Christmas Sunday, 12/21/03, A4C

“God Sidles Up Real Close”
Luke 1: 39-45

he Christmas story is about God’s effort to form a more personal friendship with us. The Old Testament recorded our Heavenly Father’s efforts to gradually introduce himself to a few friends: Noah, Abraham, David, and a very few prophets and kings of Israel. However, the people of Israel only knew God at a distance. Indeed, His name was sacred and they were not even supposed to pronounce it. Whenever they came across “Jehovah,” or in the Hebrew, “JHVH,” they skipped the word. However, in Christ, God is making an effort to extend himself to all people everywhere, on a more intimate and heart felt level. Christmas, the Incarnation, the Birth of His Only Son, is God’s effort to sidle up real close to us.

Last Sunday we heard how John rejected any attempts to declare him the Messiah. John deferred to his cousin Jesus by saying that, “…he will fill you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Lk. 3:16) God’s long range plan is to go beyond the birth of Jesus in the world, and to be born in us as His Spirit begins to live in us.

Marilyn and I were eating hamburgers at a mall last week and heard a singer singing what were probably supposed to be “seasonal carols.” However, she was singing the real, in the church house, words of actual Christmas Carols. She did a great job with, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” She seemed to know the deeper significance of the last verse as she rang out for all secular and sacred Christmas shoppers to hear:

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray, cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today, We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell, O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

In our Gospel text for Christmas Sunday we hear the story of how Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, was filled with the Holy Spirit when she heard that Mary was going to have a baby and that Mary’s baby was the long expected Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. (v. 41) It is also interesting to underline that as a prenatal baby, John the Baptist, “leaped for joy.” (v. 44) Commentators usually say that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, upon hearing the good news that the Christ, the long expected Messiah, was also conceived and would be born soon after John. All of this was working together to gradually fulfill God’s plan for the potential of redemption and for the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who would allow Him to enter into their souls.

Through the Grand Miracle of Incarnation, God’s infleshment, the transcendence of the Creator is bridged and He becomes immanent. God’s omnipresence becomes real to all souls as He comes to live and work in every willing heart. The Sweet Holy Spirit of the Babe of Bethlehem wants to be born in our hearts. The Holy Child of Bethlehem wants to descend to us.

The core doctrine of Christianity is that God in Christ can somehow forgive our rebellion and give us a fresh start. We do not have to understand Him or be able to recite the correct creed. It’s totally free and more than that it’s guaranteed to work forever, and there are no batteries, or visible power source. The EMC will not round your two cents up to the higher dollar amount. It is all by the indwelling Holy Spirit of the Baby Jesus. Indeed, we get a triple scoop of Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

I hope to be able to catch up to the 1946 motion picture classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. His character is about to celebrate Christmas Eve with a suicide, because of a run on his bank, when an angel shows him what life is really all about. He said, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around it leaves a big hole.” Here we have a story of redemption. This movie, along with Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” has possibly helped more people than all the preachers preaching all at once, to understand that Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is wasted on us if we can’t get past the jingle bells. I think folks are catching on, don’t you? It seems to me that Christmas has had a more spiritual base during these past several years. The economy has been down and all of us have been just a little bit afraid of those crazed terrorists who are willing to commit suicide in order to get our attention.

Many years ago at one of our children’s homes, as preparations were being made for a big Christmas dinner and the unwrapping of presents under the tree, one of the littlest boys hid under his bed and refused to come out. Rev. Henry Carter went to Tommy and told him about the lights on the Christmas tree and the gifts awaiting him. There was no answer. He kneeled beside the bed and pulled back the spread. There were two big wet crying eyes looking out at him. Tommy was eight but looked five because of early malnourishment. He could have easily been pulled out from under the bed, but it was not pulling that Tommy needed; it was trust and a sense of belonging. Because he could not think of anything else to do, Rev. Carter got down on his stomach and squeezed under the bed beside Tommy. He lay there with his cheek pressed against the floor talking about the big wreath above the roaring fireplace and the filled stocking that hung with Tommy’s name on it. He talked about the carols they would sing and the turkey almost ready to serve. And he talked about the baby Jesus who was born in a stable and laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the Inn. Then running out of anything else to say he simply lay there beside of Tommy. After a bit, a small child’s hand slipped into his. Rev. Carter said, “You know Tommy it’s kind of close quarters under here, let’s you and I crawl out where we can stand up.” As they slid out from under the bed he realized that he had been given a glimpse of the wonder of Christmas. Had not God come down to where we are to sidle up close to us? Was it not God’s Spirit that wooed us out of our lonely hiding place into a world of light and life and belonging?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Christmas Sunday, 12/21/03, A4C