Advent 4 – A Heart full of Love

Advent 4 – A Heart full of Love

Theme: A Heart full of Love
Series: Advent – The Greatest Story
Book: AppleSauce and the Christmas Miracle
Bible Reading: Luke 2:1-16 (Jesus is born and the Shepherds)
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain (and quoting a sermon by Rev. Diane Hendricks )

Ever felt like AppleSauce.  Christmas is here but we just aren’t feeling it.

It is hard to be jolly when there are fires raging all across NSW.  It is hard to sing along with to Mariah Carey when you know that fire fighters have died this week.

It is hard to get excited about a hot Christmas Dinner when it is 40 degrees … or having a drink when so many towns are running out of water because of the drought

It is hard to feel the love of Christmas when some key seniors in our church are unwell.

Who found themselves relating to AppleSauce.  We know that Christmas is here, but instead of our hearts being full of love .. they are small and empty like a gumnut.

I find that when I approach Christmas that I am caught between two perspectives.

The world has sort of built up Christmas into this full on joyous celebration – the best time with family and friends and food and holidays.  Just watch the adds on TV and we get this picture that Christmas is this perfect time of togetherness, laughter, connection and especially love.

But the reality is that for some people it isn’t this perfect, jolly, bursting with love experience.  Is it?  And then when this happens we start to be a bit like AppleSauce and the fact that we aren’t feeling the love of Christmas in our hearts … we feel even more down about it. 

Our bible reading is the story of the shepherds.  Because the Christmas Carols and pictures on the Christmas cards glamourize the shepherds, we sometimes forget just how hard their lives were.

Shepherds in those days were caught by a couple of unfortunately social and religious quirks that made their lives really hard.  Firstly, they were poor, and most shepherds did not own their sheep.  Rather they were paid pittance to look after the sheep for the rich people in town. 

Secondly, because they were poor and desperate for money, the rich people would treat them terribly – often making them work for 24 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week so that they hardly would ever see their families.

And as the triple whammy, many priests decided that Shepherds did not met the criteria for washing and hence were ceremonially unclean.  This could be solved by going 3 days without being near the sheep – but due to point 1 and 2 – that was not possible … so never had the opportunity to worship God. 

If anyone had the right to feel a bit ripped off at Christmas time, it was the shepherds.  And yet … in the midst of the difficulty, they were given something that changed their lives.

How do we open ourselves up to feeling the love of Christmas in our lives?  How do we be open to God giving us a heart full of love today?

I want to share with you a short sermon within my sermon.  It is a sermon that I came across about 10 years ago (remember I am a bit of a weirdo and enjoy listening to other people’s sermons from around the world).  This one is from Rev. Diane Hendricks – a minister in the United Methodist Church in the states.  When I first heard this sermon, it was like an epiphany to me.  It turned upside-down my perspective on Christmas and allowed me to embrace the richness and fullness of Christmas, no matter what was happening around me.

I would love to read it out to you.  Is this ok?  Is starts….

Christmas!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Only it’s not.  Not for everyone.

  • Not when there is an empty chair at the table.
  • Not when your body is ravaged with illness.
  • Not when the depression is too much to bear.
  • Not when life has punched you in the gut so hard you can hardly breathe
  • Not without her voice joining yours on the Christmas carols.
  • Not when you feel all alone even in a crowd.
  • Not when you are not sure you can even afford the rent or mortgage, let alone the presents.
  • Not when another Christmas party means he will come home drunk again.

Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year?

No, it’s not.

And trying to smile and say Merry Christmas is more than difficult. It’s pretty near impossible.

Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year.

Only it’s not.

  • Not after he has died.
  • Not after the doctor gave you the news.
  • Not after they told you they would be downsizing.
  • Not after dream has just been shattered
  • Not after… you fill in the blank.

In truth, Christmas has never been the most wonderful time of the year. Certainly not in the days surrounding that first Christmas so long ago. The story of the birth of Jesus is not to be told with a jolly voice and a merry ho-ho-ho.

  • It is the story of a teenage girl, pregnant with a child that is not her husband’s.
  • It is the story of a child born in a dirty animal stall.
  • It is the story of a family of refugees who had to flee their homeland so that their child would not be killed.
  • It is the story of one sent into the world in peace who ends up being condemned to death.
  • It is the story of a light sent to shine in the darkness, which the world did not recognise, did not understand and did not accept.

It is not the most wonderful time of the year.
And yet … it sort of is!

  • If we forget about the tinsel and the trees.
  • If we forget about the holly jolly tidings.
  • If we forget about the presents and the ornaments and the trappings.

And remember.

Remember the story.

  • Mary was alone and afraid.
    But God was with her and exalted her among women.
  • Joseph was disgraced.
    But God revealed in Joseph’s cause for disgrace God’s plan to save the world.
  • The world was in darkness.
    But God sent the light of life to shine.
  • The lowly were imprisoned.
    But Jesus set them free.
  • The blind wandered aimlessly.
    But Christ gave them eyes to see.
  • The deaf were confined to the silence.
    But the song of life unstopped their ears.
  • The sorrowful grieved.
    But God wipes away our tears.
  • We were alone.
    But in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God is with us.
  • The people rejected God.
    But God embraces us.
  • The world crucified Christ.
    But God would not allow that to be the last word, and gave us the sure hope of the resurrection.

It can be the most wonderful time of the year,

not because you have to be cheery and happy and merry.

But because you don’t.

You can have heavy spirits and shattered dreams.

Broken hearts and deep wounds.

And still God comes to be with you.

  • To comfort you.
  • To redeem you.
  • To save you.
  • To restore you.
  • To empower you.
  • To strengthen you.
  • To grant you peace.
  • To hold you in the communion of saints with those whom you have loved and lost.

It is can be most wonderful time of the year.
For Christ is born.
Love has come.
God is with us!
Thanks be to the Lord our God

It’s a good sermon, isn’t it? 

I love it because it reminds me that the first Christmas wasn’t perfect and yet … it was still extraordinary. 

If we go back to our shepherds – yes, they were doing it tough … and I am sure that after their experience of the angels and the manger and seeing Jesus … they went back to the same difficult situation.  But for that moment … they were open to receive the good news of great joy.  Their hears were full of love! 

So I say to all of us what the shepherds say to each other…

Let us go and see this thing that the angels have told us about.

Let us go and worship – Jesus the Saviour.

No matter what is happening in your life or in our nation …

Let us be open to receiving the love of Christmas in our hearts today. Amen.