All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Style of Living

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

12/20/2021

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All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Style of Living

Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 23:23-26

Have you ever been at a complete loss for words? It doesn’t happen to me very often, but occasionally it does. I may be out somewhere and a person comes up to me and it’s obvious they know me – or think they do – and I freeze, wondering whether I really don’t know them or perhaps I should know them. It’s obvious I’m at a loss. Several years ago, I was in the Kroger store east of us and a van load of folks from a senior living facility arrived. They came into the store in a cluster or gaggle or whatever the right word is, and right there in the produce section stopped, stared, and pointed. Finally, after a couple of minutes a man and woman separated from the group and came up to me. The man asked me for my autograph. I was used to being recognized, but that was a strange request and it caught me completely by surprise. I couldn’t think of a response, so I just stood there. Then the woman spoke up and said how much they loved watching me coach the women’s basketball team, what a wonderful inspiration I was, what a lovely job I was doing, and on and on. It dawned on me that they thought I was the coach of the Indianapolis Fever. I had been to a couple of games with friends and I didn’t think we looked alike in the least (other than both female with gray hair) and as I stood there, I couldn’t even think of her name. I recall stammering that I wasn’t her (whatever her name was), and I left as quickly as I could with all the people from the van still staring at me. 

Even worse than freezing, though, is when we blurt out something we never meant to say out loud – it was a thought in our head that should’ve stayed there, but escaped. After that happens, we usually are at a loss for words, wondering whether we should apologize, pretend we didn’t say anything and dare them to say otherwise, or just run away. But the uncomfortable truth is that most of the time we are pretty good with words. We learn from childhood how to say the right thing, talk a good game, say what people want to hear. We talk too much and do too little. We promise to do something and then search for ways to get out of it. In the end, our words really only make a difference when they are translated into action and are shown to be true. 

Nowhere is this truer than with our faith. Most of us, especially if we’ve been raised in the church, talk a good game. We know the “churchy” words and can sing the “churchy” songs. But faith isn’t about what we say, faith is about what we believe and how we live. And God isn’t be fooled by the games we play. Choosing to be a follower of Christ means embracing a new way of life, a new way of relating to God and to other people. Christianity is not just a way of believing, it’s a way of behaving. As we continue our Advent series on the gifts given to us in the birth of Jesus, the gift of Christmas this week is the gift of a new style of living.  

So, to represent that gift, what is in our box this morning? We have a couple of books, a Planet Fitness membership card, and a Christmas ornament. What do these things have in common? We can buy books, endless numbers of books, on changing our lifestyle and our bad habits, but if you look closely at least one of these books looks like it hasn’t been read. You could never tell it’s been on a basement shelf for years. But even if we reading the book, we have to put into action what we’ve read. This is where the PF card comes in. How many of you have or have ever had this kind of card? I won’t ask how faithful you were in using it. PF can keep its monthly fee low because studies show 67% of gym memberships go unused. That means 2/3 of the members keep paying despite never going to the gym. That’s according to a scientific survey by the way, so it must be true. Gyms build their business model on the bet that most people will stay home, so they oversell for their capacity. And it works. How does the ornament fit into this picture? When it comes to faith, we need to read the Bible to build our faith and we need to put into practice what we’ve read. But, too often, we make our faith an ornament for looking rather than a tool for living. 

Jesus wasn’t making many friends when he preached his sermon in Matthew 23. He was preaching to the good people of the day, the ones that had made their faith into an ornament, spending all their time and effort to look good on the outside, without allowing their faith to change the way they were living. Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe, and have neglected justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Woe to you, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. Woe to you! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So, you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Harsh words for a group of people who prided themselves on how religious they were. What is Jesus telling them – in words intended to shake them up and maybe even get them a little angry? Tithing is great, but giving money to the church is no substitute for justice, mercy, and faith. Give because of faith and a desire to help others, not to look good. He was telling them that they were trying to hide their greed and self-indulgence behind outward acts of holiness. He was telling them they looked beautiful on the outside, but were dead on the inside. 

