A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sermon (December 7) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Reclaim Christmas: Giving Up on Perfect"

What is your idea of a perfect Christmas? 

Presents beautifully wrapped,  sizes all fit, no burnt cookies, carols playing softly, no stress, no disagreements, everyone gathered in a happy celebration. 
Well...  “perfect” is probably not going to happen! 

Life has it's unhappy times and they don't disappear at Christmas. There is still sickness, conflict, sadness, broken relationships. When Mary and Joseph began their life together, they also did not have a perfect beginning. Unexpectedly ,they became new parents  facing sleepless nights, and a little person who made many demands.

I have enjoyed a children's story entitled  The Christmas Cat . It  begins with describing baby Jesus this way: “Like all babies, he cried.”

Mary wrapped him in a warm blanket,fed him, rocked him,  and still he kept crying. Until a little kitten came close... The cat's purring was comforting to Jesus, and he slept.
 Jesus and the little kitten grew together becoming inseparable.
The story  concludes with the cat calming Jesus as the trio makes their hurried escape to Egypt  avoiding Herod's soldiers.  This winsome story emphasizes that Jesus' family had their share of stress: caring for a new baby far from home in a  dangerous situation. In their midst of troubles, God's presence  and comfort was with them.
Our lives have demands and cares as we journey through this Advent season. Sometimes we do not feel like celebrating . Joanne Smith was a writer for a Dayton newspaper; she and her husband had three kids ( ages 10-17) and a good life together.  In the fall of 1999, her husband died suddenly. She was left to keep the family going. Their grief was overwhelming, and none of them wanted to face the holidays.

 13 days before Christmas, a gift appeared on their front porch: a small poinsettia.   Who could have brought it? The next day there was another small gift. And the next day.

At first, these gifts seemed  intrusive. There was no reason to celebrate this year, or to be reminded of Christmas.   But as the days passed, their curiosity and expectation rose.  Try as they might, Joanne  and her children could not catch the person who was leaving the gifts.

 Each day, the arrival of a gift became something to look forward to. By the time Christmas came, this family was a little closer to finding peace, a little closer to having hope that they would survive their loss. 
The last gift was a small tree with 12 bells.  The givers, still anonymous ,explained in a note that they too had been in a hurting situation, and someone had  reached out to them.

Joanne realized that  you don't have to have it all  together in order to share care with someone else.  After receiving this care from strangers,
she affirmed that “ it is more important than ever to step outside of my own world and consider those around me, open my heart, reach out my hand, and engage.”

Christmas is not  for perfect people, or perfect lives. Christmas is a joyous recognition that even in the darkest times,the love of God somehow can reach us.

Through the ages, many people have traveled  to the town of Bethlehem  to see the  traditional site of Jesus' birth.  Scott Hahn took his twelve year old daughter Hannah  on such a pilgrimage.   When they came to the Church of the Nativity , they descended  to a lower level where there was an ancient cave.  The star in the floor  marks the site of the manger.  Hannah however was not impressed with this holy space.

After hours of going into old churches and listening to guides,  Hannah had reached her limit. But then  the guide announced that they were going next to an Palestinian orphanage in Bethlehem. When they arrived, Hannah started to smile. Hannah was experienced with children:she has three younger brothers and sisters.

The caregivers at the orphanage   brought baby after baby for Hannah to hold. These children became younger brothers ans sisters to her.  She talked and cooed and rocked and loved the little ones who have lived lives touched by war and loss. For Hannah, the joy of Christ being born, Emmanuel, (God is with us ) became real  for her when she held the babies.
What babies can we hold? What good news can we share? How can we reclaim Christmas? Pastor Robert challenged us last week to consider our Christmas Offering and the many lives it will touch in Lithuania, Africa, and in Ohio.

A young girl or boy can sleep well because they are  protected by a $10 net from insects that carry malaria.  How many children can we help tuck in at night?

Good Works in Athens, Ohio, ( another recipient of our offering)  provides the only homeless shelter in an 8 county area of southeastern Ohio.  Last year, 150-200 homeless men, women and children  had a warm meal, a decent place to stay and supportive friends because of Good Works.

Clean water, medical care, fields with growing crops, these are wonderful gifts for Christmas and any day of the year to our friends in Africa.

Our sister churches in Lithuania are growing in a country once held by a communist regime;  our support of their ministry is a great encouragement to them.

The possibility of Christmas joy keeps spreading!
There is a slogan that goes “What happened in Bethlehem doesn't stay in Bethlehem.” 

The wonder of God's love is to be passed on.

Even in our own struggles and difficulties, we can shine some light and hope.
How can we help others celebrate Jesus birth?
How can we demonstrate to someone else that they matter to God?

Through small acts of kindness, through compassionate love, through outlandish generosity, let's together tell the story of the One who came to love each of us!

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