I have reached the age where I am officially boring and predictable when it comes to Christmas presents.
I ask for socks, shirts and sweaters.
I usually get socks, shirts and sweaters, because that is what I ask for.
Boring, predictable, not too difficult to buy for, that’s me.
Now there was a time when I was much more adventurous! As a child I would follow the trends of what the “hot” Christmas toys were for that year.
There was the year of the Chemistry Set, which seemed during the years following the Space Race like a good idea; to teach little children about science and to instill in them a love for experimentation.
Of course, back then no one thought of the practicality or potential danger of setting loose ten-year-olds with alcohol flame Bunsen burners, frail glass test tubes, sharp glass slides, and mixtures of volatile chemicals in their bedrooms or in their basements. While we could have learned about agents, re-agents and specific gravity, what we mostly wanted to do was learn how to blow things up! So, like good terrorists wanna-be’s we mixed together random samplings of the chemicals provided in the kit in our test tubes to see what would happen, or after unwrapping it and squealing with delight, we would look at it blankly and ask, “What do I do with it now?”
There was the year of the Commodore 64. You know, the “real computer” that William Shatner hawked, with all 64 kilobytes of memory. That sounded great, and gave you illusions that with just a little set up you would be engaged in the world of cutting edge technology.
But then you discovered that it didn’t really do anything unless you laboriously inputted a string of boring code, and that it had to be hooked up to the television and, then you would be competing with your own cartoons, or mom’s soap operas, or dad’s weather program. Eventually the keyboard would lie to the side of the T.V. “What do I do with it now?”
Even as I got older, and my tastes turned to other things, the lure of the trendy and the shiny persisted. The piece of technology, the coveted tool, the kitchen item that promised to make your life easier, your food healthier, cut your preparation time in half.
And, just like all those other coveted items of my youth, after the initial thrill of receiving it, the same dull reality settles in.
Now just what do I do with this?
I wonder if Christmas isn’t a bit like that.
We come to it with great expectation. We look for something to happen, in the music, the candles, the decorations and the setting. We build it up in our minds so high, that “perfect Christmas” moment.
We hear the story once again, and think of the manger, the baby, the shepherds and angels. We come for all these familiar pieces of the Christmas experience, but then the time comes to blow the candle out after singing “Silent Night”, and we find ourselves pondering. “Just what do we do with this now?”
I have grown more practical in my middle age. Not so much interested in the newest and latest and shiny things, now I want some practicality. I ask for socks, shirts and sweaters, and that is what I get.
Dare I think that God is after some practicality as well in this Christmas story?
If you want to know what all of this is about, what to do with the events of the manger for the rest of the year, then the reading from Titus gives you an answer. Oh, I admit, it is a bit dull, and filled with big words, but it is a comment on what all this Christmas stuff is about in terms of what God is up to in practicality.
Here is the deal, we humans have long asked for God to do something.
For long ages, since Isaiah, we have been asking for God to come and establish justice and righteousness, and to do something with this sin-sick world.
And so, Titus gets right down to it as matter-of-factly as socks, shirts and sweaters.”
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us….”
That is what God is up with this baby born in a manger thing. He is bringing salvation to all by training us.
We asked for God to come and get up close and personal and show us what to do and how to live; and so in Jesus, God does just that.
God gets up close, personal, vulnerable, and rather than coming in flash and pomp and circumstance and making a great, newest, latest, best, brightest splash on the human scene, God starts out with us the way that we all have to start out, quite literally with “baby steps.”
“Training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions,” Titus says. It will take baby steps to teach us how to renounce worldly passions, for we so love them. You don’t do that all at once or one day.
“Training us to live lives that are self controlled, upright and godly,” Titus says.
That too, is no small task, for so much of the time we are out of control and rather like it that way. We rush and run from here to there, flitting from this new thing to the next. Self control is not something we are particularly good at, and so to be trained in that will take a living example.
“Training us to wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and savior,” Titus says. Wait? You know how hard it is for us to wait???
“Training us… through Jesus Christ.”
Baby steps, and about as boring and predictable as socks, sweaters and shirts. This is the way God comes in Christmas.
God comes this way because God knows that we will need to see this, and to make our way slowly into this new Kingdom that is promised.
We will need to watch this Jesus grow.
We will need to move slowly, tentatively as we begin to live, and to watch what this Jesus does and says.
We will need to be shown step by step the way that God chooses to move in this world to bring about the longed for Kingdom, as we watch Jesus move.
We will need to watch his actions, and then little by little, in that training that happens by watching the life of Jesus, we learn to dare to do what he has shown us it is possible to do, which is ultimately to give of ourselves.
We will need to watch Jesus do that before we are willing to try it as well, and when we do then we will finally get what we originally asked for at last: Justice and Righteousness for all. Salvation for all.
“He it is who gave himself for us,” Titus says, “that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own.”
In this training that Jesus comes to give us with his own life, he makes of us a people, who are to be zealous for good deeds.
In this training that comes from watching God come as a baby to live among us, we are made into a people, who finally know how to live, and what to do, as God had envisioned this world from the start.
There is the boring practicality of this story.
Here is what God is up to, he is coming to train us personally. To show us what to do, and how to live, and God does it with his Grace, and with his love, and with his vulnerability in coming as a baby.
Love came down, to show us love.
Love came down, to show us how to move our feet.
Love came down, to clothe us in righteousness, because we could not clothe ourselves.
It’s not flashy.
It’s like socks, shoes, and sweaters though… I know what to do with them. I know how to put them to use. I know their purpose.
And so when we blow the candle out tonight after Silent Night, here is the deal, and I know it’s not flashy or trendy or the latest, greatest thing, but what we are supposed to do with this story is to watch it unfold, and begin to live into it.
We are to watch what Jesus does, and to take a few baby steps at being the people that Jesus called us to be, showed us how to be, with his own life.
We are to watch what Jesus does, and in seeing what he does, also become someone who is zealous to do a good deed or two.
Watch what Jesus does, how he grows, learns and gives, and then give that a try in your own life.
Boring, predictable, socks, shirts and sweater kind of stuff I know, but this is how God chooses to change the world. In practical ways through practical, mundane things, that takes place within ordinary time, and in a world that largely ignores those events.
Like a baby born in a manger that few will even notice, that is how the change in the world begins.
Like the baby step taken by a few folks who hear this story, who say, “I’m going to try to be more like what God is Christ Jesus trained me to be.”
That’s how the world is changed. That’s what we are to do with Christmas. Amen.