Jesus, even before his birth, challenged people to live their faith. Over the past weeks, we’ve looked at how Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary, reacted to the news that Jesus was coming to be born as a human baby. For each, it was a life-changing event. Zechariah and Elizabeth have a child when they are older in life and their son will live in the wilderness and die in a prison. Joseph, a young man looking forward to a new life with Mary, is called to set aside his desires and live a life he never expected, raising a child not his own, fleeing to Egypt so that the child would live, and returning to live in a community with questions about the timing of Jesus’ birth. Mary calls herself blessed when she finds out she will give birth to the Son of God, but lives to see him ridiculed, arrested, beaten, and crucified. After his birth, Jesus called twelve people to follow him and they did – gave up their families, their jobs, their desires – to learn and to live a new way of living. That new way of living, living our faith, is our Christmas gift for today.   

Google says it takes 66 days to form a new habit, and as much as 254 days before it’s fully formed. I would argue it takes much longer than 254 days to fully adapt to Jesus’ new way of living, which means living our faith rather than just saying the words. It’s not easy, because just when we think we’re getting it right, we have a bad day or week or month and are “doing” comes to a screeching halt. So, what does living our faith look like?

When we live our faith, it becomes compelling. If we talk a good game, we can fool people for a while. But soon they will see that our actions don’t match our words. The worst of it is, people who see this in us will not stop at questioning our commitment to faith; they will question the basis for faith itself. They won’t stop at questioning us, they will question Jesus. A faith that is lived, though, is compelling. That is not to say that God compels us to believe; we have free will and each of us decides on our own. What I mean is that when a Christian truly lives the faith of the Gospel of Christ, others are drawn in by the passion we have for how we live. 

The life of the Apostle Paul is a prime example. He was one of those Pharisees who looked good on the outside, said all the right things, studied the law (what we would call the Old Testament), and tried hard to follow the rules. Then he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, found out how wrong his life had been, and began a new style of living. This new style of living demanded a change and a commitment. Old friends became enemies. New friends were hard to find because of his old reputation. His authority was questioned and he had to defend his new-found faith. Yet he never wavered. He walked, and he walked, and he walked to share a message that had gotten others killed and himself jailed and stoned. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, sharing his faith, sharing his life as an example, and encouraging others.  

Why did he do it? Why did he dedicate his life to people who often didn’t want to listen? How did he wake up each day to take that next step, to write that next letter? In a letter written to the church in Corinth he gives the answer. “It’s a story. The most compelling story ever told,” he says, “and I want to share it with you, because this story changed the world and this story is yours also to share. It starts here, this compelling story starts with the faith I am convinced of, that one, Jesus, died for all.” Paul knew that Jesus’ life and death changed his life and changed the world. Back with the first gift of Christmas we learned that in Jesus, God came to be one of us - loving, caring, forgiving, dying for all people. 

That’s a compelling message that when lived by us makes our faith contagious. Right now, contagious isn’t exactly a positive word. Get the virus and quarantine yourself, because you’re contagious. But with faith, it’s another matter. Jesus said Mathew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Paul, in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, sees this kind of contagious faith in them.  Their lives were transformed, they committed themselves to becoming followers of Christ, and the fire spread. Paul lets them know he has seen how they have become an example to others and their faith in God has gone forth everywhere.

Finally, when we live our faith, it becomes convincing. What do I mean by that? It’s hard to know what’s true these days. Social media, the news media – everything and everyone seems to have an agenda. Our politicians say one thing and do another. What do we believe? Who do we trust? When it comes to religion, there’s a lot of people who question Christ because of the actions of people who call themselves Christians. The new style of living that Jesus gives us, though, is a way of living based on love. It is patient, it is kind. It’s not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It bears, it believes, it hopes, it endures. It never ends. When we live that kind of faith, the truth of it shines through. It is convincing. 

That is our final gift from the birth of Jesus this Advent. All the gifts are here. The gift of God with us that gives us the good news of Christ’s love. The gift of a new understanding of God’s love for us and how God loves others. The gift of a strong foundation for our faith. And, finally, the gift of a new style of living that calls us to look at the baby in the manger and change our lives to follow him.  

