Rev. James A. Splitt
November 28, 1999
Matthew 21:1-9 Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 25:31-46 [NIV] As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey._ " The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!"
Romans 13:11-14 [NIV] And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
The Rev. Donald J. Shelby, Senior Pastor at the Santa Monica United Methodist Church received a letter from a member of his congregation, who was working in Washington, D.C. during the Christmas holiday. In his letter he instructed Pastor Shelby to make copies of his letter and distribute them to the Sunday morning Sunday School class hoping they would meditate and pray about it and share ways that it might impact their lives. I want to share this letter with you.
Dear Don, I am writing this to you because I need to share it, and I believe you will understand. Jesus came to me last week and I turned away from Him. It was two days before Christmas. I had been working 16 to 18 hours a day and had nothing to prepare for Christmas. I went out in the early afternoon to pick up a couple of gifts. I was wearing a down coat I bought in California, but had just purchased a new one and I wanted to give this coat away. It had been on my mind all day.
I walked out of a bookstore and within half a block I saw a woman holding out a paper cup, begging for money. I looked in my purse to give her a dollar but all I had were two twenties, and of course I couldnít give her that much. So I emptied my change purse into the cup. I saw that she was only wearing house slippers. The wind had picked up; it had rained earlier in the day and was very cold. She said to me that she was cold, her jacket was wet and asked me to feel it. I did but my eyes were still blind. I walked away! I was embarrassed at the thought of giving her my coat, of taking it off there along the street and handing it to her. I had not gotten to the corner before I realized what was happening. I removed my keys from the pocket of the coat and turned back, but she was gone. Usually the street people stay in one place most of the day, and I couldnít believe she was gone in less than one minute. I walked around the block looking for her, then walked another block in each direction, but could not find her. I am still looking each time I go out, but I probably will never see her again. I believe it was Christ in that woman asking for my coat, and I had all kinds of excuses not to give it to her. Please tell everyone, Don, to answer then the Spirit calls, to follow Jesus when He appears to us in the needs of another human being. I hope I have another chance and I pray I will answer "Yes".
[Donald Shelby. "Itís Hard to Be a Christian When Itís Easy," Sermon preached May 23, 1993; referred to in 11 Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening by Leonard Sweet, p. 41].
Luke 4:13 makes an interesting comment about the devils timing. When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Keep this verse in mind. Think about how Satan wants to catch you with your guard down, at an opportune time when might just turn away from Christ. For Satan, there_s no better time than around the Christmas holiday to catch you off guard and get you to turn away from Christ.
The Grinch who stole Christmas was looking for that opportune time to make everyone miserable and destroy the joy of Christmas. The Charles Dickens' Grinch was Ebeneezer Scrooge who looked for every opportune time to fulfill his own greedy appetite at the expense of others. Preparation for Christmas has those opportune times when we can loose sight of the real meaning of Christmas and find ourselves turning away from Christ.
Commercialism and Consumerism are two ways that use the joy of Christmas giving to get people to buy a lot of stuff that no one really needs. What happened to all of last years Christmas presents? What gifts were truly beneficial and had a lasting value? Perhaps we should all find a family that needs coats and make that family part of our Christmas gift list. The Presbyterian Church Medical Benevolence Foundation has just the idea for you want to try this on for size. Thereís an insert in your bulletin that may offer you a suggestion.
Christmas is a time for worship and celebrating the birth of Christ in our world and in our lives. What family Christmas traditions do you practice in order to keep worship and the celebration of Christ foremost in everything that you do? Itís easy not to think about Christ at Christmas. And itís easy enough to turn away from Jesus, just when Jesus is waiting to born in you and your familyís lives.
Paul writes to the Romans _ Wake UP! Salvation is at hand. Stop wasting your time and your life with selfish desires and pleasures. Let Christ be seen in everything you do! Paul uses the image of light and dark to make his point. We turn away from Jesus when we live in the darkness of sin. When we turn toward Jesus, we see the light of Christ in our lives. With one candle lit on the Advent wreath today, we try to create the image of anticipating the arrival of the birth of Christ. Hereís a simple but meaningful exercise for you to do as you prepare for Christís birth. Stop saying Christmas! The meaning of Christís birth has been lost to commercialism. So instead of saying Christmas, try saying the day of Christís birth. Itís awkward it doesnít flow as easily. Instead of saying ""We wish you a Merry Christmas", try saying We wish the joy of Christís birth. Send greeting to friends and family that proclaim the birth of Christ. Let advent be a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. The challenge of doing this is to try Christ on for size. You will redirect your own priorities for the celebration of Christís birth. You may even find that you will meet Christ this holiday season and not turn away from Him.
The Gospel text is the Palm Sunday story. It is a good story to remind us of the humility Christ seeks. Whenever we have the image of Jesus on a donkey, we can remember Jesus in a manger. We put on Christ, when choose to let others see Christ in our lives. How will the Christ be born (re-born) in you?
References: Leonard Sweet. 11 Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998. [See: http://www.leonardsweet.com/netbooks/gateways/]