This season is filled with stories. We have heard them from our childhood. We watched them played out in the annual showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. We watched it lived out in song and dance in our musical production of It’s a Wonderful Life. We laugh at Dr. Souses’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and leap with joy when we see The Miracle on 34th Street. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and the ridiculous A Christmas Story remain favorites for me this time of year.
But there are other stories - more important stories. They tell us about Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. They tell us of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. We hear about angels singing and shepherds watching their flocks by night. We read of the fiery and angry Herod and the Wise Men, Magi, from the East. We listened as these stories were read in church or played out as a part of a children’s program, with kids scrambling to take their favorite part. If we are not careful we can discover that we have heard these stories so many times; that they have become so familiar; that they lose their meaning for us. We come to Advent and we find ourselves moving through the holiday motions born in habit, rather than being confronted with how these stories can challenge and change us. Last week Sarah introduced the theme of the Advent Conspiracy. It is a challenge to worship God fully, spend less, give me, and to love all. The Advent stories help call us toward that kind of heart, that kind of Advent experience with one another and with God. In each of these stories people like you and me are confronted with the Advent story, the story of God coming into our midst for the sake of salvation, and have to decide what to do with it. Each of their responses is different – but each of them had to respond one way or another.
Within the walls of the Temple an angel appear to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife would have a child who would pave the way for the coming Messiah. Instead of rejoice at the news this lower level priest looked at the probabilities because of the age of his wife, and doubted. He would be silenced until he saw God fulfill the Advent promise.
This morning we heard the passage read that tells of Mary’s encounter with the Advent promise. A teenager that was committed to be married heard the angel tell her that she was favored with God and would give birth to a child that would be the Son of God. Her response to the Advent promise is a remarkable one. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (vs. 38) Her response was an unequivocal “yes.” But she certainly had to understand the price. People could doubt how she became pregnant. She could bring shame on her family and on Joseph. She could be driven from our community as a tainted woman. There is a seemingly endless array of possibilities and probabilities for rejection and condemnation that she could face – but she responded in confidence in God and obedience to God.
Joseph’s story was like Mary’s. Joseph understood that his future bride was with child. The right cultural response was to divorce her. Most would choose a public forum to shame the woman, but Joseph was a good and righteous man and considered doing it in private. Now the angel tells us that the child is from God, in fact is the promised Immanuel, God with Us, a son he was to name Jesus. God asked him to embrace Mary. His name, his family name, his righteousness could possibly, no probably be in doubt. He had to respond to the Advent promise, although it could cost him everything. He wanted to be faithful and obedient, so his answer was “yes’ regardless of the cost.
There are still others that will be confronted by the Advent stories. The shepherds will be watching their flocks at night when an angel of the Lord and a choir of heavenly hosts came to proclaim that unto them, unto the world, a child had been born who was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. They left everything they owned; everything they were responsible for; everything that made them who they were sitting on that hillside to see if it was true. When they saw the babe, they did not head back to the hills – but instead hit the streets to make sure everyone heard the news.
The Magi, searching the skies for a sign of the coming king, loaded their camels and rode. They left everything and everyone they knew to see the Advent promise come true. King Herod had a different response. The Magi brought him the words that confronted him with the Advent promise. He did not respond in hope or obedience, but instead with anger and viciousness. The promised One created possibilities and probabilities that his power and his lineage was at risk. He was willing to destroy the innocent in an effort to destroy the promise.
Everyone that was confronted with the Advent promise of the Messiah had to choose to do something with it. Everyone that heard the word that the Messiah; the Promised One; of God with us; of Jesus; had to decide how they would respond to that word. We are no different. We have to choose what to do – how we will respond – to this great gift of God.
It is so easy to get caught up in the dash to dress our home and secure the required gifts for the season. It is so easy to let the Advent stories pass by us with little notice because we have heard them so many times before. It is so easy to move through the Christmas season motions because we have done it so many times before. But this year I want to challenge you to stop and consider what the Advent promise of God with us, of a Savior born for us means to you and in your life.
For some, the right response to the Advent promise is a “yes” to a relationship with God. For too long these have been stories to you, but today you began to understand that this promise of a Savior is for you. There is hope for you. There is redemption for you. There is forgiveness for you. The babe is a manger is Jesus for you. Will you leave the behind the anger and the angst, the self destruction and the relational destruction of others and claim this Christ as your Savior?
For others the right response to the Advent promise is to listen up and look up and get on your camel and ride. It is so easy to be consumed by what it right in front of us. It is so easy to be held captive by the demands of the day. Somewhere deep inside of us we long for more. We want to be closer to God. We want to walk with Jesus. Will you breakout and break away and realize that the story is more than today’s story. Can you make time to seek God and find the joy of the babe in the manger – a Savior born for the word – of a God that wants to be with you where you are?
A vital part of the Advent promise is that God uses people to accomplish His Kingdom plan. God has crafted and equipped you for something beyond yourselves. This year will you move beyond measuring the possibilities and the probabilities to say “yes” to whatever God might be stirring in your to do? Sometimes we can find ourselves frozen by the risks and seized by fear. Will we be bold enough to say “yes” in confidence and obedience to God? The word from the angel to Mary still hangs in the air. “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (vs. 37) For some this is a call to go and serve – for others it is a call to reach out to others and restore broken relationships and redeem broken moments.
For all of us there is the Advent call to come and see the birth of the Savior and to share the news with all we know. So many – too many – will embrace the story of the Grinch, Frosty and Santa Claus with the same passion as the story of the birth of Jesus. They do so because they do not know the power of the Advent promise. How can they know unless someone tells them? How can they respond to the good news of great joy if they never hear the good news? To whom might God be calling you to share the news?
You need to know that no response is a response. In choosing not to respond you choose to let the story lay within the pages of the Bible and miss what it can and will mean in your life. This may be the saddest of all possible responses because in choosing to be unmoved – untouched by the story – we miss all that God can and will do in our lives. We miss receiving God’s greatest gift – a savior – redemption – forgiveness - a living and loving relationship with God. Hear the Advent promise – and then respond – however it is right for you – however God calls you.