Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2013; Titus 3:3-7

Rev. George Miller
Titus 3:3-7
“Prepared for Pouring Out”
Dec 24, 2013

When encountering Luke’s telling of the Christmas Story it’s hard not to be moved when we hear there was no place in the inn.

It’s a phrase that packs an emotional wallop, centering us on the reality of Jesus’ birth: no proper place to rest one’s head, no proper place to store one’s clothes, no proper place to give weary feet a rest.

The inn was so full that it could not accommodate the birth of our Savior, so a manger had to do. And yet somehow, even with such limited space, that was enough.

It was enough for God to accomplish what God set out to do.

Jump ahead 100 years later. In a letter to Titus, the author states that the Holy Spirit is being poured out so they we may inherit eternal life.

It’s a contrast to what Joseph and Mary had experienced. The notion of being poured out sounds so lavish and extravagant; a gift given in abundance.

Trouble is, how do you receive such a wonderful gift if you are not prepared and you yourself are filled to capacity with things that may not seem so…godly?

How do you receive such a pouring out if you are filled with foolishness or envy, malice or hate for one another, the love of gossip and the constant need to put your own desires first?

If all those things fill your heart and time, how can an outpouring of the Spirit be received? How can there be any place for Jesus inside the inn of your heart?

Now I’m not one of those pastors who believe in immediate change, who will tell you to give yourself to Jesus and all your negative attributes will quickly fall away.

But I do believe that a life which sincerely welcomes Jesus is a life that experiences change and transformation, but it is usually a slow, continuous process, and certainly lifelong.

Do we ever get it right? Do we ever discard all the things that hurt us and hurt others?

Do we ever become so completely empty of all our stuff that we are filled with nothing but the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus?

If you know of someone who has, let me know.

But here is an analogy that seems right for tonight. For the last 10 years I’ve put up a tree each Christmas, which means I have many decorations and being that kind of guy, virtually every ornament tells a story.

There are those given to me when my father died. There are cheap ones I bought when I couldn’t afford anything else. There are used ornaments purchased at thrift shops that never really felt like they were mine.

There are ones given during chapters in my life that were good, but are now long over. There are others given by people who didn’t really know me or know what else to get.

Each year I put up the tree and hang these ornaments, but they emotionally lacked luster; they felt heavy. I didn’t really want to look at them or be reminded of what they represented, so I’d hang them off to the side or in the back. They couldn’t be seen, but they took up space.

Then, there are the ornaments that bring joy, luster and feel light: the handmade ones by my sister, the funny ones sent by my brother, the playdough ornaments crafted by my nephews, and mementos from trips to New Orleans, Arizona and Saugatuck, MI.

These go on the front of the tree so they can be seen and bring a sense of deep love and joy.

Recently, my acquiring of ornaments has become intentional, collecting one every time I go somewhere: a whale ornament from Greenport, a row boat from Port Jefferson, princesses and Pixar creations from Disney, a sunbathing turtle from Wauchula.

I not only know where I was but I know who I was with when I got each one.

This year I did myself a favor. I went through the ornament collection and began removing the ones that no longer bring joy: the ones that were reminders of when I couldn’t afford anything else, the one’s that reminded me too much of a beloved’s death.

Some I left in my apartment’s laundry room for people to take, others I donated, some I kept in a box because maybe next year I will want them.

The result: a Christmas tree at its most alive, decorated mainly with ornaments that pop with colors and goodness and stories I want to recall, memories that involve the places, the people, the family, and the friends that are in my life.

Yes, there are still some ornaments hiding in the back that I’m not yet ready to take down. And I know that some of the current ones may lose their meaning and will have to be let go too. But when they are, there will be a space for new ornaments to take their place.

Let me ask you this: on this Christmas Eve, what are the symbolic ornaments you have been holding onto that need to be let go?

What are the ornaments you keep putting up that really don’t bring beauty into your world, or may actually cause you hurt?

What are the ornaments that when you look at them you don’t feel so good about yourself? Are there ones that remind you of who you use to be but no longer want to be reminded of anymore?

What ornaments are best to be taken down so that new ones, inspiring ones, beautiful ones, can be put up?

Through Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit is ready to be poured out, to decorate our lives with the most beautiful of decorations: hope and joy, peace and love, patience and generosity.

Each of us can always benefit from extra baubles of kindness and faithfulness, grace and gentleness, justice and mercy.

But we can’t have space to place these ornaments up if we continue to keep the old ones.

It doesn’t have to be a quick exchange; it can’t be a quick exchange. But with Jesus, over time it can happen.

Over time we can exchange our broken or outdated ornaments for others that are full of light and full of life, eternal life.

Eternal which means we are more than our foolish, sinful selves, but we are part of something greater.

The way that hope and kindness help to build community.

The way that love, peace and patience help to build a family.

The way that joy and gentleness helps to build friendships.

The ways that faithfulness, generosity and grace help to build the church

The ways that doing justice, loving mercy and humbly walking with the Lord help to build the world.

There will always be ornaments on our tree of life which will need to be taken off, stashed away or fully discarded.

There will always be new ornaments that are in need of making room for. Today we can simply start by welcoming Jesus into our lives.

Jesus, born in a place as small and simple as a stable.

Jesus doesn’t need the cleanest of places or the quietest of spots or the most elaborate of locations to enter into our lives. All Jesus needs is space, some space, to enter, to shine, to be radiant, and to flourish.

The color of foolishness fades; the glimmer of disobedience dims. Ego driven passions and pleasures pass away.

What is left is the light of Christ and that is forever. It is the love that is most valuable. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that leads to new life, better life.

Tonight, are we ready to receive the Christ child? Tonight, are we ready for a pouring out? Tonight, are we ready to decorate our hearts with the good things that a life in Jesus brings?

Amen and amen.

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