Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 3: "What do you Really Want for Christmas?"

“What do you really want for Christmas?”

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our creator, and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

            “What do you really want for Christmas?” 
Truthfully, I’ve been considering this question for the past week or so – and even more so for the past couple of days. 
“What do I really want for Christmas?”  I’ve been asking this question in part because I actually don’t make Christmas lists any more – not like I used to when I was a kid, and I paged through the JC Penney catalog and circled the things I wanted.
 I don’t make Christmas lists any more, not like I did when I was a teenager and made lists of the things I hoped would make me popular.
 I don’t make lists any more, and I would bet that’s the case for a lot of people here.

            But a couple of things have made me think about the question, “What do you really want for Christmas?” 
although, I will be really honest with you – the question sounded much different at the beginning of the week than it does today, with the events of Friday right before me. 
It’s still a good question – but it takes on a whole different meaning for me now, so – I’m still asking it. 
I asked it on Facebook the other day –and got a variety of answers – from “I want a love letter from my husband,” to “Toleration/Peace/Cooperation,” to “A sense of purpose.” 
And that was before Friday, when I heard the horrible news about the shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook.

            In light of all I heard, what do I really want for Christmas?  I mean really?  What about you?

I’ll tell you, when I first considered this question, I was reading the
gospel reading – Luke 3 – and not thinking so much about John the Baptist, but thinking about those crowds who came out to hear him. 

            Instead of focusing on John’s words, I was wondering about who those people were – what they were expecting – what they were wondering about – why they came. 
We don’t know much about them, actually.  We know they were “the crowds”  -- and that is in contrast to the important people. 
These were the ordinary people, and even more than ordinary, some of the low-lifes.  Tax-collectors.  Other various sinners. 
Probably some poor people.  And soldiers.
 We know soldiers were there because soldiers also came to be baptized.  And when Luke talks about soldiers he’s talking about some mercenaries, thugs, really, not like the soldiers we know today. 
That’s what we know about the crowds.

            And here’s one more thing we know about the crowds:  they were listening to John’s words with expectation, with hope. 
Even though he was calling them a brood of vipers and filling their ears with words of judgment. 
In fact, when I read this portion of the gospel, I can almost imagine them leaning forward, saying to one another, “what do you think?  Can he be the one we have been waiting for?” 

            What do they really want?  What are they waiting for?  What are they expecting?

            You know – the crowds who gathered – they were living in an occupied country. 
They were living under Roman rule.  They lived with the threat of violence all of the time. 
They were poor and taken advantage of.  They were at odds with one another.  They were hungry. 
They couldn’t get out from under their debts.  That’s the way it was. 
They came out to hear John, full of expectation, knowing that something needed to change, even though they might not have been sure what it was. 
They just knew that something was wrong, that something needed to change, and John told the truth about that. 

            We know that too, don’t we?  Something needs to change. 
All is not well, even just a little more than a week before Christmas. 
We want to hear the joyful songs of “peace on earth, good will to all, but we know that it’s not just "all joy, all the time” out there. 
And we don’t know what to do about it.  It seems too big, too overwhelming.

            So what John has to say has two parts. 
To the people who come to him, questioning, “what then should we do?”  He tells them. 
He tells them that there is something they can do. 
Maybe they can’t save the world, but they can do something, they can practice kindness and justice, and their actions can make a difference.  In a world where evil seems overwhelming, what you do still means something. 
I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s true.  You can share your coat.
 You can give to someone who is hungry.  You can sing a song, sit with someone who is lonely. 
You can shield a child.

            And here’s the other thing John does:  he paints a picture of the one who is coming after him, the one who can do what we cannot:  change us from the inside out. 
Because that’s the hardest thing to believe, isn’t it?  That anyone, and anything can change.  Even us. 
Because when we look into our own hearts, truth be told, sometimes it’s pretty dark in there.
 We know that it’s not just about the darkness in the world, although that is pretty hard to take especially today. 
It’s also about the darkness in us.

            So we are feeling many things to day – I know I am – I’m feeling deep sadness and anger and lamenting. 
But one of the things that is most painful to me is that whenever something like this happens, we can’t seem to get past pointing fingers at each other  -- and we can’t actually talk about how to make it better, how to make it safer for children. 
That’s the darkness in all of us – each of us – not having enough courage to figure it out.

And yet -- Jesus Christ is still the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.  
Jesus Christ is still the light of the world, and the darkness did not overcome him.
In a little while -- at 10:00, actually -- the children will preach
better than I have
they will share the light
and they will be the light
as they remind of of the baby, the God who came into our dark world

            Good people – what do you want for Christmas this year?  Really? 

I think I know what I want – I want a world where our children can have a future with hope, a world where there is a safe place for them to learn, to speak, to play – and where they can preach the gospel of Jesus’ love, and we can truly listen, and believe.


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