December 23, 2018

What's in Your Heart Today?

4th Sunday in Advent

First Lesson:  Micah 5:2-5a

Second Lesson:  Revelation 12:1-6

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1:46-55

Sermon Text:  Luke 1:46-55      

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 

If you would come to visit our house and enter through the back doors, where most guests come in, first you might hear Christmas music.  Then you would notice our tree. As you step up into the kitchen you might see our Bungee Santa.  In the hallway is a cinnamon scented broom with a Christmas bow on it. Then when you get into our dining room, you turn left and there . . . is the stable with the baby Jesus. 

I tell you all this to make the point of how easy it is for us to center our thoughts on the celebration of a worldly Christmas more than the birth of Christ.  I don’t mean to imply any guilt on you because I want you to see that this idea is true even for me.  This sermon is intended merely to remind us all what Christmas is all about.
As Christmas Eve and Christmas Day approach, WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART TODAY?  Are you pondering 1) Thoughts about ChristMAS? Or, 2) Thoughts about CHRIST?

Drawing from my 7th and 8th grade Spanish classes and Taco Bell commercials, let’s remember that in Spanish Mas means “more.”  So we can look at our secular celebration of Christmas as Christ plus “more.”  Our scripture lesson today reminds us to celebrate Christ more than the things that go beyond that.

As we look over this Song of Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, let’s think about how we celebrate Christmas.  There are certain things which are connected with the season, which will always be a part of our celebration.  

What’s your favorite Christmas song?  “Oh, Christmas Tree.”  “Sleigh Ride.” “Jingle Bells.” “White Christmas.”  When we think about those Christmas classics we’ll agree that they are based on the season of ChristMAS, not Thoughts About CHRIST.  When Mary was told by the angel that she would be the mother of the Messiah her heart overflowed with praise.
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Vv. 46,47

Mary has experienced the blessings of God, so her praise and rejoicing come from her very soul.   Mary believed what she sang.  We too know and understand that we have received great blessings from God, but it can be difficult to concentrate on our songs of praise. 
Our thoughts about CHRISTmas can be derailed even when we sing Christmas hymns. Think of “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem.” Do you like the words of the hymn or do you like it because of the melody?  How about “Silent Night?”  Does it matter to you if you sing the words in English, so you can understand them, or do you like to sing it in German because it reminds you of Christmases past?

What are your prayers like this Christmas season?  Wouldn’t you agree that they should be special?  What are the special things that you pray for now? “Dear God, give grandma and grandpa a safe trip to our house for Christmas?” “Help our family to all get along when we’re together for Christmas?”  Children often pray to God for their special gift, that God would see to it that it’s under the tree on Christmas morning.

There are certainly thoughts of ChristMAS in such prayers, but where are the Thoughts of Christ?  Our Christmas prayers should also include our concern that the real meaning of Christmas, the coming of the Savior from sin will not be neglected or taken lightly this Christmas.   Our prayers can be prayers of thanks that God has sent His Prince of Peace this Christmas to those who are in the hospital, alone at home or in nursing homes, to those whose homes are filled with disappointment and heartache.  The angels sang, “Peace on earth good will toward men.”  Wouldn’t it be a real expression of Christmas good will if we Christians would pray for peace?

Christmas means: Presents. Have you got all the presents that you need for this Christmas?  Are they wrapped?  Mom and Dad, teens, are you going shopping this afternoon? Do you need to get just a few more things for ChristMAS?  WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART TODAY Thoughts of ChristMAS?  Or Thoughts of CHRIST?  

Have we considered at all this year why we exchange gifts at Christmas?  Have we taught our children? Or, have we been too busy to ponder these things in our hearts?  While we wrap our CHRISTmas gifts, it would do us well to think about the greatest gift ever given, the gift that brought to us and to our children the forgiveness of all our sins, that took away our guilt and our fear of death.  Could we even give such a gift to anyone?  God did.  That’s why we celebrate CHRISTmas.

ChristMAS takes so much preparation.  Just think of all that you’re planning to do today, tonight and even tomorrow.  Why is there so much to do before ChristMAS?  Because we choose or expect all the extra efforts.  We have to prepare for company, plan a menu, decorate the tree and the hallways and the guest room and even the bathroom.  We have to bake and cook and make those seasonal special treats.  What have we been preparing for? ChristMAS or CHRISTmas?  How many of us have been using our Advent calendars to read the promises of our Savior’s coming?  How many of us have decorated our dining room table with Advent wreathes and use them as we await the celebration?  How many of us worshipped this Advent season, on Sundays and during the midweek services, (when the children weren’t singing)?  

What a lesson we learn from the mother of Jesus.
(The LORD) has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. vv. 48,49

Jesus came from the lowly line of David, which had deteriorated so much that it was hardly recognizable in Israel.  Mary is the humble, lowly, unlikely mother of the Messiah.  Even though she was a descendant of David, no doubt she expected the Savior to come from a family far more glorious than hers.  One might expect that God would have chosen the daughter of the high priest, the most highly regarded family in Israel, to give birth to the holy Child.  But God chose Mary.  Mary does as you and I should do when we recognize how good and gracious God is to us.  She doesn’t call attention to herself but focuses all her attention on God.  She praises God that He has regarded a lowly woman like her.  Some among us may have been blessed with wealth or success.  But even if that’s true, God does indeed look down, in mercy and with His grace, on those who are lowly, humble, desperate, grieving, troubled, lonely, sick, inflicted with pain.  And God lifts them up.  “To God be the glory.”

It is so easy to get caught up in the activities, the expectations, the ideas of a worldly celebration of ChristMAS.  At ChristMAS we might find ourselves thinking that we want to throw the best party, have the best layout of food our family has ever seen, have the best outdoor decorations in the neighborhood. Thoughts of ChristMAS can so easily overshadow the real reason for CHRISTmas celebrations. 

Let’s be clear though: CHRISTmas is about CHRIST.  But CHRISTmas is also about you.  As you ponder what Christmas really is, you will realize that it is a day of celebration for you.  Christmas has to do with your sin, with the birth of your Savior, with your Jesus.  Thoughts of Christ bring out the real meaning of CHRISTmas. Here at the manger you have received an inheritance in God’s heavenly kingdom.  God has prepared for you the riches of all his blessings because He loves you, so much that He gave His one and only Son – for you.   Look.  Ponder. 

Mary was chosen by God’s grace to bring us the Savior.  She acknowledges God’s goodness and love in this hymn of praise.  So, we too, should remember to acknowledge God this CHRISTmas season as the One who has chosen us, and blessed us through this child, Jesus.

WHAT’S IN YOUR HEARTS TODAY?  Let there be thoughts of CHRIST. Then our Thoughts of CHRISTMAS will give us real reason to celebrate.   Amen

Note:  Think a little less.  Are there too many thoughts and too much anxiety about Christmas running through your head these days?  Next Sunday, we will be reminded of how to reduce the busyness of Christmas by focusing our thoughts more on Christ than on Christmas.