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
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
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
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
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.