3rd Sunday in Advent 2019
December 15, 2019
“Why I am Happy This Christmas”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon today is based on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 11.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
My favorite Christmas movie, and one of my favorite all-time movies, is the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. It is set in the 1940’s in Indiana where young Ralphie only wants one thing for Christmas: an official Red Ryder 200 shot range model air rifle…he wants a BB gun. Of course any boy that has ever wanted a BB gun at any time knows what mom is going to say. “You’ll shot your eye out” is the classic mother “BB gun block” that kids cannot overcome! One method Ralphie uses in an effort to get his present is to write a theme for school entitled “What I want for Christmas.” It is a classic piece of American prose and I want to share it with you. Without further ado, here is Ralphie’s theme: “What I want for Christmas is an official Red Ryder 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think that everybody should have a Red Ryder BB Gun. They’re very good for Christmas. I don’t think that a football makes a very good Christmas present.” Ralphie is convinced that his theme is so good that he’ll be excused from theme writing forever and mom will have no choice but to get him the Red Ryder BB gun. Sadly, Ralphie instead gets a C+ on his theme, plus his teacher also believes he’ll shoot his eye out. Ralphie is devastated. His hope for a Red Ryder BB gun is crushed. Even Santa tells Ralphie the same thing – “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Ralphie was becoming more and more unhappy as Christmas approached.
I don’t have a Christmas list this year; there is really nothing that I need or really want for Christmas. Unlike Ralphie Parker, I am happy this time of year as Christmas approaches. And I have a good reason to be happy this year…and you do too. And so, as an homage to my favorite movie, without further ado, this is my personal Christmas theme: “Why I Am Happy This Christmas.” It’s a little longer than Ralphie’s, but I am a man of many words.
Are you happy this Christmas? Maybe it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe instead, for you, it seems like the days leading up to Christmas are just an endless string of unhappy days, one more sad than the next. Maybe you’re unhappy because of your spouse or your children or your grandchildren lack thereof. Maybe you’re concerned about your health or the health of a loved one. Maybe you’re concerned about your future, your past, your present. Maybe there will be no one for you to gather around the tree with…if you even had a tree. These things can really make a person unhappy as Christmas approaches!
But I am happy this Christmas. Does that mean my life is perfect and free from pain, worry, and anxiety? By no means! Last year was my first Christmas as a separated man and this will be my first Christmas as a divorced man. But there are still plenty of reasons to be happy this Christmas! A big reason is found in Matthew chapter 11.
John the Baptist had been put in prison not for anything he had done wrong, but because of what he did right. He had been put there by King Herod Antipas because John had spoken up about Herod marrying his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. When John said it was not lawful for Herod to have her as a wife, Herod threw John in prison. So, from prison, John sent word by his disciples to Jesus to ask a very important question, maybe the only one he’ll ever be allowed to ask. He makes it a good one: “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” (11:3).
Jesus’ response is enough to make EVERYONE happy at Christmas: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Do you think that’s what John wanted to hear? Think about it. John is IN PRISON…he is languishing away wondering if he’s going to get out, and so he asks THE question on his mind.
What did John want? To be out of prison? No, in fact he would die there (14:10). No miracle will deliver John from imprisonment or save him from execution. Instead, John was told that the poor in spirit have the Gospel preached to them, and that was “miracle” enough for John. Straightening out crooked bones, restoring hearing and sight, and curing leprosy are difficult, and raising the dead is impossible. More important than all these physical miracles is that the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them. True faith feeds not on miracles, but on the Gospel.
Knowing what Jesus has said, and more importantly done, we face the unhappiness, the let-downs, the disappointments, the unfilled wishes of life with confident hope because as know what’s important about Christmas – it’s what makes us happy at Christmas – that Jesus Christ was born, but then suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will come again.
Being happy at Christmas has little to do with the celebration (trees, gifts, cards, tinsel, etc.). It has everything to do with the circumstances. You have many reasons to be happy this Christmas – reasons verified by angels no less!: “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” THAT makes us happy at Christmas. And among other reasons, that is why I am happy this Christmas.
In A Christmas Story, Ralphie opens all his gifts under the tree on Christmas morning and there is no BB gun. At the lowest point of his despair, Ralphie’s father points out a long, skinny box hidden behind a nearby desk – a gift that “Santa Claus” must have left. And yes, inside is the Red Ryder BB Gun that Ralphie so badly wanted. You can see the joy and happiness in his eyes as he draws the gun from the box, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Ralphie, as the adult narrator, called the BB gun “the greatest gift he would ever receive.” Whatever does or does not happen for you this Christmas, remember that you have a great reason to be happy this Christmas because the greatest gift has already been given to you to secure your eternal salvation, and that knowledge and hope makes us happy at Christmas and always.