But in this place, I hope we slow down just a bit and take a journey toward a babe born in a manger. In the mad dash to get it all done we may miss the wonder and the joy that the Advent season has to offer. The incidental stress of the Christmas dash can prevent us from connecting with God and each other.
It is easy to get caught up in the rhythm of hearing the same story and the same passages that somehow this season, this celebration becomes common place. So, this year, we will pare the familiar passages with others from Scripture that can help us come to Advent with fresh ears. So I invite you to join with me on a journey to Bethlehem and an encounter with God in flesh. Our journey begins in Psalm 24 and its call to the King of Glory.
II. It All Belongs to God vs. 1-2
Our look at Psalm 24 begins with verses 1-2 and the word that it all belongs to God. Hear with me: 1 The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. 2 For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.
My first car was a 1975 MGB convertible. I will never forget the moment I knew that car was mine - never mind that the engine was blown, that the oil pan was sitting in the passengers’ seat, and that you had to open the trunk with a screw driver. It was mine!
The psalmist deals with the ownership issue up front. The psalmist calls us to remember selflessly that all that is belongs to God…the earth and all that fills it, the seas and all the swim in it, the earth and all who live upon it. This is a pretty comprehensive list. This belief demands a radical shift from the consumer driven culture that claims us. Commercial after commercial proclaim with boldness that it is all about “us,” about what we need, what we think we need, what we want, what we imagine that we just might want, and what our neighbor has that we think we desire as well. This has led to a flawed theology of ownership and stewardship that speaks to what we give to God. If we believe that it all belongs to God then our stewardship our care of what God has given US - our tithes and offerings become what return to God what belongs to God for the sake of God’s kingdom. It shifts our giving from a sense of indebtedness to a demanding God to an act of worship and joy that lifts and transforms our lives.
There is a story I saw on the news this week. Maybe some of you heard it too. The story moved me and reminded what happens when we look beyond ourselves. It is the story of the young boy in Seattle, Washington. Doctors gave 11-year-old Brenden Foster two weeks to live. Those two weeks were up on Wednesday. On Friday, he shared his last wish. Not yet a teenager, Brenden's time to die has come. "I should be gone in a week or so," he said. Brenden was the kid who ran the fastest, climbed the highest and dreamed of becoming a marine photographer. Leukemia took away all those things, but not his dying wish to help others.
"He's always thought about others. Never complained about having to go through this, ever," said his mother, Wendy Foster. When Brenden was first diagnosed with leukemia, he and his mom began a new tradition. Every night they list three positive things that happened during the day, and they have to share a laugh. A chuckle will do, Brenden said, but a fake laugh will never do.
In the last days of his life, it was a homeless camp, namely Nickelsville that captured the boy's heart. "I was coming back from one of my clinic appoints and I saw this big thing of homeless people, and then I thought I should just get them something," he said.
Brenden is too ill to leave his bed and feed the homeless. He walked into an emergency room last December and hasn't walked since. But Brenden's wish will not go unfulfilled. A group planned to gather in his honor on Friday night to make sandwiches and deliver them to the homeless. "We're making 200 sandwiches -- half ham and cheese, and half peanut butter and jelly. He didn't want them all to be peanut butter and jelly in case somebody was allergic to peanut butter," said Jennifer Morrison, one of the participants. "They're probably starving, so give them a chance," said Brenden.
Brenden had the opportunity to hear the story of his hope inspired others to action in the hours before his death. In a moment when others might have been tempted to focus on themselves, to demand their whim be fulfilled, Brenden instead found a heart for others founded on a belief that others mattered.
The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. If we truly believe that it all belongs to God how might it change how we give, how we share, how we invest in others and pour our lives into the worship of God?
III. Clean Hands and a Pure Heart vs. 3-6
When we believe that it all belongs to God and that we are His, we can not help but be drawn into God’s presence, to slow down and come to God in worship. The Psalmist sings; 3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face. Selah
We can almost hear the voices of the pilgrims making their way to the temple rhythmically calling out; 3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? The answer rings out 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart. This is a loaded definition. The Old Testament scholar, James Luther Mays, tells us; “The adjectives ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ do not belong to the Old Testament vocabulary of ritual purification; they are ethical terms. Clean hands are those innocent of wrong against others. The pure heart thinks and will only (fealty-author/faithfulness and fidelity to God-interpretation).
In other words, what the Pslamist sings is not a call to a religion of going through the motions, but a faith that draws us to God. It beckons those who come to worship to seek God’s face and to God’s blessing must prepare themselves and chooses to live lives of faithfulness to others and to God.
Perhaps this call in never more evident when we come to celebrate the great gift of God found in the birth of Christ. We can not be trapped in the consumer call of the contemporary Christmas. We are called to seek a gift that can not be contained by paper and bow – but draws us to God’s side. Perhaps we can echo the psalmist; This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face
IV. Lift up Your Heads and See vs. 7-10
So I invite you to lift up your heads and see! The Psalmist sings; 7 Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah
This King of Glory will claim a manger rather than a palace, swaddling clothes rather than regal robes; a life of service rather than of one of comfort. Come now and worship the King of Glory that has come and will come again. Lift up your heads from the grind of the Christmas crush and see the one who comes.
V. Coming to the King
Its time! Time to hunt for a parking space at Penn Square Mall. Time to being the search for the perfect Christmas gift. Time for office parties with their seemingly endless parade of chocolate covered sugar saturated cakes and pies. Time to try to carefully wrap each package with the full knowledge that the wrapping will be ripped to shreds within second of its giving. Time to send Christmas cards – or Christmas emails – or Christmas text messages and Facebook greetings. It seems that Christmas the demands of the cultural Christmas make us run faster and faster, sprinting toward the finish line.
It is time to stop the sprint and come to the King. He offers a life of redemption and the way to God. He offers us healing and hope, not clutter, stress and confusion. He comes to tell us that we were created to be children of God, created for relationship and for life and life with God. This Christmas seek the perfect gift – not one that can be found in Macy’s or Dillards, but in a manger in a small dusty Mid Eastern city. Come find the perfect gift of God, the King of Glory.