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A Gift Is On the Way

Dr, Bruce Lancaster

December 20, 2015
Luke 1:39-45; Micah 5:2-5a

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

A reading from the book of Micah:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
   who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
   from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
   when she who is in labour has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
   to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
   in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
   to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

   If the Assyrians come into our land
   and tread upon our soil,
we will raise against them seven shepherds
   and eight installed as rulers.


Bruce Lancaster 2014The season of Advent begs the question of all children traveling to Grandma’s house for Christmas: “When are we going to get there? Are we there yet?”

And the answer from the theological adults in the front seat is that confusingly correct Advent answer: “Now, but not yet.”

For one thing, where we’re headed is not a point in time.

Yes, there is a square marked on the December calendar that says ‘Christmas.’ But we all know that date is only a guess. The first date celebrated as the birth of Jesus, as far as we know, was January 2.

For many years in many places Christmas was observed in the springtime. Sometimes it was May 20 or April 19 or March 25.

Many think it was Pope Julius in the 4th century who chose December 25 because it was already a recognized holiday among the pagans, and the Christians wouldn’t be noticed celebrating their own special day.

But Advent is not really about getting to a point in time.

And as you think about what this season has become for so many people, we need to say also that where we’re going is not about possessions.

I remember my grandmother would go out in the fall to their farm and pick up pecans to sell – she called it her “Christmas money.”

And I loved my grandmother and some of that Christmas money was spent on me – but Christmas is not money or what it buys for you and me that is wrapped and sitting under the tree.

I read about a woman, and this could be any of us, who got caught up in the Christmas rush and just a few days before Christmas remembered that she had not mailed any Christmas cards.

She hurried out, bought some cards, sat in the Post Office parking lot, signed them, address labels on them, stamps, got them in the mail.

When she got home, she had a few left over and was looking at them. She liked the card, a beautiful scene of Bethlehem with the manger on the front and a nice greeting inside.

But then she noticed something that in her haste to get the cards mailed she had not seen: a small inscription down in the corner of the card had this message – “A gift is on the way.”

Can you imagine how she felt – all her friends would be expecting a gift from her that would never arrive.

Now, but not yet! And so it was for the people of Israel who knew the inscription that Micah had sent on behalf of God: From Bethlehem of Ephrathah shall come the one to rule for me.

Advent – waiting for a gift – Now, but not yet!

Advent is living a pregnant faith – waiting – Micah says it prophetically; Luke tells the story physically: A gift is on the way –

Not a point a time, not a possession, but waiting and preparing and waiting and preparing, and into this world, our world, our home, our lives comes this person, this baby!

We all know how a baby changes everything – and this baby, in particular, changes everything for you and me.

It’s all in the name – Advent prepares us for a person who is named Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

But how can a baby save us from our sins? How can one baby save the world? Would it help you any if we said it this way: He will save his people from themselves – that is, save us from what our sins do to us – how we destroy ourselves and each other.

Whether it’s self-righteous indignation or self-inflicted choices, whether it’s terrorist’s bombs or incendiary lies – both maim and kill – this savior comes for us at Christmas to save us from our selfish and our self-destructive ways – the violent, bitter fruit of our sins.

That is why Christmas is a baby named Jesus – for when you hold a baby, you realize how much you can hurt them, but we know that baby cannot hurt us.

John Vannorsdall, a wonderful preacher, says that “one of the meanings of Christmas is that God doesn’t want to hurt you or me. He desires that we receive him and not be afraid.” Not to be afraid of God or each other.

The Word of God comes to us as a child into a world that surely could be condemned by God, for the violence we do to each other and to ourselves.

The Word of God comes to us as a child whom we must hold and care for and feed and love; a baby – truly one who comes as the least of these among us…

As Alden Solovy’s poem Lesser Children reminds us:
The least of Your children,
G-d of compassion,
Are mirrors of Your face.
The abandoned,
The broken-hearted and rejected,
The persecuted and pursued,
The uneducated and the unwashed,
The tortured and the abused,
The addict and the insane,
Reflect Your light.

The least of Your children,
G-d of secrets,
Are mirrors of Your creation.
The hidden and the unwanted,
The drifter and the locked away,
The lonely and the desolate,
The pauper, the streetwalker, the homeless,
Those who yearn
And those who rail in madness,
Echo Your voice.

Where is mercy?
Where is kindness?
Where is justice?
Where is tikun olam? (repair of the world)

The least of Your children,
G-d of righteousness,
Are ours to bless
With the gifts You have given us.
In Your name
We will take to the streets,
We will go out into the country side,
We will serve Your law and Your truth,
By repairing the world.

The least of Your children,
G-d of healing,
Are our sisters and brothers.
Let us build a sukkat shalom,
A tabernacle of peace,
Over all in need.

What if this Christmas we would hold each other as we hold a baby – tenderly, caring, knowing we hold the gift of God’s love and life itself?

What if, this Christmas, we would treat all people as the person who is the gift of Christmas: Jesus, our Savior?