Monday, December 13, 2010

A Christmas Challenge: Sermon on Advent 3

One of the tricky things I have learned about parenting is that one must be very careful about how much you intervene in a kid’s life. What do I mean by that?

Well, I have discovered that as a parent, you really want everything to be great for your kids. You can’t stand it when they hurt or are sick. When your kid has a fever and feels rotten, you want to make it better right now. You don’t want to wait for them to get better. Patience goes out the window. Same thing when they are struggling to figure out how to play a game or put together a puzzle. They try so hard, and you want to make it easy for them. You want to help them get over their frustration before it erupts. You want to make things easy.

This was driven home to me once again this past week when my oldest came home on Tuesday and started complaining that her tummy hurt. There was a part of me that was really concerned since the stomach bug has been going around, so I asked her if she needed to throw up. She said no. I asked her if she was hungry. Being right after school and before supper, she said yes. So we ate dinner, and I thought nothing more of it.
Later that night, she complained that her tummy was hurting again. Again, I asked if she needed to throw up or go to the bathroom. She said no on both accounts. I told her that she would be O.K. and that she needed to go to sleep.

At ten til five the next morning, I start hearing, "Daddy! Daddy!"

I get up out of bed and walk to my daughter’s room. I peek my head in the door and ask, "What’s wrong?"

"I had a nightmare."

I walked over to her bed and hugged her and gave her some words of reassurance. Usually, this works with no difficulty. I rubbed her on the back and said, "Now go back to sleep."

I went back to my bed, hoping to squeeze in another hour before we had to get up and start getting the kids ready for school. No such luck. A couple of minutes passed, and I hear, "Daddy. Daddy!"

I walk back to my daughters’ room. "What is it, Kiera?"

"My tummy hurts."

Again, I go through the questioning of throwing up and going to the bathroom.

Negative on both counts.

Then, it dawns on me. Kiera’s school Christmas program is that evening. Could it be that she was scared?

"Kiera, are you nervous about your program tonight?"

Her eyes got wide, and she nodded her head. She...was...scared.

I reminded her that she had been on stage before for her dance class.

"But I’ve never sung in front of people," she replied.

It was at this point that I knew there was little I could do. I knew no matter how I tried to comfort her, no matter how hard I tried to explain it to her that everything was going to be O.K. No matter how hard I tried to tell her that she didn’t need to be scared, I would fail. There was nothing I could do to take that fear from her, and I wanted to. I wanted to take that fear of the unknown and remove it so she could face that crowd of people without any nerves what-so-ever. But I couldn’t. She would have to face it, and hopefully, overcome it.

And perhaps it is a good thing that I could not take that fear away for her. Perhaps it is a good thing that she had to face it on her own. Perhaps it is a good thing that I couldn’t make everything better at that moment in time. As a parent, I know that part of my job is to equip my kids to face the challenges of this world. At some point and time, they will have to try and make it on their own, and I will not always be around to coddle them, to do things for them, or to ease their fears and anxieties. They will have to be strong enough to endure hardships and weather the storms of life on their own. They will need to meet small challenges on their own and have small victories so that they will be better prepared to meet the larger ones that come down the road. And I will be there, encouraging and cheering them on in the process–hopefully helping them become stronger in their physical, mental, and spiritual lives. But, I cannot do everything for them. I’ve got to step back and give them time to develop their own muscles.

Perhaps this is some of what is going on in our second lesson this morning from the book of James. The author is encouraging folks to be patient as they await the coming of the Lord. Just as a farmer has to be patient while waiting for rain, we must be patient as we await the return of Jesus. After stating this, James throws in an interesting comment, "Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near." Why would James include this?

Well, let’s look at the remainder of what he says in this lesson, "9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."

Pay special attention to the words patience, suffering, and endurance. Apparently, not all was well with the folks James is writing to. They were facing adversity of some sort, and it was trying their patience. They were having problems enduring that adversity, so James tries to reassure them. "Strengthen your hearts, the Lord is coming, and He is compassionate and merciful."

Stick it out. Be tough. Remember who you are and who you belong to. Jesus will return to take care of things, but don’t just sit and whine and complain. Strengthen your hearts. Make them tougher. Now, how in the world does one do that? How does one become tougher in one’s heart?

When my daughter complained about her tummy hurting and her being scared about standing in front of people and singing, I could have taken her out of the program. I could have told her that she didn’t have to sing. I’m sure her tummy would have stopped hurting at that instant. But, I made her face her fear. I made her go through with the program. When she got on stage, I could see that she was scared. I could see that she was uncomfortable, but she got through it. She didn’t freak out. She didn’t panic. She endured, and now, she is stronger for it. I’m not sure she wants to run out in front of a group of people any time soon, but she is a little stronger for doing what she did.

Perhaps this is a lesson for us as well. You know as well as I that there are many fears and anxieties that surround us. You know as well as I that there are things we’d prefer not to do; things that we’d prefer running from and never having to face. You know as well as I that we would like all of these things taken away from us so that we would never have to endure them. But God doesn’t allow us to do this. God doesn’t take all of our cares and worries and trials and tribulations away from us because our hearts need to be strengthened. He does not want us to be living in fear. He wants us to be strong enough to face whatever comes our way, and He’s going to help us get there. And in order to get there, we have to be willing to face the things that frighten us.

I would like to offer you a challenge this morning. It is a challenge that have already taken upon myself this Christmas season. I know the politically correct phrase is "Happy Holidays." I know there are folks out there who do not celebrate Christmas and who might get offended by what I am going to suggest, but let’s start with a small challenge. From here on out, whenever you depart from someone in the grocery store, at a restaurant, or some other place, offer that person a Merry Christmas. Don’t do it maliciously, but genuinely seeking to convey to that other person the real reason for the season. We are called to bear witness to our Lord and Savior, and that can be a scary thing. Evangelism isn’t easy for many of us–believe it or not, myself included. So, I challenge you even as I challenge myself. As we await for our Lord’s return, let’s take steps to strengthen our hearts, and let’s see what happens. Amen.

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