“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”
Sermon on Mark 13:24-37
November 27, 2005
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
You know that song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” by Bing Crosby? I heard that song three times yesterday! There is even at least one radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music from here on out until the big day all of us, young and old, are anxiously awaiting. You know, we really go all out during the holidays. The day Thanksgiving is over, we rush out and start doing two things: buying presents and decorating the house for Christmas.
We all do it…we rush into the storage and the closets and bring out those heavy boxes and crates of all that Christmas stuff. We go out and get a fragrant Christmas tree and string garland all over our houses. Some people even put lights up all over their house and their yard for the children to enjoy. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Badin and all over the place.
You know it’s getting close to Christmas when you see the weather finally start to get cold and the leaves all start to fall. (Can anybody tell me why it is that they never seem to fall until right after you’ve raked them all day?) You know it’s close to Christmas time when you see those big illuminated snowflakes hanging off the light posts in the downtown areas. You know it’s close to Christmas time when you start putting up the tree and decorating the house for the holidays.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus reminds the people in his day of something similar. He shows them a fig tree and tells them: “As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also when you see these things taking place, you know that it is near, at the very gates!” The fig tree was a late bloomer. Most trees in Israel are evergreen, but there are a few famous deciduous trees in the area, namely the fig tree and the olive tree. The olive tree would put forth its leaves very early sometimes, well before the arrival of summer; but the fig tree always waited until later, until summer was at the very gates to start putting forth its leaves. Whenever the fig tree started to get some leaves on it, you knew warmer weather was really close.
Perhaps if Jesus was walking around the towns in our area today, he would allude to the frazier firs, the Christmas trees, and remind us that whenever we see them around in people’s homes and on sale everywhere we look, that his birthday is coming up. But Jesus tells us this in the context of such much larger than our holiday traditions. The reading for the first Sunday of Advent (the Sundays just before Christmas), is not about the promised coming of the Messiah’s birth, but about the promised coming of the Messiah’s return. Christ has already come, but Christ has not yet returned. We live in this world of the already but the not yet all the time. You might have your Christmas presents wrapped under the tree, they are already here, but they are not yet here because we can’t open them until the day we celebrate the coming of our Lord. I think that’s a lot like what Advent is for us. We already have Christ, but we don’t yet have Christ.
Many people in our world, and even in some churches, will use this and similar passages to try to scare people into believing in Jesus by telling them how horrible it will be on the day when Christ returns. I think that is just plain wrong. There is a huge difference between loving Jesus and being scared of him. And anyway, the day Christ returns will be a day of joy, much like the day we get to open our presents under the tree. Christmas is denounced by so many as being a very commercialized holiday, and there is some great truth behind it. Christmas is not about consumer spending indices and getting the material goods the TV tells us we need to be happy. But there is some great symbolism behind the age old practice of gift giving during Christmas. There is something special behind giving someone a gift in a world so filled with greed.
There are those who don’t believe in decorating for Christmas, and there is some good behind their reasons as well. Christmas is not about getting a 40 foot air filled snowman in the front yard because your friend only has a 10 foot one. Christmas is not about getting a bigger or fancier tree just to outdo your neighbor. But there is some great symbolism behind the age old practice of decorating during Christmas. There is something special behind decorating a tree that is always green when the world is so brown and lifeless and cold.
I remember growing up and decorating the house during December. My mom would send me into the woods to get some evergreen foliage. She would spend days decorating the windows with bows and evergreens. I would always have to go around every night before bedtime and turn off all the electric candles in the windows and the lights on the tree. Our Christmas tree always had ornaments that had special meaning. I remember always hanging the one they got the on my first Christmas and on my brother’s first Christmas.
We all have similar traditions. I’m sure as I was telling you about mine that you were remembering your own traditions around Christmas time. Now that I have a family of my own, Jennifer and I have our own tree with its special ornaments. We have ornaments that we picked up all over the world on ours. We have two little nutcrackers that move that we got in Germany, we have one of a covered bridge that we got on our honeymoon in Vermont, we have an egg that is painted with the city of Salzburg on it that we got in Austria, we have a little windmill we got in Holland, we have an ornament that my handicapped brother made. It is really amazing how much money we spend on Christmas stuff that is only out of storage for 1/12th of the year.
We spend so much time preparing for the coming of Christ and his birth 2,000 years ago. Each year we spend days of our lives decorating and preparing the house and the church for the season when we celebrate his birth. We meticulously decorate and treasure our holiday items. We throw special events leading up to the big day. We send Christmas cards to our friends and loved ones. We go all out preparing for Christmas. But do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our world? We spend so much time decorating and entertaining and shopping and preparing the exterior for Christmas, but I am afraid we neglect our interior selves, our souls. It is easy to get the physical stuff looking nice and festive, but it is much harder to get our souls in the same state.
Most of us have shopping lists with the names of everybody we need to get a gift for and what we are supposed to get them; but do we make a list of what we need to do spiritually before Christmas day? I am not talking here of just the things we need to be thinking and praying about. I am not talking about even something as noble as doing a daily devotional. I am talking about our physical actions in the world too. We go to great lengths to decorate our trees with special ornaments, but do we even take a moment to decorate the trees of our lives. If each one of us was a Christmas tree, what ornaments would we have on our branches? If we were all Christmas trees, how bright would our lights be in this dark world?
If someone were to look at our tree…our lives…our souls, what would they see? It is my hope that they would instantly see that the time is near for the advent of Christ. It is my hope that others will see in you the glimmer of light flickering in the dark, the shining of a special ornament with its own message to share and its own story to tell. It is my hope that your tree would bring Christ a little closer to anybody who looks. As Bing Crosby would say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Amen.