From Humbug to Hallelujah! "Here I am"

Christmas is coming… without delay. So we need to get ready. Shape up; get it together. After all, this is more than a matter of naughty or nice. There are angels on the wing and messages on the air. When the phone rings, the email pops up, the text message streams in, it's important to know who's calling, especially these days. When we send a message, we need to be clear who's answering. And when an answer is required of us, we need to know what to say. I'm told a colleague of mine got a phone call. No doubt, in the middle of this season's hurried preparations. An elderly woman on the other end of the line said, "May I speak to Martha, please?" "There's no one here by that name," the pastor replied. Click! The phone went dead. A few seconds later the phone rang again. Same lady. "May I speak to Martha, please?" Again, "There's no one here by that name." Click! Seconds later, ring! "May I speak to Martha, please?" The pastor replied, with great restraint, "Madame, there's no one here by that name. Maybe you're dialing the wrong number." "Listen, Sonny," the woman snapped. "I'm not dialing the wrong number. You must be answering the wrong phone!" Imagine if the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel had gone like that! Thank God it didn't. Or we'd still be waiting for the first Christmas. No, Mary knew. The voice of God addressed her, speaking through his angel. Gabriel knew he had come to just the right household. And Mary knew just how to answer… with absolute trust. If Christmas is coming, here, to us, this is the stuff we need to know!

Come Christmas, we need to know who's calling. Who's coming. We're not just waiting for a call that says our holiday order has been shipped. Leave that for the Ebay shoppers and on-line enthusiasts. We're not just wondering if our Wish Big bargains have now arrived at the local Sears. No, what we're listening for can only be confirmed at the Nazareth and Bethlehem locations. And it's offered by a different company altogether, Heavenly Host, Inc., I do believe. This coming Christmas call is nothing less than the answer to ages of ardent prayer. And its message has the power to turn our lives inside out and upside down!

You and I live in an age that makes this incoming call, this Christmas, so… well… penny ante. No real change in our lives required. No real impact on our "World News Tonight" or "Fair and Balanced" broadcasts. No real claim on our lives for more than an hour, or maybe a few of them a week. Who here truthfully expects otherwise? Mary knew better from the start. She knew who was calling! "A shoot from the stump of Jesse," (a holy hope 1000 years old by Mary's day). "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; wisdom, understanding, guidance and might." At long last, someone whose heart's delight is to hold the Lord in awe. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or ears hear; but with a right relationship to God and to God's children." Imagine this if you will. "With [just] the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked." Oh, and, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. The leopard shall lie down with the kid." Why, this "little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain; for this [sorry] earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord." (Isaiah 11: 1-9, sel.) Why, should the world see a birth like this, just one little child like this, one solitary life like this, it would be enough to convert the whole human family! Even if it took a couple thousand years to do it, one at a time!

When we say, after Gabriel came to call, Mary was expecting, she was expecting so much more than a baby. She was expecting absolutely everything in her life and her world, even her eternity to be changed. Are you expecting anything like that, should Christmas really come to call for you? In our church there's a papa. I got permission to share a word from him. He's been in trouble. With drugs. With the law. With his family. While experiencing the hospitality of the county (jail), shall we say, one of the ministries and ministers there took him under wing. Things began to change for him. He got clean. 'Got straight. 'Got that call, kind of like Mary, that God was going to do a mighty thing in his life through Jesus. Now he's home. A baby. A job. A life. Gettin' life right. Ask him if it was the baby that really did it. This is what he'll tell you. "My baby helped. But God's baby made all the difference." That's who's coming! Who's calling for you. Mary knew. This new papa knows. Do you? This Child can change: everything!
Come Christmas, Heaven and the angels need to know Christmas is coming to the right address! God in heaven wants to bring Christmas to the right place. The Jesus miracle requires open hearts to prepare him room. It was true in Mary's heart. It's true in ours. Now's not the time or place for mistaken identity! I happened on our pre-school class here for devotions Friday. Joy and Marlene, helping get the kids ready for the true meaning of Christmas. Some questions, and surprising answers. It reminded me of another class of 5 year olds, asked the name of Jesus' mother. "Mary," came the proud answer. "And his father?" Pause! "Virgil," came the timid answer. "How did you guess that?" asked Teacher. "'Cause when my mommy puts the people in the manger, she always says, 'And now for Virg' and Mary!'" We can do better. Gabriel did. "Hail Mary, O favored one!" he says. But has he come to the right place? He will listen, deeply, to be sure.

We can listen too, and learn. Gabriel found in Mary, a heart with unshakable confidence. God will do what God has promised. In Mary there is an eye, open to the possibility that a single, holy birth can make all things new. God is so powerful and present in this moment that all he has to do is say it's coming, and it's as though the thing is already done. And all that's evil or opposing or uncommitted is on its last legs. (Don't you want to live your life in a faith, a knowledge, a trust, a world like that?) Why just listen to Mary explain it to her cousin Elizabeth, even before her baby's born. "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, He's regarded my low estate, his handmaiden…. He's so mighty, so holy, he's done great things for me…. He has [already] scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He's [already] put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He's [already] filled the hungry with good things. And the rich? Why, he's sent them away empty. He's helped his chosen, remembered them with his mercy, just like he promised. And there'll be no end to it!" Mary's heart was the right address, come Christmas. Yours? Mine?

Come Christmas, you and I need to know how to answer when Christ comes to call! Once our hearts are right, like Mary, we'll need to know just how to respond. Oh, she ponders Gabriel's greeting, and worries at his word at first. But here's what she says when she understands Christmas is coming, through her. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." (1:38). The Christ Child is accepted, and human history is changed forever. Do we really want this baby, this Christmas? Then we're gonna need to respond, much like Mary.
And willing to embrace the Christ Child and let him make all the difference in our lives? Maybe we could practice up this morning.
Won't you try it out with me? "Here I am, servant of the Lord."

The next few days are going to be a celebration. But also filled with stress. *What a great time to say, every morning, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." When you're traveling to visit relatives, and the kids are in the back seat bickering, or the traffic is snarled, or the plane's delayed, or the guy next to you is annoying, what a great time to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." Late Christmas Eve, when the presents aren't yet wrapped, and there's still "some assembly required" in a bag filled with 200 pieces, what a great time to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord."
When you go back to work, your boss or your coworkers are cutting corners, and you feel pressured to do the wrong thing, what a great time to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." Back at school, when others make fun you're not dressed in the hot new style, or you're tempted to poke fun at somebody else, or someone pushes you to do something you don't believe in, what a great time to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." When people show disregard for the homeless, disdain for immigrants, distrust toward people of different beliefs, or despair there will ever be peace on earth and good will to its women, children and men, what a great time to say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." You can say it out of habit, for comfort, to feel reconnected with God. You can say it as a prayer for help to do what you know God wants you to do. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." (* Kirk Moore)

Christ is coming. Christ is calling. He hopes for our heart to be just the right address. And he is waiting for our answer to his call. Wouldn't it be something if this very week, he heard us saying by the hundreds, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Bring your Christmas. And we will bear it into the world!"

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