All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Style of Living

Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 23:23-26

Have you ever been at a complete loss for words? It doesn’t happen to me very often, but occasionally it does. I may be out somewhere and a person comes up to me and it’s obvious they know me – or think they do – and I freeze, wondering whether I really don’t know them or perhaps I should know them. It’s obvious I’m at a loss. Several years ago, I was in the Kroger store east of us and a van load of folks from a senior living facility arrived. They came into the store in a cluster or gaggle or whatever the right word is, and right there in the produce section stopped, stared, and pointed. Finally, after a couple of minutes a man and woman separated from the group and came up to me. The man asked me for my autograph. I was used to being recognized, but that was a strange request and it caught me completely by surprise. I couldn’t think of a response, so I just stood there. Then the woman spoke up and said how much they loved watching me coach the women’s basketball team, what a wonderful inspiration I was, what a lovely job I was doing, and on and on. It dawned on me that they thought I was the coach of the Indianapolis Fever. I had been to a couple of games with friends and I didn’t think we looked alike in the least (other than both female with gray hair) and as I stood there, I couldn’t even think of her name. I recall stammering that I wasn’t her (whatever her name was), and I left as quickly as I could with all the people from the van still staring at me. 

Even worse than freezing, though, is when we blurt out something we never meant to say out loud – it was a thought in our head that should’ve stayed there, but escaped. After that happens, we usually are at a loss for words, wondering whether we should apologize, pretend we didn’t say anything and dare them to say otherwise, or just run away. But the uncomfortable truth is that most of the time we are pretty good with words. We learn from childhood how to say the right thing, talk a good game, say what people want to hear. We talk too much and do too little. We promise to do something and then search for ways to get out of it. In the end, our words really only make a difference when they are translated into action and are shown to be true. 

Nowhere is this truer than with our faith. Most of us, especially if we’ve been raised in the church, talk a good game. We know the “churchy” words and can sing the “churchy” songs. But faith isn’t about what we say, faith is about what we believe and how we live. And God isn’t be fooled by the games we play. Choosing to be a follower of Christ means embracing a new way of life, a new way of relating to God and to other people. Christianity is not just a way of believing, it’s a way of behaving. As we continue our Advent series on the gifts given to us in the birth of Jesus, the gift of Christmas this week is the gift of a new style of living.  

So, to represent that gift, what is in our box this morning? We have a couple of books, a Planet Fitness membership card, and a Christmas ornament. What do these things have in common? We can buy books, endless numbers of books, on changing our lifestyle and our bad habits, but if you look closely at least one of these books looks like it hasn’t been read. You could never tell it’s been on a basement shelf for years. But even if we reading the book, we have to put into action what we’ve read. This is where the PF card comes in. How many of you have or have ever had this kind of card? I won’t ask how faithful you were in using it. PF can keep its monthly fee low because studies show 67% of gym memberships go unused. That means 2/3 of the members keep paying despite never going to the gym. That’s according to a scientific survey by the way, so it must be true. Gyms build their business model on the bet that most people will stay home, so they oversell for their capacity. And it works. How does the ornament fit into this picture? When it comes to faith, we need to read the Bible to build our faith and we need to put into practice what we’ve read. But, too often, we make our faith an ornament for looking rather than a tool for living. 

Jesus wasn’t making many friends when he preached his sermon in Matthew 23. He was preaching to the good people of the day, the ones that had made their faith into an ornament, spending all their time and effort to look good on the outside, without allowing their faith to change the way they were living. Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe, and have neglected justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Woe to you, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. Woe to you! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So, you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Harsh words for a group of people who prided themselves on how religious they were. What is Jesus telling them – in words intended to shake them up and maybe even get them a little angry? Tithing is great, but giving money to the church is no substitute for justice, mercy, and faith. Give because of faith and a desire to help others, not to look good. He was telling them that they were trying to hide their greed and self-indulgence behind outward acts of holiness. He was telling them they looked beautiful on the outside, but were dead on the inside. 

