Welcome to Advent! This sermon was given on Sunday, December 3, 2017 as the first of a series based on Moore’s and Armstrong’s book and devotions, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break. Please read the introduction and the sermon based on what I read in their book. Many thanks to them for writing the study. I pray that it reaches into the hearts of the readers as it did for me.
All of us have had our hopes built on getting something for Christmas that we thought we just had to have. Maybe you were a kid, but maybe you were even a grown up and just had to have this one thing you wanted for Christmas.
Preparing for Advent, I looked at three different studies trying to find one that I felt expressed or explained the Christmas experience for today’s Christians. Today we begin the study by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break.
Let me share a story from Moore’s introduction (paraphrased):
Bishop Kenneth Shamblin told a story about his 5-year-old son’s hope to get a particular red truck for Christmas. He did everything he could to make sure that his parents knew what he hoped to get for Christmas. And he did get it. But shortly after dinner that Christmas Day, he came to his dad crying with the broken truck in his hands. The Bishop reported that the truck was quickly fixed, but it raised an interesting question: What are the Christmas gifts that won’t break? (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 7-8)
I expect that there is not one of us who has not experienced something similar in our lives. Whether it is a gift that we thought we just had to have or it is one we gave to fill someone else’s hopes. We thought it was the perfect gift, but then it broke or did not fit.
The introduction references one of Jesus’ lessons in Matthew 6:19-21: (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 8)
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
What happens when we put all our hope and anticipation into something? How often do we end up being disappointed or find that it is only a temporary good feeling? For many today, Christmas is broken. Truthfully Christmas season is just the wrapping for the unbreakable gift God has for us: Jesus Christ.
Advent is a time when we begin to anticipate the celebration of God’s ultimate gift to us—his son Jesus Christ; and today is the first of four Sundays that make up Advent. In our culture, the holiday season is in full swing with the stores all dressed up, with Christmas music playing, and with Santa making stops at all kinds of places. Yet, very little really explains why Christians are preparing for Christmas Day.
The Old Testament is filled with prophetic literature telling the faithful that a savior was going to come fix the problems that seemed so overwhelming that the faithful were losing trust. Yet the faithful continued to hope that God would send a savior. Just like the little boy who put all his hopes into getting a little red truck, the ancient Israelites hoped the prophecies would be fulfilled. Hope kept faith alive.
Why is it important that we celebrate Advent? Are we in the very same crisis as the ancient Israelites? Are we prepared for Christ to appear? Have we lost hope? Advent reconnects us to the story of God’s ultimate gift and during these four weeks let’s look for gifts that never break.
The Christmas story begins in Matthew with God talking to Mary and Joseph. The circumstances create an awkward situation for the engaged couple, but the story tells us that an angel separately visited each of them to announce that they would be parents to a baby.
Mary had to be frightened, but she placed her faith in God’s angel and accepted her role as the expectant mother. Joseph must have really been shocked when the angel visited him. He knew he was not the father, yet he was given the responsibility to name the baby.
The gospel of Matthew, which is written for the faithful Jews waiting for the ancient prophecies to be fulfilled, explains how Mary and Joseph learned of their roles:
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a]quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:18-21, NLT]
Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt? His hopes for a wife and family were dramatically crushed—or at least could have been crushed except for one thing: Joseph believed the angel. Much less he had been given the name for the baby.
Advent is a time to give the gift of hope. When events in our lives seem completely out of control and we have a sense of impending doom, God never abandons us. Joseph may have thought he was alone and all his plans were ruined, but he held on to his faith in God, trusted the angel’s message, and was filled with hope that this child he was given to raise as his own son was the long-awaited Messiah. What a gift!
We have a similar power when we give others the gift of hope. For those who may be trapped by a sense of hopelessness, we can share the story of how much God loves us and never abandons us. We can give them the gift of hope by demonstrating our own faith and how it makes our lives joy-filled.
God’s gift of his son Jesus is the reason for the season (apologies for the cliché); and when Joseph gave the baby the name Jesus, he signaled to the faithful how this child revived the hope for the Jews. The name Jesus is a derivative from the name Joshua who tore down the walls of Jericho. Moore writes that Jesus’ name means “wall-breaker” and he proceeds to explain how Jesus broke down walls that divide us from one another and from God:
“Now, this idea of Jesus being the wall-breaker, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, can better be understood when we see it against the backdrop of the Temple’s physical layout in the time of Jesus. The Temple was a parable in stone, exposing the prejudices, or walls, that existed in society during biblical times—walls that included a few privileged people but excluded or shut out most. As worshipers moved through the temple toward the high altar (the Holy of Holies), they encountered a series of walls holding the people back from God.
“The first wall held back foreigners, people of other races and nations. The second wall held back women. The third wall held back all men except the priests. The fourth wall, a veil surrounding the Holy of Holies, held back everyone except the High Priest, who was permitted to go inside the veil only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Even then the other priests tied a rope around his ankle, so that if he fell or passed out, they could pull him back without going inside!
“The Holy of Holies, which represented the presence of God, was remote, fearsome, austere, and unapproachable. But then came Jesus, and he broke down the dividing walls and made us one. He brought God out to the people. . . .
. . . The walls we build today are every bit as real as those in the Temple. Here are some of them:
“. . . walls that divide nations . . .
“. . . walls that divide men and women. . . .
“. . . walls that divide clergy and laity. . . .
“. . . wall that hold people back from God. . . .
Do you remember what happened in the Temple when Jesus was on the cross? The veil around the Holy of Holies was torn apart, from top to bottom. God did it! God tore it! God broke down that wall!” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 18-19)
Sharon shared the explanation about the torn veil earlier this year, and it is so important to review the importance of God’s action in relation to the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born to teach us how to live with one another by breaking down all that separates us from each other.
Christians around the world are celebrating Advent’s first Sunday focusing on the hope that we have “for peace on earth and good well toward all people”. This is the gift that won’t break whenever we give it away to those who feel hopeless.
Are you giving the gift of hope this year?
Whenever you do anything that shares God’s love as Jesus taught us, you are giving the unbreakable gift of hope. Remember that the gift of hope comes in many forms:
- “. . . the gift of hope for healing.
- “. . . the gift of hope for refuge.
- “. . . the gift of hope for deliverance.
- “. . . the gift of hope for salvation.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 29-30)
As Moore writes, “. . .become an instrument of hope to others this week. Give the gift of hope to those who need it by giving of yourself. . . . ” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)
This is giving hope, one Christmas gift that won’t break.
Dear God, thank you for the season of Advent and the gift of hope. Help us to prepare our hearts for your coming and to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Amen (Moore and Armstrong 2017) (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)
Moore, James W., and jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.