Rejoice, Christmas is almost here. Rejoice, tis the season. Rejoice for all that the Lord has given you and all that we give back.
We were supposed to have the Christmas program this morning. A time of youthful excitement, singing, and rejoicing for the arrival of Christmas.
Do you remember the energy and excitement you had as a youth? Remember the utter exhaustion you had waiting, and waiting, and waiting, until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day would arrive and you could open the presents under the tree?
What the advent season does for us as Christians, especially as young Christians, is to set a precedent for patience. We learn patience through the tradition of waiting. Hoping for Christ to come and save us.
Patience. Easy to say, hard to do.
The words from James ring true. Be Patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer is anticipating rain after planting a crop. It may or may not come when you expect it. It may not come at all. You can grumble about not getting the right conditions, but what good will grumbling get you?
The coming of our Lord was truly a test of patience. Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This 100 mile journey, with the pregnant Mary likely on the back of a camel or donkey, would’ve been a true test of patience.
But patience, waiting, anticipation doesn’t always provide the result we expect in the end.
Mary patiently made it on this 10 day journey, feeling every bump and every kick in her womb. Eagerly waiting to arrive in Bethlehem where she could find a nice room to finish her waiting and rest. We know how that story turns out—no room in the inn, off to the stable. We’ll hear that story in 12 days and 4 and a half hours, in case you’re counting down to Christmas Eve.
Do you think that Mary, in her patience, expected this result? We lift up Mary as the mother of our savior—a symbol of purity, beauty, peace. Do you really think she was happy, late in her third trimester, that she wouldn’t have the “luxury” of even being able to give birth to Immanuel in a room but instead out with the animals in the barn?
Poor Joseph probably felt guilty that he couldn’t provide a better place for her to lay down and rest and have the baby. Ultimately, the baby was born, the beautiful baby. But after a long wait, there is no way that this was the way or the place they expected the baby to be born.
Do you remember a Christmas gift you were hoping for? When I was in 4th grade, it was the Super Nintendo. I already had the regular Nintendo—with Super Mario and Duck Hunt. At school, all my friends talked about was the Super Nintendo—with better graphics, cool games, and, as video game systems go, it was the latest, newest, best version. I laid down hints for my parents that were subtle, and not so subtle.
I remember how excited I was when I saw a box under the tree that was the right size. The large package had my name on it and was even wrapped with my mom’s wrapping paper, it MUST be the Super Nintendo. As I opened the rest of the gifts that Christmas, I noticed that it was still under the tree until everything else was unwrapped. The anticipation was driving me crazy.
Finally, my mom handed it to me. The last gift. I shredded the paper, I’d even planned out my reaction and how excited I was going to be when I saw that it was the video game system I had planned on getting—I had to ACT surprised, even if I knew what it was.
I had a reaction all right. It was a coat. A colorful, warm coat. A practical gift. We don’t always want practical—sometimes we want exciting. Often, when we are patient, and wait, and expect what is coming—they don’t meet our expectations. We don’t always get what we expect—good or bad, things don’t always work exactly as we plan. But through experiences like this, I learned that I had to be grateful for what I received.
Imagine how John the Baptist must’ve felt. John, as we read in Matthew’s text, is in prison and sends word to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” He had to be thinking, Jesus, are you the Messiah, the Savior, or am I just going to be disappointed again? Am I in prison in vain—has this all been a waste of my time?
Jesus tells them to go tell John about the blind, the lame, the lepers, being healed. It was right in front of them—but they couldn’t see that the Messiah was here. Then Jesus reminds them of what the prophets said —“See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” The way is prepared.
The way is prepared indeed. James reminds us of Christ’s suffering. We are waiting for Jesus birth because we remember the promises made through his death.
James says to strengthen our hearts. Get ready. Don’t grumble about what you think you deserve. We don’t deserve Christ, but through grace we receive him. Remember Christ is all around you—be unselfish in the midst of consumerism and capitalistic craziness. Put money in the Salvation Army bucket. Give away coats to Goodwill so your neighbor won’t be cold.
As Luther Seminary professor Dirk Lange so eloquently puts it, “slow down, seek first the kingdom of God, be attentive to one another, let all things happen in and for God, then all else will be given, God will grant all in God’s time.”
Be patient. The patience that I’m speaking of is the joy, hope, and love that comes in this season. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, Christ is the best gift you will ever receive—the most practical AND exciting. Christ is our gift that we keep on giving and giving and giving. Year after year we hear the story, we are patient to hear the good news. Rejoice, the wait is almost over… until next year! Amen.