Be Amazed. It’s Christmas.
I once wrote a musical-drama about a church who wanted to share Christmas with a local mission. They took everything they needed: trees, lights, even Christmas gifts.
The musical opened with a mother explaining to a child who didn’t want to go, was whining about not wanting to go, asking why were they were going?
“We’re bringing Jesus to these poor people,” the mother replied.
And in her reply was the crisis of the story. That many “church” people believe that they hold God bound in their church, in their worship, in their way of understanding and knowing and experiencing God, failing to grasp how it is that God is already at work in the world long before the “church” people show up.
The discovery of the musical is that the church people who go to “bring Jesus” to the poor at the mission discover that Jesus was already there. They learned something about celebrating Jesus’ birth from those to whom they thought they were bringing the celebration.
This is learning what the Bible means when it says that that God is with us, and the us includes more than just us. It includes all creation. It includes all people everywhere, in church and out of church, everyday all the time.
The message of the musical was that if we are open, if we are seeking Christ at Christmas (and all other times, too) we will be amazed to discover Christ in places where we might least expect to find Him.
Our assumptions are often dashed to discover that God shows up in the most unusual places, at the most unusual times. God is always where God is needed. And God is always there at the right time.
I know that this is a rather audacious claim in light of the world and its problems, and our problems. But never was there a more important time that this to hear this message. This is the very heart of the Christmas story. It is here in this story that we hear once again that Christ has become God and is with us. This is the Good News of Christmas.
We often read it in the opening of the Gospel of Matthew around Christmas time.
Matthew 1:18-23 (NRSV)
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
That God is with us should be amazing to us. It shouldn’t be all that acceptable, all that normal, like somehow, well, we just expected God to do it. Even more amazing is that God is for us and that God seeks us. This is part of what we need to hear again.
The Bible tells the story of God who is for us — not against us. The book of Romans assures us of this message of God being for us.
Romans 8:28-31 (NIV2011) 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Do you hear it in this text? We hear the key phrase: God for us.
This is amazing. We should rightly be amazed. Especially in light of the message we also find in the Bible, in fact in the same book of the Bible, the book of Romans, that while we were the enemies of God, God loved us and sent God’s Son to be with us. This is meant to teach us that God is for us. We should be amazed.
The Bible tells us not only that God is for us, but also that God seeks us. The earliest picture of this God who seeks us is found in one of the earliest pictures the Bible paints for us. It’s the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Even after they had disobeyed, they found out that God was still seeking them.
Genesis 3:8-9 (NRSV)
8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
Here in this passage we hear the story of the Lord coming to find those who had decided to hide. This was more than a game of hide and seek, this was the reality of God, the God who seeks us out, even those who hide, the God who is for us, the God who seeks to be with us. And this God wants to be with us not only when we do what is pleasing to God, but even when we have broken God’s heart, through our disobedience, even when we have done what we know we should not have done, or have failed to do what we know we should do. Even then, God is for us… Seeks us … Calls us out of our hiding… Calls us to come back from our running away.
We should be amazed. And not only is God for us, and not only does God seek us,
But God is with us – even right now.
We should not fail to be amazed.
We can also hear the story of this God who is with us in the book of Isaiah. There Isaiah paints a picture of the God who is not only known by us, but who comes to be with us.
In one of the most troubling times of the people of Israel, when the nations all around them were all against them, when they felt very alone – very isolated, the prophet of God, Isaiah, painted a very different picture from their reality. Isaiah proclaimed that they would not be alone because God would be with them.
Isaiah 7:13-14 (NRSV)
13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Immanuel which means “God with us.”)
This is the root of the story that Matthew’s Gospel tells, the story we’ve read here. This is Emmanuel. The God who is with us. Amazing… isn’t it? God is for us. God seeks us. God is with us.
So what? What are we to do with this? How does this Christmas, the story of the God who is with us make a difference in the lives of most people today? People like you and me?
We face at least 2 difficulties: First there’s the Santa myth which has taken hold of Christmas. You know the story don’t you? A jolly, old man comes bearing gifts.
Then there’s the common acceptance of something called, “The Spirit of Christmas.” It too has taken hold of Christmas. Good feelings toward everyone. It calls all of us to offer “Seasons Greetings” to everyone, and to behave unusually kindly during this season.
But the real message of Christmas is not found in the Santa myth, and not found in the “Spirit” of good feelings at Christmas. The real message of Christmas is this: Christ is born for us. It’s The story of God who is for us. It’s the story of God who seeks us. It’s the story of God who is with us.
So… How will this message challenge us to change? Challenge us to do more than “admire” the God who is with us? Challenge us to carry the message of Christmas with us everyday? What does this all mean to us? Why should we “be amazed” at all this?
Have you ever felt alone? Really alone?
One of the most alone times I remember in my life was a time when I stood in a large apartment complex in Yonkers, NY, a grim, desolate, heavily barred, isolated community of apartment complexes and felt very, very alone. Perhaps one of the deepest periods of aloneness I’ve felt, especially felt perhaps because I was far from home, tasked with an impossible task, with seemingly no one to help me, I felt just plain alone. I was there to offer free after-school tutoring to some students who had a deep need for tutoring and couldn’t afford it. Impossible. I had somehow to get into barricaded apartment buildings where I was a suspicious character in light of the community and culture I was in. It was my job. I had to do it. It was impossible, and I felt very alone. As I walked around in this very dismal place… feeling very alone … feeling very discouraged … I began to ask God to show me where to begin, what I should do.
Almost ready to give up, I noticed some men sitting on the steps of the school right in the middle of these apartment, the school where all of those students living in those apartments attended, or were supposed to attend. I had been walking around this school. Around and around hoping, wishing, somehow miraculously I would get an answer to my question, “What was I supposed to do?”
I had not noticed the two men on the steps until after I began telling God of my aloneness. Then … they appeared … shazam!
I walked over to them and began to tell them what I was there to do. They were amazed that anyone, especially someone like me had come to this part of town to help them.
Bob and Al ( I don’t really remember their names, I just remember they looked like a Bob and an Al) opened doors that led me to people who lived in those barricaded apartments. From those apartments there were people who became students, teachers, and leaders — and who got the help they needed, the help they couldn’t afford to pay for, the help I was there to tell them about.
On my flight home I remembered how alone I had felt, and that it was not until I told God about my aloneness that God showed up, that God came to tell me that I was not alone… that God was there with me … that God was there to help me … That God wanted to open my eyes to see the help that I needed that was not far away from me… right over there on those steps. I was amazed.
All of us feel this type of aloneness at times. It is part of being human. It is part of the human condition. So… it’s important for us to remember—especially at Christmas time,and even just before the time when we gather to celebrate Christmas, and certainly for the rest of the year, and for the New Year too, that the Christ child born in Bethlehem is the God who is for us, the God who has sought us, the God who is with us even now. We are not alone.
Celebrating Christmas should remind that that we can know that God is for us, that we can experience the God who seeks us, that we are truly not alone, for God is with us. And in all of this we should Be Amazed!