Searching for a Biblical Christmas – A New Life 7/8
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
December 17th, 2017
Matthew 1, 18:25
I don’t have words enough; I’m going to use the word, blessed. It’s a blessing that we have a choir who encompass and include in one group young teenagers all the way to senior adults whose primary task is to be a small group with one another and if you ask any of them how’s the choir they can tell you how each other are. But they also bring the word, and not just any word, and I am so grateful and I think we are blessed that they bring the Word. Because I’m going to tell you, I have a thing, I don’t like most Christmas music, most of it. It’s part of how I define hell.
We went out to put up the Christmas lights, and it was a lot of fun, you put the ladder on the house and somebody goes up the ladder and hangs lights and comes back down. And the neighbors across the road, they’re really nice people, they moved in a couple of years ago, we enjoy their company, they’re really great neighbors. But they came out to decorate their house at the same time and they brought a stereo system and they put on 99.9 KESZ, which has been blaring Christmas carols since, what now, the third week of October 24/7. And so, we tuned in and they turned it up, it seemed to be in a loop that played all of the Christmas songs that I don’t care for.
Home for the Holidays by the Carpenters, We Need a Little Christmas Now by the New Christi Minstrels, Burl Ives singing Holly Jolly Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autrey, Santa Clause Coming To Town by Frank Sinatra, Winter Wonderland by Johnny Mathis, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee, Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt, Let it Snow, Let it Snow by Dean Martin, and Andy Williams rounded out the hour with, It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. In this loop that played over and over, and it seemed like the longer it went on the louder it got and the more frustrated I got, and there’s marks against the house from where I put the ladder on it. It’s okay, anger management is going well, it’s all good.
That is Christmas if you are white, middle class, middle-aged, and it’s hell for any one stuck. That’s what hell is to me, is to be stuck in a situation you can’t get out of. But you’re here today perhaps because your soul longs for a deeper meaning to Christmas, and while you might enjoy the secular tunes for a while, you came here because you wanted to hear a word of depth, and our choir delivered. We’re in a series of sermons and we’ve been looking at the Old Testament preparations for Christmas, what had led to the birth of Jesus. What’s going on, what is the meaning of Christmas from the biblical perspective?
And we discovered that people and kings have the best intentions at first when they make their commitments but ego and greed and power and competition and thriving and wanting it better for our kids slips in. And there’s this other thing that happens, and it’s, kind of, inevitable, it seems folks just do this. There’s a re-writing of scripture where the focus shifts to belief and doctrine, as if God’s primary interest is in what you believe. And simultaneously what gets written out of scripture is the importance of how you act and what you do.
And it seems to be this repetitive cycle among nations, an inevitable descent in the biblical nation. We cannot save ourselves from this cycle is the message of scripture. Fortunately we’ve discovered at the same time that God takes an interest in human history and that God has become frustrated by humans acting in ways that are entirely human, which stands counter to God’s. Remember God’s way? Cease evil, learn good, seek justice, help oppressed, justice for the orphan and plead the case of the widow. Humans following human way are like sheep that have gone astray, each of us on your own path. There’s a cycle to this, it seems to repeat, and hell is being stuck and not being able to get out.
Fortunately God has now the intention of becoming invested; God is mounting an intervention by sending a servant to live out God’s way, a demonstration to humanity of living a way of life that can save us from our own make of destruction. And that, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas.
If you ask the Old Testament, God is sending a servant to demonstrate for us God’s way. And I know that you know this. You do understand, that’s nothing new, that this is the message of historic Christianity. It’s not the message of fundamentalist Christianity, nor is it the message of our cultural religion, they both have their own message that they’ve put into Christmas. But the biblical message, Old Testament, is that God is sending a servant to show us God’s way lived out. We’ve discovered as we explored the Old Testament, two thirds of the Old Testament, the major theme of the Old Testament.
There’s some words that we got defined for us, words that we thought we knew, like, belief. Do you believe in God? Well, believe, means what’s important to God becomes important to me, that’s what, believe in God, means. Faith, we learned, means acting on what we believe, even when it costs us something. And discipleship is simply our practice of imitating the one in whom we believe. And now today we’ve stumbled, we didn’t know it, but we stumbled across one more word, spirituality. It’s Joseph’s spirituality, it is the spirit of Christmas. The word for spirit in the Old Testament Hebrew is Ruach. It’s a word that presently is not Ruach but spirituality.
A lot of people use that word. It’s used so much and it’s been given so much meaning that it really doesn’t mean anything to us. But it sure did have a lot of meaning to Isaiah. In Hebrew, spirituality and to Isaiah, spirituality, rucha, meant breath, as in, where do you draw your breath. And Isaiah in the Old Testament Hebrew is recalling that creation story from Genesis, where God forms Adam from dust and breaths breathe into his nostrils, breaths into him the breath of life, and he became, Adam became a living soul. And so, spirituality, any time you use that word in the Old Testament, there’s an underlying question about, how do you live your life as a reflection of the one who gave that life to you?
Are you a living soul? That’s what gives Ezekiel and his reference to the valley of dry bones such power. The reference for Ezekiel is people who have lost their connection in how they live their life to the breath of life. They’ve lost that connection and they are on the verge of dust, they are dry. In the Old Testament there are a couple of metaphors or images that get attached to spirituality. Hebrew spirituality says that where you draw your breath will determine your path, your way, the way that you walk, the way that you act, the way that you talk. Your path must reflect your maker or you go without breath.
The Old Testament authors also recognize that drawing breath is just as important as drawing water, and without either of them you die. And so, water and breath become close, walking the path, and there are numerous references in the Old Testament to drying up. So the Old Testament means, the spirituality means: breath and breathing, and we have two images. Number one, the path that you follow, what you do, how you act, as a reflection of your relationship with the one who gave you breath; and the absolute necessity of breath, seen in our relationship with water, as a sign of life in us.
We will see these two metaphors, these two images in Jesus fairly quickly. Jesus will submit to the importance of water in his baptism, the part of the message, there is a statement that makes about where he draws his breath. This is Hebrew spirituality. And as to walking and the way, the path of life, Jesus says, follow me, I am the way. Our text today is about Joseph’s spirituality, Hebrew spirituality. It begins with Joseph receiving news he does not expect. And just to settle, God always gives us more than we can handle, always. There, I don’t know anybody that says, God never gives you more than handle, than you can handle, has no interaction with God.
Joseph’s spiritual understanding tells him that she, Mary, is in the wrong and that the proper path for him to follow is away from this woman and that child, albeit quietly because he’s decent. The angel then appears to Joseph and says, this is God’s way for you, this woman and this child, this is your breath, and this is your way, your path.
It’s Joseph’s call to action. Take this woman as your wife; raise the child as your own son. And it’s what Joseph will do. And now each of us must ponder our own spirituality, the spirit of Christmas. That way by which we are living souls, our path reflecting our relationship with the one who gave us breath, and each of us waiting for our next call to action. That, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas if you ask the New Testament.
And I think those two meanings of Christmas, the Old Testament about God who’s sending a servant to show us God’s way. And we are now waiting for God‘s call to action to come to us. I think the choir got it right. We make it into a song and we let it enter our head and it’s the right song and it proclaims the right gospel. I think the gospel is worth singing about (singing).
Silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,
so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still
the dear Christ enters in.