Fourth Sunday of Advent
We all have memories of Christmas; so many that it would probably be hard to pick a favorite. Maybe you remember the smells of cookies baking in the oven or the fragrance of evergreen from the Christmas tree. Maybe you had a special tradition surrounding the display of your family’s Nativity scene. Maybe your family had an Advent wreath that you lit each evening before supper. You might remember a special present you received, or your first kiss under the mistletoe, or sneaking downstairs to try to catch Santa in the act. I remember watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the moment in the movie when Linus steps onto the stage and recites the Christmas Story from Luke. Millions of Americans still watch this 1965 television special every year. Each year Linus steps onto the stage and explains what Christmas is really about. Christmas memories are vivid for most of us and they stir deep feelings about home and family.
When you think about it, our memory is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. It is the way we learn and the way we celebrate. The truth is that our memories – as amnesia dramatically demonstrates – are absolutely crucial to our sense of personal identity. We need our memories to fix us in time and place so that we can comprehend who we are in relationship with the world around us. Our ancestors understood the importance of memory. It is why people were so faithful in their story-telling before the printed word; memory was the only way to pass on history and knowledge. It is why the ancient Hebrews developed such detailed traditions to commemorate the important events in their relationship with God. It is why our own faith traditions are established with festivals, colors, symbols, and special services. All of these things remind us of who we are and whose we are.
Christmas memories are important because they point us to God and the reality that God loves us so much he sent his Son to be with us. Christmas is supposed to remind us that God is watching over us because God cares about us. It reminds us of the real priorities of life: love, joy, peace, justice, goodness, kindness, goodwill, grace, and forgiveness. It reinforces the importance of family, friends, and church. Above all, it reminds us of what God is like and what God wants us to be like.
The funny thing about our memory is that it doesn’t always cooperate with us. At least once a day, my memory plops down in a dark corner somewhere and refuses to do what I want. C’mon, now, I know I’m not alone here…did you ever forget why you went into the kitchen? I think if we’re honest with ourselves we would confess that our memories are not as good as we hoped. That’s why we need a little Christmas from time to time:
- To wake us up
- To bring us back
- To jog our memories
- To remind us again of what life is all about
Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior. Probably the second-most familiar Christmas story is Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. Who can forget the cynical, miserly character of Scrooge? Even his name has become part of our pop-culture, defining what it means to be stingy and uncharitable. This is a story about transformation. Scrooge is a terrible man – selfish, arrogant, hard-hearted, mean-spirited, uncaring, unsympathetic, and unchristian in every way. “Bah! Humbug!” is his now-famous response to all things Christmas as his sick spirit affects everyone. As the story unfolds, Ebenezer is visited by three ghosts who remind of the person he once was, the man he hoped to be, and the reality of who he is. They force him to notice that the people around him have shown him Christ-like love in spite of his ill-tempered flaws and this love transforms him. A skinflint no more, Ebenezer Scrooge gets into the spirit of the season by giving gifts, becoming charitable, and sharing with his family. This story was written in 1843 and yet it continues to captivate us…I wonder why. Maybe because, deep down inside, deeper than most of us even realize, this story is also our own story. We all relate to Ebenezer Scrooge because we all need help; we all need forgiveness and transformation. We all need to be converted from selfishness to love. The truth is – we all need a Savior.
Christmas reminds us that we have a Savior. I have had the honor of sitting with people as they make the transition from this life to the next. I have sat with patients and families as they faced terminal illness. The ones that I remember most are those who face these realities with their faith intact and strong. It is almost joyous as the faithful place all their trust in Jesus. Illness and its treatment often rob a patient of their dignity; discomfort takes their ability to smile; drugs move them in and out of consciousness. But, the presence of God is something that no disease or discomfort or drug can take away. Jesus still accompanies us along our path, even unto death. As Paul put it: “Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (see Romans 8:38-39). As the angels told the shepherds – “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” That is the Good News of Christmas – Don’t be afraid! We need a Savior and we have a Savior – Jesus.
Christmas reminds us that we can share the Savior. There is a famous Christmas poem, turned hymn (#242 in the UMH), called “Love Came Down at Christmas”. That is, Jesus came down at Christmas to show us how to love – God’s way. Every time we show love for another person, we are living in the Spirit of Jesus; we are sharing the Savior, and we are giving others a little bit of Christmas. I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of the Peanuts comic strip; I particularly relate to Linus – the persecuted little brother with quiet wisdom and a security blanket. I’m not sure about the quiet wisdom, but I do have an older sister and I did carry my own security blanket back in the day. You may recall an episode where Lucy, the older sister, decides it is time for her little brother to grow up and learn to live without his blanket. She slips the blanket out of Linus’ sleeping hands, takes it outside, and buries it! When Linus wakes up and discovers his security is missing, he falls to the floor in panic. He can’t catch his breath. He gasps then screams, “Tell me where you buried it! Tell me! I’ll die without my blanket!” Snoopy, the dog, sees Linus’ dilemma and rises to the occasion. He goes outside, sniffs out the blanket, digs it up, and returns it to Linus. With one arm holding the blanket and the other arm hugging Snoopy’s neck, Linus gratefully says, “You found it!” In the end we find Snoopy, lying on his back atop his dog house with a contented look and thinking: “Every now and then I feel that my existence is justified.”
Love is indeed the justification of our existence.
- Every time we reach out to help another person in the Spirit of Christ
- Every time we show kindness in the Spirit of Christ
- Every time we work on the Thanksgiving Dinner Mission, or Helping Hands, or packing supplies for Restore Hope
- Every time we express the love of God to another, we are sharing our Savior
- Every time we are living in the Spirit of Christmas
Christmas memories touch our hearts and remind us of the best of times in our lives. We need a little Christmas now to remind us that we need a Savior and that means other people do too. We are reminded that we have a Savior and we can share him with those others who need him. With all that is going on in the world around us…We NEED a little Christmas NOW! Let us pray…Loving and saving God, help us to remember the reason for Christmas. Help us to remember that we need a savior and that we have a Savior. Help us to love so that others will know the Savior. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.