Summary: Advent 3: We pause to celebrate and rejoice in anticipation of the wonderful ’Gift’ that God gives to us in the Christ Child.
Dr. Seuss wrote a charming little story of a malcontent named the Grinch. This foul, green, slimy, grouchy character had no room in his heart for Christmas. Every year he worked himself into a rage because the Who’s, the little people that lived in Whoville, celebrated Christmas with a passion. They decorated, they celebrated with feasts, they exchanged gifts and sang songs – and this really rankled the Grinch. And so the Grinch devised a plan. He thought to himself that if he could just steal the decorations, the gifts and the feasts – he could steal Christmas. And the Who’s would have nothing to celebrate. And so he executes his evil plan. He cleans out the village so that there is not even enough of the feast left to feed a mouse.
As Christmas Day arrives the Grinch is perched on top of a craggy peak, ready to throw all of the Christmas loot he’s stolen from the Who’s over the edge. He pauses for just a second, hoping to hear a wailing and whimpering from Whoville down below. But instead, the Who’s gather and sing – just like they always had. And when the Grinch hears the Who’s singing, he finally realizes that Christmas is not about the gifts and the feasts and the decorations – but that there is something greater and bigger – something that cannot be squelched or muted by the foulness or sliminess or grouchiness of this world.
There are only eleven days left until Christmas Day. In 353 A. D., Pope Julius I set December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Now, who would have ever thought that the December 25th celebration would become what it is today? And when Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in America in 1832, who would have ever thought that the decorations would become as elaborate as they are today? The year 1832 was a long time ago, and the year 353 is even longer still. But it is much longer still from that dark night in Bethlehem. It was a dark night brightened by a special star. It was a night where angels visited shepherds. It was a night that stable beasts witnessed the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords - Jesus Christ. (Adapted from an illustration on Sermonillustrations.com)
This is what the Grinch missed and all ’Grinches’ miss – that Christmas is about Jesus and his work of salvation. It’s so very easy to loose sight of Christmas’ meaning. There’s a story of a small boy who was writing a letter to God about the Christmas. Like every little boy, he was writing about the presents he so badly wanted to get for Christmas. The boy writes: “I’ve been good for six months now.” And then he pauses and crosses out ‘six months’ and writes ‘three months.’ He pauses again and crosses out ‘three months’ and writes, ‘two weeks.’ He pauses again and finally crosses that out too. Finally the little boy gets up from the table and goes over to the little manger scene that had the figures of Mary and Joseph. He picks up the figure of Mary and goes back to his writing and starts again: “Dear God, if ever you want to see your mother again…!” (Adapted from an illustration on SermonCentral.com, contributed by: Owen Bourgaize)
Missing the point of Christmas causes us to miss out on the joy of Christmas. Do you want to enjoy Christmas? Do you want to have a joy and happiness that transcends the struggles and pains of life on this side of eternity? Beloved, look then and think about the source of joy that God offers to us – the reason why Christmas is. If we look there, if we allow God to warm our hearts with the truth of forgiveness and peace, if we can pause, and look forward to the celebration of the coming of the Christ Child, our joy becomes other-worldly – a joy inspired and fueled by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The theme in our Scripture lessons today is a call to rejoice. In our first lesson, the prophet Zephaniah says, “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14) In our second lesson, St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) And the prophet Isaiah, writes, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’ ” (Isaiah 12:2-6)