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A few weeks ago I saw that Mariah Carey was in town to sing a couple of songs on a stage that was set up outside the window of the Bay downtown. This event was to mark the unveiling of the Bay’s window display. I remember remarking to myself about the name of the display as it was being reported. The newscaster was calling it the Bay’s holiday window. Of course the tradition of a department store window display before December 25th is a long-standing one and we like our traditions. I remembered the angst a year ago when Starbucks changed their Christmas cups – took away winter emblems from their cups or something like that. Social media was full of outrage, people making videos expressing their disgust etc. People saying that they would tell baristas that their name was Christmas to force them to say “Christmas” and that this would be a good thing. This would be a way to keep Christ in Christmas.
The more I thought about it and Advent (which was at this time a few weeks away), I began to wonder what it would mean for us at Blythwood to keep Christ in Christmas. We’re going to be looking over the next 5 weeks at the first two chapters of Luke. What does it mean in these two chapters to keep Christ in Christmas? I’m not worried about people calling the Bay display a holiday window you know. I’m not worried about what Starbucks does with their cups. I have nothing against The Bay or Mariah Carey. In fact I was in attendance a few years ago when Aretha Franklin was invited to sing at the unveiling of the Holt Renfrew window. We must remember that the main goal of the Bay and of Starbucks is to sell things. I have nothing against getting or giving Christmas presents, whether they’re something from the Bay or a Starbucks gift card (even if it’s called a Holiday card). What The Bay’s window display (which is put up in the name of selling things) is of little concern to me when it comes to the question of what it might mean for us at Blythwood to keep Christ in Christmas – what it might mean for us to meet Christ anew or for the first time this Christmas.
What kind of meaning for Christmas might we find in these stories? We’re going to be looking at Mary, at Zechariah, at the angels and shepherds, and finally at Simeon. What does Christmas look like in these stories? This is the question we’re going to be asking.
This morning, Christmas looks like a young woman and her older cousin meeting. It looks like blessing and wonder and song and pondering. Let us look at our story this morning and see what God has to say to our hearts.
“Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you.” These words come to a village girl in a northern town considered of little account. Mary was perplexed by these words and pondered what sort of greeting this may be. These are the words that describe the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary before the scene we read today. Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you. May these words never be something we get used to. I’ve been around for 40 or so Christmases that I can remember. For some of you it’s more, for some less. For many of us we’ve heard this message countless times, haven’t we? Emmanuel. God with us. May these never be simply words for us, no matter how many times we hear them. They perplex Mary. May they always perplex us. May they always invoke a sense of wonder in us. KB put it like this: “’The Lord is with you.’ This is to say that there is now a real relation between God and you. You are no longer a little drop in the sea, one of the lost creatures as you like to believe; but in great definiteness, it holds that the Lord is with you. With this everything good is awarded assigned to man wherever he may be. It holds not only externally, but also internally, in his life, that everything has become new, that there is a new man, the man with whom the Lord is. Man does not become God, but man is no longer without God.”
This is Christmas friends. May we never get used to this truth.
Kids get this, don’t they? May we never lose our sense of child-like wonder. I’ve said that Jesus said we need to become like children because children know their need of help. I think it’s also because children have a sense of wonder. It’s good to have kids around to remind us of that sense of wonder. The feeling you had coming down the stairs and over to the tree early Christmas morning. The wonder that went along with believing that one person in a sleigh can actually go to every single house in the world! The belief and wonder that is so strong that you argue with your friends about it at school because you heard the report from NORAD on the radio that Santa Claus had been spotted on their radar and they were tracking his progress…
The sense of wonder you used to get walking along and saying “Oh look a grasshopper” or “Oh look a butterfly!” The sense of wonder and magic that turns a box that someone’s new washing machine came in into a spaceship or a pirate ship (if you were that way inclined).
Psalm 55 goes “This I know, the Lord is for me.” Now we say the Lord is with me.
May we never lose our sense of wonder about this friends. The sense of wonder that tells us that things are not always as they seem.
Christmas, you see, is two women meeting in a town in the hill country. They’re not simply two women though. One is carrying John the Baptist – the last in a line of prophets who would point to the one who was to come. The last of an old order. The other is carrying the one who would usher in the new order. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. The child leaps inside her womb. Christmas is proclamation of the news – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” There is wonder on Elizabeth’s part – “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” She goes on “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.”
