Not until I became a father have I ever felt pressure to offer the perfect Christmas. My wife Christie may tell you that still after becoming a father I’m not quite concerned about offering the perfect Christmas. With that said, some of us can put an amazing amount of pressure upon ourselves to offer the perfect Christmas. The decorations have to be just so. The gifts have to exactly match the desire or personality of the recipient. The food at the party has to be just right. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful mantle or offering thoughtful gifts or cooking delicious food. We know deep down somewhere that Christmas memories seem to matter more than others. I’m sure you can tell me what you typically do on December 25th. Can you tell me what you did on July 25th? Some of you may if this is a special day for you, but I assume that Christmas holds a special significance in your memory.
We nearly can’t help having vivid memories of the Advent and Christmas season because of how sensual (in terms of our five senses) the season has become. This time of year looks different than other times of the year. We are surrounded by wreaths and garland, evergreen trees and huge sock, which we hang on the mantle—“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care (Luke 2:15). This time of year smells different than other times of the year. We are surrounded with the scent of pine and logs burning in the fire place or that smoky smell of the heater turning on for the first time . . . at least, one can hope that it will be cold enough to wear a tacky Christmas sweater. This time of year tastes different than other times of the year. We eat gingerbread and drink pumpkin spice lattes and we make fruit cakes . . . for our enemies. This time of year sounds different than other times of the year. Radio stations change their whole format and play Jingle Bells and Hark the Harold Angels Sing. Memories from this time of year are seared into our minds because of this sensory overload. The sounds and smells and decorations of the season attach themselves to our experiences. Somewhere deep inside we know this; therefore we are so very conscious of the memories we are making, especially for those of you for whom this is a difficult and sad time. We try to make the season perfect, but it is unattainable, like a sailor sailing to the horizon. You know it’s out there, but the closer you get, it still remains out there.
The good news is: we are not called to make Christmas perfect; rather we are called to make room for a perfect God. The Christmas story is far from what we might consider to be perfect. Let’s take a look at Luke 1:26-38. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Already the setting isn’t seemingly ideal. God is sending an angel to a no name town to a young poor girl who is yet to be married. In other words, there’s probably no one less influential than a poor unmarried girl to use as the means of transforming the world. What is God doing? Doesn’t God know that he should go to the palace to the daughter of a king who is married to a prince? With a single email they could tell the whole world about what God was doing. “The angel came and said to Mary, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” From the beginning the God makes it abundantly clear that Mary is favored and God is with her. What better news can one receive? You are valued and God is with you. The angel continues and says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,” suggesting that the news is unbelievable. “No, really, you have value. Don’t be worried!” What comforting news during this crazy time of year. “God loves you. Let your anxiety go.”
Why did God choose Mary? Well, scripture doesn’t say. When scripture is silent, we are invited to use our holy imaginations to ponder the mystery. Why did God choose Mary? Well, because having faith in God is more important than perfection. You see, the angel tells her that she will give birth to a son and he will be great and he will be the son of the Most High, and Mary replies, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” It is an amazing response. This is unbelievable news. This is amazing news. Unfortunately this news does not lead to a perfect situation. What will she say to her fiancé? How will she explain this to her family? How will they support the child? What are people going to think? It looks like Mary has committed adultery, and according to the Law, she is to be stoned to death. This situation is far from perfect. Scripture says that immediately following Mary’s encounter with the angel she left with haste to Judea in the south to be with her relative Elizabeth. I bet that’s right.
Christmas is not about being perfect; rather it is about making room for a perfect God. Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Later when she visits Elizabeth she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Her soul magnifies the Lord. She isn’t attempting perfection, she is magnifying the perfect work that God has done and is going to do.
Our text this morning is John the Baptist’s proclamation from the Book of Isaiah. Listen to what he proclaims: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” It is not about John preparing John’s way. It is not about John being perfect. John is making room for a perfect God. Now, you Methodist scholars out there should be raising a red flag. When entering into the ministry the bishop asks all Ordinands, “Are you going on to perfection,” and the answer is “yes.” John Wesley talked about Christian Perfection, but it is not being free of mistake. Christian Perfection is having a perfect love of God and neighbor, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Christmas is not about being perfect; rather it is about making room for a perfect God. The Advent season is a time of preparation, much like the season of Lent. Advent is the time we make room for the Christ child by giving of our wealth, by being a miracle for someone who needs to know the love of God, by reminding ourselves that God wants us to be producers of good fruit, not consumers only. So, in the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. God is with you.” May you let perfection go so that you may make room for a perfect God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!