Monday, December 17, 2012

Anticipating Christmas

In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – which premiered on CBS-TV in 1972 – Sally bemoans the fact that she couldn’t go down to the store and by a “Turkey” tree because all the store had were things for Christmas. Her older brother, Charlie Brown, exclaims, “Christmas? Already?”

It seems that every year since then, stores have been rolling out their Christmas items and sales as early as late September.

Then there are the radio stations that devote their entire music programming to Christmas music – you know the ones I mean. They start the week or two before Thanksgiving and run through Christmas day or a few days after.

When I was an announcer / DJ at KFUO in St. Louis in the late 1980’s, I was given strict orders on the playing of Christmas music. None before December 1. Then, the first week of December I could play one Christmas song per shift, the second week I could play one Christmas song per hour, the third week, two Christmas songs per hour and the week before Christmas I could play three Christmas songs per hour. Christmas Eve we could finally play ALL Christmas songs.

Things have changed these days, that’s for sure.

Of course, you know that I absolutely LOVE the Advent and Christmas seasons. Our home is decorated with Blonski traditional decorations and I have my office decorated as well. I have Christmas music on in my office and at home. I look forward to producing my Classical Christmas radio program each year – and that airs from the day after Thanksgiving through to December 26 or so.

For me, the anticipation of Christmas is an integral part of the joy of this season. Shopping for the perfect gift, preparing the Advent and Christmas messages that I’ll preach or post on my blog, decorating, hosting get-togethers and attending others – all of this is part of my anticipation of Christmas.

Anticipation and expectation often are fused into one in many people. And when an expectation isn’t met, disappointment can quickly foul a mood.

I used to anticipate/expect a white Christmas each year and when it didn’t happen – as has been the case these past couple of years, especially – I would be in a funk.

But living in Southern California for four Christmases pretty much cured me of that, because you should not expect a white Christmas in the San Gabriel valley, where we lived. The mountains, yes, but not down at 1600 feet above sea level where our house was.

You need to be careful with anticipation and expectations – they should be reasonable and realistic. The older I get – and hopefully more mature – I tend to alter my expectations. I don’t necessarily lower my expectations so much as I “shift” them.

Today, a week before Christmas, let’s look at how we anticipate Jesus Christ.

As you read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus did NOT meet the expectations of many, many people. He certainly DID meet the expectations of the Old Testament, but there was a disconnect with the people of 1st Century Israel.

His cousin John the Baptist even succumbed to the temptation to expect something “else” from Jesus. He was languishing in Herod’s prison, knowing that he’d probably die there very soon. He sends some of his disciples to Jesus to get some reassurance.

John’s fear was that he might have been mistaken in who he was looking for in the Messiah he was sent to prepare the way for.

I don’t know what John expected Jesus to tell him, but we do know what Jesus said, “tell John what you have seen and heard...” Jesus sends word back to John and says, basically, “Why look for another? I’m the one you expected and anticipated!”

What do we expect Jesus to be? The temptation at this time of year is to focus so much on the infant in a manger that we forget or even miss that the baby grew up, taught and preached and healed and loved for three years and then died a horrible death on a Roman cross.

The infant in a manger is, perhaps, easier for us to expect. It’s safe. In that manger, Jesus doesn’t talk, and so He can’t make demands of us and our time and things. He just sits there looking all cute and cuddly.

In other words, we are tempted to believe we can control or manage the infant Jesus. The music is beautiful, the decorations are warm and inviting, but what is expected of us is, at best, manageable and reasonable.

But with this kind of expectation we are sorely let-down, because this expectation doesn’t solve the stress, depression, anxiety or any of the other negative effects of the Christmas Holiday season.

This kind of expectation can lead to regarding worship and the fellowship of Bible study as a “take-it-or-leave-it” kind of proposition – with most opting for the “leave-it” part. This is not what God intended when the 3rd Commandment was laid down as law, nor what His inspired writers would say about gathering together for the breaking of bread, prayer and fellowship.

Thanks be to God that the infant Jesus was not all we got. We got the “whole package” of salvation – Jesus was born, He lived, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

We live this salvation each time we worship – all the elements of it are in our worship services along with the Word of God and – every other week – the Sacrament of Holy Communion (where we digest the Word of God for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation).

The music, the sights, the sounds, and the warmth of this holiday season can be a wonderful part of the expectation – Godly expectation – of our salvation. We need to keep the package together, though.

That’s what we get with Jesus – a complete package that needs to be received and used.

Here’s what I’d like you to do. Make plans now to participate in worship. Not just attend, but be an active participant in worship. And then make plans to participate in a Bible study – we have several here at the church but you can also do one at home with your family. Finally, make plans to have a personal or family devotion time – use the Portals of Prayer or the Lutheran Hour devotions we have here on the church office counter, or use one of your own.

Now, I can’t make any promises or guarantees about what will happen if you do all this – but God can and does: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

And God’s Word also promises, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Hold God to these promises as we anticipate Christmas and consider our expectations of this time of year. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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