Merry Christmas, everyone!
SCRIPTURE – Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
“The Result of Christmas – Eat the Cookie!”
Dec. 23, 2007
Well, I feel terrible about this. I know this is supposed to be a season of joy, but I can’t let this slide. No one likes to talk about conflict and inner turmoil at Christmas, but somebody has to be the messenger. Folks, there’s a war going on right now that reaches right down past our gut and into our souls, and we’re about to enter into a time when the fighting is at its most intense.
On one side of this war are you and me, good, upstanding citizens and faithful Christians. And our opponent is that plate of chocolate chip cookies that are so fresh from the oven that the chips are still melted. And that piece of pumpkin pie with the dollop of cool whip on top. And Grandma’s cobbler. And chocolate cake. This my friends is not mere spiritual warfare; no, this is gastrointestinal warfare.
This battle of the bulge takes place every year around this time. The double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas explodes our tummies like a hand grenade. Our cholesterol and blood sugar say no, but our eyes and stomachs say yes, and before we know it we’ve slept with the enemy, and have to retreat to gnaw on a carrot stick and gather our troops. And we always end up losing this battle, which means we have to make bold New Year’s predictions about eating tofu and drinking soy milk for a month, which lasts until we open the fridge on New Year’s Day afternoon and see there’s one more piece of pecan pie left. We have met the enemy, and it is a pastry!
Well, I’m here today to let you off the hook. I’m here to tell you to go ahead and raise the white flag now, to surrender yourself to all the delectable treats you want this Christmas season. Don’t count the costs, just dig right in and enjoy every bite of everything that fits on your plate. With the craziness of this time of year, it may be the only bit of joy we get for awhile.
In this sermon series we’ve talked about the relevance of Christmas, which was that God came to earth, and the reason for Christmas, which was the chance to know God on a more intimate level. But what’s the result of Christmas? How should our lives be different because of this event?
One way is that our lives are supposed to be more peaceful. And yet, could that be any less true than right now? I think one trip to the mall or post office is all we need to remind us of how easily this season of anticipation turns into one of frustration. The problem is we add to that stress ourselves, and one of the ways we do that is by being obsessed with what we eat. I’m just as guilty of this as anybody.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to find happiness with a Nacho Bell Grande from Taco Bell, only to end up once again at the Subway counter, ordering the Veggie Delight and staring at the cookie rack. One commentator said if you stand in front of the cookie rack, calculating calories in your head, trying to decide if that chocolate chip cookie is going to end up on your hips, you are actually doing more damage to your heart from the stress of worrying than if you simply ate the darn cookie in the first place!
We’ve been conditioned by our culture that we have to count those calories and calculate those grams of saturated fat, and that produces great stress within us. And in this season, that stress added onto all the other stress of Christmas completely distracts us from what Christmas is all about.
Of all the times of the year, this is not supposed to be the season of stress. It’s not “God Fret You Worried Gentlemen” or “O Come All Ye Frazzled.” The arch-angel didn’t tell the shepherd, “Be afraid! I bring warnings of great stress! He told them to NOT be afraid, because he was bringing tidings of great joy. But in the midst of our stress, we sometimes refuse that joy, that happy, healthy, life-giving joy that results from the coming of Christ.
What if Mary had been so stressed out that she had refused joy offered her? She had every right to, you know. She was in no position to take on the responsibility the angel was putting before her. She was engaged to Joseph. How would she explain this pregnancy? She could tell the truth, but who would believe that? She was young, poor, and female, all characteristics that people of her day would say made her utterly unusable by God.
But the angel Gabriel comes and tells Mary that she is going to have a baby, and that he will be named Jesus, and that he will be the Son of God. And then Mary finds herself smack dab in front of the cookie rack, stressing out over this news. If she accepts, she will be the earthly vessel for a divine gift; she will be the mother of the son of God. But it also means that very soon it will be obvious that there’s more than a cookie in her belly, and along with swollen ankles and more trips to the bathroom will be the destruction of her marriage and her reputation. She could even be put to death for this.
And yet…she says yes. “I am the Lord’s servant.” She takes the risk, she takes a big bite out of the opportunity put before her, and she accepts God’s joy. There are a lot of reasons she could say no: not the right time, not the right place, not the right partner, not the right family planning, not the right future plans. And yet, instead of weighing the pros and cons, instead of counting the costs, she simply says yes.
So I want you to say yes this Christmas. Come on, it’s Christmas. Eat. Enjoy. January’s coming soon enough. There’ll be 11 months for resolutions and diets and skim milk decaf lattes. There will be 11 more months where we can eat right, drink bottled water, take vitamins, get plenty of sleep, and still get hit by a bus full of gluttons who didn’t think twice about their holiday eating habits. So this Christmas, I want you to eat the cookie. Accept that culinary joy. Contrary to what you’ve been told, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a good time and enjoying some delicious food.
I almost forgot that. A few years ago a congregation member dropped off some M&M cookies at the office. It was a wonderful gift, and she told us that a lot of love went into those cookies. As I stood there agonizing over whether to eat one or not, those red and green M&Ms staring up at me symbolized my inner turmoil: stop, go, stop, go. I was saying to myself, “Gosh, I don’t know. It’s only a few hours until dinner, and I didn’t go to the gym yesterday, but I did have a salad for lunch. But I also had two Krispy Kremes for breakfast. OK, three. I probably shouldn’t.” And then I realized what I was doing. These cookies were a gift, made with love, and I was rationalizing why I shouldn’t accept this gift. It’s not the right time, it’s the not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift.
True Christmas is about more than the joys of an M&M cookie. The joys we refuse are not merely gastrointestinal; they’re more often spiritual. The joy that we are guilty of leaving behind is the joy of accepting God’s loving gift, of letting Christ bless us, and giving ourselves to follow Jesus. That’s what Mary did. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said.
Christmas is more than a chance to eat and open presents. It’s also a chance to open ourselves to Jesus, and to be filled, to be satisfied, to be nourished, to be strengthened for growth. It’s a time to recommit ourselves to God and to recommit our lives to worshiping and serving Him. It’s a chance to let the birth of Christ lead to a new birth within us. His birth was not only life-changing 2000 years ago; the result of his birth is that it can be life- changing for each of us today.
We don’t have to accept God’s joy, you know, any more than Mary had to accept the angel’s offer. We can continue to let stress rule in our lives, to be more concerned about saving than serving, more concerned about counting costs than reaping rewards, more concerned about what we can’t have in our lives than what we’re truly missing in our lives. We can say, “It’s not the right time, it’s not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift.” Well, none of us have. But we’ve been given it just the same, and there’s never a wrong time or a wrong place to recommit our lives to following Jesus. This is the season of joy. Have we felt that joy yet, or are we so stressed that we’re refusing it?
Now, I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to come to me in January with a frown on your face. Your belt will be a notch looser, and you may be waddling a bit. And you’ll say, “Kory, I did what you said, I ate that cookie, and now I weigh five pounds more than before Christmas!”
“Yeah, I did the same thing. How did your cookie taste?”
And your eyes will glaze over, and you’ll look up, and this big smile will come across your face, and you’ll say, “It was awesome.”
The gift of Christ is once again being offered to each of us. It’s up to us really. But if you ask me, I’d thank God and eat the cookie. Merry Christmas.