by: Denise Robinson
All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a Strong Foundation
Luke 1:57-79; Joshua 24:14-15
In the Peanuts cartoons, the character Linus is defined by something he always carries with him. Anyone know what that is? It’s his security blanket. The first Peanuts cartoon was published in 1950 and the characters came to life on television in December 1965 when a Charlie Brown Christmas first aired. That means for about 70 years now Linus has been holding on tight to his security blanket. But the truth is that we all have security blankets we carry around with us: family, friends, a career, our home, financial investments, and the list goes on. This year our Advent series focuses on the statement “All I want for Christmas,” and we are opening Christmas gifts given to us in the birth of Christ. The first week of Advent our gift reminded us that Jesus’ birth represented God coming to earth to be with us. The box we opened contained the gifts of faith, hope, and love. Last week we opened a box containing eyeglasses, a magnifying glass, a telescope, a flashlight, and a mirror. Our gift was the gift of a new understanding: Jesus’ birth reshapes our understanding of God, others, and ourselves. Now we come to the third gift of Christmas and as we open our box this morning we find a brick, a rock, and a tree. What do these have in common? This morning we open the gift of a strong foundation, a base upon which we can build our lives.
In this world, we can get a lot of mixed messages about where to put our trust. The messages may come in a shout or a whisper, but they bombard us daily. Make a phone call to check on your government benefits so that you can get all that you deserve! Get rich quick by investing in gold or bitcoin or cryptocurrency! Buy this new product I am selling and it will change your life! Here’s a new drug that will cure whatever condition you might even think you have (just don’t pay attention to the endless list of possible side effects)! Join a dating site and meet the person of your dreams! Lose weight, gain weight, grow hair, get rid of unwanted hair, change the color of your hair, learn a foreign language, change your life by changing your image. But, when it comes right down to it, do we really want to put our trust in things?
The book of Joshua tells of a time, hundreds of years before Christ, when Joshua gathered the people of Israel together. It was time for them to make a decision. They were entering the land that God had promised them and they needed to decide on the foundation they would live by, what would be the base for their society. Would they rely on their wealth? Their military? Their political or religious leaders? Or perhaps they would adapt to the lifestyle of their new neighbors, get caught up with the bright, new shiny gods of the people living around them. False gods can look attractive when seen from the outside looking in; it can be exciting to forget the past and try something new. Joshua didn’t make demands; he didn’t threaten them with destruction. He simply began by telling them their story, by reminding them of their history. He went back hundreds of years to Abraham and then spoke of following generations, of Abraham’s son Isaac, of Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob, and jumping generations to get to Moses and their delivery out of slavery in Egypt. Finally, Joshua spoke of his leadership of the people following the death of Moses. In going back over generations, he reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them as a people and a nation. Then he gave them the choice: decide today who you will serve. Will it be the gods of Egypt or other lands, will it be wealth or power or fame or the same sort of things that entice us today, or will it be the true God, the God of their ancestors? In v. 15, Joshua states clearly how he feels: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua knew where his security came from and he boldly stated the source, it came from God.
In our Scripture reading for today, Zechariah, a priest and the father of John the Baptist, is giving thanks to God for the birth of his son. Like Joshua over 1,000 years before him, Zechariah remembers the faithfulness of God going back to the long-ago days of Abraham. But Zechariah has something more to add. It’s no longer just about history, because God is sending a new gift into the world and Zechariah’s son will play a huge role in spreading the message about that gift. Zechariah has been told that his son will be born before another child, before a child who is the Messiah, the Lord, and that his son will prepare the way. Prepare the way for what? For a mighty savior who will bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins, one who will give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, one who comes to guide us into a way of peace. One who brings the gift of a strong foundation for our lives and for our faith. So, what do today’s gifts in the box represent?
First, we have a brick. The brick represents a solid and steady foundation on which we can build our lives, and that is God. God made us, God gives us life, God is with us throughout life, and God will be with us after our life here on earth is over. God is eternal, consistent, and reliable. God sees, God understands, God forgives, and God loves. It can be easy to get distracted, to get so busy living our lives in the here and now that we forget about God or think of God as being far from us. Jesus’ birth not only reminds us that God is with us, but that we can trust God in all circumstances. This is what faith is, after all. Faith is trusting God no matter the situation. It’s committing to God and leaning on him come what may. It’s accepting that there is much about God we can never understand, but putting our trust in God’s love for us.
