Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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What Will You Give the World for Christmas?

Colossians 3:12-17
            One of our Christmas traditions, for good or evil, probably evil in this case, is Christmas clothes. Christmas pajamas, Christmas socks, and everyone’s favorite: Ugly Christmas sweaters! Personally, I don’t do sweaters. I am too hot-blooded for them. But I did wear my Grinch tie today. 
            Christmas is a holiday so special that it deserves special clothes. Well, there is a biblical connection there. In Colossians 3, Paul is talking about changing clothes. In verse 10, he says, “Clothe yourselves with a brand new nature.” 
            Once again, I think there is a tie to my tie. What happens to the Grinch? His nature is changed by his experience of Christmas. His heart grows three sizes. He goes from being self-centered and mean to thoughtful and generous. I’ve always liked How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but I never thought until now that there is a Gospel connection there. 
            You and I are to put on a new nature because we represent Christ. We show Christ to the world. That should define who we are and how we act!
            Perhaps the single greatest test of ethics might be to ask ourselves the question, “Can I do it in the name of Christ?” Can I insult my neighbor in the name of Christ? No. Can I pray for my neighbor in the name of Christ? Yes. Can I ignore that homeless person freezing on the street in the name of Christ? No. Can I buy him a hot meal and a coat in the name of Christ? Yes. Can I steal from my workplace or cheat on my taxes in the name of Christ? No. Can I practice honesty and integrity in the name of Christ? Yes. It changes the equation, doesn’t it? We might act a lot differently if we took the time to ask ourselves that question now and then.
            “Since God has chosen us to be a holy people….” The word holy means different, set apart, not like the rest of the world. Since God has chosen us to be a holy people, whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with…
            …tenderhearted mercy. The Greek word could also be translated as pity. Pity in the best sense of the word. Pity meaning the inability to ignore the suffering of others.
            The first century world was a place short on pity. Orphans and widows were left to fend for themselves. The sick were left to die. The disabled were ignored. Children that were born with birth defects were typically “exposed,” meaning they were taken to the edge of town and left there to die of cold or starvation. Christianity changed that. Early Christians built hospitals for the sick, orphanages for abandoned children, homes for the disabled, and organized social welfare programs to provide for widows and the poor. It was these acts of pity that helped to change the mind of the world about the early Church.
            Clothe yourselves with kindness. Kindness is the choice to think of others as much as yourself. It is love in action.
            Clothe yourselves with humility. Most cultures in the ancient world had little place for humility. People were expected to try to build themselves up, to promote themselves above others. But Christians are to be humble. We are to think of ourselves as less than God and no more than others.
            Clothe yourselves with gentleness. The word gentleness refers to being under control of one’s emotions. The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined it as “always being angry at the right time and never being angry at the wrong time.” The person who is gentle is angry at injustice, but never angry at petty personal matters.
            Clothe yourselves with patience. Patience is similar to gentleness. It is the ability to stand up under hardship, even abuse, without losing one’s temper. 
            We should notice that all of these virtues deal with interpersonal relationships. Representing Christ is not so much about being punctual or efficient or industrious. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those. But they are not as important as how we relate to each other.
            This was something that made Christianity unique in the first century landscape. Most people in the first century world were religious. They went to religious occasions. They celebrated holy days. They offered sacrifices. But most religions made no ethical demands. There was no expectation of a change in personal conduct. You honored the gods with your gifts, not your conduct. Christianity was different. The Christian religion said “Do everything as a representative of Christ.”
            And if the most important gift we have received from God is the gift of forgiveness, then one of the most important ways we represent Christ is by forgiving one another. 
            We have never found forgiveness easy. It is a challenge to our pride to forgive. Often we are simply unwilling to move beyond the personal affront that someone has given us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we ignore the wrong that has been done. Forgiveness means that we value people and relationships more than our pride. 
            When we forgive others, then we bear witness by our actions to God’s purposes in the world. God’s purpose in Christ is to give peace, peace between people and God, and peace within our human relationships. When we forgive, we demonstrate what God is doing in the world.
            And the most important piece of clothing that we must put on is love. The word here is the Greek word AGAPE, which describes a certain type of love, the kind of love God has for us. AGAPE is the willingness to deny ourselves so that we might serve one another. 
            Finally, let peace rule in your hearts and be thankful in all circumstances.
            How do we get dressed like this? How do we dress with these virtues that represent Christ? 
            The answer is that we must let the words of Christ dwell in our hearts. We need to be saturated with the word of God. The Holy Spirit works through God’s word and brings that transformation, that renewal, through the word. 
            So Paul says, “Teach and counsel one another with God’s word. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” 
            Why is worship mentioned here? Well, because that was how people learned the word of God. We’re talking about a society where written materials were quite rare. We take it for granted that most people, even if they are not Christians, probably still own a Bible. If they don’t, they can go to the store and buy one for a few dollars. Or they could get one for free from a church or from the Gideons or the Salvation Army. But in the first century, most churches would only own one copy of the Scriptures. And the Scriptures they had would have been the Old Testament only. It took about a century before the writings of the New Testament, the words of Jesus, were widely distributed throughout the Church. So people learned God’s word through song. 
            But I think there is an additional value to worship. I believe worship is good for us. Worship reminds us that there is more to life than just our experiences. Worship changes our perspective. Worship lifts us up out of ourselves and puts our focus on God. I believe worship is essential. I don’t think anyone can truly live a Christian life without regular worship. 
            What I’m trying to say in all of this is that the best gift that we can give the world, at Christmas time, or any time, is to show the world what Christ is truly like by who we are, how we live, what we do, and what we say. 
            We don’t always do the best job of that. At the time I started working on this sermon, the “Starbucks Christmas cup flap” was breaking. Do you remember that? I hope not. Apparently, some Christians were upset that Starbucks Christmas cups had nothing about Christmas on them. Or so the story went. I think the truth of the matter is that it was a really small number of people who were actually upset. But it fit the media spin on Christians. Christians are easily offended. Christians get all worked about the silliest things. Christians demand their own way in society. 
            We don’t have the best public image anymore. I recently read a book by Philip Yancey called, “Vanishing Grace.” His point is that Christians have spent too much time and energy focusing on politics and a handful of social issues rather than sharing the good news or showing the world what Christ is like. He says we need to do more acts of justice and mercy, and less protesting. We need to demonstrate the love of God, not demand our own way. I have a hard time arguing with him. 
            That’s the best gift we can give the world; to show the world what God is like.
            I think this is a good passage to think about as we contemplate a new year. Maybe you make New Year’s resolutions; maybe you don’t. Most often our resolutions are “to lose 10 pounds and spend less money.” Maybe we should make New Year’s resolutions like: Forgive my neighbor. Help the homeless. Think less of myself and more of others. And do a better job of showing the world what my God is really like. 

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