What do you want this Christmas?: John’s wish

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Mark 1:1-8

What do you want for Christmas?  That’s the question I ask Sharon every year right after November 21st—her birthday. I’ve just exhausted or almost exhausted her birthday list… and I’m left with very few ideas. She asks the same question of me… and I assume you are asking that question of one another: “What do you want for Christmas?” And the pressure is on… let the games begin!

Maybe you heard the story about the boy who wanted a red sled for Christmas. The boy sat down and wrote a letter to Santa, pleading his case. He wrote:

  Dear Santa: I really, really want a red sled for Christmas. If you will bring me a red sled, I will be a perfect little boy. I will be obedient. Whatever my parents ask me to do, I will do it immediately, if you bring me a red sled. Santa. I really do need a red sled.

The boy signed the letter and mailed it, but then he thought he needed an insurance plan, a back –up strategy. So he went to the manger scene that his family had on display in their den. Secretly, when no one was looking, he reached over and picked up the figurine of Mary, took it upstairs to his room and hid Mary in his closet. The boy went over to his bed, dropped down on his knees and said,

“Lord, I hate to get tough, but if you ever want to see your mother again, be sure that Santa brings me a red sled for Christmas!”[1]

What do you want this Christmas?  The older I get, the harder it is to answer that question. Oh, I have some items on my list—maybe some accessories for my latest gadget… maybe a bird feeder or bird bath… maybe some books… Auburn stuff… who knows… but the truth is… the older I get, the harder it is to answer that question.

And here is why: I’ve been through enough Christmases to know that the Grinch was right:    “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

Enter John the Baptist with his own Christmas list.  Every second Sunday in Advent…he comes…  the wild man of the wilderness comes on the scene… dressed in clothes reeking of camel’s hair… eating grasshoppers and wild honey… preaching a Billy Graham like message of repentance— baptism and forgiveness of sins…

And do you see who is with him out there in the middle of nowhere? City people and country people—from the rural countryside of Judea and the streets of Jerusalem… from down east to Raleigh… from all over  they have come… to hear John share his message of repentance, forgiveness and hope… which we learn is only the appetizer for the real feast… the warm up act to the main event…

John is here to point the way to the real star of the show… the messiah… who offers far more for us than John could ever offer.

In the words of Eugene Peterson: “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit- will change you from the inside out.”

So what would John want for us this Christmas? Not a baby in the manger… not presents under the tree… or even a red sled… John wants to be changed by the coming of the messiah—by the coming of Jesus, the Christ.

I wonder if somewhere within us, that is what we want as well. I’ve been thinking about this as I think about the question: “What do I want for Christmas?”  Really want?

And I realize what I really want is not something I can hand Sharon on a list. What I really want is something to happen within me… here, in my soul.

What I want is someone to transform me from the inside out… I want a Christmas where Grinches are transformed from greedy green monsters of envy… to warmhearted Muppets, if you will, of generosity. I want to become the Grinch whose small heart grows three sizes one day…  And I want that for others too.

What do you want for Christmas? I want what John wants… the coming of on who will take someone like a Scrooge—only concerned about the bottom line… only concerned about how the economy will affect “me”— “Too bad about Tiny Tim… Too bad that Bob Crachit has to work late on Christmas eve…  Too bad about the beggars…they should get a job.”

I want my eyes opened and my heart opened not so much by the fear of ghosts of Christmases past, present and future… but by the love of the one who has come and is still coming to us… A love and generosity Scrooge experienced in the Cratchit family.

That’s what I want for Christmas… what do you want?I want the gifts of hope, love, peace and joy to flow from within me to others.

That’s what I want. How about you?

Of course…I don’t know about you, but for this to happen for me, I will have to do some intentional preparing. That’s where John the Baptist comes in every year for me.

Just as I’m about to rush straight into Christmas with my list of things to buy and do… John comes along every second Sunday in Advent almost like one of those speed humps in my neighborhood to say, “slow down”… don’t rush to Christmas… or wish the next three weeks away… Slow down… get ready… for the one who can give you what you want for Christmas has come, is coming and will come again. So, slow down… get ready… (If you desire, there is one coming who will change your life… if you will get ready)

Which is what we are invited by John to do every Advent… to prepare ourselves… to surrender ourselves… to open ourselves…for the gift God wishes to give us.

So… How will you prepare for his coming this Christmas?  Well, you are here today.

That’s a good start. Simply being there is part of it… being in worship with others… hearing again the Scriptures and the music that tell the story of what his coming means…

All the services of Advent and Christmas are meant to share the story of the real meaning of Christmas. Tonight we’ll enjoy the greening of the church. Don’t look for it out there… you’ll be trying to find a needle in a haystack of messages. Come here to the house of God… find yourself centered in the presence of God.

Transformation happens from the inside out, you know.

How will you prepare? Perhaps you have carved out space in your busy season… just to have a few minutes each day with God. Perhaps your family is using the advent wreath you made in Sunday School or have passed down over the years. That’s not a bad way to prepare and to remind yourself or to let your children know about the real gift of Christmas.

How will you prepare?

I have a good friend who used to urge his congregation to include in their home decorations a spot for a Bible, a Nativity Scene and a candle… a quiet spot… where you can pause for devotion and prayer… That’s not a bad idea.

How will you prepare? This year some of you are joining me for Bible Study. I want to thank you. We will be studying the Advent Scriptures that prepare us to hear the Christmas story once again.

So, how about reading the Bible. I would encourage everyone to pick a gospel, any gospel—they are all short. Read it all the way through.

You’ll discover, contrary to what Ricky Bobby (in Talledega Nights) wants to believe… the baby Jesus did grow up. Read the story of Jesus with the eye about how he actually did transform the lives of the people he encountered.

But let me warn you, if you read the Word of God and listen… I mean really listen– especially to the Word made flesh- he will confront us… he will challenge us…he will seek to convert us and console us—in that order. God didn’t send Jesus down to earth to simply give us a nice story about a baby or to create an excuse to boost the economy or to leave us as God found us.

The God of heaven sent Jesus to earth to transform us.

Those who come to know—I mean really know the Jesus we celebrate—would tell you that is exactly what happened to them. They will tell you how their lives were changed by his coming… and if can happen to you and me to. For with God’s help, change happens.

To paraphrase Frederick Buechner: “Slowly but surely, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—the forgiven person becomes a forgiving person… the loved person, a loving person…. The healed person becomes a healing person… And before you know it, in God’s time… you are living a life that has more peace, love, hope and joy then you ever knew possible. God does most, if not all of it.

 And you know what… none of it came from a store.

Today, we are returning again to the Lord’s table where we are offered gifts forgiveness, healing and love from Christ. These are truly the gifts of God for the people of God. Come to this table… and receive the gift Christ would share with you. Come… receive the gift. You may never be the same again. Amen. 


[1] Story told in “What do you want for Christmas?; An Advent Study

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