Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"All I Want For Christmas: The Gift of a New Style of Living" - Sermon, December 24, 2017 10:00am Service

Community UMC, Quincy
“All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Style of Living”
Pastor Andrew Davis
December 24, 2017, 10:00am Service
Philippians 2: 1-11
Matthew 23: 23-26

            I’m not sure about you, but last week’s Christmas pageant, “The Christmas Gift” has left me with that warm, fuzzy feeling this whole week!!!  I’m still saying WOW from the wonder the kids had when Charlotte told them the Christmas story, some maybe hearing it for the very first time right down to how they shared the story in worship last Sunday.  
            Now this morning may feel a little unusual since we’re worshiping on the morning of Christmas Eve.  However, this is also the preacher’s dilemma whenever Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fall on a Sunday.  Some churches have cancelled morning services in favor of the evening services, but this morning, we have our regular Sunday worship as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, while this evening will have Christmas Eve at 7:00pm, complete with lessons, carols, and candlelight.  I do hope to see you all back here tonight as we hear the story, whether it’s for the first time or for the thousandth time.  I know for me, I always get new insights of what Christmas means each time I hear the story, whether it’s through the text of scripture, or the old, familiar carols we sing. 
            Over the last few weeks during the season of Advent, we have been talking about God’s gifts of grace that we can receive at Christmas, then pass onto others as we prepare for Christmas.  In worship and in the weekly small group we had, we have talked about the gift of good news, the gift of a new understanding, and the gift of a strong foundation. As we conclude our series around James Moore’s book All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace this morning, we come to the gift of a new style of living. 
One of the things that means the most to me at Christmas is that like the birth of Jesus, Christmas is a time where something new can be born in each of us, as it’s a time of renewal of our faith or even a time of coming to the Christian faith for the first time.  Christianity has oftentimes gotten a bad rap, particularly in the news and we have seen people claim to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’ or as a ‘none,’ meaning they don’t have a religious affiliations.  Yet, at least in my eyes, the Christian faith is not something that should be feared and can actually make the world a better place when we put on Christ as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Philippians.  While some adore Paul and want to punch him in the same breath, Paul was someone who came to a new style of living through following Christ, even though he is writing this letter to the Philippians from a jail cell.  See, in his previous style of living, Paul was a devout follower of the Jewish faith and was also like the Pharisees that Jesus calls out in our reading from Matthew; each of them were very strict followers of the Law that is rooted in the Old Testament, particularly in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  Paul and the Pharisees were doing what they saw as right in God’s eyes.  Paul, in particular was a persecutor of the Christian faith when Christianity was in its infancy because he felt it was a threat his own faith, values, and beliefs.  Although I think all of us, myself included tend to get a little shaken, irritated, or even defensive whenever our values, core beliefs, and our own faith are challenged or threatened.  However, a profound experience happened to Paul on the road to a place called Damascus (which is covered in the Book of Acts), as Paul devoted his life to following Jesus and became a supporter of Christianity from that point on, even when defending the Gospel landed him in jail.  As a result, Paul was given the gift of a new style of living, even amidst his ‘humble brags.’ Nevertheless, when we follow Jesus, our “faith is a lifestyle [and] a whole new way of living!”[i]
For Paul, he is encouraging the church in Phippi to strive for unity and to BE the hands and feet of Christ, in other words live into this new way of living.  According to New Testament scholar, Troy Troftgruben at Wartburg Theological Seminary, “Paul’s aims are neither self-degradation nor the affirmation of power discrepancies, but to call out individualistic quests for societal status and honor as contrary to the spirit of Christ -- and potentially harmful to community.”[ii] It’s more so about “orienting our lives” around Jesus when we open the gift of a new style of living.[iii] When we put the gift of a new style of living into practice, we allow our
Conduct, behavior, actions, everyday routine, tone of voice, and every other aspect of [our] lives to be worthy of Christ.  Paul is right on the mark here because Christianity is not merely a set of intellectual ideas.  It is not merely a collection of theological beliefs.  It is not merely a series of philosophical arguments.  It is a way of life, a way of acting and responding, a way of relating to God and to people.  It’s a lifestyle…and it’s a lifestyle that works!  The gift of Christmas is an invitation to embrace this new lifestyle, to take on this new way of living, and recommit ourselves to it.[iv] 
           
Think of the gift of a new style of living as if it’s a New Year’s resolution, something I’ll admit I have a love-hate relationship with making.  I know that a new style of living for me that I need to push myself really hard and allow myself to be pushed towards is changing my relationship with food and fitness and having a new style of living that is healthier and more active instead of indulgent and sedentary.  It’s easy to indulge and eat unhealthy foods, as well as just sit around on the couch, especially when healthier foods tend to cost a little more and that television or social media beckons us in and sucks us into their vortexes.  Except, eating healthier and exercising are better than the alternative of heart disease or diabetes. 
We also have an opportunity for a new style of living spiritually too, which Christmas is always a good time to begin.  I always encourage regular worship, whether it’s here on Sunday morning in community, or by communing with nature.  Regular study of scripture and devotion are also important in a lifestyle of faith, as it’s a great way to center ourselves.  One little guide that can help us along the way are the Upper Room books which you can take on your way out the door.  And, volunteering our time at some of the charitable organizations around town such as Community Assistance Network, PAWS, PCIRC, or even here in the church is another way of adopting a new style of living.  We have opportunities to provide hospitality and welcome, ways to serve in worship and the arts, keeping our grounds looking beautiful or shoveling snow in the winter when it snows like it did Wednesday, or talk to me about where you feel God calling you to serve.  And service isn’t just limited here to the church or in the community.  James Moore explains that
Our faith is not just something we proclaim and celebrate in the sanctuary one day per week, and it’s not just something we perform step-by-step with no effect on our real selves.  It is something we live out and demonstrate and share with others at home, in the office, on the street, on the tennis court, or on a date.  It’s a matter of heart and life.[v]

I would even add the cafes, our local coffee shops, or the store.  We can share the gift of a new style of living with others anywhere and anytime when we have the opportunity to learn together and share the story of God’s love with others around us when we live out our faith as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  The most important part of being the hands and feet of Christ in our world is that our actions will always speak louder than our words.  In our reading from Matthew, Jesus calls the Pharisees out for that very reason, as their actions didn’t back up with what they were preaching.  We need to have the heart of Christ, have a sense of humility, and an openness to listening carefully to one another, especially more so considering the divided nature of things today. 
So as we step into Christmas tonight, tomorrow, and the week to come, what are some ways that you can receive the gift of good news, a new understanding, a strong foundation, or a new style of living?  And how will you pass those gifts onto others as we move from these last four weeks of Advent into The Twelve Days of Christmas?  Although we’ll be welcoming the Christ child into our hearts tonight, the work of Christmas is about to begin.  I pray that as we receive the gifts of good news, a new understanding, a strong foundation, and a new style of living, that we can pass those same gifts on all throughout the year as we care for each other, care for everyone around us, and everyone we encounter each and every day.  Let us put on Christ and actively put our faith into action!! 
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say AMEN!! 



[i] James Moore, All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 100. 

[ii] "Commentary On Philippians 2:1-13 By Troy Troftgruben". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed December 20 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3436.


[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Moore, 101. 
[v] Ibid.  

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