The Heart of Christmas

Twas the Sunday before Christmas and here in God’s house
His people have gathered – even the Laus!

For weeks we’ve been waiting, 4 weeks, if you count
And it seems that for many, anxieties mount…

Did I get all my gifts bought, Are my cards in the mail?
One more office party, how I wish I could bail!

And then there’s the TV – in between all the shows
Are commercials for cars wrapped in shiny red bows…

But deep down inside something’s not sitting right
And I don’t think it’s the gingerbread cake from last night.

Perhaps we should look for the heart of the season
Perhaps I stop talking in rhymes for no reason!

At some point we all want to stand up and shout
Can somebody please tell me what Christmas is all about?!

*Show clip of Linus telling Charlie Brown the Christmas story*

You remember that Pastor Rod and Pastor David both spoke about how important it is to slow down and look for God and peace in the busy Advent season. Our devotional guide this year was designed to help us find the Holy in the holiday season. It says a lot about our lifestyle and culture when we need someone to tell us to slow down. How sad that we actually need PERMISSION to slow down!

This year, we opted not to have our family’s traditional Holiday Open House. We scaled back a bit on the decorations. We didn’t even get a wreath up outside until last Sunday. Part of it comes from being overscheduled. But – for me at least – there was some intentionality in taking some time to say, “what if we don’t?”
What if we don’t use that energy to figure out when we have a party, and instead we use the few empty nights we have to enjoy one another? We could watch some of those great “Christmas Specials” After all it’s just not Christmas until
…Ralphie gets his Red-Rider BB gun and almost… (shoots his eye out)
…Santa has to come to his senses and ask Rudolph with his nose so bright, (won’t you guide my sleigh tonight)
…The burgermeister meisterburger goes head to head with Kris Kringle and creates Santa.

But some of these specials really do seem to “get it”
What happens to the Grinch that compels him to take the toys back to Whoville?
His heart – which was 2 sizes too small – grows as he hears the Whos coming together to sing.

And in almost every version of the Christmas Carol, they are faithful to include the words Dickens wrote for Ebeneezer Scrooge when he realizes what the future holds. He says” I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”

Clearly, Christmas is about the heart. Not the physical organ, but the heart. The seat of our emotions and motives. That place where we turn over the deepest things that trouble us and treasure the things that bring us joy.

In fact, a quick run through the Christmas carols shows us how important the heart is at Christmas… In Joy to the World, we sing: Let every heart, prepare him room.
There’s: Good Christian Men Rejoice with Heart and soul and voice.
And O Come thou Dayspring come and bind all peoples with one heart and mind.
The last verse of O Little Town, though, is the one that really nails it…
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heavn.

Isn’t selflessness what stretched the Grinch’s heart?
Isn’t a generous and compassionate heart what the Spirits of past, present, and future were offering Scrooge?
The heart of Christmas has much to do with our hearts. It also has much to do with God’s heart. God so loved the world that He sent his only son… The beginning of the Gospel, the beginning of the Christmas story is God’s love for you and for me. God’s love for the lost and the hurting, the disenfranchised and the outcast. God so loved all of us- each of us – that He sent this tiny baby. This tiny baby with a tiny heart.

I was driving to work the other day, listening to the radio and musing about that tiny little heart that carried the hope of mankind and the love of the creator of the universe… And it took me back to a moment that I still marvel over.

I don’t know if other first-time moms are as fascinated, but I remember the first time I heard my heartbeat through the sonogram. It wasn’t the thump-thump sound that you get with the stethoscope. It was a swoosh-swoosh sound. It was fascinating! Then, after a little searching, we could hear this thunk-thunk-thunk sound. Much faster, but very clearly a heartbeat. And very clearly not mine. They were both inside me, but one of them wasn’t me.
It struck me then that God’s heart beats inside each of us – when we choose to believe and follow Christ, when we make him the Lord of our lives and Lord of our hearts, God gives us heartbeats like His. When we exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of love, they begin to beat differently.
Just about then, one of my favorite Christmas songs came on. Breath of Heaven. It’s really a prayer that Amy Grant imagined this young girl – who was soon to be a mother – may have prayed… I think all mothers and fathers can relate to the terror that an impending birth brings. Imagine how much greater the stakes are when you are responsible for bringing the Son of God into the world.

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father, you have come and chosen me now to carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now, be with me now

Breath of heaven, hold me together; be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness; pour over me your holiness
for you are holy, Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am, For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of heaven, hold me together; be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness; pour over me your holiness
for you are holy, Breath of heaven

I’ve always liked this song, but this time I heard it differently, all because of one word. Pneumos. In Greek, we learned that pneumos means Breath, but it also means Wind and Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit. The Breath of Heaven is that same Holy Spirit that Gabriel said would come over Mary so that she would be with Child, despite being a virgin. The Breath of Heaven that breathed life into Adam and Eve in the garden. The same Spirit that descended as a dove when that tiny baby grew to be a man and was baptized. The same indwelling Spirit that comforts, strengthens and guides us today.

See, Mary was responsible for carrying the Christ child and delivering God’s son into the world. The Holy Spirit made that possible, from the moment of conception to delivery. As did Mary – in spite of her fear, she had faith. She offered herself to be the servant of the Lord. This was an act of radical obedience that changed her life forever.

But look beyond Mary… we see Angels singing praises, Shepherds leaving their flocks alone at night, Kings traversing entire continents at the prompting of a star… those are not acts of rote duty, but of passionate response. Joseph’s choice to stand beside Mary and raise this child who was not his… this is an act of courageous obedience.

We started this season with a call to peace. A call to quiet. A call to reflect and listen. Have you heard it? That’s the heartbeat of the Christ Child, whose heart was beating from the beginning of time with God’s heartbeat. It echoes down through time and beats in our chests. It’s the heart for the lost.

We’ll end the Christmas Eve service tomorrow night singing Silent Night. But the following morning, while you exchange gifts and enjoy meals and fellowship with family and friends, listen for the wind. And be ready for a call to action. A call to acts of radical obedience and passionate courage.

After all, the Grinch didn’t stay at the top of Mt Crumpet. His newly grown heart sent him down the hill to be a part of the Whos Christmas celebration – Bitter and lonely no longer.

And Scrooge? Why of the men in the merry old town of London, it was said that none knew better how to keep Christmas than Ebeneezer Scrooge. A hard-hearted old man became known for generosity and compassion.

Heck, even the Charlie Brown kids went to Charlie Brown’s house after Linus shared the Christmas story.

When you hear God’s call… Listen Closely!
When you feel the Spirit breathing new life into you… Breathe Deeply!

The heart of Christmas is a heart of love. Love that passionately, courageously and obediently gives itself to the world.

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