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Summary: your expectations of Christmas

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Advent # 3 Resource - Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, Mike Slaughter,

Abingdon Press, 2011

The Mess that Mary’s Mission Created

Christmas is weighed down with expectations! Somehow every year we think this one will be different.

I’ll finally find the perfect gift.

Christmas dinner will be perfect.

Nobody will be cranky, disappointed, or difficult when they come to visit.

Christmas Vacation, the comedy starring Chevy Chase, released in 1989, is a hilarious story of the missed expectations of Christmas. Clark Griswold is determined to make Christmas memorable and he does but not in the way he hoped. In one moment after another, the hapless father finds that his best efforts go wrong. One of the reasons the movie has remained in circulation for two decades is that we can all identify. Like Clark, we have a set of ideals that prove to be illusions unattainable in this present world! Cranky relatives, tempers that flare, exhaustion conspire against our dream of ‘peace on earth, good will to men.”

Pastor Mike Slaughter writes - “Consumer-focused marketing and Victorian Christmas traditions have replaced the Biblical meaning of “God with us.” In our attempts to create magical Christmas experiences we run ourselves into the ground- emotionally, physically, financially, and relationally.”

Will we make the choices that will allow us to find the meaning, the joy of Christmas, in the middle of our imperfection? Will we give up our fantasy of the ‘perfect’ Christmas and experience God’s gifts right where we are?

Here’s what I know. If we follow the story of Christmas told in the Gospels, if we let the real events, rather than our traditions and imaginations, shape our celebration, Christmas will enrich instead of deplete.

TEXT - Luke 1:26-34; 38; 2:6-7 PB 1588

I did a Google image search using the phrase ‘nativity scene’ this week. I chose the bulletin cover photo (show on PPT) from among the pictures I found. Not one of them was anything near realistic. Ever been in a real barn, full of livestock? (Or as is likely the case with Jesus’ birth, in a cave used to house domestic animals?) It’s nothing like the pretty pictures or the nativity scene here at the front of our church. Barns houses animals. I have shoveled what animals produce thoughtlessly. I know the pungent smells of a barn.

Jesus arrived on earth in a barn/cave. Since it was part of the premises of an inn, there were donkeys present. Donkeys were everywhere in Palestine, the beast of burden used by everybody, the utility trucks of the time. And, while there could have been sheep, that’s more of a stretch, since sheep were almost always tended in flocks outside of town by shepherds. There might have been a goat or two, tethered to the wall, as they would become tomorrow’s dinner entree! Possibly there were chickens perched for above. And yes, animal smells were richly redolent. It wasn’t a place I would choose for a baby’s birth.

Then there are the circumstances of his conception of which we read a moment ago. The angelic announcement created a mess for Mary. Virginity was highly valued. If a girl wanted to marry right, she did not involve herself with men. She waited for her father to find the right man and her marriage was arranged, not for love, but for security and family stability. If you got pregnant and were unmarried, there was a huge social stigma attached, and real complications for your future. So imagine this young woman (probably around 15) going to her respectable parents and telling them, “I’m pregnant and God is the father of my child.” (PAUSE)

Yep, that’s exactly the response she got. And, why not? There are all kinds of excuses offered for getting pregnant, but blaming God is quite a novel idea.

Pastor Slaughter offers this arresting observation about her life. “God’s blessing would only continue to bring pain into Mary’s life – all the way to the foot of the Cross.”

∙ Her fiancé nearly called off the marriage.

∙ She left town to go to her cousin’s home near Jerusalem before her pregnancy showed.

∙ She lived in a small village with ongoing questions about her son’s paternity.

∙ And finally, she wept at the Cross as she watched him die a horrible death.

And, all of this was because she was ‘highly favored,’ and the Lord was blessing her!

Seems that God’s idea of blessing is much different than ours – and, in fact, it is! (Repeat)

The whole story of God's arrival as the Savior of the world is turned into a nice tale about angels and wise men that ignores the scandal, the pain, and the mystery of the God who was willing to experience the pain of a broken world. Jesus did not arrive a pampered prince in a palace. He came to a peasant family, in circumstances that were certainly less than ideal, even for that time and place.

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