All I Want For Christmas Is Faith
✠ Each Sunday of Advent, leading up to Christmas, our sermons have focused on something that we might want for Christmas.
Not something that we will find sitting under a tree wrapped in a package. But something we need inside of ourselves, in our hearts and souls.
What are the things we need to live in these times? Because these are unsettling times. There is a collective anxiety going around as the national mood and circumstances in our own personal lives are stretching us. A lot of people feel lonely, lost, and scared.
So what do followers of Jesus Christ really need to live in times such as these?
The first three Sundays of Advent we noted that peace, stability and courage are things we want for Christmas.
We need peace because we worry.
We need stability and the depth it brings because it is so easy to get knocked over by adversity.
We need courage because it is easy to be afraid.
This morning we come to the fourth thing we might want for Christmas: faith.
When I speak of faith, I’m not talking about faith in the government, or faith in the world situation getting better, or faith in the goodness of humanity, or your team making the playoffs, or even faith in religion. For several years Macy’s department store had a Christmas advertising promotion that just said, “Believe!” Believe in what? In who? Macy’s didn’t tell us. And everyone was just fine with that.
The faith I lift up for us this morning is faith in God: Faith that God is with us. Faith that God can. Faith that God is moving even when it seems otherwise.
Faith in God can be the healing balm for our anxiety.
A woman who was a part of one of the previous churches I pastored shared a story with me from her Alcoholics Anonymous group. At one meeting, they were discussing step three of the twelve steps. The third step is when we have "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
A woman in the group stood up and was talking about the anxiety in her life which was experiencing, and said that she had come to realize "anxiety is a symptom of low grade atheism." Think about that.
She said “anxiety is a symptom of low grade atheism.”
Is there a low grade atheism running around, and is it part of why we are on the verge of a societal nervous breakdown? We really don’t have faith that God is present? Or we really aren’t allowing him into the picture? Or we aren’t open to him breaking into our world and our lives?
All I want for Christmas is faith.
✠ Mary had faith in God.
Gabriel is sent from God to speak to Mary the message that she will conceive and give birth to a son who will be the Son of the Most High God and will have a kingdom. When she hears this Mary questions, “How can this be?” She knows she has not been with a man.
First thing about faith in God: it questions. It wonders. Throughout the story of God in the Bible we find people wrestling with God, wondering about God, and asking questions. And God invites that. Questions are not anti-faith. Trying to figure out life and how God is working does not mean we don’t have faith.
The answer to Mary’s question is that the Holy Spirit will come over her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her.
This miraculous birth will take place in this way because if Jesus is the Son of God, then his birth has to be absolutely unique and of God. To help and save us he has to be divine. Jesus was more than an exalted man. God did something in Mary through the Holy Spirit. And we can’t fathom how that happened.
It’s a mystery. But faith doesn’t seek to explain away the mystery. It seeks to live in it.
It says when Mary heard all of this she was troubled. Gabriel tells her to not be afraid. Just because I have faith in God doesn’t mean I won’t be upset at times. We can have faith even as we shed tears or feel low. Jesus had perfect faith and still shook like a leaf in Gethsemane.
Faith is being open to God. Faith says this can happen. Faith is open to possibility beyond understanding. Faith hangs on and says, “God, I don’t understand it all, I don’t see it all, but I am going to hang onto you for dear life.”
And this faith is not in our ability to have faith. We do this, don’t we? We feel our faith is weak and small, and many times it is, and we get down on ourselves. But we aren’t the object of our faith. God is. Faith rests upon the Lord.
Mary was told, “For God nothing will be impossible.” The message was not, “For you nothing will be impossible if you have enough faith.” No, the emphasis was on God. God is the one who can bring his word to fruition. Mary is merely asked to be available and receptive to what can happen.
Faith is not always knowing where it is all going. Mary had no idea. Joseph had no idea. Faith doesn’t mean it will all be easy and smooth. It wasn’t smooth for Mary, Joseph or Jesus.
But, in the events surrounding the birth of Christ, it is those who have faith and who are open to God’s great possibilities, who are the ones who receive and see the blessedness of God. It is Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the like who get to see and experience the in-breaking of God.
They didn’t have absolute understanding. But they just didn’t have a lot of spiritual blockage.
✠ God was able to enter this world because some people had faith. And not particularly educated, super-religious or well-to-do people. God tends to come more when there is faith.
There is a line in the Gospel of Mark that says that Jesus Christ could do no deed of power in his hometown except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Their lack of faith seemed to close doors.
We might think the people in the Gospels didn’t have the sophisticated problems we have in our day. They had Herod and taxes. They worried about what was boiling over in the nations around them. Living under Roman occupation was no picnic as Jews struggled and longed for independence. The powerful exploited the poor. There were mass killings. Jesus’ family ended up fleeing their home as refugees.
Their world was shaking, just as it continues to shake today. It has always been a rough place. It will always be a rough place.
The words of the prophet Isaiah were as true for them as it still is for us. There were people walking in deep darkness who longed to see a great light.
Some people might say that they have lost their faith because they thought faith was having some kind of inner peace and equilibrium that gives them comfort., and they don’t feel that. Then when they come to struggle with the real difficulties and burdens of life, and face something larger than they can handle on their own, they become aware of their own weakness, and it becomes too hard to believe.
Self-confidence is something everyone must have, but it is not the same thing as faith.
Faith is much deeper, and it must be deep enough to hold when we are weak, sick, scared, and when we don’t know where it’s all going to end up.
Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk and writer, said when people reach the point where they can no longer see the way and guide themselves by their own light, then they stop. It’s because they have no confidence in anyone except themselves.” This is when faith is nothing more than “emotional illusion. It is rooted in feelings…in their temperament.”
When we find our own strength isn’t enough, or when we discover we were not as good as we thought we were, and we realize “we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.” But when we come to the end of ourselves, we can start with God.
It’s the most natural thing in the world to ask why God is allowing things as they are? I’ll bet Mary asked it a hundred times from the time she was told she would conceive the Christ to the time she saw him nailed to a cross.
Maybe God is shaking us from holding on to false confidences and from finding our security in things that really don’t last. Maybe he is shaking us to show that only he is real. He wants us to live in closer and greater trust of him.
A Jesuit priest who had been condemned for his opposition to Hitler and was eventually put to death in a Nazi prison said that in the face of turmoil what the world needs are people who have been through great calamities, but who have come out of them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him.
In other words, people who have been through the fire but have come through, and know that still the Lord remains.
Do I believe God is in control? In spite of the turmoil is he still on the throne?
God came into a world just as dark as ours and made himself just as vulnerable as us when he came in Jesus Christ. He did this to show us who God is. And John tells us in his gospel that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”
I hope you receive him and believe on him today.
✠ The message this morning is not that faith in God is always easy. I don’t think it is. But it is what we need.
It says this in the book of Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Mary didn’t ask, “How will I know?” She asked, “How will this be?” Maybe that’s the question we need to ask ourselves. Not for God to make everything plain, but to open us to see how he is mysteriously working.
Mary opened herself to God in faith.
It didn’t mean she understood every detail, or that she had all the answers, or that she didn’t struggle as things went on. But if God is God then all things are possible for him. Which doesn’t mean that all things will happen, but that all things can happen.
Faith will always lead us to more than we can possibly imagine. God as an infant. Salvation and peace with God through a cross.
And it convicts us that God will not take us somewhere only to abandon us.
He is God with us. Emmanuel.
May strong and enduring faith in him be the kind of faith you get for Christmas. Amen.