Summary: We experience the Christmas touch of God as we personally give the gift of ourselves to God and experience both belonging and forgiveness.
It was a few days before Christmas on the Oregon coast. Two men whose families lived next door opted to go sailing while their wives went Christmas shopping. An unexpected storm surprised the weekend sailors. Before long, the sea became angry, and the two had a difficult time keeping the sailboat under control.
While heading toward the harbor, the craft hit a sandbar and grounded. Both men jumped overboard into the icy water and began to push and shove in an attempt to get the sailboat into deeper water. Knee-deep in mud and repeatedly bounced against the hull by unfriendly waves, the one said to the other, “Sure beats Christmas shopping, doesn’t it?”
When you think of Christmas, what word or phrase do you automatically think of? For some of us it might be “Christmas shopping nightmare.” For others of us, it might be “Let’s go sailing!”
This morning, I think of the word barrenness in conjunction with Christmas. Not because Christmas is a barren time (it is certainly not) but because we experience barrenness within our hearts, minds, and souls in a variety of ways. There are the demands of time and expectations that are a part of this season because we are well aware of the expectation to be here, there, in fact, everywhere!
Another way we experience barrenness and need God’s touch on our lives is due to the barrenness of relationships through death and conflict. At this time of year when family togetherness is a very marketed concept, many people experience anything but family togetherness. Death, conflict, and distance of all kinds, make family togetherness an impossibility.
And, in light of the economic slowdown, many people are experiencing an economic barrenness, as thousand and thousands of jobs have disappeared right before our eyes.
Our Advent series has been entitled The Christmas Touch and we have visited with the innkeeper and shepherds of Bethlehem. As we visited with the innkeeper, we were challenged to reach out to our neighbors like the innkeeper probably did in providing Joseph and Mary with a place to stay. As we visited with the shepherds, we were encouraged to reach out to the overlooked people of our day by making meaningful connections with them. Shepherds, as we heard, were considered unreliable persons and overlooked in the social status of that day. But, God used them to announce Jesus’ arrival!
Today, we move north from Bethlehem to Jerusalem where we visit a Jewish priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. The story is found in Luke 1:5 – 25 and it takes place prior to Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about the coming birth of Jesus.
I can personally relate to Zechariah in a couple of ways. First, like Zechariah, I too, am a priest, if you will, as I serve God as your pastor. I understand the role and the duties that he performed. But, I can also relate to Zechariah in another way.
As we read in Luke 1:7, “They (that is Zechariah and Elizabeth) had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old.”
After 11 years of marriage, Susan and I were trying to have a family. But, nothing was happening. So, I made a trip to the doctor. He sent me to another doctor who looked at me and basically said, “You have an easily fixed condition.” Fixed by surgery, he meant.
So, in August 1994 I underwent surgery to correct an infertility problem. And, as some of us here this morning are aware, it worked! Living proof in the form of my two boys – Jonathon and Daniel.
With Zechariah’s story as a backdrop, I want to share two verses because they show us how God’s touch does work in our lives.
We experience the touch of God on our lives when we acknowledge the barrenness of connection in them.
In Psalm 68:6 we read, “God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
God is aware of the barrenness of our relationships during this time of year. He knows all about our pain and loneliness that comes because of death, conflict, and separation of many kinds. But, because of Christmas, because of the coming of a little boy, Jesus, God places us, as we respond to Him in faith and trust, in His family – the church.
Let me put it this way, “If there was no Christmas, there would be no Good Friday, and if there was no Good Friday, there would be no Easter; and if there was no Easter, there would be no Pentecost, and if there was no Pentecost, there would be no Church, and if there was no Church, there would be no touch of God!
In other words, without Christmas – the Birth of Jesus, there would be no Good Friday – the death of Jesus. Without Good Friday there would be no Easter –the Resurrection of Jesus. Without Easter there would be no Pentecost – the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to let people begin to know that they can be delivered from all sorts of stuff and personally experience peace and hope. And without Pentecost, the Church would have not been established and without the Church, what family would God place the lonely in?