Second, we have a rock. It really should be a much bigger rock, but then it wouldn’t fit in the box, so use a little imagination here. The hymn we just sang says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Jesus told his disciples a parable of two men, each building a house. One built his house on rock and it withstood the rain, the floods, and the wind. The other built his house on sand and when the storms came, his house fell. Jesus, of course, in this parable was not talking about actual builders, houses, or storms. We are the builders, each of us building a life for ourselves in this world of unpredictable storms. Jesus was talking about the importance of building the foundation of our lives on his teachings, so that when the storms of life come against us, we can withstand them. In times of turmoil, Jesus is our rock. Jesus is also the rock or the foundation for the church. Our opening hymn for this morning reminds us that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ created the church, loves the church, and commissions the church to care for one another, to reach out to others, and to love others as he loves his church. Advent and Christmas draw the church together like no other season of the year. Christmas is a reminder that Jesus is not only our solid rock but he is also the foundation of the church; and we are called to be the church.
Finally, our gift of a strong foundation comes in the shape of a tree. We all have a family tree. The first chapter of Matthew tells us the lineage of Jesus going back to Abraham. There are a lot of names on his tree, some we recognize and many others we don’t. Most of the names on his tree are Jews, but there are a few Gentiles as well. Most are male, but occasionally a female sneaks in. Our biological family tells us our history: where we came from and who went before us. Some can fill out all the branches, many of us struggle to go back more than a couple generations. Our biological family history can even tell us about certain shared family traits: eye color, hair color, skin color, whether we’re likely to need glasses or not, and so on. But from our Scripture today, Joshua and Zechariah looked back at the generations not to think about hair color but to remember God’s faithfulness in the past and to remind themselves that God was still the foundation for their faith in the present.
So, here’s a challenge for you, if you want to try a project that can be both fun and educational to do. Go to Hobby Lobby or some such place (I can’t believe I’m saying that) and buy a wooden tree like this one or cut one out of poster board. Now write down on the tree the names of people who have influenced you in your faith. This is my tree, so here’s a few names on my tree. I’ve read the Bible and studied theology, so there’s a few Bible authors and theologians who have influenced my faith. Anyone surprised that John Wesley made the list? But here are my parents, my aunt Evelyn the minister, my first church where even though I later came to disagree with some of their theology I was taught children’s stories and songs about God. Then, more recently, here’s the people at Castleton UMC who sponsored me for ministry, my Castleton friends who prayed for me and encouraged me (and continue to do so today), a seminary professor or two, a mentor who walked with me on so much of this journey. Here’s New Life UMC, with people who let me practice on them when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and New Pal UMC after that. And then, still being written on my tree, here is IUMC. There a times I still don’t have a clue, but over the past two years we have gotten to know one another, shared our faith, strengthened our faith, and we are walking together asking what God wants us to do in this season of life for our church. I hope as I have shared some of what’s on my tree, you’ve been thinking about what you would write on your own.
We live in a world where family life seems to be breaking down all around us. Just a week ago there was yet another school shooting, this one in Oxford, Michigan involving a 15-year-old boy. I don’t know the circumstances, but when I hear about such stories involving young people I wonder. I wonder about their home life. I wonder if they ever were brought to church. I wonder if they were ever told the story of Jesus. I wonder if anyone ever shared with them how much God loves them. I want to believe that surely someone told him somewhere along the line. But statistics tell us that may not be the case, that increasing numbers of young people have never been in church. Folks, I can’t stress this strongly enough – if you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, or anyone who knows young people – people need to hear about these gifts of Christmas. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6: “Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” These gifts of faith are not to be opened by us and then put on a shelf to gather dust. They are to be discussed and shared with anyone and everyone who will listen. The gift of a strong foundation is one that has no value unless it’s used. It’s a matter of putting our faith into action. I asked earlier you to think about writing your tree of faith. Now here’s my last question: is your name written on someone else’s tree?