Sunday, December 16, 2007

What is the TRUE Spirit of Christmas

Just what is the Christmas spirit? And I suppose there are a lot of potential answers to that question. To Scrooge, in the Christmas Carol, the Christmas spirit was a ghost. On one website, it comes in a bottle as Vodka as their Christmas spirit. Some people feel that the Christmas spirit is somehow the truce that takes place in the family where nobody brings up issues, or quarrels. One site spoke about the Spirit of Christmas being Generosity. I suppose for some others, the Christmas spirit is expressed in a card that conveys a sentiment of well-being. In the West, a huge number of people will be involved in sending five billion plus Christmas cards expressing these sentiments.

For some people the Christmas spirit is an attitude of happiness found with the fellowship of friends or family, or in a party spirit while consuming 10 to 12 million hams and fried chicken. For others in the world, the Christmas spirit is not so trivial, or so frivolous or so much fun. For many the Christmas spirit is one of profound sadness, increased depression because all that is wrong in their life is then measured against the hilarity of the time and seems even more profoundly painful.

Last week, while speaking to one of our regular worshippers here at ICCS, she told me that well over 90 people kill themselves during this time of year: each day! Not exactly a warm feeling, is it?

But what is the True Spirit of Christmas? Is it in a card, in a song, in a bottle, or a poem or is it in a Person?

Some have said that the Spirit of Christmas is in the person of Santa Claus. That his giving of toys and gifts and with his generous attitude, he’d be the one people turn to for that good feeling. But then, he was invented after WW1. Was there a Christmas Spirit before that?

Well, it is no surprise to anyone here today that the Spirit of Christmas is indeed in a Person: The Person of the Son of God.

(As for the Day of Christmas and the celebration we have today: in the Western world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on December 25th since around AD 354, replacing an earlier date of January 6th. The Christians had, by then, collected many pagan festivals and traditions during the year and were in the hope of stamping them out.)

Let’s look at Luke 1:26–38 again and hear of that special encounter a teenager named Mary had with an Angel named Gabriel!

The true spirit of Christmas is not the spirit of family bonding or even the spirit of rejoicing. All of those things are well and good, but Jesus teaches us that the true spirit of Christmas is a spirit of humility.

Humility is not something you may have and tell people about. It is not like you would show the badge of Humility you received from the Queen of England. No, it is something as valuable as that but much more important. Humility. It’s hard to be humble. It is a great burden to live among others who think that you have arrived. Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction.

Humility is facing the truth. It is useful to remind ourselves that the word itself comes from the word humus, or earth, dirt. In the end this simply means that I allow myself to be earthed in the Truth that lets God be God, and myself, as His creature. If I hold on to this it allows me to put God there at the center and helps prevent me from putting myself there instead. (Taken, in part, from Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: Reflections on The Rule of St. Benedict).

In our passage today, we can see the attitude of one young girl, who was being, in one way, forced to be even a younger person. She was at the edge of adulthood. She was forced to be as a little child. To believe what the angel Gabriel told her. 
Mark 10:15 5 "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 

Mary was exercising her God-given-gift to belief.

She was humbled before the Lord and the Lord blessed her greatly. She became the Earthly mother of the Son of God. Her character did not change much from that time. She behaved as a young mother would; caring for her first child, watching out for Him as she came to understand much more as the years went on that this Boy was indeed the Promised One of the Lord, the Promised Messiah. [Mary’s Song]

And it is in this Promised One we can see what Humility really is. Turn with me to the Christmas passage found in Philippians 2:1:11. Here’s the Christmas Story—after the fact.  

Are you like me in that when all else fails finally read the manual? That's what Paul is now up to, showing the Philippians and us "the manual."

Philippians 2:1:11 The Message: 1-4 If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
 5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, He set aside the privileges of Deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a Crucifixion.
 9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted Him high and honored Him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that He is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

Humility is usually confused with false modesty ("I'm no good") or with "milquetoast," a timid or submissive person. (a dated word) That kind of image only repulses us. Rather it has to do with a proper estimation of oneself, the posture of the creature before the Creator, who is utterly dependent and trusting in Him. In this position, you become well aware both of your weaknesses and of your glory (we are made in God's image, as His Image Bearer, after all). It is better not too make too much nor too little of either. True humility is therefore not self-focused at all but rather, as further defined by Paul, “considers others better than yourselves.” If you were lost in the wilderness and you had a compass that always pointed to you, would you feel good about that?

As with humility, this last phrase does not mean that one should falsely consider others better. As Philippians 2:4 will clarify "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”, we are to consider others not in our estimation of them--which would only lead to the very vices Paul has just spoken against--but in our caring for them, putting them and their needs ahead of our own. Others in the community are not necessarily "better" than I am, but their needs and concerns should "surpass" my own. After all, this is precisely how Christ's humility expressed Himself, as Paul describes in verse 8. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death— even death on a Cross! This is how Paul and even John describe those whose behavior is genuinely Christian or not. If they do not seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Cor 10:24 24. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.) than there is a connect with the Gospel.

Here is the sure cure for selfish ambition or vain conceit, not to mention "complaining or arguing" (Phil 2:14. 14. Do everything without complaining or arguing).

The line, be like Jesus or what would Jesus do? are the focal theme of what Jesus did when He came to earth. He came to serve us. He came to give us. He came to die for us. He came to be an example of how we are to come, give and serve others, in His Name.

Jesus, who is the Son of God, equal with God, became flesh—the incarnation—born of a woman, in Bethlehem. He was obedient to His Father—even to death and that on a Cross…for us! His birth was the predicted event that shows us how we are to also live. Obedient to the Father. When Jesus humbled Himself before the Father, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every Name. Under This Name, all of us in this room and all of the people in Tokyo and in Japan and in Asia and around the world can bow our knees before Him and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God in the Highest!

Everyone is in the same place. We all start out there. We have the choice to move. Move and live or stay and die. He did not make it hard for us to believe. Just become a little child and trust in the Message.  

Trust in the Message and believe. We all are broken people. In fact, the Church is not made up of a bunch of spiritual giants; the True Church is only broken men leading others to the Cross. In part, from: David J. Bosch, A Spirituality of the Road. 

Are you that way? Are you a broken person? Are there things that need fixing? One said that God would only use a broken person to do His will. Hard to see that and hard to hear that but, over time, we can understand that!  

The True Spirit of Christmas was found in the Person of Jesus, the Christ Child. Go to Him afresh. Go to Him with your old stories. Go to Him with your heart. With your pain. With your questions and He will touch you with His Spirit and refresh and remake you. That is His Promise to Mary and to you. Verse 37 “For nothing is impossible with God."
Next week: The Christmas List.

What to do this season? What to do to end the year? Keep Christ in the season with the reason of His Love being the focus. Share with others this great story of God’s love with those you know and with those you love. If you don’t, who will?

This is a little story about four people named Everybody,
 Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done 
and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, 
but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody 
when Nobody did what Anybody could have done