A Homily Given at The Vine Church on December 21, 2014
I’ve spent a good bit of the last month dealing with one topic: My functionally-challenged car. For a long time my car had a power-steering fluid leak, then the brakes went south on me, and one-day while I was on an errand to Wal-Mart, I noticed smoke billowing from under my hood. Turns out, the radiator was blown.
After holding the car together with band-aids and duck tape — because I really like not having a car payment — I decided to just get everything fixed. Bite the bullet. Take the plunge. Go all in.
I was so relieved to have it back and running properly, only to discover, just after a few days, the dang thing is leaking oil. Another fix. Another check to write. Plus, another task: Cleaning power-steering fluid and oil from in front of my house.
I’m busy. I really don’t have time to deal with this car. I had a speaking engagement in East Texas last weekend. Plus, it’s Christmas — “Advent” actually, if I want to be picky about it.
I have gifts to buy, cards to send, trees to decorate, travel arrangements to make. My mother’s coming! I also have articles to write, Christmas services and a pot-luck to manage and my wife, Rochelle, can tell you how repelled I am by the notion of being responsible for other people’s fun. And oh yeah, I have two daughters and a wife and all the everything that everyone has to manage during Christmas.
I don’t have time for this…and really don’t want to spend the money. And, I’m not that guy. I don’t care about cars. Clothes, yes? Cars, no. If a car gets me there, it’s done it’s job. It’s got a single function: Get me there. Zero percentage of my ego is invested in an asset with only depreciating value.
Still though, dealing with this car is beginning to be a pain.
Good heavens, wouldn’t it be nice if I could simply enjoy this Christmas without all this other junk?
Don’t you wish that life had a pause button? Maybe if you could just put all the hubbub and noise on hold and just enjoy a moment, just rest and retire the thousand annoyances that clog up the flow of joy into your life? Maybe not all the time, but just maybe at Christmas.
That’s Another Story
When I first left college, my student loan company sent a letter every December. They gave us an option. If you wanted to, you could skip the payment in December.
All of life should be like that don’t you think? We should get a reprieve in December. Now sure, the loan company would hammer you with fees in January, which I why I never did it, but they just gave you Christmas.
I wasn’t selected for the committee, but if I were, I would vote for the rest of life to stop for Christmas.
But, what I want, is not actually the story of Christmas.
Parts of the Jesus story are so subtle they might slip past us. As Luke tells the Christmas story he says this:
Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7and gave birth to her firstborn son.
Luke 2:4-7 (The Voice)
Did you catch that? There’s a subtlety here that’s easy to miss but it’s there all the same. Luke says, that Mary went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son, “while” she was in Bethlehem.
That’s a powerful “while.” Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem for the census; to fulfill another pesky government requirement. Think of it like you might think of paying your taxes or, you know, like taking the census. It’s not something you want to do; it’s something you have to do.
Jesus came in the dead middle of Joseph and Mary doing something else.
I bet Mary wished this scene were different. Like most first time mothers, I bet should would have loved having her own mother around. If you’ve been in the hospital, you know how you long for your own bed. I’m sure Mary would have enjoyed having some of her girlfriends pacing and praying in the Labor and Delivery waiting room at Nazareth General.
That would’ve been nice. But that didn’t happen.
Mary is not back in Nazareth with the ladies from the synagogue who threw her baby shower and, I suspect, she’d much prefer laying this promised, blessed child in the bassinet next to her bed instead of mess of itchy, prickling hay.
But here she is…with the in-laws…again! It is what it is.
Just when I go thinking my Christmas has been cluttered and disordered with tedium and have-tos, I notice what I managed to shrug off my entire life: Christmas for Mary happens amongst a thousand little annoyances that clog up the joy of her life.
Jesus, it seems, doesn’t come to us when we get our ducks in a row or when there’s no rain on our parade or when the house is cleaned and the kids are well-behaved. Jesus doesn’t come when my insecurities have been settled and my inner turmoil and anxiety finds a quiet place. If my life were like my car, Jesus doesn’t come when I finally get all my leaks plugged.
Jesus comes when He comes. Jesus comes where I am not where I wish I were.
And, thank heavens, that’s good news.
The Good News According to Advent
Because, the truth is that if Jesus only showed up when I thought I was ready for Him to show up, He’d never show up.
He’d never show up because life is busy and overcrowded with the details, some details I care about other details I don’t. Nevertheless, there they are.
Jesus doesn’t wait until I’m ready because, like you, I’ve crammed my stocking with odds and ends, with trinkets and trimmings, with ornaments and embellishments hoping that stocking stuffers would somehow charge and animate my life.
My Christmas wish list, turns out, distorts what God is up to. When it comes to life, I’ll never be ready!
I’ll never have the table set or the garage cleaned out. That’s life! Laundry is never complete, quinoa will still spill out when I open the pantry door. There is a baseline messiness to my life, so Jesus just has to come where I am.
Jesus comes to you where you are too.
Some of us are stepping into new phases of life and have more questions than answers and have no clue what’s coming next, but Jesus come where you are. Others weep every Christmas because there was a loss, a death, a reversal; it was the last thing you’d hope for, but there you are, and Jesus comes where you are. Maybe you’ve spent some time — maybe a long time — desperately sniffing around for God, but the scent has faded, the trail has gone cold and you’re getting close to giving up. But Jesus is here, where you are.
Perhaps when you were younger religion and religious spokespersons wrapped the baby Jesus in personal agendas or cultural comfort or whatever it was that wasn’t really Jesus, so you leapt into the religious grab bag just picking and choosing something — anything — to sooth the ache, but the real Jesus is here now. Jesus has come to where you are. Divorce, death, heartbreak, a marriage on the brinks, kids running amok, more month than money; it could be anything, and the good news is; Jesus is where you are.
Turns out, when I inspect the jumbled fragments of my life, Jesus is where I am.
Mary is in Bethlehem with in a house overrun with relatives, having to lay her baby in hay, but at that same moment, the Angel’s are singing.
Thank heavens for an inconvenient God!