Getting Christmas Right

From December 3, 2017
by Rev. Shawn Coons

Everybody talks about New Year’s resolutions. But how many of you have ever heard of Christmas resolutions? Maybe you haven’t heard of them, but I’m willing to but you’ve made a Christmas resolution.

The video we just saw talked about “getting Christmas right” and Christmas resolutions are all about getting Christmas right. These resolutions aren’t made on Christmas necessarily, although they can be, they are usually made in the stressful moments of this season.

·         Next year – I’m getting all my shopping done in November!

·         Next year – we’re not going overboard with the presents.

·         I’m tired of sending Christmas cards out in January, I’m starting them in July next year!

·         We’re doing Christmas simpler next time.

·         Next year we’re putting our tree up before Christmas Eve.

·         Next year we’re taking our tree down before Easter.

Any of this sounding familiar?

I have my own personal resolutions each year regarding our Christmas lights outside. I really enjoy Christmas lights, both seeing them and having them on our hoe and in our yard. Over the years, I’ve bought white lights, blue lights, multi-colored lights, icicle lights, warm lights, cool lights, C5s, C9s. I’ve put them on the roof, on our trees, along the walk.

And each year, I wish I would have done something different. A different color, style, placement. I’m never quite satisfied.  Last year, I don’t think I put up any at all because I couldn’t figure out what would look best. I wanted the get it right.

There can be so much pressure to do Christmas right.  To meet the expectations of family, kids, parents, in-laws, distant family. To meet our own expectations of making Christmas meaningful and reflective.

How do we get Christmas right?

I’ve got good news for you this morning. I have the answer to that question. And it’s a pretty simple answer. We don’t have to get Christmas right. That’s not our job.  Our hope - and this is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope - our hope is in the fact that we don’t have to get Christmas right, because God already has.

Advent and Christmas are not about what we do, but about what God has done and God will do. The simple fact is we aren’t going to get Christmas right. We are fallible human beings, living in a more than fallible world. At times our Christmases are going to be less than perfect. At times our lives are going to be less than perfect. At times our world is going to be less than perfect.

And Jesus didn’t come 2000 years ago to help us make the world better. Jesus came to make the world better, because we hadn’t done such a good job with that up until that point.

Our gospel lesson today is a prime example of that.  We are going to read form the 13th chapter of Mark. This section is sometimes called “the little apocalypse.”  Scholars believe the gospel of Mark was written in the latter part of the first century. When Roman persecution of Judaism was rampant and the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Roman government.

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, speaking about turbulent times and how to get by in a less than perfect world.  Mark 13:24-37

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light, 
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he* is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert;* for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ 

This is the Word of the Lord.

When we read apocalyptic passages like this one, it can be helpful to think of them as what one scholar calls, “crisis literature.”  There was something going on at the historical moments the passage was written, and the author and/or the author’s community had questions about the power and righteousness of God.

These words came at a time when the Christian and Jewish foundations were shattered, and their world was coming down around them.  The destruction of the Temple represented a catastrophe of divine presence and a violent break with the continuity with the past. The Temple was a center of religious life, but also political and economic life, too.

And it was destroyed.

It was to this community that Jesus’ words were addressed:

the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken

Now this may sound scary to us, but remember this would sound familiar to the 1st century Christians.  Jesus wasn’t describing something that might happen, he was describing what was happening.  This passage isn’t predicting turmoil in the world, it is acknowledging it. Not only, acknowledging it but then Jesus goes on to say, don’t worry because when your world is shaken that may be the moment when God comes back.

In the 21st century we think of apocalypse as a bad thing. apocalypse to us means the world as we know it coming to an end through nuclear war, zombies, aliens, or some other larger than life, Hollywood blockbuster scenario.  But to those first century Christians the apocalypse meant that God was right around the corner, ready to come on stage and save the day.

The scary apocalyptic events were already happening to them, so their hope was in looking for signs that God had not left the building. So when Jesus speaks of signs to come, and portents in the sky, the early Christians looked eagerly for those signs.  Because they were the announcement that God was coming.

If you are familiar with Batman, those signs were kind of like the Bat signal. If you saw it then you knew that Batman was probably not far behind.  This is why we don’t have to worry about making Christmas right.  Christmas is about God making the world right, making the world whole, making us whole.

Advent literally means coming, and it is the time when we not only look forward to Jesus coming to Bethlehem, but we look forward to Jesus coming again to make things whole and right.  So if this Christmas, things don’t go according to plan. It’s OK. If right now in your life, things aren’t going according to plan it’s OK. Right now, if your world is falling apart around you. It’s OK.

God is coming to make things right. God comes to make things whole.

There is a wonderful story about Russian composer Ignace Yan Paderewski. It seems one evening he was scheduled to perform at a great concert hall.  In the audience of black tuxedos and long evening gowns was a mother with her fidgety nine-year old son.  His mother brought him in hopes her boy would be encouraged to practice the piano if he could just hear the immortal Paderewski.  So, against his own wishes, he had come.

As she turned to talk with her friends, the boy slipped from her side, and without much notice from the sophisticated audience, the boy sat down at the stool, staring wide-eyed at the black and white keys, he put his small fingers upon the keyboard.  He began to play "Chopsticks."  The roar of the crowd was hushed by hundreds of frowning faces turned in his direction.  An angered audience began jeering at the boy, booing and hissing for him to be taken from the stage.

Backstage, the Paderewski overheard the sounds out front and quickly put together what was happening.  Hurriedly, he grabbed his coat and rushed toward the stage.  Without one word of announcement, he stooped over the boy, reached around both sides and began to improvise a counter melody to harmonize and enhance the tune.  As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy's ear:  "Keep going.  Don't quit son.  Keep on playing.  Don't quit. I'm right here...don't quit!"

Advent is the time when we hear Jesus right behind us, whispering in our ear, “Keep going.  Don't quit. Keep on going.  I'm right here."