Christmas in July Worship Celebration at Meridian Street United Methodist Church
Sunday, July 31st, 2016
Scripture Readings: Colossians 1: 15-20 and John 1: 1-5, 14-18
Sermon: “Not Just Another Gift”
Don’t you just love this time of year? It will probably hit 90 degree this afternoon. Fun in the sun. Sitting by the pool. Of course it feels like Christmas! We have the challenging task today to celebrate the holiday that comes when it’s below freezing. Maybe some snow, and there’s many decorations that remind us of Christmas. December brings events and things that can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas. Even so, there is this palpable spirit of Christmas. We give gifts, we’re more charitable, we celebrate with family and friends. There’s something about that season that makes it special.
On this day though, this Christmas in July, let’s recount the ways that Christmas is special and what it reminds us about Jesus. Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. Is he just another gift under the tree? It’s the day that we remember that Mary was visited by an angel and was told that she would give birth to a son as a virgin. There was a census that was being taken, so Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There was no room for them in the inn. Any of this sound familiar? While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and an angel appeared to the shepherds. It’s good to recall these events even in the middle of summer, isn’t it?
I’m sure we can all think of pageants from the past when our children or maybe even we played the roles of those in the Christmas story. The little kids dressed as shepherds in robes that drag on the floor as they walk because they’re so big on them. The little ones with angel wings come out and say as best they can, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” This is all made famous by the Gospel Luke or for many of us Charlie Brown. Luke tells us that the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ, who would came and save his people had been born. The long awaited Messiah had come.
This morning we begin our book study on What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be A Christian? A Guide to What Matters Most. This morning we take on the question: Who is Jesus? If we want to know and learn about who Jesus is we can begin by looking at Christmas.
Matthew tells us that “They will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). We’re taught this every year at Christmas and we should be, as it is a great reminder that Jesus, the Messiah, the saving one, is God with us. This is a message that can be and should be proclaimed not just in December but all year long.
The faithful people of God, must remind each other and the world that God is still with us, not just at Christmas. During the last two weeks our nation has watched the Republican and Democrat Conventions, God is still with us. We continue to hear of the violence that plagues the world and even the streets of Indianapolis, and we must remember that God is still with us. Even when life is challenging or even when things are great, we know because of Christmas that God is still with us. It’s a message that never grows old.
We know this message because at Christmas, God came to earth in the little baby, who was the long awaited Messiah, who would save us all. Yes, God is with us in these challenging and major things, but there’s something deeper about Christmas. We read of Jesus’ birth in two of the Gospels, but there is another Christmas story that we heard this morning in the Gospel of John. The actual stories of Jesus birth are recorded only in Matthew and Luke, yet John shares an amazing word that not only testifies that God is with us in Jesus, but that Jesus is the light and the life of human kind.
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is not just the message of God incarnate, but Jesus is God incarnate, God taking on our human flesh. Paul expounded on this in Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” The fullness of the invisible God came to earth in skin, just like yours and mine in Jesus. We are breathing the same air that God breathed. We are experiencing the same things God experienced. Sometimes we over look this fact in December. There is something more to Christmas, something deeper.
The gift of Christmas is that in Jesus, God illuminated everything around us. I’m not just referring to the lights on houses and trees, but everything in life is illuminated because of Christmas, if we simply look at life in a new way.
Let me explain. Jesus is the light of the world, John tells us. The light of God, Jesus, enlightens every aspect of our human experience of life. God who took on flesh, made the most mundane activities of human life holy, because God experienced what we experience. The light shines on birth and death, reminding us that they are holy. The light shines on being children and teaching our children, reminding us that every part of the journey is holy. The light shines on our daily work, as we interact with others, doing our work to the best of our ability, ethically, kindly, with forgiveness and love, reminding us that work can be holy, even on Mondays. The light shines on our cooking, cleaning, chores, our everyday lives, reminding us that even the mundane can be holy.
Author and pastor Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about this topic in her book An Altar in the World. She wrote, “Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.” She writes that we are all seeking for more; more meaning, more feeling, more life. People travel far and wide seeking more. The last place people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need.”
It’s especially true when we continue to seek more; more of that perfect Christmas, more gifts, more of the season, when what’s really found at Christmas, in Emmanuel God with us, is that the light of Jesus makes everything holy, sacred, good. Christmas is a time when we pay attention to the special things around us. Or at least we recognize that there is something special about giving gifts, being together with family and friends, and celebrating life. The incarnation of God in Jesus, reminds us to pay attention to the holy, sacred, and special in everyday life.
It’s fun having a little 8 month old around the house. He almost crawling, not quite yet, but he’s so close. What’s amazing about Zechariah is that he notices all the special things around him, which is everything. We’ll take him outside and he stares down the neat looking flowers. Then a bird will fly overhead, and he’ll notice that. We’ll take him inside and he’ll look at a room in the house like it’s the first time he’s ever seen it. Everything is special to babies or I might say sacred or even holy. We simply have to remain attentive to the ways in which God still speaks to us today.
Author Richard Rolheiser says that we are often like the young fish who asks his mother: “Where is this water I hear so much about?” The mother has a choice. She can try to tell the young fish about the water, show pictures of the ocean, or try to explain it all day or she can say, “Close your eyes and feel the water all around you. Let it flow over you and through your gills.” The gift of Christmas is that God is all around us. It’s ok to close your eyes and know that God is present. It’s ok to open your eyes, look around, and know that God is there. “In becoming a human being, God already shows that it’s good to be human, to be flesh,” writes Richard Rohr. It’s not only good to be human, but we can begin to see that everything is holy around us.
I realize that this may be a complete shift for many of us. It’s easy or at least easier to experience God when we expect it; in the confines of a church building, with family, in prayer, but because God came in our human skin, we can see that everything is holy. We sleep, God slept. We eat, God ate. We create, God created. We love family and friends, God loved family and friends. We walk, see, talk; God walked, saw, talked. We breathe, God breathed. We have to remember that whatever we experience, God experienced them too.
We receive many gifts during the Christmas season. We have to remember that God is not another gift that’s under the tree; instead, Jesus is everything, the beginning and the end, the life and light, through which we experience all of life. The true gift and miracle of Christmas is that our lives have been enlightened by the light of Christ.
I know, I know, it might not feel like Christmas this morning, but it is. Everyday can be a day where we realize that the Spirit of the God, who came in flesh, still dwells among us. Sometimes, we just have to look around, beginning with our own skin, and to those people and things around us, and realize that it’s all sacred, all holy, it’s all a gift. Thanks be to God. Amen.