Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Means God with us!

Merry Christmas 2008. “Are you ready for Christmas”, I was asked yesterday. The only answer seems to be “yes and no.” There seems to always be one more gift to buy, one more card to send or one more pie to bake.

I have been somewhat out of step all my life. I started to school at 5, skipped a grade…was the youngest in my Elementary and High School classes…was often the youngest mother on Mothers Day...etc.

I went back to school after my children were grown. By the time I finally graduated from college and later Seminary I was among the oldest. Looking back it seems I went from youngest to oldest overnight.

I kind of aged into the study of Gerontology … which proved to be a wonderful asset when a door was opened and I was finally thrown into the pastorate and preaching ministry …a calling from the Lord I had kept putting on the back burner for a long time.

Several years ago I was asked me to give a Christmas Story for the annual Christmas dinner for a United Methodist Women’s group. This is one of the festive Christmas events at Trinity each year, hosted by a couple in their beautifully Christmas decorated ante-bellum home.
I read the Christmas classic, "The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson about the Herdman family. I had read the story to other groups that enjoyed it. It is a lovely and humorous story. But that Monday night at Brady and Barbara’s they all practically rolled in the floor laughing as I read the story!
WOW…what a wonderful response! Sould we take the program on the road?

But on second thought, I began to wonder if the story was really that funny or if they were laughing because we had just eaten a high calorie dinner and I had told them before I started reading the story that every laugh actually burns 16 calories! I told them that:
o Laughter is the secret of youth!
o Laughter goes hand in hand with creativity!
o Laughter increases circulation and heart rate!
o That means …Laughter is jogging on your insides! Imagine that…jogging without getting out of your chair.
o And listen to this and laugh if you, like me, can use a little tightening of the muscles: Laughing improves the muscle tone of the abdomen!
Dr William Fry of Stanford U tells us, “Laughing heartily has the same beneficial effects as the same amount of time on a rowing machine.” I heard about a minister in a Presbyterian church in Sandy Springs who has the “Ministry of Laughter.” He contends that laughter is therapeutic and hastens physical healing.
We have all heard the story of Norman Cousins who was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition in 1976. Cousins said he spent time each day watching films of Laurel and Hardy and other comedy groups and laughed his way back to health.

Most of us as we age, have some health issues…so we need to laugh. But an interesting fact I have noticed with the advent of Television and the internet… many, if not most of us, have heard all the funny stories there are to tell!

So even if we have already heard the stories, we laugh at them again. If you are on the computer you probably read the story about the lady who took her 4 year old with her to deliver Meals on Wheels to a bed ridden man? The child kept staring at a set of false teeth soaking in water glass on the bedside table. The woman was bracing herself for a question when the little girl whispered, “The tooth fairy will never believe this.”

They tell me the older you get, the faster times passes. That is scary. It seems only yesterday we were celebrating Christmas 2007 and here we are …Christmas 2008! More scary to realize?
“Even though it seems like yesterday since last Christmas, I am a whole year older now than I was in Christmas 2007!"

How many Santa Clauses did you see if you traveled more than a mile or two away from your home today? Santas are everywhere –– on billboards, in yards, on roofs and shop windows.
Two little first grade boys left Sunday school discussing theological matters. One said, “Do you believe this business about the devil?” The other replied, "Of course not –– it’s like Santa Clause –– it’s really your Daddy.”

We do all go though four stages with Santa Claus.1st Stage: We believe in Santa Clause.2nd Stage: We stop believing in Santa Clause.3rd Stage: We are Santa Clause.4th Stage: We look like Santa Clause.

Every December the newspapers feature a story about the toys that are at the top of children’s wish list. A few years ago, there was a “Tickle me Elmo” that managed to stay in the news with people running to the Malls and fighting over the opportunity to buy a “Tickle me Elmo” for their child. I asked my oldest granddaughter, the mother of three, to tell me what “the toy of the year” is this Christmas. She said all the kids want a “Webkinz.” It is a stuffed animal with some kind of computerized component to it.

I thought, "There is some advantage to being old. Even if we are in stage 4 and look like Santa Claus, at least we do not have to trudge out to Walmart looking for a Web-kinz.

I served at East Point Avenue Church for four years after mandatory retirement age. Each Christmas, the church bought poinsettias each to give to all the sick and shut-ins. I delivered many of them. I delivered one of the poinsettias to an elderly couple. Both were bedridden in a modest little frame home. They had very little help so when I visited them, her mind started working about what I could do to help - hand her something, take something out, throw something away or other little things that I could do while I was there.

This, of course I was always more than glad to do, as would any pastor or able bodied person. The day that I took the poinsettias––– I brought in their mail, got fresh water for both of them, straightened up around the room, took her to the bathroom etc.

When I started to leave, I was so painfully aware of their frightful situation. I knelt down between their two beds. I reached out and held each of their hands. Before I began to pray for them, the wife spoke up. Speaking for both of them, she said, "“I told John this morning that we are so blessed, we are so much better off than many people … Best of all ---- the Lord is with us.”
Probably without realizing it, this elderly lady was quoting what is reported to be the last words of the great, John Wesley, as he lay dying: “The best of all, God is with us.”

And I remembered all over again: Christmas happiness and joy comes, not from escaping from reality, not from being protected from the shocks of life, but from looking life squarely in the face and seeing the countenance of God. Christmas means God with us.

We need to learn from secular as well as Christian history. 2008 years ago, the world was watching the Roman Empire ...in all its splendor! All eyes were on Caesar Augustus, who demanded that a census be taken so that taxes could be enlarged.
Who noticed Mary and Joseph making their 90 miles journey to Bethlehem? If there had been television then, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson and their crews would have run over Mary and Joseph to put their microphone in the face of Caesar. Today Caesar is only a small paragraph in the life of Jesus. And all the great schools in the Western world were built to study every word that fell from the lips of Jesus and every single word written about his deeds have been poured over and translated into every languagee, and people by the tens of thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem and stand in awe at the spot history has marked as the birthplace of Jesus.
Luke’s gospel reminds us that the birth of Jesus was a happening of such cosmic majestic significance that ordinary words are not enough to describe it. It takes more that natural speech to tell the story. It takes poetry, music and drama to tell that the infinite God has come to our rescue - that regardless of what else is missing or even who else is missing from our life, we are not alone.
The Christmas message is ”The Best of all - God is with us!” Amen!


Carol said...

Wow! What a powerful post. I so much enjoy reading whatever you write. On a side note, I'm going to look up funny children's movies - and that'll be one of my Christmas gifts to Lily and Sophie.

Joan said...

Beautiful! Just reading this post was uplifting and challenging!