Summary: Christmas Sunday 1987: The way to be free is to give oneself away, as Jesus did. We exalt Him because He became servant of all. That is the way to freedom for us too.
At Christmas time, all the rules change. At Christmas time, the boundaries get opened up and widened. Children who for eleven and a half months of the year are told, “We can't afford that, suddenly are permitted to spring to Santa's knee and express their desires for the latest and most glitzy exotic monsters to burst from the minds of Mattel. Men who are normally the pictures of restraint and dignity jump into office parties and warble songs of good cheer at full throttle. Ladies who count calories daily and hourly allow themselves an indulgence of sugar and cholesterol and throw caution to the winds. Why, I know one church member who confided to me that she allows herself one – one – piece of candy a year, and, guess what, it's done at Christmas! At 6hristmas, the rules change and the boundaries open up.
And the stores – what a bewildering array of things they offer! Every manufacturer and every merchant wants to have all sorts of new choices for Christmas, and so the stores are chock full of goodies to tempt our eyes and thin our wallets and worsen the trade balance with Japan. The boundaries are off, it seems, and those of us who normally count pennies and will drive five miles extra because the milk at that grocery is selling a dime cheaper than the milk at this store, those of us who know that we have to be very, very careful about what we spend will find ourselves caught up in the boundless opportunities of the moment. We will push the plastic and indulge a score of whims, perhaps for all kinds of reasons, but not least because at Christmas the rules change, the boundaries open up, and there is an air of boundlessness around. There is an atmosphere of anything goes.
Now of course when it comes right down to it, choices do have to be made amid all this boundlessness. I cannot literally have it all, and so I do have to make some serious choices. It's nice to know that there is such a host of options out there, but I cannot have it all, so I begin to choose. I am the kind of shopper who isn't quite satisfied unless he has examined the whole range; I need to be sure I'm getting the best deal, the right thing, and so have this tendency to want to look at it all before I settle down. On those rare and, I must say, trying occasions when I have to shop for a car, I want at least to read about and study everything from the luxury of a BMW to the tin can Yugo, even though I know full well I won't buy either one. I need to know, just the same, that the choice I’ve made is the best choice, the right choice, out of the whole boundless range of options.
You and I need to see this morning that we make life choices too. Out of a wide, wide range of options we choose who it is that we shall be. We select an identity, we choose a way of life. The boundaries are off in our day as they have never been before and it's like Christmas out there. We can choose among possibilities folks a generation or two ago never thought possible. If you have college students coming home for Christmas, you may have discovered that some exploring and some choosing is going on. There is a beard where once before there were the smooth cheeks of a mere lad. There is new talk about politics and issues and questions you never worried with twenty-five years ago. And whereas for you the great spiritual choice was whether to be a Baptist or a Methodist, now she's come home to tell you she is taking lessons in Zen or has embraced the Muslims. Choices. Choices out of a boundless range of options. Life choices – I'm saying that all of us are called to make them. In fact, I’d worry a whole lot more about the person who never seemed to struggle with choices than I would about somebody who is making choices I didn’t make.
Choices, though, that's the main point. You and I are called, not just in our younger years, but throughout the seasons of our lives, to choose who we shall be and how we shall live from what appear to be boundless and wide-open possibilities. How shall we do it? How do you decide how you're going to live? How shall you know by what style you shall live your life?
I know the story of somebody who had every privilege it is possible to imagine, who had before him all the riches and all the knowledge anyone could count up, and in fact, infinitely more. Once this one, a prince among princes, the heir of a father who could give him whole worlds – this one came to a day and a time at which he laid it all aside, he turned his back on the power and the glory, he rejected status and honor. Even though infinite wealth was his by right, he chose poverty. Even though the boundaries were off for him, he chose the confines of a humble home in a dirty third-rate country. Even though his father possessed boundless reserves of influence and of power, he chose as his style of life to teach the ignorant, to offer a word of wisdom to the ungrateful, to lead the unruly. Out of all the boundless possibilities that life held out for him, he chose humility and poverty, and worse.