Jesus, even before his birth, challenged people to live their faith. Over the past weeks, we’ve looked at how Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary, reacted to the news that Jesus was coming to be born as a human baby. For each, it was a life-changing event. Zechariah and Elizabeth have a child when they are older in life and their son will live in the wilderness and die in a prison. Joseph, a young man looking forward to a new life with Mary, is called to set aside his desires and live a life he never expected, raising a child not his own, fleeing to Egypt so that the child would live, and returning to live in a community with questions about the timing of Jesus’ birth. Mary calls herself blessed when she finds out she will give birth to the Son of God, but lives to see him ridiculed, arrested, beaten, and crucified. After his birth, Jesus called twelve people to follow him and they did – gave up their families, their jobs, their desires – to learn and to live a new way of living. That new way of living, living our faith, is our Christmas gift for today.   

Google says it takes 66 days to form a new habit, and as much as 254 days before it’s fully formed. I would argue it takes much longer than 254 days to fully adapt to Jesus’ new way of living, which means living our faith rather than just saying the words. It’s not easy, because just when we think we’re getting it right, we have a bad day or week or month and are “doing” comes to a screeching halt. So, what does living our faith look like?

When we live our faith, it becomes compelling. If we talk a good game, we can fool people for a while. But soon they will see that our actions don’t match our words. The worst of it is, people who see this in us will not stop at questioning our commitment to faith; they will question the basis for faith itself. They won’t stop at questioning us, they will question Jesus. A faith that is lived, though, is compelling. That is not to say that God compels us to believe; we have free will and each of us decides on our own. What I mean is that when a Christian truly lives the faith of the Gospel of Christ, others are drawn in by the passion we have for how we live. 

The life of the Apostle Paul is a prime example. He was one of those Pharisees who looked good on the outside, said all the right things, studied the law (what we would call the Old Testament), and tried hard to follow the rules. Then he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, found out how wrong his life had been, and began a new style of living. This new style of living demanded a change and a commitment. Old friends became enemies. New friends were hard to find because of his old reputation. His authority was questioned and he had to defend his new-found faith. Yet he never wavered. He walked, and he walked, and he walked to share a message that had gotten others killed and himself jailed and stoned. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, sharing his faith, sharing his life as an example, and encouraging others.  

Why did he do it? Why did he dedicate his life to people who often didn’t want to listen? How did he wake up each day to take that next step, to write that next letter? In a letter written to the church in Corinth he gives the answer. “It’s a story. The most compelling story ever told,” he says, “and I want to share it with you, because this story changed the world and this story is yours also to share. It starts here, this compelling story starts with the faith I am convinced of, that one, Jesus, died for all.” Paul knew that Jesus’ life and death changed his life and changed the world. Back with the first gift of Christmas we learned that in Jesus, God came to be one of us - loving, caring, forgiving, dying for all people. 

That’s a compelling message that when lived by us makes our faith contagious. Right now, contagious isn’t exactly a positive word. Get the virus and quarantine yourself, because you’re contagious. But with faith, it’s another matter. Jesus said Mathew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Paul, in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, sees this kind of contagious faith in them.  Their lives were transformed, they committed themselves to becoming followers of Christ, and the fire spread. Paul lets them know he has seen how they have become an example to others and their faith in God has gone forth everywhere.

Finally, when we live our faith, it becomes convincing. What do I mean by that? It’s hard to know what’s true these days. Social media, the news media – everything and everyone seems to have an agenda. Our politicians say one thing and do another. What do we believe? Who do we trust? When it comes to religion, there’s a lot of people who question Christ because of the actions of people who call themselves Christians. The new style of living that Jesus gives us, though, is a way of living based on love. It is patient, it is kind. It’s not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It bears, it believes, it hopes, it endures. It never ends. When we live that kind of faith, the truth of it shines through. It is convincing. 

That is our final gift from the birth of Jesus this Advent. All the gifts are here. The gift of God with us that gives us the good news of Christ’s love. The gift of a new understanding of God’s love for us and how God loves others. The gift of a strong foundation for our faith. And, finally, the gift of a new style of living that calls us to look at the baby in the manger and change our lives to follow him.  

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