Make a Joyful Noise! Psalm 98 John 1:1-14 Russell Eidmann-Hicks
In 1936, amid the gathering clouds of war that would turn much of Europe and Asia to wilderness, author E. B. White penned this note in The New Yorker:
Shopping in Woolworth’s in the turbulent days, we saw a little boy put his hand inquiringly on a ten-cent Christ child, part of a creche. “What is this?” he asked his mother, who had him by the hand. “C’mon, c’mon,” replied the harassed woman, “you don’t want that” She dragged him grimly away, a Woolworth Madonna, her mind dark with gift-thoughts, following a star of her own devising.
We gather here this Christmas morning, having taken a break from opening presents and sharing the many gifts that we give to each other, to remind ourselves of the real meaning of this day. It is good to be here, because it is easy to forget – to let our ‘gift-thoughts’ and the ‘stars of our own devising’ cloud our minds – and make us overlook the greatest of all gifts.
I think my favorite gift of all time was one Christmas when I was about 8 years old. My brothers and sister and I used to wake up really early, and sneak downstairs. We were allowed to open our stocking before our parents work up – and so we would look at the fun things Santa left us. (That year my older brother said he heard Santa’s reindeer stomping on the roof!) When we finished the stockings, we would look under the tree to see what big packages might be there for us. I was really disappointed to see no big wrapped present with my name on it. Nothing. My brothers and sister were excited, but I was feeling sad and disappointed. My parents finally came down and we started unwrapping presents under the tree. When my Dad saw I looked upset, he said, come with me. He and my mother and I – with my siblings following behind – went down into the basement, where they opened the garage door. There – with a big ribbon it – was a bright green, shiny new bike of my own! Best gift ever! It meant freedom for me, and I rode it happily for many years.
As much as we enjoy the gifts of the day, we remember the greater gifts of Christmas. The great gift is the love shared and the spirit of self-giving that is in our homes this day. This is what Jesus came to teach us. This is why God sent Jesus to be with us. But sometimes we get confused and think it is just about the buying and selling – the packages from Woolworths or Target or WalMart or Macys. We start to think it is all about what’s under the tree.
Have you seen the Chronicles of Narnia? Wonderful movie. Do you remember what happened to Edmund? Edmund was a boy who didn’t get along with his brother and sister, and who was a bit selfish. He found his way into Narnia through the wardrobe, and was taken into the sleigh of the evil queen. She asked him what he wanted and he said “Turkish Delight.” She gave him lots of it – sweet, tasty pastries. He got what he wanted, but was this what was best for him? No. He ended up betraying the brave fawn, who helped his sister, and eventually, told the queen where his brother and sister were – all because of sweet pastries. He later felt awful about this, and was forgiven, redeemed by Aslan, the great lion, and Edmund grew in wisdom and courage,
We need to remember that the real Christmas is not just about sweets and plastic gifts, but about true love and self-giving. It is about the light that enters the world: the light of grace, the light of love, the light of forgiveness.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
Jesus tells a story in the Bible about a boy like Edmund. Here is a young man, like Edmund, who has no respect for others and who thinks that the things money can buy are all that are important. He forces his father to give him his inheritance, even before his father has died, and goes off with it into the world. He is a selfish and cruel young man, who spends his money on dates and wine and entertainment and shiny gifts – until it is all used up. He ends up in a pigsty during a famine, starving to death, in despair – until he “comes to himself.” He realizes suddenly that it is not just about parties, or the sweets or so-called friends, who leave him when his money runs out. He realizes that he took his family’s love for granted, and he returns home planning to plead with his father to hire him as a servant.
Even as he goes home, his feelings are mixed. He’s got no money, and he’s ashamed of how he disappointed his family. His friends and older brother don’t want to know him; he’s been living rough, and he’s hungry. But while he’s still a long way off, just coming down the street, his father catches sight of him. He runs to meet him. He throws his arms around him. He can’t stop kissing him, so happy is he to have his son home — and the son hasn’t even said, “I’m sorry.” When he tries to apologize, the father shouts about throwing a party in his honor and buying him new clothes.
He’s forgiven! Accepted! Loved completely.! Safe in the father’s arms. Why would he want to be anywhere else? What other present could have that value – what gold, or sweet, or Turkish Delight, or game could compete with that?
The greatest gift is not in a box under the tree. It is the love we share, the joy that is in our homes, the grace of God that allows us to start again, to begin fresh.
When we have realized, like the prodigal son, like Edmund, that all the sweets and fun and toys we buy will not give us true inner peace, satisfaction and wisdom; God welcomes us home. God offers us the awesome gifts of peace, joy and friendship. Jesus does not only give us gifts of healing and faith, but he even gives his life on the cross. (Aslan does the same, allowing himself to die to overcome the powers of evil.) Jesus rises again to show us that real love never dies, and that our true home is in God.
— Mary Lou Redding in her book WHILE WE WAIT writes this:
GOD CALLS us to come home for Christmas. God calls us to come back from all those places where we have settled for less than the fullness of life promised to us in Christ. God calls us back from all the ambitions and possessions we have pursued, thinking they would satisfy us. God calls us to let go of any bitterness and resistance to forgive that might block the light of love from warming us. … God calls us to come home and to rest, to be embraced by one who loves us as we are. God offers us a place where we are fully known and also fully accepted.
It’s not just about the riches and the fancy clothes. It’s not about the Turkish Delight or gifts at Woolworths. Don’t get fooled by the lesser gifts – the sweets, the plastic, or the things money buys. It’s about the love shared. It is about the grace offered to us that we can be forgiven, renewed, redeemed. Love and grace. These are the greatest of gifts. Open these gifts. Let them lead you home. Merry Christmas! Amen.