- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 1, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Advent 1
SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR: AN UNEXPECTED GIFT
Philippians 2: 5 – 8; John 1: 1 – 5
When my son was 2 1/2, he was obsessed with the movie Bambi. He loved it. He’d get up at 4:30 in the morning, wake up his Dad, get his cereal, turn on the VCR and TV, and watch Bambi. And not just once. Given Bambi’s mother dies in the end, I’m still not sure what to make of that. When I asked him that year what he’d like Santa to bring him, he said, “A Bambi.” Sounded pretty simple. I went out to find him a stuffed toy deer. I must have searched 100 stores, but I couldn’t find a fawn anywhere. Big bucks with antlers were everywhere. Calfs were no where to be found. Finally, a few days before Christmas, I found one. I grabbed it, brought it home and on Christmas Eve I put it out with his other toys from Santa. I was so excited to see his reaction to Bambi. Christmas morning, we were all up at 5. We went downstairs and low and behold, Santa had come and left toys. Dylan looked them over, picked up one or two and then his eyes fell on Bambi. He picked up the toy looked at it and burst into tears. When I asked what was wrong, he said, “I wanted a big Bambi – with antlers.” So, I did what mother’s have been doing for decades. I blamed Santa. “Santa must not have known you wanted a big Bambi”. How was I to know the kid wanted a “macho power Bambi”?
If we’re honest, we have all had times when we were disappointed with a gift. How many years did you gather around the Christmas tree in anticipation of finally getting the one thing you longed for only to pull out a box, tear it open and discover socks and underwear. While you sat there with a sullen look on your face, your Mom declared, with just a bit too much excitement, “Oh look, socks and underwear – just what you needed!” I vividly recall the Christmas when I was twelve. I wanted a transistor radio (for those of you under 30, that’s where music came from before cell phones). Under my grandmother’s tree was a present with my name on it, that was about the size and weight of a transistor. Through the paper it had a solid surface. I knew it was my radio and I couldn’t wait to open it. I almost burst with anticipation. When I opened it, it turned out to be a Bible. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be disappointed with a Bible, but it certainly wasn’t what I’d expected. Well, it’s a time-honoured Christmas tradition to be given what we need, rather than what we want. That first Christmas in Bethlehem, when a young woman gave birth to a baby and placed him in a manger, we got what we most needed. Jesus was an unexpected gift. While the Jews lived in anticipation of a Messianic liberator who would lead them to military victory (a big Bambi); they received something – someone – whom they neither recognized nor wanted – a little “Bambi” wrapped in rags.
John begins his gospel by announcing Jesus as the human expression of the divine reality. The Word of God made flesh. He tells us about the “Logos” which is a Greek term that’s translated into English as “Word”. Jesus was and is the Logos, the Word – the manifestation of God in human form – God in the flesh. At his incarnation – his birth – God became human. Jesus was fully human and fully Divine. “The Word became flesh and blood; and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son; generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14) But the truth is, we were so busy wanting something else, we diminished the value of the gift we were given.
Have you ever had one of those years where you began your Christmas shopping on December 24th and were just wrapping up your buying spree as they were making the speech, “Attention shoppers it is now 4:45 and the store will be closing in 15 minutes…please, stop shopping, pay for your stuff and go home! It’s Christmas Eve, what’s wrong with you?” That is the complete opposite of God’s approach to Christmas. God’s gift to us, was well thought out. John states, “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one” (John 1: 1 & 2). God’s gift was not an 11th hour solution. Jesus was not a last-ditch effort to fix creation. He wasn’t something grabbed off the shelf, just so he’d have something. Before the foundation of the world, the Holy Trinity knew that humanity would mess up so completely that we wouldn’t be able to rescue ourselves from our predicament. God knew we’d need a saviour, so we were given Jesus.
