PSALM 89:1-4 AND JOHN 1:1-5

Have you noticed anything different here in the sanctuary this morning? Of course, we have our beautiful greens and Christmas decorations. The paraments have changed to purple for Advent. There are just two times each year that we display purple, a symbol of royalty, in the church: Advent and Lent. The advent wreath is out, too. All of these are a sign that Christmas is quickly approaching. I doubt, however, that this is the first sign of Christmas that you have seen. Where/when did you first see signs of the approach of Christmas this year (outside of the church)? Did you see signs in November? October? September? August? I think it was around July, when I saw the first Christmas items at Hobby Lobby. Then, long before Halloween, I began to receive toy catalogs and Christmas advertisements in the mail. Santa arrived at the Shops at Wiregrass on November 16th. What kind of Christmas does that prepare us for, and what kind of expectations does it set up for us? (Does is set up the expectation that value is found in a home that is decorated perfectly, gifts that are expensive and perfect. that happiness and satisfaction can be found through spending and over-extending ourselves?) I told our Tuesday Sisters group a few weeks ago, that it made my heart start racing just to go in Hobby Lobby and see all that Christmas stuff. I was anxious just thinking of everything involved in getting Christmas right. Christmas as we have come to celebrate it, often produces feelings of stress in many people. Psychology Today made of list of the top ten stressors of the season, I agree with most of them, but changed a few that I have noticed.

1)  Christmas lights! Untangling them, hanging them, finding that one burned out bulb.

2.) Shopping! We are bombarded from all sides by ads pressuring us to buy more than we really need.

3.) This isn’t how I thought it would be! Norman Rockwell and Martha Stewart have colored our visions of what the holiday season “should” be, making it difficult to not be disappointed by reality.

4.) I can’t stand my family! This is the time of year when families often feel compelled to come together in peaceful, loving harmony—whether they like it or not!

5.) I’m lonely! On the flip side, this season can often be a time when the absence of family or social connections becomes highlighted.

6.) Crowds! This time of year, there are more people in the stores, more people on the roads, it can get pretty crazy.

7.) Wal-Mart! Do not go there this time of year if you don’t have to.

8.) I haven’t accomplished anything this year! As the New Year nears, we begin to take stock of the past months and may feel down over unmet goals.

9) Sensory overload. Sometimes it just seems like there is too much of everything this time of year.

10)  Then #10 thing producing anxiety this holiday season – what if Grandma really does get run over by a reindeer?

Oh how we so often buy into the hype of the holiday. We pressure ourselves when we really don’t have to do that. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is much to love and enjoy about this season, and as many reasons to enjoy it as not. But I wonder if, at the heart of it, there isn’t a longing for something more significant. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child is often an afterthought – and sometimes not thought of at all. Yet, the truth is that the life of Jesus Christ is what gives our lives meaning.  And that is something we all have a deep need and long for; we long for a life of meaning.

Inspirational and motivational speaker, Ken Davis suggests we consider three principles for a life of meaning. 1) Live with nothing to prove. Davis notes that we waste so much time in life trying to prove our worth with things, with power, with influence. None of it is the measure of our worth. Our worth can only be truly felt when we finally believe that we are a one of a kind, rare work of art made by the Creator of the universe.  When we realize that “all things came into being through him, (Jhn 1:3), that we are one of those beings, and that our worth is found in Christ alone, our need to prove our value can take a back seat. Our worth is unquestioned, our identity is proven in Christ.

Second, Davis, says a key life principle should be to live with nothing to hide. I was surprised to see this included here, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. Keeping a secret sin hidden is exhausting and destructive, it is a drain of energy, time, and emotional effort and it almost always caves in. Observe the news coverage when the hidden past of a political, business, or even religious leader is revealed. Davis doesn’t say this but I would say that dealing with the consequences of a secret past or present is far better than living in fear (of discovery). When we clean out the garbage in our lives and live an open life designed to honor our Creator, it’s like a breath of fresh air.  Davis says, “This is hard and painful work.  I know.  I have been there.  But how invigorating it is to open the windows, pull up the shades, and live with nothing to hide.”

Davis suggests that a third principle is to live with nothing to lose. I really like this thought – because truly, in Christ, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Davis says, “Life was never meant to be a waiting room for death, nor a waiting room for eternal life.  Eternal life starts the moment we began to trust Christ to lead us.” No matter what situation we are in, the ultimate outcome is good. The Apostle Paul says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  (Phil 1:21) Truly, as Christians, we can live with nothing to lose and everything to gain. For in Christ is found real life, and real meaning.

And there we find the substance of Christmas. Life and meaning in the person of Jesus Christ. In John, we read this morning a nativity story quite different from any other; it is a nativity story that takes us all the way back to the beginning, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was LIFE, and the life was the LIGHT of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 1-5) And I would add – darkness cannot overcome it, for it is light that extinguishes darkness and not the other way around. Think about it – flashlights, candles, lighthouses, even a small flame – the darkness may surround it, but it will still shine. It will still pierce the darkness. And as long as the light shines – we can reflect it.

Robert Fulghum, author of “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” relays his encounter with Alexandros Papanderos, at Papanderos’s peace institute on the island of Crete. Fulghum asks him, “what is the purpose of life?”

In response, Papanderos takes from his wallet a small fragment of mirror and tell this story, “I was a small child during the war when Germans invaded our island. One day, on the road I found a broken mirror from a German motorcycle. I took the largest, jagged piece and I sanded it with a rough rock until it became a perfect sphere. I then created a childish game that involved holding my mirror and getting the light to reflect off of it and shine into dark places. (I got really good at shining light into crevices and other very dark places.) When I learned how to hold the mirror just right, I could shine my light into any dark place.”

I kept the little mirror and as an adult, I came to realize that every one of us is as a fragment of a mirror whose whole design we do not know.”  With what I have, I can reflect the light – truth, understanding, meaning, knowledge, Christ – into the dark places in the lives of others.

Can we do that too, reflect light into the dark places in the lives of others? How can we do that? I recently read a post on Facebook that says this: “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” That is a good starting place, and I would add – live your life to the fullest – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

As we close, let’s pause a moment. What are your expectations this Christmas? How might you set aside some of the stressors in order to better reflect light of Christ? Ponder these:

What is my hope for myself this advent season?

What is my hope for others this advent season?

What is my hope for the world this advent season?

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