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The Fears of Christmas

given on December 14, 2014

Maybe the idea of fears at Christmas time is unsettling, but mentally check the picture of the little kids who line up to see Santa. Parents are planning the annual photo op and kids want to make sure Santa has their Christmas list. Then fear sets in:

  • The photo op turns into pictures of screaming kids squirming to get off Santa’s lap,
  • Babies are crying and faces are turning bright red,
  • Parents are embarrassed, or they are laughing,
  • Toddlers suddenly see Santa as a stranger and a danger warning clicks in their heads,
  • Feet go into a kicking mode and Santa’s face shows signs of pain, and
  • Youngsters suddenly panic wondering if they are on the naughty or the nice list.

Fears do invade Christmas, and this list is only from the point of view of the families lining up in the Santa lines. Fears have always surrounded Christmas.

In fact, Christmas is the result of fear and this fear does not mean respect as defined by so many sources in translating scripture. Frequently the phrase “Fear the Lord, your God” is used, especially in the Old Testament. For today’s Bible readers, fear is an emotional response that usually comes with a fight or flight response. Early translations used the word fear that we know understand to mean respect or honor God.

Today, though, the fears of Christmas are a reality that we tend to shove aside or to ignore because they do not fit the public images of Christmas. Yet, the fear God had that his people would not remain faithful is the very root of today’s Christmas.

Times were horrific in God’s view. His people were living among pagans and unfaithful people caught up in the hubbub of living. God was not the center of the people’s lives. The prophets had issued warnings, but the people were not making the life changes. Sending God’s son was a last ditch effort, as we might say today.

God’s fear caused him to join his people on earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, from the line of David, the Son of God, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, a cousin to John the Baptist. Every prophecy was fulfilled with this birth.

Does our world, right now, have fears this Christmas? Absolutely. In fact, the fears of children lining up to see Santa is just a light-hearted news clip of what God must be seeing. Fear exists in God’s eyes as well as the eyes of so many people anywhere on this globe: killings, stealing, unethical behaviors, environmental disasters, health challenges, and more. Finding Christmas joy is tough.

Yet, consider the fears we ourselves have as Christmas Day nears. Certainly we have that sense of anxiety that we have missed someone from the Christmas card list, or maybe it is that we have forgotten to include someone on the invitation list, or that the gift we bought is all-wrong. These are real fears, true, but they are not the ones that cause God to hear our heartfelt pain.

Christmas season creates a set of fears for men and women, adults and children that as Christians we need to see. We are to serve as God’s hands and feet while we live our faith out loud. Jesus is the reason for the season; are we living our faith in a manner that we can help others not to be afraid?

The littlest child can be afraid. The basic needs of life are food, shelter and clothing. Without them, life fails. The littlest children who depend on parents to provide those basic needs may be afraid each day that there is not food, that they are cold, or that there is no place to protect from nature’s elements whether rain or snow, heat or cold. What have we done to make sure these children of God have no fears?

Children in school are often afraid here at Christmas, too. Living in a social world created by the culture surrounding them creates fear: Fear of exclusion from social groups, of being bullied, of school failure, of poor athletic performance, and of poverty where gifts under a tree simply cannot be provided. For school-aged children, even the tweens and the teens, these are very real fears and certainly can make them dread Christmas. Are we dong all that we can do to make sure our young people have nothing to fear?

Even our native president Harry S. Truman knew how damaging fear is. Living by the principle that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Truman led this country to recover from World War II. Adults have fears that may include the same things as children; yet, adult fears often take much more complicated solutions.

Granted homelessness is a very real condition as is social isolation from mental illness and addictions and the loneliness from the loss of a spouse, child or friend. Adult fears multiply due to an enormous range of issues and Christians are just as susceptible as any human. God fears that his children may not remain faithful led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the reason for the season. Are we doing whatever we can to share God’s word: to love one another?

