What Were You Expecting?

A little girl went with her aunt to see the Christmas parade. One float presented a religious scene-the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the hay. "Isn't Jesus ever going to grow up?" the little girl asked. "He's the same size he was last year."

How big is your Jesus? Does he grow in your life from year to year? Do you always drag out the same baby you hold in your mind year after year? Strange, when we celebrate birthdays we celebrate who the person is now, the age the person is now (though some would rather not be reminded of the decades when they hit certain ones). But with Jesus, when we celebrate his birth, we celebrate him as a baby, not as a full grown person. We celebrate his birth, not his birthday, when we think of him.

Yet, we most certainly celebrate his birthday by giving gifts to one another. Strange that most times folks forget to give something to Jesus himself, by giving to the continuation of his work on earth through the church they attend. They spend many dollars on gifts to others, but don't give any where near that amount as a gift to Jesus. Where is the gratitude?

Many folks, when they give gifts to each other, don't even recognize that they're giving the gifts to honor Jesus. No matter that I point out each year to make sure your gift tags note that the gift is given to honor the birth of Jesus or given in honor of his birth, most folks pay no attention to that. So, who is it they're honoring? Themselves, really. That is, all the happiness and the thanks of the gift received are directed at them. No recognition given to Jesus, even though it's because of him there is a Christmas.

We need to celebrate the coming of Jesus as an event from the past, an event of the future in the second coming, and an event in the present, Jesus made real in our lives right now.

Jesus expects us to have a faith equal to what ever age we are. Many adults still have the faith of a baby. Jesus, in his message to John the Baptist in today's Gospel, is saying to John that who he, Jesus, is, is not in the telling but the doing. Look around you and see what's happening he says. Look around as see the changes. Tell what's being done.

The message Jesus brought into this world is not in the sentimentality of Christmas, but in the actions of what it means to celebrate Jesus' birth and birthday every day. The birth of Jesus was an event to change the world; to change our thinking; to change our way of doing things. The celebration of Jesus' birthday should be one in which the deeds we do, the actions and interactions of our lives should speak to the celebration of change. Jesus should not be the same in our lives year after year. Jesus needs to grow in our lives, in our actions.

Does the Christian faith have any relevance in today's world? Are we simply lonely voices, trying to be faithful to an Advent season while the rest of the world is rushing Christmas? The promise of this Sunday is that as we share the stories of how Jesus brings hope and life to those who are hurting, by our deeds and the deeds of others, our hearers will encounter God's love and grace, and their lives will be changed.

We seem to be expecting one thing and getting another. Folks expected the Messiah to come and knock down their enemies, their oppressors. Instead, however, the Messiah comes and empowers the downtrodden. He heals the sick (recall that in those days, they thought that infirmity of any kind was an indication of God's judgment).

This week the Advent candle symbolizes JOY. In many churches the candle is pink rather than purple or blue. There are joy inhibitors. One of them might certainly be 'too small a vision.' Or certainly a joy inhibitor might be 'not being faithful to our task.'

Who Jesus was and what he did gets lost in the baby. When we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, we talk about "I Have a Dream" instead of how he was born. In the same vein, we should not let what Jesus did, his teaching, preaching, saving work, get lost in the sentimentality of Christmas.

John the Baptist did not get lost in sentimentality. He paid attention to what Jesus did, which was wrapped up in who he was, rather than his actual birth. In the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke, which was our Psalm reading for today, in that song Mary didn't sing about Jesus the baby; she sang about Jesus the Savior.

Jesus didn't grow up over night (even though it seems like it because in a short few months Jesus' earthly ministry comes to an end with the crucifixion and the resurrection). But Jesus has to grow with us and within us as we grow. We must make sure Jesus grows up with and within our children and youth as they grow. We must be sure Jesus grows with and within us as adults.

Jesus had to grow up. And that takes time. But he has to grow; he can't be the same baby year after year. In the letter of James today we are told, "Be patient! Don't grumble! Strengthen your hearts." Growth takes time. We must be patient and faithful. We want results now. We expect one thing and get another and then we give up. We stop letting Jesus grow in our lives. We just look at him as a baby and settle for the sentimentality of Christmas. I remember someone saying something about Christmas being too much about the 'baby.' It needs to be about the man that the baby became. The man who taught us how to make real in our world what the birth of that baby means. We need to celebrate the birthday of a grown man, not a baby. Remember the birth, celebrate the birthday. We're not getting ready for Christmas, we're not getting ready for the Christ child ... we're getting ready to fully let God into our lives not as a baby, but as a man. And that man needs to bring us a message appropriate to our years. If we're adults, we shouldn't be nourishing ourselves with Pabulum, with baby food.

We like to sentimentalize Christmas and focus on the baby because we often don't want to do what it is that Jesus calls us to do as adults or youth. We teach our children about Jesus, but it must always be a combination of learning and doing. Jesus' message is about doing.

I titled this sermon, "What were you expecting?" During this Advent season that's a good question to be asking ourselves. What are we expecting of Christmas? Are we expecting a baby? Are we expecting a man? Are we expecting sentiment? Are we expecting a message that says 'change your life now'? Whatever it is that you're expecting, make sure you remember the event that honors Jesus, and remember that in your gift giving; but celebrate the message of the man, Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior, who empowers us to carry on his message of love in action in his name.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie