With no thanksgiving holiday to wait to pass, Christmas came early this year in Nairobi among the FTC family. It was a delight to be able to share in a worship service with the entire Kenyan staff this week.
God Finding Us
Dagoretti Children’s Center, November 22, 2013
Isaiah 1:2-4, Luke 2:1-20
When I was a child, staying close to adults who were in charge of carrying for me was never my forte. I was the oldest in my family so I often thought I knew how to do things all by myself—even if my caregivers directed me otherwise. I liked to wander out on my own. I was a nightmare to keep up with in a grocery store!
According to the many stories that my mom could tell you if she was here today, I loved to go by myself when we were shopping even as young as 3 years old. I very much liked to look at aisles of things that interested me. Then, I would often come back to the shopping cart with things I wanted— with little regard for how much money my mom had already told me that she had to spend. Needless to say I often got into trouble!
In fact, I got so good at wandering off (scaring my parents to death, I’m sure) that my mom had to create a signal of sorts to find me. It became her sign to me: her famous whistle. I would show you what it sounds like, but I was not blessed with the gift of whistling. Anybody out there can whistle? (From now on in the rest of my sermon, when I say the word whistle could you help me out—those of you who can whistle by whistling?)
The funny part about my mom’s whistle is that it became one of those cues in my mind that still is with me. Even today, if I’m out with my mom in a store and she wants me to find her, she whistles. Sad, though that it works, even at my age. I’m a grown up who comes when my mom whistles—kind of like when you might call a dog.
And today as we just heard a reading before the time when Jesus came—taken from the book of Isaiah, we see that the Israelites they weren’t very good at staying close to their caregiver, God, either as they waited. They were so ready for their waiting to be over that they TOO started going out on their own. They did what was right in their OWN eyes.
Though they’d heard countless prophecies about the coming of a Messiah—about a man who would save them from their sins, in their heart they’d stopped really waiting or trusting in God to take care of them.
No longer did they see the need to listen for God. No longer did it matter to stay close.
No one was doing those daily practices like praying or reading scripture. No one was telling the truth anymore. Corruption was the name of the game in the land. Did you hear how Isaiah describes them? None other than a “a brood of evil doers!” Strong language, huh?
However, in Israel’s defense, though, by time we get to the beginning of our gospel reading for today, God had been silent for 400 years. From the end of the Old Testament to the start of the New Testament was give or take about 400 years. Can you imagine how long that was? A VERY LONG time. And if you think about it, what was there really to listen to anymore?
But then, their whistle came. And, it came loud and clear. Luke 2 verse 1 begins: “In those days Ceasar Augustus issued a degree that a census should be taken of the entire world.” God used the political situation in the land to start the whistling process.
As the story goes, Mary and Joseph each in their own way got the news that Jesus would be their son. Jesus would be born. God was about to show up in the flesh.
When you think of Christmas what do you think of? (RESPONSE)
Many people, when they think of Christmas they have in their minds images of lovely manger scenes, beautiful people smiling, and lots of pretty decorations.
But, what was going on with this whistle—of God coming to earth through this baby named Jesus—was a huge redemption plan: a plan that would one day touch the lives of you, and you and you and me.
Though the peoples of the earth had made many mistakes and though the peoples of the earth were corrupt as they could be and had each turned to their own way, God was about to whistle loud and clear a message of: “I have found you!”
Have you ever stopped to think how crazy God’s plan of redemption was as it began in that very first Christmas?
I mean, really, what was God thinking hanging all of the hopes of the world on one birth? Just ONE birth.
Yes, a birth, the middle of the ancient times when medical care was not at its peak—childbirth was very risky enterprise in fact.
Yes, a birth of one child, of only one child, given from heaven to the fragility of human hands and a teenage mother at that with little training on child-birth or raising!
Yes, a birth, of one to a world where anything, yes, anything could go wrong at anytime?
Yes, a birth, in horrific conditions that could have easily caused the most willing mother and the most support father and even the most eager shepherds to give up?
What was God thinking, I mean really whistling in this way?
If you are a logical person (which I like to think I am most of the time), hanging all your hopes in life on ONE THING as God did in this case was a crazy thing to do.
When I have a plan, I always like to have a back-up plan. If I have a plan A, I would like to have a Plan B. What about you?
Life is just too fragile, just too uncertain for the hope that only one plan would actually work perfectly, right?
How many times have you in your life set out to do something and it doesn’t go as planned? How many times have you hoped for something, prayed for something only to find out that it doesn’t come out exactly the way you wanted?
If I were to make a list of times in my life where ONE plan did not work out perfectly the list would be longer than could ever be written down in this room! Pages and pages and more pages in books could be filled with disappointments of plans not working out.
