If there is one thing that we seem to do a lot of around the holidays, it is eat. If you want some evidence I could tell you how long it took me to get out of the Publix parking lot yesterday in the middle of the afternoon – trust me – it took ages! Now some meals are simple – three or four ingredients – then there are those whose list seems to go on forever – obscure spices like crushed cardamom and weird vegetables that look like they were grown on the space station. We run around trying to find all of these ingredients and then we begin to wonder – could we get away with ignoring one? I mean – a quarter of a teaspoon – who would miss it?
Consider all of the ingredients that make up Christmas for you. Is it a few? A lot? Like cooking a meal – is there one ingredient that if it is missing, Christmas would be ruined; it just wouldn’t be Christmas. For us, those ingredients that make up Christmas become expectations, don’t they?
Think about how you would complete this sentence: “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without …what?” It just wouldn’t be Christmas without …what?
That can be a tough question to answer especially for a child. As a kid, Christmas for me was all about expectations. The Sears Wishbook was printed and mailed out to homes in late September and my sisters and I would fight over who got to look at it first. And we would check each and every page and write down on a yellow legal pad the things that we desired in our hearts for Christmas presents – the page numbers and the item number and the price, the color and quantity, everything, so that there would be no mistakes. These lists could grow quite long when one included things like sunfish sailboats and lava lamps and chemistry sets and electric guitars and all of the others things that the geniuses at Sears included to entice little boys like me. I never received any of those things by the way. Now if one wrote down seven pages of things, one was bound to be a bit disappointed in the end. Having the wrong expectations can certainly lead to disappointment.
Even if the Wishbook was not a part of your Christmas past, your Christmas does come with expectations, doesn’t it? Maybe your list of expectations includes things like decorating a tree with ornaments full of memories and stories, heirloom balls handed down from previous generations or children’s handmade snowflakes or ornaments that declare “My first Christmas” or “Our First Christmas.” Maybe your expectations of Christmas include decorating cookies and sharing them (or eating them or both!) Or buying and wrapping presents or preparing the family letter or mailing Christmas cards or eggnog or a special Christmas Dinner. We could, one supposes, also throw in a few holiday specials and Christmas movies and the inevitable new Christmas CD. Expectations – Christmas is filled with them: what we need to experience or have occur or do so that Christmas, in a word, happens, for us. I mean, what would Christmas be without a Starbucks white chocolate mocha frappuccino?
Think about it “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without …what?”
We each anchor our Christmas’ in certain expectations.But what if – and I know this may seem peculiar – but what if our expectations were turned inside out.
We put so much time and effort into Christmas. There are so many cultural expectations and emotional expectations and psychological expectations and financial expectations and family obligations and then there always remains that white chocolate mocha frappuccino.
But what if our expectations were turned inside out?
Turned our primary focus away from the pressures of weeks and weeks of trying to make sure that everyone has a nice Christmas; away from the pressures of weeks and weeks of trying to make sure that we have done what we need to do, experienced what we need to experience, baked those cookies, bought those gifts, sang those songs, the tinsel, the garland, the white chocolate mocha frappuccino. And instead, turned our primary focus towards a life in which as Charles Dickens suggests, we declare that: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
What if our expectations were turned inside out?
What would happen if instead of trying to put Christ back into Christmas or being a soldier fighting the “Happy Holiday” versus “Merry Christmas” war, how about instead we take on Charles Dicken’s challenge and simply commit to honoring Christmas in our heart and try to keep it all the year? To honor Christmas and to keep always in our hearts is to honor Christ and to follow him. And when we do that can’t the hustle and bustle and stress of the last few weeks or even months (for some people it is months and you know who you are!) - couldn’t all of that find itself transformed? Likely not all at once, but in time, undoubtedly it could, couldn’t it? And couldn’t so much more in our lives?
A while back, a mother came up to me and told me that her children wanted to be involved with feeding hungry people and did I know where they might be able to do that.From their desire was born our continuing monthly commitment to feeding the hungry of Fort Lauderdale at 1st Lutheran Church’s feeding program. I imagine something like 3,000 people have been fed and shared in conversation with us over the past few years. But those who have participated from the congregation have received much more than they have given – it is always that way when one is following Jesus. In giving of their time and in their willingness to enter into the lives of people who are suffering and marginalized and demonized and ignored by a vast majority of folks these days, those who have gone have come back different people. They have been changed. All because the Holy Spirit invited them through the hearts of a couple of kids invited by the cross of Jesus to follow him.
To honor Christmas and to keep always in our hearts is to honor Christ. And we honor Christ by following him. To honor Christ means not stopping our journey with the baby in a manger, which would rob our faith of all of its transformative power and replace it with some cute nostalgic story. But we truly honor Christ when his cross calls us forward as it always will and we journey on embracing the new life that that cross invites us to live.
And that new life is amazing. Yes, there is suffering there. Yes, there is difficulty there. That life will not be free of sadness and loss. But that life won for us by Jesus and that we live for Jesus will change us – it always does.
To honor Christmas in our hearts and keep it always is to honor Christ. Yes, we honor Christ tonight by being here, but much more importantly is how we will honor Christ when we leave. Because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the cross inviting us to live into the amazing life that began at the cross for you and me. AMEN!