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The Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2012
The Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7
Sermon: "A Better Than Perfect Christmas"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
A Better Than Perfect Christmas
A certain church had held a Christmas pageant for 47 years with the same director. Perfection was her goal; nothing less. For 47 years the church’s pageant ran like clockwork. Perfect lines, perfect pacing, perfect everything. Then, one year, something even better happened.
For you see, the director’s commitment to perfection was greater than her commitment to children. Her reasoning was, “When there are too many youngsters, there is no control.” So, many children were simply excluded from the pageant just because the director felt that any more were too many. Then the Committee on Education (which just happened to include three mothers of the previous year’s rejected Marys, Josephs, shepherds and Wise Men,) passed a resolution: “All children who wish to be in the Christmas pageant may do so. Parts will be found for them all.” This was more than the long-time director could handle. She resigned in a huff.
The pageant didn’t fall flat with the director’s resignation, but it was different. There must have been a dozen shepherds and 20 angels (a real heavenly host.) There were a couple of dozen sheep. Coming, as they did, from farms, the boys and girls in the sheep costumes knew that sheep tend to wander. They did just that. All over the Sanctuary!
The real climax of imprecision came when Mary and Joseph entered. Mary was clutching a doll wrapped in a blue blanket. Joseph walked solemnly beside her. The narrator was supposed to read the Biblical account about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, “…to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” But, one of the younger mothers, recognizing that the children could not really understand the English of the King James Bible, had substituted a newer translation which read, “Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant.” As the last word echoed through the PA system, little Joseph froze in his tracks. He gave Mary an incredulous look, and then looked out at the congregation and said, “Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?”
Needless to say, this brought the house down. The rector’s wife, wiping joyous tears from her eyes, said, “You know, that may well be what Joseph actually said.” When Silent Night was sung, a couple of magical things happened. First, the sheep bleated their way down the aisles and sat in the pews to watch the conclusion of the pageant. The former director, who was sitting there just to say, “I told you so!” suddenly found herself cuddled up with several of the very children she had before excluded. Second, snow began to fall outside the windows of the sanctuary, and the entire church family became very quiet; including the sheep. Then, Minnie McDonnell, hard of hearing and always speaking too loudly, broke the spell when she “whispered” to her husband in a voice all could hear, “Perfect! Just perfect!”
And it was. It wasn’t perfect in the way that previous pageants had been perfect. It was perfect in the way God makes things perfect; the way God accepts our uncoordinated attempts at love and fairness and covers them with grace. And that leads us to this thought, Christmas is better than perfect.
Consider our Epistle lesson from Philippians this morning. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
That is hope to an imperfect world. This is an imperfect world, and if any of us were supposing otherwise, such thoughts were dispelled by the events of this week in Connecticut. This is a world that needs a reason to rejoice; a world that needs to know that God is near, that God hears, that God will grant peace. God’s grace will bring God’s better than perfect peace to our minds and hearts in the midst of the imperfections of this life. This world is not perfect, neither are you and I. That is why the Christ child came into this world. The Christ child would have no reason to come into a perfect world. His coming makes Christmas better than perfect.
Look at his birth. It was not exactly the kind of birth we would have planned for the King of Kings. There was little, for instance, to recommend Bethlehem for the birthplace of the Messiah. Yet it was better than perfect for God. God seems to have a different standard for perfection than we have. Bethlehem was the home town of God’s servant, David; who was far from a perfect man as we measure perfection. Yet he was called a man after God’s own heart. God must be looking for something more than what we call perfection. And that’s the whole point of the Christmas story. Christmas is not about perfection. It’s better than that.
Several years ago, a truly great news commentator, Harry Reasoner, passed away. Many of you no doubt remember him. But before he died he penned a Christmas commentary for the news show, “Sixty Minutes.” Harry believed that there was something about Christmas that goes beyond perfection, even beyond logic. It’s worth repeating his words this morning as we continue preparing ourselves to celebrate Christ’s coming into the world.
This is what he wrote:
“The basis for this tremendous burst of buying things and gift giving and parties and near hysteria, is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival, and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan, but you come back to the central fact of the day… the birth of God on earth.”
“It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas. One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it. Another is graciously; the appropriate attitude for non-Christians who wish their fellow citizens all the joys their beliefs entitle them. And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, it is a very important day. It’s a startling idea, of course, the whole story that a virgin was selected by God to bear his son as a way of showing his love and concern for humankind. It’s my guess that, in spite of all the lip service given to it, it is not an idea that has been popular with theologians.”
“It’s a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It’s so revolutionary an idea that it probably could only have come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology. It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what God is like. And the truth is that among men and women the idea of seeing God suddenly, and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea. But everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as revered, he moved correctly here. For a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of humankind, he moved correctly, for the experience of birth and family-hood is our most intimate and precious experience.”
“So it comes beyond logic. It is either a falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It’s the story of the great innocence of God the baby. God in the person of a human has such a dramatic shock toward the heart, that it, if it is not true, for Christians, nothing is true.”
“So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take.” And I agree with him.
Maybe this Christmas will take on someone you know for the very first time; or perhaps, for the first time in a long time. May you not have a perfect Christmas. May your Christmas be far better than that. May you see right to the heart of this sacred event; to the God who seeks not perfection, but love. Rejoice! God is coming! God is near!