Christmas is filled with fears, but these fears can all be faced with the love of Christ. This is the third Sunday in Advent and the third candle representing joy can be extinguished when fear takes over. As Christians, the gifts we give should fuel the joy of living. We know that hope flickers whenever we show others God’s love. We tell others of God’s promise to take care of us now and throughout eternity making hope’s flicker a flame.

Are we listening to Scripture’s words? Today’s reading from I Thessalonians tells us how to live in order to avoid developing fears:

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”

Following the principles from the Bible is a practice that can keep fears from developing. It is not easy, but it does work. In fact, the other tool we each need to find is prayer: The same scripture tells us how to use it, too:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This third week of Advent, let us take the hope and the promise of Christmas and turn it into joy that warms us from the inside to the outside. Let the joy shine like the sun. Let the fears disappear like shadows on a moonless night. God’s promise of the Messiah came true so fears can turn into joy. The gifts we give do not have to be wrapped up and placed under a Christmas tree. The gift of prayer should never be wrapped up and put away; it should always remain open. Prayer is the biggest most powerful gift we can give to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Use it to calm the fears of self and others not only during the Christmas season, but continually:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

The joy of Christmas will shine through you so all may see Christ’s light shine year round.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of Christmas,

Thank you for giving us prayer to use

Whenever we need to fight our own fears

Or fears of family, friends, and foes.

Hear our prayer this Advent morning,

Asking that the fears of young and old everywhere

Be replaced with joy in loving one another.

Help us to use our spiritual gifts

To keep your Christmas story alive

And to serve as your loving arms for those afraid.

Thank you, too, for giving us the gift of your Son

Who taught us how to love one another

And replaced our fears with joy unending. –Amen

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God’s Gifts: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control

given on 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2012

Scripture:  Galatians 5:16-26                  the CEB

     16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

     22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.

     25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.

 

         Have you ever received one of those holiday baskets of fruit?  In the middle of December, someone would giveus a basket of fruit.  My mental image is always the little red basket wrapped up in red or green cellophane, gathered at the top with a bow tied on.  The basket would take a place of honor, usually on the dining room table, untouched—at least for a few days or maybe even a week or more.

At first a basket of fruit was just a ho-hum type of gift.  There were no toys in it, no candy, just fruit.  It was easy to ignore it sitting on the table because it was not something on my wish list.  And it did look pretty sitting on the table.  Oddly, even Mom and Dad did not open it and begin eating the grapefruit or the bananas or the apples.  For those first few days, the basket took a place of honor, sitting on the table almost like part of the Christmas decorations.

Gift giving is such a tangible way of sharing love between one and another.  God’s gift of his son was tangible, too.  Jesus was born, grew up, and ministered to the world so that we might receive the ultimate gift of eternal life.  No doubt eternal life is a gift that keeps on giving, but sometimes it seems so far out of reach that we fail to accept the gift and treasure it.  God’s gift is often pushed away and sent to the table just to look at rather than open and use.

God’s fruit basket was also delivered that first Christmas.  Remember that God is in three parts:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket is delivered to each and every one of God’s children through the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket provides us the immediate result of loving God by loving one another.  It is unwrapped the minute we accept God’s grace, believe in Jesus, and join in the Christian family.

As soon as we open God’s gift of grace and that of his Son, we also open the gift of the Holy Spirit’s fruits.  Just like the fruit baskets that are given out over Christmas, the Holy Spirit’s fruits are life sustaining and enriching.  The fruit basket represents all the vitamins and tastes and textures from all regions of the earth.  The Holy Spirit’s fruit can do the same thing and it is never completely consumed.

The scripture from Galatians lists the fruit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the character qualities that stand out among those we know are filled with the Holy Spirit.  These qualities make all the difference in the world between those who believe and those who do not.