But, in our gospel reading for today, all of God’s hopes for the blessing of all the world were on one womb . . . one night . . . one mother . . . one willing partner . . . one band of shepherds . . . ONE chance to get it right or it would be a fail. For, there was not a back-up plan. There was only ONE plan.
And, in this one plan, God trusted Mary and Mary’s body . . . as there was no room for error.
God trusted Joseph to be there for Mary . . . as we are told no midwife attended to the birth.
God trusted the shepherds to respond . . . as there were no other visitors right away.
God trusted the angels to sing . . . . as they were the creators of the first carols. God trusted the star not to refuse to shine . . . as without the star, the shepherds did not know where to go.
The only ONE plan was built upon God’s trust in everything happening as it should.
Recently, Kevin and I traveled to the US state of Hawaii. It is a beautiful state with lots of palm trees and beaches right next to the mountains. I was to preach at a Christian School conference and Kevin was learning about programs there that helped children and families. While we were there, we met a lot of homeless people—though we thought was strange because it was a beautiful place. But as we walked the streets to go shopping (and I stayed close to Kevin this time—I didn’t get lost), I can’t tell you how many homeless people we met.
I asked one homeless man to tell me his story. He said, “I used to be homeless in the Mainland part of the United States. However, I lived in a very cold city, so I got a job and saved all his money to buy an airline ticket to fly to Hawaii—almost 10 hours in the airplane from where I lived.”
When I asked him what he expected to do when he got to Hawaii, he told me: “I trusted it would be ok. I didn’t even think I’d get a job here. I heard about a program where people live together on the beach. I figured if I just made it there—even though I was so far from home and without a home—I’d be ok.”
I could hardly believe what I heard. No backup plan. No concern for a real home. Just plans to be ok in a place so far from what was normal or familiar.
And, so, it was the posture of God that night. God had one plan and one hope! It’s wasn’t normal to us and most certainly was not what we expected. But it was God’s plan, nonetheless.
Though no studies have been written to qualify the odds of the whole Jesus being born in a manger thing working out, the fates of this world were all stacked against this plan working out too . . . who could believe that a teenaged mother and a lowly group of animal watchers in a borrowed stable could be a part of something magnificent?
But, yet we know on that Holy Night, the greatest gift of all times would be welcomed by just these folks—folks who weren’t anything special as far as the world was concerned but CHOSEN by God. It’s was God not normal, but wonderful plan.
Though such a story can be hard to believe sometimes: that a child, who was called Christ, the Lord was born and was thriving from the first day of his day in the arms of a mother who treasured all these things in heart, this is our faith, my friends!
Our faith is about God showing up and doing only what God can do.
How often, though, our faith is questioned at this point? How can we believe something that doesn’t make perfect sense?
Yet, I am going to pause here and ask you to reflect with me, my friends, do we really want a story that makes perfect sense that is fully understandable?
Do we really want a God in our lives who is just like us?
I don’t know about you, but as this year comes to a close and I look at all that has gone wrong and all that is not right in this world, I know one thing: that is that I need my God not to be just like me that I can understand, explain away and come to life through Christmas decorations.
Life is just too messy. Life is just too painful. Life is just too busy. Life is just too unfair for it all to depend on someone with a mind like mine.
For, I want to testify today that I need a God who is faithful, even beyond my most faithful friend to bring about something beautiful in my life and in the deep corruption that seeks to destroy the GOOD that could be in this world.
I need a God who can work through the most impossible of circumstance to bring about something new, something that I cannot create on my own even when I get lost.
For, I need a God who can’t be explained through formulas or charts. I need a God who can create a new path so that in the midst of the darkness of this world, a great light is seen again.
For, I need a God to do the impossible . . . . to show up, to be present once again and to show me that life is not as it seems just as it is now.
If you are with me with any of this, then I tell you the good news today: Christmas, then, is just for you.
This is the season to rejoice with what was not yet. It is the season to imagine what we cannot see. It is the season to believe in the possibility of loving fully once again because Jesus first loved us.
As simple as the coming of Christ in the form a baby, years long ago, this is it! This gift is the gift that has the power to bring us this Christmas exactly what we are hoping for.
It’s THE gift of knowing in our darkest days we are not alone, in our most confusing journeys there is always more than we can see.
In our life situations that don’t make a bit of sense, there is big star out there, guiding us, guiding us home again.
Silent Night, Holy, Night. All is come, all is bright.
Calling all dreamers . . . calling all wonderers . . . calling all grieving friends . . . calling all those who want a life different than you see right in front of you right now.
God is whistling for you. God is signaling your NAME.
Come again this year and meet the babe Jesus the Christ, the most Holy One, the one who has never given up on us and will keep whistling for us until we follow.
Thanks be to God for this gift of Christmas.