Christmas is praise. Christmas is song. God has visited his people. God has visited us. Not like a holiday visitor who might be here only for a short while. God has come to stay with us. Why has this happened to us? That the Lord would come to us? That we could sing “Emmanuel” together? What better way to respond to this news than to sing? This is what Mary does. Is it any wonder that music plays such a big part of Christmas for many? As we try to get our minds around the wonder that we’re talking about, words fail don’t they? We turn to art – to images, to poetry, to song. One writer describes the power of music like this - 'Music gets 'in' us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do. Indeed, a song can come back to haunt us almost, catching us off guard or welling up within our memories because of situations or contexts that we find ourselves in... The song can invoke a time and a place, even the smells and tastes of a moment.' C.S. Lewis wrote about why so much imagery around heaven and heavenly worship has to do with music. He wrote that for many, “music it the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstacy and infinity.”
Does this message make us ecstatic? Have we grown too used to it? May God give us the same feeling that Mary had upon hearing it from her cousin Elizabeth. Do you count yourself among those who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord? In other words do you believe that God will keep his promises, has kept his promises, is keeping his promises? Is this cause for joy?
Mary begins to sing. My soul magnifies the Lord. The Magnificat is what this song is called (after the first word in Latin). My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. Why? Because he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. She is a young girl from a nowhere Galilean village. She’s not been chosen because of her piety or her faith – though she responds to being chosen with faith. She’s been chosen by God’s grace. She’s been shown God’s unmerited favour and this causes her to rejoice. “Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.” She has been caught up in God’s saving plan and her life has taken on eternal significance. “The Mighty One has done great things for me,” Mary sings, “and holy is his name.” Nothing will ever be the same for Mary again.
Salvation is at hand. The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Sing a song to signify this. Light a candle against the darkness because words fail us friends. I know I know I’m dealing in words right now. Let me try these words. Let me ask you a question.
If you’re a follower of Christ, what have you been saved from? How has God saved you? How is God saving you? What great things has God done for you? What does this make you want to do? Sing? Shout? Cry?
There is a personal aspect to following Christ. There’s a wider aspect though. We’re caught up in God’s Great Deliverance Project which is a project not just for us as individuals, not even only for people but for all of God’s creation. It’s a Project which will turn everything upside down. We would say though that it’s turning everything right side up. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones. One day this Project will be complete and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord – that it is not in economic or military power or personal riches that our significance is to be found. That our worth is not in what we produce and consume but that it is found in the truth that we are beloved creations of a loving and merciful God. That God has remembered us and remembers us and will remember us in God’s mercy according to the promises he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forvever.
Keeping Christ in Christmas, friends, consists in recognizing these promises. In claiming these promises. Note that Mary is singing about these things in the past tense – he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. We know that these promises haven’t completely come to pass – we need only look around our world. We know that they will come to pass. We know that God invites us to participate in God’s great Salvation Project as he calls and enables us to show the same love and mercy that we have been shown – at Christmas and all year!
Luke takes a lot of time to tell the Christmas story. Eighty-six verses before Jesus is even born. I think it’s a good idea for us to take our time coming up to Christmas. Take our time to ponder these things. We see Mary in this story as one who takes time to ponder. She was much perplexed by Gabriel’s words, and pondered what “Greetings O favoured one, the Lord is with you” meant. After Jesus’ birth we’re told she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
May we take the time this year to ponder these things. To take our time with this story. To ponder what it means that God has shown his favour. To ponder what it means that salvation is here. I have to think that part of Mary’s praise came from this desire. The desire to stop and ponder. What might Christmas mean to us this year if we were to take the time daily to ponder God with us? This year we’re inviting the Blythwood family to go through the CBOQ Advent Reader once again. If you don’t have a daily devotional practice let this be it. If you do and can add this to it then add it. Let part of keeping Christ in Christmas for us this year be waiting on God. Taking the time each day in the midst of all the rush and activity to ponder. May Christmas 2016 be one we remember friends for wonder, for joy, for song, for pondering. May these things be true for us all.