Interestingly this fruit keeps us healthy in the midst of a world that seems to thrive on evil.  The list in Galatians 5:20, written in A.D. 49-50, is a list that mirrors the evil we continue to see yet today, 2,000 years later.  Sometimes it feels as though the world is spinning out of control and there is no way to stop the insanity.

But there is.  Remember that God’s gift of his son was his way of transforming the Jewish faith into one that was simpler, love-filled, and available to everyone—not just those who were identified as the ‘chosen’ ones, those of the Tribes of Israel.  Just three years of Jesus’ ministry truly did transform the world.

God’s love was unwrapped, used, and then crucified so that we might receive eternal life.  The Holy Spirit’s basket of fruit was given when we accepted Christ and chose to follow God’s New Covenant.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be destroyed unless we fail to open it and use it.

Take the cellophane off the basket and see what it offers.  Mary Slaughter has done this and created a study book, Following Jesus, where she defines the fruit:

  • Love—the ability to unconditionally accept and love others, even when you may not feel like it.
  • Joy—a deep, inner gladness gained from an intimate relationship with Christ; often found in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Peace—an inner harmony and sense of well-being because we know God has accepted us; even during conflict or distress because we trust that God has everything in control.
  • Patience—ability to exercise restraint and calmly persevere in waiting on God; accepting consequences, endures the wrong of others, bears injuries and suffering while refusing to retaliate.
  • Kindness—treating others with openness, sensitivity, and love; Christ-like way of treating others with compassion, mercy, friendliness, and loyalty.
  • Goodness—able to know right from wrong, to do good to others, and to expose evil and injustice; work for social justice (must work hand-in-hand with kindness).
  • Faithfulness—unshakable loyalty to God; displayed by being trustworthy, reliable, and responsible, carrying out commitments to God and others.
  • Gentleness—demonstrating consideration and thoughtfulness; requires openness, humility, and a teachable spirit.
  • Self-control:  taking responsibility for one’s self and exercising discipline to avoid sin; resulting in a lifestyle appealing to God and bringing the support and power of the Holy Spirit to prevent and/or overcome excesses.

Wow!  Opening the fruit basket provided by the Holy Spirit is amazing, but I guarantee that each one of us who has known the life-sustaining qualities these fruits provide us already knows that.

When one looks back over this list of fruits, there are names of people in our lives who have exemplified them.  Apply a mental test and see just how many of these character qualities describe people you admire.  Compare them to others you have met who fail to exhibit these qualities.  Do you see who is Christian and who is not?

Now, take the mental test one step farther:  Which of these character traits describe you?  Have others complimented you for any of them?  Do you struggle with any of the traits?  How do you think these fruits have enhanced your life?

God through the Holy Spirit has given you a fruit basket.  You must open it or it will rot and go to waste.  You must take steps to keep it fresh and replenished or your life will feel empty.  This is one Christmas gift that requires opening on a daily basis.

Opening such an invaluable gift will sustain you, but it will also make it possible for God’s grace to expand even further.  Opening up the Holy Spirit’s fruit and using them will result in our giving God’s love to others.  It will make a difference in this world.

Others will see what a difference God makes.  It will provide grace to those who need God in their lives.  It will reflect what a difference Jesus makes in our lives so others can see God in us.  And, in time, we will transform the world by loving one another because we have opened up God’s gift given by the Holy Spirit.

Dear God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the gifts you have given us.  They are gifts that transform lives.  The gift of your Son continues to give love to us.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is so personal and fills our world with fruit that overflows our basket and leaks out onto others.

Thank you for those around us who have shown us how to use the gifts each and every day.  The quality of these gifts are reflected in all that we do.  As we continue to unwrap your gifts, may others find their gifts, too.

Thank you, God, for those who teach us about your gifts.  Help us to learn more in an effort to guide others in opening their own gifts.  Use us this holiday season to deliver the gifts and make sure they are opened so others may be transformed, too.  –Amen.

Scripture:  9-10 What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.

     11-13 May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.  –I Thessalonians 3:9-13. the MSG

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