From Humbug to Hallelujah! Live, Late Breaking: "O Christmas, You Have to Be"

Humbug! That's about the sternest judgment of Christmas. That it doesn't matter. 'Doesn't change things. That my soul and the world's course are no different for December 25th having come and gone. If the news of Jesus' coming turns out to be no news at all, why, there's no cause for hallelujahs anywhere. For this, there's no need of announcement, and no cause for notice, much less any assurance of new-found peace.

But: I believe the opposite! How about you? Suppose I say, "Live, local, late-breaking." You know what's next. "Daa, da, da, Dat da, da Dat da!" No, no! I mean, the news! TV's decided. If we tell folks what's coming-up-next is happenin' right now, here, and has an impact on us, they'll tune in, sit up and take notice. It's like, the announcer assures us, what's comin' next is real news. Only, way too often, it fails to deliver. We've heard it. Tragedies we can't understand or turn around. Things remote. Or all hyped-up. Ask yourself. How much that's live, local and late-breaking actually changes my plans for the day, causes me to take some action, or gives some new insight into a problem I actually need to solve?

Well, this very morning, we've got news. Real news. No humbug here, but cause for hallelujahs. News you and I can act on. News we can respond to. News we can use. Life changing news! "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Mark says. Only the beginning. But it's a start! God's sending a messenger, to give us a heads up. "Daa, da, da, Dat da, da Dat da!" John the announcer. Here we go. This matters! If you've been out there wanderin' in the wilderness, not knowin' what to do with your life; if you've been out there in the spirit-wilderness, down in the valley where the twists and turns are too much for you and the hills to climb are higher than your hopes, well, there's news! "Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." This is news you can act on. How? Repent! Turn your life around wherever you're headed the wrong way. Receive forgiveness. Let your slate be wiped clean. Clean up your act and your spiritual house. And get ready, 'cause what's comin' next is really somethin'. Bathe yourself in the blessing: the Savior is on the way! This is news you can use. It changes things!

Archangel Gabriel brings us word, "Christmas really can be." An unbelieving world and our own doubting hearts need the reassurance. God has it in him, in his heart, to save us, no matter the cost. When John the Baptist's father-to-be, Zechariah, heard it first, he couldn't believe it. But he came around. And taught us how. Put yourself where you can expect to experience the holy, (like, church) regularly. Listen for angels, messengers from heaven. Get quiet. Ask of Christmas, "For me?" Wish small, only the size of a baby, and you'll appreciate, appropriate, take into your soul, this "Live, local, late-breaking" news. That was last week's word.

Today's news? It's not that Christmas merely can be. It's that it has to be. It's urgent. We can't go on without it. And it means too much to God to withhold it! So God will announce it. Enter, the Baptist, John: to get our attention and challenge us to do something about it! Weeks ago, I was talking with a young parent just coming into Christian life, church life. Little kids. Big mortgage. Stresses and strains. I asked, "What's the news you're lookin' for here?" Answer, "That we can do this. Do life. That we can get help. That it matters. That there's more to it than all this runnin' around." Peace of mind and soul depends on this Christmas. Two moms cheered for their kids on the Hereford High Football Team, just a few months ago. Both will lay their sons to rest this week, sad homecomings from a war zone. No politics here. Just a simple faith. "Lord, hasten the day when the Prince of Peace prevails in every heart on every side on every shore, that moms will need to grieve no more." Yesterday, we heard a witness from Joyce Kendall. She gathered from her suffering this word to share, "Faith for a miracle is easier to come by than trusting the Lord when no miracle seems to happen." But, she learned, God can be trusted. He comes at just the right moment. That's Isaiah's promise and John's announcement. These are the days we have to get ready. To become, not miracle resisters, but miracle receivers. Christmas is urgent! 'Just has to be!

Wanna move from humbug to hallelujah? Loose the chains that bind you day by day. Turn around. Open up. Clean up. Remember Jacob Marley, clankin' into Scrooge's bedroom, draggin' his wagon, across the floor? "What's up with all the links and locks?" asks Ebenezer. The ghastly ghost goes on to say, "I wear the chains I forged in life, inch by inch, yard by yard. It is a ponderous chain!" 'Turns out, ol' Eb's was longer 7 years before, and lengthening ever since. We've complained to somebody, sometime, "Hey, you're pullin' my chain!" Was this the kind you had in mind? And how long is it, anyway?

Wanna get away? Wanna get ready for the Hol(y)est (of) Ghosts?
Repent. That's John's message with Christmas comin'. Turn around. Unfasten yourself from the stuff you're draggin' that weighs you down. All the ego stuff. Your resentments. The fears that keep you wrapped so tight. Use it all to fill in the valleys that lay you low. 'So the Lord acomin' will have a straight plain to pass on. 'Mountains ahead of you this week. How many are fashioned of stuff you've piled up in your relationships? Pull them down; straighten them out this season so the Lord's highway will lead straight into your heart.

Open up. Receive the forgiveness God has been getting ready for you! Shopping, schmopping! Forgiveness gets us ready for Christmas. Receiving it. Offering it. Receiving a forgiving word means admitting we need it in the first place. That can be hard. But so liberating. What a chain buster! And forgiving somebody yet to acknowledge their sin, well, it can set you free. (Anger turns chain metal into steel. Grudges temper that steel.) No wonder it will take the hardness of the cross for Christ to, "break the power of cancelled sin," and, "set the prisoner free."

Clean up. Usually, that's a reference to baptism. Today, think of it as washing your hands and your heart before coming to the Lord's Table. It is urgently needed. It readies us to dine with him.

God can hardly wait. Angels are talking, tuning. John is stirring. Christ is ready. We are in need. O Christmas, you just have to be!

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