Christmas Eve 2017 10:30 PM
“Some Assembly Required” its one of parents more feared phrases to find on a child’s toy, especially on Christmas Eve. Whether its bicycles, remote control cars, Barbie houses, there’s nothing so challenging as “some assembly required.” Somehow, even with instructions that come in seven different languages the instruction manuals remain unintelligible.
A pastor, Cliff Stewart, shares a story of back in the 90’s sending his parents a microwave oven for Christmas. Here's how he recalls the experience: "They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles… into frowns! Even after reading the directions, they couldn't make it work.
He goes on to tell that two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. “To get this darn thing to work,” she exclaimed, “I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'"
Its my guess there will be a lot of technological gifts like that this year, where unless they come with a member of Geek squad or a family member under the age of 18 they won’t be able to work despite the best instruction books. Pastor Stewart goes on to point out “When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son.”
That is why we gather here tonight, and why so many of the faithful gather in congregations across the land, the globe to celebrate the present of God that first Christmas and it was the power of presence. When someone is present there doesn’t have to be a lot of instructions or dialogue to have a positive difference.
I believe it was Woody Allen that eclectic film maker who responded to an interviewer’s question of “what’s the secret to success?” by saying, “80% of success is just showing up.” Often we make things more complicated than they really are by piling all this pressure on ourselves to accomplish this, excel at that, wow folks with this, and impress them with that…when all we really need to do is show up!
The old date movie “Jerry McGuire” with Tom Cruise and Renee Zellwinger has that oft quoted line “you had me at hello.” It’s a line that comes at the climax of the movie after Jerry realizes he’s been prioritizing all the wrong things as a big-name sports agent- contracts and deals instead of friendships and love. Convinced he needs to save his marriage he charters a plane home from the game to find his wife hosting a Christmas party full of men bashers. Jerry decides to try to talk things out right in front of the entire “hen’s club” only to have Renee deliver the famous line “you had me at hello.” Again, emphasizing that his being there said more to her than any sales speech he ever could have concocted.
There is power in just being present with someone. I can’t tell you how many erratic heartbeats I’ve seen settle down into a healthy rhythm once a loved on without a word has taken that person’s hand. That’s the power of “presence” not presents. And that’s what we celebrate God coming to us, not the other way around.
The CEO of the entire universe, the brain power behind the big bang, the surgeon who knits each one of us together in our mother’s womb has come to us, to be with us, one of us, among us, and love us. That powerful presence that doesn’t need some assembly required but simply a believing and loving heart.
I remember my older sister getting her first postage stamp apartment. It was so small that when the Murphy bed came down it almost hit the stove. I thought she’d be ecstatic at having the freedom and independence she’s so loudly complained about not having at home when she’d stomp up the stairs and slam her door. Instead she confided in me it wasn’t that great. I asked, “Why? Because its so small?” She said, that didn’t bother her at all, what bothered her was how lonely and scared she was without anyone around.
A week later I checked on her and she said she was so much better! I asked, “Why? What changed?” She replied, she’d gone to Wal-Mart and got a gold fish. Now she had the company of “Charlie the Goldfish” It made all the difference.
The power of presence is not something to be underestimated even if it’s a goldfish named “Charlie.” Often that power of presence is only truly appreciated when we are forced to experience the power of absence. There is nothing as lonely, depressing, and fearful as facing the holidays without a loved one. How we wish they could be present just one more time. How wonderful it would be to be in their presence again.
Too often we mistake the message of Christmas for the “presents!” The gifts given this night instead of the “presence” of God given that Holy Night. No amount of wrapped goodies can restore our hope, rekindle our love, or light our fire for life. As the lyrics of one modern Christmas classic “My grown up Christmas list” made popular by contemporary Christian Artist Amy Grant puts it
As children we believe -The grandest sight to see- Was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree- But Heaven only knows - That packages and bows
Can never heal a heartached human soul
We come together tonight in worship to experience the power of God’s presence, to retell the story of God showing up on our doorstep dressed in human flesh. To proclaim once again we are not alone in the universe but accompanied by a God who cares enough to be with us- Emmanuel.
By the way thanks… for showing up tonight. In God’s eyes your Christmas is a success. You’ve recognized the reason for the season. Your presence here this evening says it all. It’s not all about presents, sparkling trees, sweet candy canes. It’s about “presence,” God’s presence in your life.
Be assured that recognizing God’s coming to us in his son, Jesus, brings gifts we wouldn’t normally have and desperately want. The gifts of God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul lists in Galatians as “Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control” (Gal 5:22-23)
God being present on this earth, brought us the gifts of: forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and life eternal. These gifts allow us the ability to endure the absence of loved ones because we have the hope of being reunited with them for an eternity. No more absence, all present, all in our presence and the all loving presence of God.
That is why we make such a big deal of Christ’s birth. That is why we celebrate with such gusto this occasion when God made usch an effort to be with us, working things out. Its kind of like saying, “God you had me at hello.” Hello Christ, Hello Salvation and Hello Joy. The presence of God, our Emmanuel makes all the difference. No assembly required only a believing loving heart. Go with the presence of God this night and always and forever Amen.