I wrote and preached this sermon last week at Shiloh as a reminder of what we celebrate on Thursday (Thanksgiving) as well as a reminder of why we will celebrate Christmas in December. It’s all about perspective. I incorporated some material from the sermon I preached at the community Thanksgiving service at Stanton Baptist Church last week. I had several people tell me that it served as a great reminder of the true purpose for the holidays as well as a means of centering in preparation for the craziness. I hope you find a blessing from reading this sermon (it’s not perfect and I did end up throwing in a couple more thoughts while I preached but, more or less, here it is).
“What’s The Fuss?”
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
November 22, 2015
John 18:33-37 (NRSV) – Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Today is one of the days on the church calendar called “Christ the King” Sunday, which is when we remember and celebrate the kingship of Jesus. Next week we will begin the season of Advent which is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. It is extremely easy to forget that the “stuff” of the season is not why we are celebrating. The reason we celebrate is the one who would be born in a stable and grow up to be the greatest king the world has ever known. So today, I want us to spend this time together remembering what all the fuss is about.
We have all been there. Let me tell you about one of the experiences of holiday craziness I witnessed. I was a teenager and we arrived at my grandmother’s house early on Thanksgiving. We actually arrived earlier than normal because my grandmother had called and said she was overwhelmed and needed some help getting the thanksgiving meal prepared. We arrived and Moo, as we called her, looked flustered. I’m don’t remember exactly what happened but she had some sort of mishap in the kitchen and also had found out that a few more people were coming than she had expected. I do remember her saying this: “I just don’t understand why I go through all this fuss.”
I remembered that incident and those words recently when I was working on an assignment for one of my classes at Asbury. The assignment was to write a column for a church newsletter about the Christmas season called “What’s The Fuss about Christmas” in which the object was to remind church members of the purpose of the holiday season, specifically why we are supposed to be celebrating Christmas. We tend to ponder that a lot as we go through all the hustle and bustle of the year. We forget about the main purpose because it gets lost in all of the stuff we are expected to do. We wonder why we should even bother with preparing a feast for Thanksgiving and why we go to the trouble of decorating for Christmas and making such a big deal out of things like the Cantata or any number of other things.
It’s obvious to state that the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because we want to take some time to give thanks to God for seeing us through, for providing for our needs and simply to thank him for loving us. Just as the pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock did, we give thanks. The fuss is worth it because it is a correction to our egos to remember how blessed we are and how grateful we should be for even the smallest things. For example: When was the last time you gave a quick word of thanks to the man who picks up your trash so that you can live in a safe and healthy house? When was the last time you thanked the clerk at the grocery store? When was the last time you thanked God for even the things that make us frustrated like our computers, TVs and cell phones? Giving thanks helps us to keep our priorities in line with God’s will and is an important correction to our egos.
Does anyone remember the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special? I love Charlie Brown because I can relate to him in so many ways, namely how he often undertakes things with the best of intentions but he just ends up making a mess of it. In the Thanksgiving special Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and then Lucy and Franklin are invited by Patty. Charlie Brown finds himself in a mess because he is supposed to go to his grandmother’s for a meal with his family. Linus convinces Charlie Brown that he can have two Thanksgiving meals and to prepare one for him and his friends. So Charlie Brown sets out to prepare a feast but it’s not exactly traditional. When the gang sits down for their meal, Linus leads them in a prayer and then the food service begins.
By the time it’s all said and done each kid ends up with an ice cream sundae, two slices of buttered toast, and a handful each of pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans. Peppermint Patty is not happy and has some harsh words for Charlie Brown, who leaves the table in shame. Peppermint Patty gets a reminder that she invited herself over; eventually she apologizes to Charlie Brown. All ends up well because the gang all end up being able to go to Charlie Brown’s grandmother’s house to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Does this kind of sound like what happens at your house around Thanksgiving? We prepare a meal and someone complains. Then you start to wonder why you even undertook this project in the first place. Thanksgiving is a good reminder that it’s not about us. It’s not about the turkey, the sides or the parades. Thanksgiving, at its core, is a reminder that we should be thankful to God His provision, his protection and for his love. It’s out of this love hat he came to us in the form of a baby who from his birth was the great king that had been long expected and excitedly anticipated. That’s the fuss about Thanksgiving. The fuss is we give thanks not for how we have gained but for what God has given.
Although Thanksgiving is our next holiday and I certainly believe in taking the one at a time I know we have all been thinking about our Christmas plans. As a church we have been practicing for the upcoming cantata and I have been planning our Advent sermons and some other special times of worship that you will hear more about soon. I hope that you are looking forward to Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to Christmas as a time that we celebrate the birth of Christ our savior. But I know that Christmas and the preparation for it causes a lot of stress. Perhaps you’re even now asking, “What’s all the fuss about Christmas and why is it worthy of my effort?”
The fuss about Christmas is something called the incarnation. Just in case you don’t know, what I’m referring to is the coming of God in the form of Jesus Christ. The incarnation is vital to our salvation story because without it, there would be no point. Without the coming of the long promised messiah there would be no need for us to celebrate Good Friday or Easter or really to have much hope because we would still be expected to keep the commandments and the other rules and such found in the Old Testament to the letter. Oh, we could repent but in order for our sins to be atoned for there has to be blood spilled. Again, we can look through the Old Testament to see all of the ways in which atonement for our sins could be achieved and none of it is pleasant or pretty. From the very beginning, God planned to do something to reveal Himself to us and to bring us once and for all His grace and mercy.
The incarnation is how God reveals himself to us. You see, Jesus was born just as any other baby was. The only difference was that this baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit and therefore was divine. He was God, yet he was also fully human. John 1:14 says, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” The incarnation of Christ is vital and even is one of the central tenants of our faith.
Let me put it this way: As with anything else, certain conditions have to be met in order for something to work. In order for a light bulb to work properly, there has to be a power source, wires to transmit the electricity, a socket connected to the wires and that acts as a way for the lightbulb to, in turn, be powered by the electricity and to shine bright. A switch is also helpful so that the power can be turned on or off (and so we can sleep at night). Without any of these things, the lightbulb will not be illuminated and we are left in the dark.
Jesus works he same way. Without His being born like you and I were, without Him having lived among us, without His having taught, healed and performing miracles, without Him having been nailed to a cross, died and then being resurrected three days later, God’s work to reconcile us to Him would not have been completed. It is a wonderful thing when you really think about it. God came to the world as a human being, grew up from a tiny baby, and lived among us. He did all of this to draw us closer to Him by drawing closer to us. Without His coming and living among us as one of us, this mission would not have been fulfilled.
In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote: The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.
That’s what the fuss about Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ, being born in a stable after being turned away from proper housing. A tiny baby who, at a young age, had to flee to Egypt with his human parents to see refuge from a plot to kill him. A child who would grow up to teach in the temple and overturn the stranglehold the temple elite had over the people. This divine man who would perform miracles, demonstrate mercy, and teach us the way. It’s all about Jesus who would do what no other king in history would willingly do: Lay down his life for the entire world, including people who were not even born yet. And he would go on to cement his title as the king of kings by being raised from the dead on the third day. All of this is out of God’s abundant love for us! All of this so that all who believe in him could be restored and reconciled to God as well as enjoy eternal life with him rather than suffer apart from him.
As we go through these next few busy weeks, let us remember that the fuss is ultimately about God. The fuss is about being thankful for God’s love, both in how he provides for our needs so richly and for his becoming human so that we can be healed of our sins. May we remember that the fuss is about the ultimate ruler, the King of Kings whose kingdom includes us. May we remember that the fuss we are making is a fuss to make much of Jesus.