BIBLE READINGS: Philippians 1: 3-11 Luke 3: 1-6
Sometimes, I just want to skip Christmas! Juggling family and gifts and Christmas cards and Christmas letters... sometimes I just want to skip it all!
Skipping Christmas. It doesn't sound like such a bad idea at times, does it? Because of the business and stress of the season, some of us may be tempted to skip Christmas altogether. I am not recommending skipping Christmas completely. But if we are to make the paths straight, there are some things we might need to skip.
Luke begins our text for today with a chronology, a log of who was ruling, where and when. He's setting a dramatic stage, locating the action not just in terms of a few people in the wilderness, but in time and space. What was happening with the coming of Jesus was of local, state, national, international and even cosmic significance.
The word of the Lord came to John son of Zechariah. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
John's quote from Isaiah 40:3 describes the necessary preparations made for the approaching visit of a king. The roadway must by properly prepared, so that it may be easily traversed. In verse 4, "make his paths straight" means to eliminate treacherous curves. Then we see image of contrasting pairs being brought into agreement. Valleys are filled; mountains are made low; crooked paths are straightened; rough roads are smoothed out. Obviously "preparing the way" is no easy task.
In making the road straight, the builder must skip some things. For example, if the builder cuts the mountains down, he skips the mountains.
When the crooked is made straight, it skips the twists and turns. Something has to be skipped if the crooked is made straight.
In the same way, Advent calls us to make a straight path to Christmas! Some things have to be skipped when we make a beeline for Christmas.
So what are some of things we can skip at Christmas? I am sure you can think of some things you would like to skip at Christmas.
Let me make a few suggestions.
First, we can skip some of the commercialisation of Christmas, can't we? But how many sermons have you heard denouncing the commerce of Christmas? Sermons like the one that said, "The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He, who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his coins, becomes suddenly extravagant." But these are the words of the fourth-century writer Libanius, lamenting the "commercial" frenzy surrounding the Roman year-end festival. Commercialisation is obviously nothing new. But surely we have taken it to a new level.
It was the day after Christmas. The father was trying to take a nap, but his young son kept finding ways to interrupt his siesta. Finally the father lost his patience and said, "Go to my room, and go now!"
Hearing this, the boy's mother asked, "Why did you tell him to go to your room and not his?"
The father replied: "Are you kidding? Did you see all those Christmas presents the he received? In his room he has a TV, a stereo, a computer, 8 new CDs, 3 new computer games games. If we want to punish him, we have to send him to our room."
Isn't that true in all our families? And when children have so much, what do you get them for Christmas? What does it say about us when we have so much trouble deciding what to get each other for Christmas? It probably says that we already have everything we could possibly need. The last thing we need is for our loved ones to give us something else that we don't need and probably something else that we don't even want.
Maybe we need to skip the extravagant gifts to family and look at other ways to give at Christmas. Think about how you might spend some of your money by supporting Christmas Bowl or some other charity. Take a moment and fill out a cost/analysis form to discover just how much you do spend on Christmas and on what. Maybe you could decide to cut those costs by twenty-five percent and donate that same percentage to the poor, sick, hungry or needy at Christmas.
We may give our best gifts when we give money to those in need – to organisations that directly impact on the lives of the poor and the suffering. Those are gifts that will go to causes that have real needs. Our gifts there will make a difference.
I certainly think we need to learn to centre our Christmas on activities that show love rather than "thing-giving." We need to be more creative with Christmas.
Perhaps John is saying to us, "Skip the gifts. Show the love." Maybe if we skipped the materialism of Christmas, we could centre our attention more on the real meaning of the season.
Sometimes we need to learn from the least of these how to skip the unimportant so that we can see the most important. Stephen Shadeeg, the father of four children, tells a wonderful story of a particular Christmas morning. He said they had a rule at their house that none of the children could go down to see gifts under the tree until the rest of the family was awake and they could all go together.
The year David was seven, he came bounding into their bedroom at 4:30 a.m., his face glowing with excitement, his mouth running at about ninety miles an hour. "Daddy! Mother! Come quick! I saw it!"
As they wiped the sleep from their eyes, both he and his wife knew what had happened. The rule had been broken. David had already discovered the new bicycle that he had been wanting for two years. They felt cheated that he had rushed ahead and they had missed seeing his discovery, but it was Christmas, after all, and they couldn't scold him for being overly anxious.
They climbed out of bed, pulled on their robes and slippers, and David took them by the hands, dragging them down the hall. They woke the rest of the children, and with all the family in tow, David led them down the stairs and through the darkened living room toward a window on the eastern side of the house, totally oblivious of the bicycle which sat unnoticed beside the tree. He pointed his little finger to the eastern sky and said, "Look! The Star of Bethlehem! I've seen the star!"
The child was right. Skip the bicycle. See the star!
A quote from G. K. Chesterton suggests that we need to skip the outward and look at the inward. He says:
What happened "... in that fold or crack in the great grey hills," was "that the whole universe had been turned inside out ... all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest .... God who had been only a circumference was seen as a centre; and a centre is infinitely small."
Maybe we need to skip the large outward things and look "inward to the smallest." One of the favourite tricks of many families is to place a tiny gift in a tiny box. Then they place that box in small box, which is placed in a little larger box within a little larger box, until finally the gift in many boxes is wrapped in a great big box.
At Christmas we are tempted to look for the largest packages. The big package dazzles the eyes of children. But when we grow up, we should learn to see beyond the big package to the little things that really matter in life. We need to skip the large, glitzy packages and see the little things that really make Christmas.
You see, John was right. We need to make a straight path to the heart of Christmas. Skip the outside. See the inside.
A poem by M. B. Moses sums up the straight path to Christmas nicely:
As you go through Christmas,
That each step may bring you
Down the starlit path,
To the manger bed.
Talk quietly, as you
Speak of Christmas
That you shall not drown out
The glorious song of angels with idle
Talk and merriment.
Kneel reverently as you
Pause for Christmas,
That you may feel again
The Spirit of the Nativity,
Rekindled in your soul.
Rise eagerly, after you
Have trod the Christmas Path,
That you may serve more fully,
The one whose birth we hail.
Acknowledgement: Rev. Dr. Mickey Anders