Thursday, December 25, 2014

Freedom Beckons


    Why do we tend to get stressed out around Christmas?

    I mean, I know that many of you who are here this evening know “the reason for the season.”  You know Christmas is about Jesus.  You know this is a time to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill to all.  You know the reason the angels proclaimed the message to the shepherds on the hillside long ago.  You know the reason the shepherds ran to Bethlehem to see these things which have taken place.  You know why Mary pondered these things in her heart.  You know all of this.  Many of you have heard this story year after year after year. 

    And even if this is one of your first times to hear this story, you have perhaps an inkling about what it is about.  You have an inkling about this Jesus character.  Christianity is the world’s largest religion after all.  You’ve probably heard a little something about Him.  And Christmas is the time when we celebrate His birth.  You probably know this fact about Christians–at the very least.  And you may wonder why it is many, many Christians become very worked up about this holiday.  You may wonder why Christians say with one breath, “Peace on earth!” and then complain about all the stuff they have to do to prepare for Christmas!

    There is a reason for this.  There is a reason that even though we know what this day is about, we still find ourselves stressed out and worried.  There is a reason that even though we know Christmas is about Jesus, we still wonder whether or not our relatives will appreciate the gifts we give them.  There is a reason that even though we know the main point of Christmas is to announce the birth of Jesus, we still get caught up in the frenzy and commercialization of this society.  There indeed is a reason, and it is one we do not like to hear.  No, we don’t like to hear it at all.

    We did not do it tonight because of the festive nature of Christmas Eve, but just about every other Sunday in this congregation, we begin our service with a confession.  We say publically and in unison, “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”   I told you, we don’t like to hear the reason.  We don’t like to think we are in bondage to anything.  We don’t like to think we are controlled by anything.  We like to think that we are free and in charge of our own lives.  We like to think that we do a pretty good job of being decent people.  Sure, we might make a few mistakes along the way, but mostly we don’t hurt anyone or anything.  Surely, I am not a sinner–I am not in bondage to sin; that cannot be!  I am free to make my own choices and my own decisions!  No one or no thing has a hold on me!


    If that is the case, then tomorrow, or tonight, when all the family is gathered together for your Christmas meal, make your plate and refuse to join them the rest of the day.  Lock yourself in your room and refuse to take part in the celebration going on around you.  Or, when you return to work, walk in and announce, “I am not going to do any work today!  I am free!  I can do what I want, and I choose to do no work today!”  Or, on the 26th of December, walk into the bank and walk behind the counter and take as much money as you want.  After all, you are free, remember?  You can choose to do whatever you want, remember?  No one has a hold on you or can tell you what to do!

    Do I have your attention yet?

    Why wouldn’t you do any of those things I just said?  Why wouldn’t you close yourself off from your family Christmas celebrations, or refuse to do your job at work, or take money from a bank?  Why would you refuse to do such things?  Well, you probably know the consequences.  You know that if you did such things, you would end up in a heap of trouble–either from your family, from your boss, or from law enforcement.  You wouldn’t do any of these things because you would be adversely affected–having to sleep in the dog house, losing your job, or ending up in jail.  And who of us wants to face those consequences?  Do any of you want to end up on the receiving end of your family’s wrath; your bosses anger; or in incarceration?  No.  I didn’t think so.  None of us want to end up in those positions.

    Now, here’s the question: why?  Why don’t we want to end up in those positions?  What is our reason for avoiding such situations? 

    Well, obviously, most of us don’t like making our family members angry.  We don’t want to deal with their ire at us.

    We obviously don’t want to tick off our bosses and end up unemployed.

    And we don’t want to end up with a criminal record. 

    In each of these cases, the consequences reflect very poorly on us.  And we don’t do such things because it hurts us.  Think about this for just a second.  Our motivation for avoiding such things is to save ourselves from any sort of grief, trouble, or danger.  Our motivation for avoiding such things is pure, self-interest.

