"BLUE CHRISTMAS"[1]

ISAIAH 40:1-11

DECEMBER 2, 2012

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            If you happened to be here last Sunday, you heard me say that I'm basing our Advent messages this year on Christmas songs.  Some of these songs are secular, some are sacred.  Our song for this Sunday comes from Elvis Presley.  Do we have any Elvis impersonators in the congregation this morning?  No.  Well, then I'll sing it myself. 

 

            I'll have a blue Christmas without you.

            I'll be so blue just thinkin' about you.  

            You'll be doin' all right with your Christmas of white,

            but I'll have a blue, blue Christmas.

 

            Thank you.  Thank you very much.  The people in Isaiah's day were certainly feeling blue.  If not, why would Isaiah begin with the words, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Comfort.  Thats a great theme for the first Sunday in Advent.  Comfort.  Not everyone is full of cheer at Christmas.  This is a season, after all, when depression often peaks for some people.

            I could have chosen another Christmas song for this Sunday.  It is a real tear-jerker titled, Please Daddy (Dont Get Drunk This Christmas).  That one didnt reach the popularity of Blue Christmas.  John Denver first sang it.  Singing from the point of view of an eightyearold, Denver reminisces about a Christmas when Daddy drank too much and fell underneath the Christmas tree, much to Mommys dismay.  He asks Daddy to show some restraint this year because he doesnt want to see my Momma cry.  Denver didnt sell many records with this tune, but for some people this sentimental song will be all-too-relevant during this season.  It reminds us that holiday memories arent necessarily happy in some families.  Some of their memories are of "blue, blue" Christmases.

            Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."  Right out of the blocks Isaiah reminds us if we are in pain this Advent season, God wants to comfort us.   Perhaps we are grieving over the loss of a loved one.  Perhaps the kids won't be able to make it home this year.  Perhaps we received a bad medical report. Perhaps a marriage is coming apart.  Whatever our heartbreak this day, God wants to help us through our blue Christmas.

            Let's take a closer look at what Isaiah has to say to us this morning.  In so doing, I want us to note three things.  First of all, note that God cares about a broken world.

            Isaiah was speaking to a broken nation.  He was speaking to people in exile.  He was speaking to fathers and mothers now living in Babylon trying to hold their families together by telling and re-telling the ancient stories of the good old days in faraway Jerusalem.  He was speaking to people longing to return to their home land.  Those are the people to whom these glorious and triumphant words of Isaiah were first spoken. 

            And Isaiah assures them that God has not forgotten them nor forsaken them.  He tells them that God will build a vast highway over which they can travel unencumbered through the wilderness from Babylon back to their home, the Promised Land.  Take a look at their highway home.  Verse three.

 

            In the wilderness prepare the way of The Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

 

            God knows about their longing for home.  God cares about their suffering.  God is preparing a level road, an express highway, home for them.  God cares about a broken world.   God cares about broken people.

            Brian Ragen, author and English professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University, told of his father telling him a story every Christmas when he was growing up.  It was about a little boy who was very poor.  His widowed mother struggled to make ends meet.  The little boy had only one toy, a sad little car in awful condition.  It had only one window and two wheels.  The roof was smashed in.  But the boy loved that car.

            It was almost Christmas and the boy knew there would be no presents.  But he was excited anyway.  It was the first year he would be allowed to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve.  He couldnt wait.  He knew that, before mass began, people brought gifts to the Christ child.  He had been told the gifts were magnificent jeweled chalices for the altar, new clothes for poor children like himself, and envelopes full of money.

            The little boy wanted very much to give the Christ child a present, but the only thing he had was his broken toy car.  Nevertheless, he put the car in his pocket and set off for mass.

            When he arrived the church was filling up.  He walked timidly to the manger scene which was set up before one of the side altars.  Magnificent gifts were already piled up before the Christ child.  The little boy laid his broken toy car amid all the treasures.  He squeezed into a pew close by just as the organ began playing the prelude.

            About this time one of the ushers took a last look at the manger scene to see if everything was in place.  Suddenly he spied the car. Who would leave a piece of trash like this at Our Lords crib? he said loudly enough for the boy to hear.  The usher picked up the toy car and removed it from the manger.  The little boy was crushed.

            Then suddenly, everything came to a dead stop.  To the amazement of everyone present, the baby in the manger came to life and crawled across the stone floor.  He crawled until he reached the broken car.  Then carefully he tucked it under his arm and crawled back to the manger.  At this point the priest rose and approached the manger.  There, just as before, was a plaster child with a halo, but now he smiled and his arms were folded tight around a broken toy car.

