Are YOU invested in the Child?

Psalm 89: 19-29
LUKE 1: 26-33

December 24, 2023 – Fourth Sunday in Advent

The God of Creation … Jehovah … raised up someone specially chosen not just for a few but for all of humanity. The first born of Mary … conceived by God … not to be a mere complement to a holiday of lights but to be THE LIGHT of THE WORLD!

Friends, on this Fourth Sunday of the Advent Season in the year 2023 … are you invested in the Child of God? A child whose birth was forecast by the prophet Ahvaz in Isaiah chapter 7 who said, “The Lord will give a sign. A virgin shall give birth to a son whose name shall be Emmanuel because through that child … God will be with us.”

And, so again we have arrived on a date of our calendar when Christmas is merely hours away … later this afternoon as this day melts into the EVENING hours we will be celebrating Christmas Eve but on this Fourth Sunday of Advent there is an essential question that far too many Christmas celebrators will neglect … ARE YOU invested in God’s Child? God’s Son? Jesus the Christ? Does He hold meaning for you and do you have an active, ongoing, and responsible relationship with the Son of God. A relationship that has changed who you are and to which you are accountable throughout the year? A reasonable expectation if you accept the Christmas story for what it is.

Have you made the active decision to allow Jesus to be your personal Emmanuel so that God is with you each day? This is the challenge of the Christmas season’s conflicting images and messages. This is the challenge for you to consider because in your answer you will determine whether or not you are the recipient of God’s peace that goes beyond understanding and whether even in the darkest moments you can find some semblance of joy because of the hope you possess knowing who the child in the manger really is.

The fourth candle of the Advent wreath represents peace … the personal peace we have through the hope of Salvation in Jesus Christ. The inner peace we can have when we actively have God in our daily lives. A peace all of us need and all of us can have by taking on Jesus … believing … and then living as if we trust Him and His teaching.

I am sure we all are aware that life is a journey with many twists and turns. As 2023 comes to a conclusion I realize that each passing day and week reflect more of a game we played with the kids when they were growing up. It was the Mystery Ride … perhaps pulled from the Beatles Mystery Tour. You remember the song … “Rollup for the mystery tour … the magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away.”

Well, the Delaney Family mystery ride never had a destination in mind. At every traffic light or stop sign one of the kids would tell me whether we should go straight, make a right turn or a left turn. We could never go backwards. And, the other rule was that we could not eat at any chain restaurant nor go into a store that had franchises like Sears and Roebucks.

By the way … do you remember Sears? Their Christmas catalogues? The Montgomery Wards Christmas catalogue? Dream books filled with amazing things …

Anyhow these trips taken before GPS’s were installed in our cars almost always had a fun conclusion. We found a TIKI joint in the middle of the Pine Barrens and watched the migration of Monarch’s along the Jersey shore. Fun adventures but never knowing where we’d end up.

Sort of like life … except we don’t get to choose all the turns and we don’t always end up having fun. There are many elements of our journey that are beyond our control and at times we are forced to take a quick turn that we’d never would have planned for if given the choice. But life’s MYSTERY TOUR is always there … coming to take us away.

A teenage girl named Mary was given a choice … she lived in Nazareth, and I have a feeling that she was a typical teenager in the Middle East. We know that she was close with her older cousin Elizabeth so they probably gathered for the holidays with each other just like many of us will gather with family tomorrow. In fact, when her cousin became pregnant Mary went to visit Elizabeth and upon entering Elizabeth’s house called out her name and Elizabeth’s baby moved in a special way. The impact of a loud caring teenager’s voice … on a baby who would later be known as John the Baptist. Cousins … whose babies would change the world.

Can you remember when you were a teenager? Oh boy I can remember some of the choices I made as a teenager and am glad they are in my past, but I also remember that as a young teenager … I renewed my baptism vows … that Sunday School was part of my weekly journey … yes, I was in church with my family almost every Sunday perhaps not by my choice but because of my parents’ love of me and of God. Well, Mary was a teenager and the angel of God arrived.

Now, Luke captures the moment succinctly by stating that Mary was confused and wondered what in the world is going on. But the angel Gabriel calmed her down by telling her she had a reason to rejoice … “The Lord is with you!” And, as we know Mary didn’t not scream ‘Get Away from me’ but instead she became the mother of Jesus. A definite turning point in her life’s journey and for this teenager who already was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph the defining moment in her story.

Ah, responding to knowing that the “Lord is with us” by rejoicing! After Jesus had lived His life … after his horrendous death on the cross … when he left the tomb empty because He is risen <<He is Risen Indeed>> and shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven to be with God and the angels … Mary spoke with Luke and told him about her investment in the child … her child … Jesus.

”Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.“

And, here we are in the year 2023. In the season of Advent. We have in front of us a journey whose length we don’t know. A journey with many turns still to take some of which we will control and others will be determined for us. We can’t go back to change what was before but we can focus in on what is ahead. Are you sensing God’s mercy these days? I think Advent gives us that renewal opportunity each and every year.

Have you been focused in with anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth? Most folks in churches around the world today frankly have not used the Advent season as a faith-builder because we are busy people … even in retirement there are shows to binge watch … sports talk to listen to … shopping to get done … busy stuff that causes God stuff to slowly meander to the end of the list.

Truthfully, God stuff … church connection … faith moments are life essentials but since Gabriel is not making a grand appearance in our lives it’s rather easy to dismiss or at the very least reduce our time with God. Few people are courageous enough to invite friends much less family members to Christmas Eve services around the world, which for many people is the only church attendance they will have in a year. Perhaps we should wonder why those folks are not invited more frequently.

Advent is a calendar thing. It is meant to bring into focus Jesus but as we pause here on the last Sunday of the Advent season in 2023 it does not mean we have to let go of what Advent symbolizes. In fact, if we are to make the appropriate investment in the child named Jesus who came to teach us how to live and to save us from our sins … then we need to consider the Advent season once more.

We have lit the candles … a candle of hope, which is what we have in Jesus Christ. The “Prophecy Candle” symbolizing the promise of our Messiah fulfilled by the birth in poverty in the manger when there was no room in the guest house for a teenage mother about to give birth. The second candle … “The Bethlehem Candle” symbolizing peace … personal and individual peace that comes through Jesus Christ. Peace on earth and goodwill towards all of humanity. God had been teaching God’s people since the beginning of time to love God and love all others. Peace comes through that, and the Light of Peace shone under that star on the night of His birth. The third candle is the one we should all have because the birth of Jesus is good news of great joy for all people. As Linus would say in the 1965 Christmas classic, “that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” And, yes if we have made the investment in Jesus with our faith then we get the joy that He provides. Our final candle is one of love. It’s also called the angel’s candle because the angels of God love Him too. They showcased His arrival with Hallelujahs and praise. God’s love for us … hoping we are smart enough to get the story, make an investment in Jesus and return God’s love right back to God through our worship and praise. A love story … Christmas.

And, so I have to leave your turn in life’s journey to each of you. My journey has followed some dark twisted paths especially this past year, but I can still hold onto God and Christ. Hope, peace, joy, and love. It takes an investment in the child, but it is well worth it.

C.S. Lewis’ writing helped me immensely this year and we need to remember something he wrote about the birth of Jesus. He said, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” That friends is the unexpected gift that awaits all who choose to make a turn in life towards the Light of Christ and invest themselves back with God. AMEN

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