    Which is why even though we know what Christmas is supposed to be all about, we still get stressed out and upset.  There is still a very deep seeded part of us that wants to avoid people getting angry and upset with us.  There is a very deep seeded part of us that wants everyone to be happy with us and embrace us.  There is still a very deep seeded part of us that wants to wow our spouses and our kids and our grandkids and our nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles so that they will like us and love us and not be angry or disappointed with us.  And so we run all over the place going to Christmas programs and buying presents and baking cookies and making dinners and decorating to the nth degree–all to make sure we look good and are admired by others. 

    And when we are trying our best to impress others; to maintain our image; to keep them happy with us, are we truly free?  No.  None of us are.  We are constantly having to look out for our own interests.  We are constantly having to preserve ourselves.  It’s almost a requirement because of the way the world works and operates.  We cannot escape looking out for ourselves at some point and time.  We just can’t.

    And one of the classic definitions of sin is to turn inward toward one’s self–to act in one’s self interest–to consider how things reflect upon one’s self and one’s identity.  Sin is looking out for me, and not doing things strictly for the benefit of another person–and certainly not doing things for God’s benefit. 

    So, if we are forced to look out for ourselves and act with self preservation in mind, then we are focused on ourselves.  If we are focused on ourselves, we are not focused on serving others, and we are not focused on serving God.  We become the center of our own lives, and we live those lives out trying to please everyone else. We are not only in bondage to everyone else, we are also in bondage to our own self-interest!

    And how can we escape this reality?  How can we get out of this?  Is it possible?  Is it possible to cast aside self-preservation?  Is it possible to escape trying to please everyone? 

    Let me ask you this: have you ever met someone in life who loves you no matter what you do?  Have you ever met someone who will continue to interact with you and be with you even when you are at your worst?  Have you ever met someone who will patiently sit through your outbursts of anger; endure your yelling and screaming; hug you when you are in a state of anger and frustration; stay by you when you are even trying to push them away?  Have you ever met someone who shows you such love and compassion when you do not deserve it?  Has a love like this entered into your life and melted your heart so that you do not feel like you have to walk on egg shells around them?  Have you ever been with such a person where you can feel almost totally and completely like yourself? 

    And have you ever felt yourself saying, “I want to be a part of this person’s life.  I want to do things for them, not because I have to, not because I know it will make them love me more–for they already love me–I want to do these things because I know it pleases them.  I know it brings joy to their life.” 

    I will submit to you, that when you did such things, then you escaped the cycle of self-preservation, not because of your action, but because you have experienced a deep, deep sense of love–a love that has caused you to want to be the best that you can be, not for your own sake, but for the sake of the other.  In a very real way, then you have experienced a taste of freedom.

    Now, imagine if you could have that kind of love infect your entire life and entire being.  Imagine you could have that kind of love overwhelm each and every relationship you are a part of.  Imagine that kind of love played out to the point where you became the type of person who actually showed that love to others.  Can you imagine how life changing it could be?  Could you imagine how it could change the world? 

    But it all starts with being loved by someone outside of one’s self.  It all starts with being loved when we were unlovable.  It all starts with someone seeing us at our worst and still giving us their best.  Freedom only beckons when we receive such love.

    2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.  4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood  shall be burned as fuel for the fire.  6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -- Isaiah 9:2, 47

    ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’  --Luke 2:11-14

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him. --John 3:16-17

    My brothers and sisters, tonight we remember the God who loved us with that kind of love.  We remember the God who, when we were unlovable sent His Son to love us deeply enough to die for us.  We remember the God who breaks our shackles and saves us from ourselves that we do not need to live trying to save our selves and act with self preservation, but we can freely love and do for others as He has done for us. Merry Christmas.  Amen.


John Flanagan said...

I suppose some people do get stressed out during the Christmas season, but I do not. There are stressful things in life, of course, but Christmas is a joyful occasion. It is a brief respite from the mundane existence we all face day to day. As a Christian, I think and pray to Jesus all the time, and He is not a stranger to see once a year.

Unknown said...

Perhaps, part of The "stress" of the season is affected by the shorter days and decreased sunlight.

And while I abhor the consumption and excesses associated with the season, this has nothing to do with commercialism. But then, perhaps pious "True believers" aren't affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Carl Johnson