            Brian Ragen remembers hearing his father tell this story and he resented it.  He didnt like his father.  His father had problems with alcohol.  The song Please Daddy (Dont Get Drunk This Christmas) could have been written for him.  When his father wasnt passed out drunk, he was a foulmouthed terror.  Ragan had a difficult time forgiving his father.  He felt his father was trying to use this story to manipulate him into being a more obedient son.  With time, however, Ragan came to put this little Christmas story into perspective. As I think of my fathers Christmas story now, says the grownup Ragan, I realize that I cast him in the wrong role.  My father was not the good little boy who gave his last plaything to the Lord.  My father was the smashed car.  He was a wreck.  But despite or because of all this, he clearly longed to be cradled in his Saviors arms, to have Christ still seek him after he had been rejected by everyone else.[2]

            God cares about a broken world.  God cares about broken people.  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

            That leads us to the second thing I want us to note.  Note how the Messiah will come into the world and identify with people in need.  Look with me at verse 10.

 

            See, The Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather his lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

            Note the phrase, "The Lord comes."  That's the meaning of Advent.  Advent comes from a Latin word meaning to come.  Jesus came into our world as the Good Shepherd that he might walk in our shoes.

            Stephen Arterburn in his book Flashpoints tells about a remarkable young woman named Pattie Moore.  When Pattie was seventeen years old, she was a promising student at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.  One day a bus she was riding on stopped for a traffic light at a busy intersection. An old man on the sidewalk caught Moores attention.  He carried two loaded shopping bags, one under each arm.  He moved slowly.  Each step seemed to be a challenge for him.  This was an awakening for Pattie Moore.  It suddenly occurred to her that older people have special challenges.  This became a major motivator in her life.

            After graduation Pattie moved to New York City and accepted a job with an industrial design firm where she began to design products with older people in mind.  With each assignment she would ask herself, could my grandfather whom Pattie loved greatly manage this with his aging eyes and hands?

            Then one day Pattie decided to go even further.  With the help of a friend who was a makeup artist for NBC, Pattie decided to spend several months disguised as an old woman.  She wanted to discover for herself how America treated the elderly.  Her friend fitted pieces of latex to Patties face to instantly age her.  She put wax in her ears to make hearing more difficult and drops of baby oil in her eyes to cloud her vision. She wrapped adhesive tape around her fingers to simulate arthritis and wore gloves over the tape.  And Pattie Moore discovered much to her dismay how the world sometimes treats the elderly.  She reports that she was often ignored, shoved and once she was even mugged.  When I was in character, she said afterwards, if I got a smile or a hello from a passerby, I felt like Id received a hug from God himself.

            Her experiment changed forever her thinking about the needs of the elderly.  Here is what is so surprising about the coming of Christ.  God came to us as a tiny baby not as a grown man or woman, but as a tiny babe.  Other religions have gods that come to earth, but only the Christian faith speaks of a God went through the entire human experience from birth to death.  God knows the challenges we face.  God, in Jesus, walked in our shoes.

            And this brings us to the last thing I want us to note.  God not only cares about broken people, God not only identifies with broken people, but also note that God comforts broken people.  How does God do it?  Well, I love the way Isaiah puts it in verse nine:  Get you up on a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say the the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"

            Note the words, "Here is your God!"  Real comfort comes when we concentrate on what God is doing for us, when we recognize God's climbing into that crib in Bethlehem to be part of us, to live alongside us and to triumph over our enemies.

            When it comes to comfort Linus drags his blanket.  My grandson Jack carries around his blue stuffed elephant he calls "El."  But God doesn't supply us with a blanket, a pacifier, a jug or a crutch.  God's comfort is like the little girl who came home from a neighbor's house where her playmate had died.  "Why did you go?" questioned her father.  "To comfort her mother," replied the little girl.  "What could you do to comfort her?" the father continued.  His daughter answered, "I climbed into her lap and cried with her."

            God climbs into the Bethlehem crib to cry with us, to laugh with us, to live with us, to die with us.  This comfort says much, much more than simply, "I care about you."  This comfort moves into our life and takes over, overwhelming us with God's love and mercy.

            Elvis sang, "I'll have a blue, blue Christmas without you."  Thats true.  Well have a blue, blue Christmas without that baby in the manger. 



[1] Many thanks to King Duncan and his sermon of the same title.

[2] Adapted from Matthew and the Matchbox Car, by the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad, Day 1, 1996.