Christmas is that special time of year where expectations runs rampant. There is always a transformation that begins after Black Friday. Ordinary kids who can’t find their backpack, shoe, or homework become certified gift-finding specialists. They go from never stepping foot inside the attic or in your closet to roaming around searching for the holy grail of presents. It doesn’t end when the presents are wrapped and placed under the tree. Kids and adults alike become like a bomb sniffing dog—checking the weight, shape, size, and sound trying to judge just how seriously we should take a prospective gift. You see this in the classic movie The Christmas Story, Ralphie wants one thing: an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, BB gun” and before his master plan to get it moves forward he is constantly fantasizing about what life will look like before he has ever held the gift in his hands. He envisioned stepping forward and fighting off Black Bart and his cohort of criminals. Ralphie anticipated the gift, but didn’t fully grasp what it meant!
Today we are starting a new advent series looking towards the gift that changed the globe in Jesus Christ. A gift that was wrapped, weighed, and wanted for centuries. Wrapped in hundreds of prophecy, weighed while the Jews faced oppression, and wanted as God seemingly had gone silent for over 400 years. The anticipation was great but what those in the 1st century unwrapped was something they didn’t fully grasp. In fact, we are calling this series Socks and Underwear because when you open a gift and see the first signs of socks, what do you do? Growl and then throw it aside. Yet like socks and underwear, Jesus is the gift that everyone needs, but don’t always seemingly want.
John 1:1 starts to unwrap the the magnitude of what mesmerized the people: In the beginning was the (Logos) word–the Jews viewed the word as the personification of God’s will and revelation while the Gentiles understood the LOGOS as the bridge from the divine to the dust (material world), the word was with God and the word was God. 14 The word became flesh and made its dwelling among us. As we turn to the story of Jesus advent in the Luke 1 starting in verse 26, we find that LOGOS was THEOS and God instead of making:
Christmas about comfort, it was always about connection (Luke 1:26-31) 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.Christmas for us quickly becomes all about comfort: it is about hot cocoa, warm slippers, and Bin Crosby on a cold snowy night. Yet God’s choice of unveiling the gift of his presence and power comes in a crazy way–through a poor, uneducated, unmarried teen mom from an obscure unmentioned town. God could have sent Jesus anyway he liked, as one author wrote he could have even come from the Good Year blimp flying high above with a neon sign saying “Repent and believe.” Yet, instead Jesus connects to a poor family that when they take him to the temple after his birth as the law dictated were too poor to pay for the sacrificial lamb for the Lamb of God, instead they settled for the two doves. They didn’t have the prosperity to lavish on Jesus, no power to pass on to him, no comfort to cradle him. They seem unqualified to parent the Prince of Peace, but as the world anticipated comfort—Jesus grasped for true connection, he pulled those who were overlooked and scorned by the world and allowed them a role in redeeming the world, as the angelic messenger declared, “You who are highly favored.” Those times where we look at who we are and throw up our hands as unusable by God, we have missed how we can powerfully be used with God.
Years ago Father John Powell told the story of Norma Jean Mortenson who seemed highly favored but was missing true connection: “Norma Jean Mortenson. Remember that name? Her mother, was periodically committed to a mental institution and Norma Jean spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, ‘Here, Honey. Take this and don’t ever tell anyone what I did to you.’ When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened she was beaten badly. She was told, ‘Our boarder pays good rent. Don’t you ever say anything bad about him!’ Norma Jean at the age of eight had learned what it was to be used” and feeling all alone. “Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person too–not just a body–or a pretty face–but a person. “Then Norma Jean went to Hollywood and the publicity people told her, ‘We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.’ And this was her reaction, ‘A symbol? Aren’t symbols things people hit together?’
They said, ‘Honey, it doesn’t matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.’ “She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, ‘Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?’ Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles.” People hated her. “Everyone did. “She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn’t know was that she was in her dressing room vomiting because she was so terrified. “She kept saying, ‘Will someone please notice I am a person. Please.’ They didn’t notice. They wouldn’t take her seriously.” She went through three marriages–always pleading, ‘Take me seriously as a person.’ Everyone kept saying, ‘But you are a sex symbol. You can’t be other than that.’ “Marilyn kept saying ‘I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.’ “And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 instead of being out on the town, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. She killed herself.” When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her. Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. “He answered with the famous line of Rhett Butler, which I now edit for church, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t care!’ That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone–left it dangling. “Claire Booth Luce in a very sensitive article asked, ‘What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?’ She said she thought the dangling telephone was the symbol of Marilyn Monroe’s whole life. She died because she never got through to anyone who understood. Dynamic Preaching, June, 1990.
You can be world-famous and still disconnected. The phone dangling off the hook. The tragedy is that as she had all the comforts of the world, she missed out on being connected to the Word. The one who can understand our struggle. Have you ever had times where you struggled to pay your bills? Have you ever had times where you struggled with family members? Have you endured friends stabbing you in the back, have you been rejected based on how you looked or where you were from? Jesus can say yes to all of those…Been there and I understand. Hebrews 4:15-16 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. You can hear it in the words of Hebrews—that God pushed away what was comfortable, what was distant and unreachable, and he brought himself to us for a connection which was immanent and powerful. The gift anticipated is the unexpected gift that means instead of alone trying to do enough for God, we get to do ministry with God.