Early in our relationship, Terry and I would exchange small Christmas gifts. I took great care to wrap the ones I was giving in imaginative ways with special paper, fancy ribbons and creative little touches. Cause, obviously, the way to a man’s heart is through wrapping paper. Terry’s wrapping jobs were not quite as impressive. For men, humanities’ greatest creation is the gift bag. Take the gift, plop it in the bag and voila. Done. Generally speaking, when one is given a gift that doesn’t look like much, one lowers one’s expectations. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that the wrapping doesn’t necessarily reflect the gift. Some very extraordinary gifts begin in pretty lowly packaging. That is the story of Jesus. Today Christmas comes wrapped up in sentimentality. Christmas is as romanticized as a card from Currier and Ives. Our carols are removed from the reality of what was. “Silent night, holy night” – few women are silent when they give birth, and even fewer are silent when they give birth in a stable. “The cattle are lowing…the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes”. Of course, he’s crying – he’s been woken up by a mooing cow. He’s got straw sticking into him. There are many realities about the birth of Jesus that don’t fit our expectations.
We’d think that if God were to come to Earth, he’d be top of the food chain – a wealthy man who has whatever he wants. Jesus was born to a poor carpenter named Joseph. We know he was poor because Luke tells us that when the time came take the infant Jesus to the temple, the Law stipulated that the couple should bring a lamb for the offering but allowed for an offering of two doves. Joseph brought two doves because he couldn’t afford a lamb. It’s intriguing that Joseph can’t afford a lamb and yet comes bearing the “Lamb of God”. We expect that God would have set things up a little better so as to skip the whole stable thing. Perhaps, maneuvered a better time for the census, so a pregnant Mary would have an easier time. Or create a crisis for the people staying in the presidential suite so it would be vacant for their arrival. Maybe, the inn-keepers wife could have thrown a baby shower to upgrade from those swaddling cloths aka rags. Maybe a pain-free delivery with a Spiritual epidural. But God skipped all of the comforts because he wanted to be able to relate to the suffering of humanity. He skipped the privileges because he had compassion for the poor. On an episode of 20/20 they noted that the richest people in America give 30% less to charity than the average middle-class family. One reason they identified was that many mid-income people remember when they had financial struggles. Jesus knows the stress and suffering of the average person. Hebrews 4: 15 & 16 offers this encouragement, “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and temptation, experienced it all—all but the sin. So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”
We may expect that a Royal birth should be celebrated with a Royal extravaganza much like a royal wedding or coronation. Why couldn’t the glory of Jesus be commemorated? Wouldn’t Herod’s Palace have been a better back drop for such a party? Shouldn’t dignitaries from all over the globe make an appearance? Yet, rather than indulge himself, Jesus denied himself. Instead of a palace, God choses a stable. Instead of world leaders, God invites some shepherds. Paul tells us, “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion” (Philippians 2: 6 – 8). Last Christmas I did a rather selfish thing. I gave Terry a gift knowing I’d be more apt to use it. At other times, while shopping for others, I’ve picked up a few things for myself. It’s human nature to look out for ourselves and to put our own needs before others. We may not want our selfish instincts to be challenged, but Jesus knows we need to humble ourselves for God’s kingdom to become a reality.
We may also expect that God would show up with a demonstration of power to remind us of his supremacy. Jesus began life making many sacrifices and ended his life as the ultimate sacrifice. In John 3: 16 we read, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” Love is shown by acts of sacrifice. People work 3 jobs to feed their family; they deny themselves comforts so their kids can go to college; we give the pickles to our spouse, even though we really like pickles; we learn to ski so we can do what our spouse enjoys; we give up holidays in the sun to help out with a special needs grandchild. The sacrifices of Jesus, beginning with leaving heaven behind and coming to our broken, betraying world demonstrated to humanity the reconciling love of God.
While we approach Christmas with many expectations, God arrives with a most unexpected gift. Many of the people of Jesus day reacted with disappointment and anger. Others received God’s gift and although the packaging was plain, they found within it an extraordinary offering – whole and lasting life, born out of love, sacrifice, struggle and compassion. When we let go of our expectations, we make room for the unexpected. Expectancy replaces disappointment and we know what it is to live with hope.