is a new understanding a gift that we can receive at Christmas and pass onto others?  Well, like we saw in verse 49 where Mary exclaims, “the Mighty One has done great things for me,” James Moore explains in All I Want for Christmas that “God, the Mighty One does great things for us by giving us a new understanding” to who God is, how we relate to each other, and how we can have “a new purpose for living.”[v]
            When we look through verses 46-56 in Luke 1, also known as the Magnificat, we see Mary singing a song of joy, a song in which we can receive a new understanding about who God is and how some of the social roles are reversed, in which God puts the poor, the lowly, and the outcast first and shows great mercy to each.  As we study the Gospels, we are given a picture of who Jesus will grow up to focus his ministry on, while showing us that God is a God of love mercy, and grace.  That’s the God I know and grew up knowing, and continue getting to know better.  More importantly, “Jesus came to show us that God is love.”
            Some of my most favorite stories growing up were by Richard Scarry, particularly the “Busytown” series, which are an educational series of picture books.  In his Busytown Christmas book, Richard Scarry tells the story of these twins, Abe and Babe who were always misbehaving, always fighting with each other, destroying things, provoking others around them, and generally up to no good and just not very nice.  Long story short, Christmas Day comes around and instead of shiny new sleds and toys under the tree, Abe and Babe have two large bags of coal waiting for them. 
           However, a bad snowstorm hit Busytown the night before and people needed to heat their homes after the power went out, leaving many of their neighbors in the cold and without heat, or coal for their stoves to cook Christmas dinner.  Abe and Babe had a bit of a revelation, in which they could turn things around and help their neighbors by having everyone bring their sleds over and giving them enough coal for their stoves to cook Christmas dinner.  Out of receiving the coal, then giving it to those who needed it the most, Abe and Babe received a new understanding that they could be nice to others and help others out and were changed from that day on.  Even though Richard Scarry’s books did not necessarily have a religious undertone to them, such a story is a lot like how we can share the love of God with others, as “Christmas gives us a new experience of God’s compassion and tenderness, out of which we can form a new relationship with God built not on fear, but love.”[vi]
            We can receive the gift of a new understanding by seeing others around us in a new light, or more as beloved children of God.  Although that’s also one of the more challenging gifts too.  Humanity is far from perfect, and I know I’m nowhere near there either.  That’s one of the things I am trying to focus on more, and Advent and Christmas is a good time to begin seeing others in a different light.  Remember the Home Alone movies with MacCauley Culken?  In the first Home Alone movie, Mac’s character, Kevin had a neighbor, “Old Man Marley” who was quite scary looking on the outside and someone who was the subject of many rumors, but after sitting with Marley at a choir concert and getting to know him and hear Marley’s story, Kevin  gained a new understanding of Marley and became friends with him.  Later in the movie, Marley came to Kevin’s aid when his house was broken into.  Same goes with the Pigeon Lady in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City, as the pigeon lady, while homeless, was one of the gentlest, kindest people around despite her outward appearance and became friends with Kevin and come to his aid like Marley did in the first movie when Kevin learned to see her in a different light.  Then of course in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge gets to experience the gift of a new understanding and see everyone and everything around him in a new light.  As James Moore puts it,
The gift of Christmas involves a new respect, a new regard for other people.  Christmas shows us that people are more important than things; they are not pawns to be used, but persons to be loved.  Also, Christmas shows us that the best way to love God is to love God’s children.[vii]

            After all, we never know who we will see the face of God in.  And even in our children that we see more of in this church lately and will continue to provide a safe place for, I see the face of God in our children and can’t wait for them to teach us along the way.  Then again, there is a line in Isaiah that does say, “a child shall lead them.” We need our Elizabeth’s and we need our Mary’s. We need our older friends who can be mentors, while also having our younger friends and a willingness to understand them.  We need many people in our lives to help us see a new understanding of ourselves.
            Finally, when we gain a new understanding of God and a new understanding of others, we can receive a new purpose for living, something where I can find renewal each Advent and Christmas season.  When we see the picture of a loving God full of grace and mercy, who brings good news to the poor, the sick, the captive, and the weak, when we see everyone around us as a beloved child of God, we too can see a new purpose for living, for loving, and serving in our own lives.[viii] When Mary came to Elizabeth, she came not knowing what entirely she was doing.  Yet, Elizabeth’s wisdom, love, and guidance gave Mary a new picture of God, of others, and in turn, gave Mary a new purpose for living from the new understanding she received and who she will become.  And Mary gave the same gift to Elizabeth. 
           How might a new understanding of God and of others bring joy to your life as we go into this new week and continue our Advent journey towards Christmas?
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Let the Church Say AMEN!! 

[i] "Air Supply Eyes Of A Child - Google Search". 2017. Google.Com. Accessed December 6 2017. https://www.google.com/search?q=air+supply+eyes+of+a+child&oq=air+supply+eyes+of+a+child&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60l4j69i65.3742j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

[ii] Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 63. 
[iii] Hamilton, 67
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] James Moore, All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 38-39. 
[vi] Moore, 41. 
[vii] Ibid. 
[viii] Moore, 44.  


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