I hope you're ready. The countdown to Christmas is quickly nearing zero. And if you've been reading these articles, you've seen what I've said about the importance of keeping the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. So today I want to discuss the most important part of being ready for a CHRISTian CHRISTmas - the receiving. You see, if you aren't ready to receive this Christmas, you will miss out on the best this holiday has to offer: true peace, true joy, true love.
I know that they say it is better to give than to receive - but like any kid can tell you, when it comes to Christmas, they are wrong. Christmas has to be about receiving; otherwise it will only bring disappointment.
You see the difference between traditional wisdom and what I'm talking about is this: When it comes to our relationships with other people, it is better to give than to receive. If we want successful relationships with others, we have to be willing to go above and beyond with our acts of love and stop focusing on whether or not they are giving us what we want, or else we'll never be happy. But when it comes to our relationship with God (which is what Christmas is all about) - the things that we try to do just get in the way.
So, on this Christmas Adam (you know, the one who was created before Eve), let's look at the story of a young girl who teaches us a little something about how blessed it is to receive at Christmas. The section of Scripture I'm looking at is Luke 1:26-38, what we know as "The Annunciation." Today, I want us to be able to say with Mary, "May it be to me according to your word."
Think about what that took to be able to say that. The angel Gabriel had just told her that she would have a child, even though she was a virgin. He had just told her that she would carry God's Son. And she said: "May it be to me according to your Word." And what is striking here when we look at the original Greek, is that the word for "word" here isn't the one we would expect. In fact, the normal word is so common in Greek that some of you philologists (word-lovers) out there might know it. In fact, it is in that word - the word logos, something that is intelligible and understandable. Now, while this word Mary uses can mean the same thing - it is the word that would be used for a sound or a noise, basically anything that you hear - whether you understood it or not.
Is there some significance that maybe she didn't understand it all? She didn't grasp it all, but she was ready to believe it. May our Christmas preparations be carried out with the same spirit, believing God's promises, even when we don't have all the answers! Because sometimes what God says doesn't make sense to us. In fact, sometimes it seems impossible. That's what makes Mary's statement even so amazing.
What do you do with God's promises that seem impossible? Think about how often, even though God promises to care for us, we worry instead of relax; stress instead of celebrate; get overwhelmed instead of amazed. And really, that's all way too easy when we're talking about preparing for the holidays.
But it is even more basic than that. The greatest promise God ever made, the reason he took flesh and was born in that manger, is that we get to be with him in heaven. But that makes less sense than a virgin birth. Think about it.
We are sinners. God is holy. And yet, God has promised that we get to be together with him forever. That is impossible. I know we try to tell ourselves that we're pretty cool and any god would love to hang out with us, but remember - the true God is holy. Holy means absence of sin. Holy, by definition, means that we sinners can't be in his presence. The promise Mary heard was just physically impossible. God's promise to us of being in his presence is morally, ethically, essentially impossible. Impossible in the absolute sense. No chance. The odds aren't even one in a trillion. They are zero. Period.
That's why God did Christmas. He became man to take our place, just so he could keep his promise. And I know the incarnation is impossible by our definitions, inconceivable - but are you starting to get it that to God that word does not mean what we think it means. And the Holy One was treated as the sinner. And true God was humbled beneath man. And the child born in Bethlehem did what was absolutely impossible, even inconceivable. He made us holy. He made us what we are and were not.
And now it is just for us to receive it. But even that is not something we can do. Like I said, all of this is actually inconceivable, impossible to accept or receive. So look at how God overcame that obstacle for Mary, just as he does for us:
Luke 1:35: "The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'" Amid everything that seemed impossible, the Holy Spirit entered her heart and took the selfish, self-seeing and self-serving desires and prideful logic off of the throne in her heart so that by the Spirit's power she could say, "May it be to me according to your Word." It will happen.
Get into church this Christmas season and let the Holy Spirit do the same for you through his word. Get ready to receive. And have a very Merry Christmas!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.