Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas - Eat the cookie!!


A man asked his wife what she wanted for Christmas. She said, “I’ll give you a hint. What I want goes from 0-200 in less than 5 seconds, and I want to see it in the driveway Christmas morning.” Christmas came and the woman ran out to see her gift. And there it was right in the driveway - a brand new, shiny bathroom scale!

Now, I don’t know about you, but although this is supposed to be the season of sugar plums dancing in our heads, and Joy to the World, for me it often feels like wartime. On one side of this war are you and me – good, upstanding citizens and faithful Christians. And our opponent? That plate of chocolate chip cookies that are so fresh from the oven that the chips are still melting. And that piece of pumpkin pie with the dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. And Grandma’s cobbler. And chocolate cake. This my friends is not mere spiritual warfare; no, this is gastrointestinal warfare.

This battle of the bulge takes place every year around this time. The double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas explodes our waistlines like a hand grenade. Our cholesterol and blood sugar say no, but our eyes and stomachs say yes, yes, yes. We always end up losing this battle, which means we have to make bold New Year’s predictions about eating tofu and drinking soy milk, which lasts until we open the fridge on New Year’s Day and see there’s one more piece of pecan pie left. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is oh, so sweet!

My friends, as we gather in this holy place tonight, of course, our minds are on the relevance of Christmas, on the reality that God came to us as a little baby boy in a manger, and the fact that this day reminds us that in the birth of Christ we find our opportunity to know God on a more intimate level. That is the reason for Christmas; and the purpose of our gathering. But, I want to pose a very different question tonight, not about the reasons, but about the outcome. What is the result of Christmas in our lives? How should our lives be different because of this event – both the birth we remember 2,000 years ago and the celebration we gather for tonight? One way is that our lives are supposed to be joyful and peaceful. We sing about just these things in all of our beautiful Christmas hymns. But, for many of us, the last few weeks and days before Christmas are anything but joyful and peaceful. One trip to the mall or post office in the last five days is all anyone needs to be reminded of how easily this season of anticipation turns into one of frustration. The problem is we add to that stress ourselves, and often fret over the things that we should be welcoming as joys. And in this season, that stress can distract us from what Christmas is all about.

Of all the times of the year, this is not supposed to be the season of stress. It’s not “God Fret You Worried Gentlemen” or “O Come All Ye Frazzled.” The archangel didn’t tell the shepherd, “Be afraid! I bring warnings of great stress!” He told them to NOT be afraid, his tidings were of great joy. The point is that in the midst of our stress, we sometimes refuse that joy, that happy, healthy, holy, life-giving joy that results from welcoming anew the birth of Christ.

This time of year, people love to bake and give all kinds of goodies. Our kitchen counters can lake any free space for all the sweets covering them. As I was reflecting on this notion of Christmas joy, I remembered one particular plate of M&M cookies that I received last year. It was a wonderful gift, and the kind person who gave them told us that a lot of love went into every one of those cookies. As I stood agonizing over whether to eat one or not, those red and green M&Ms were staring at me symbolizing the inner battle: stop, go, stop, go. I thought, “Should I? It’s only a few hours until dinner, and I certainly haven’t exercised; but I did have a salad for lunch. But, I probably shouldn’t.” And then I realized something. These cookies were a gift, made with love, and I was rationalizing why I shouldn’t accept this gift. It’s not the right time, it’s the not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift. Joy and love were given to me, and was looking for reasons to refuse that joy.

Think about this: what if the Blessed Mother had been so stressed out that she had refused joy offered her by the angel? She had every right to. She was in no position to take on the responsibility the angel was putting before her. She was engaged to Joseph. How would she explain this pregnancy? She could tell the truth, but who would believe her? She had every good reason to say no. But the angel told Mary that she would have a baby, and that baby would be named Jesus, and that He would be the very Son of God. And Mary finds herself at that plate of cookies, stressing out over this news. “How can this be?” she initially questions. If she accepts, she will be the vessel for a Divine gift; she will be the Mother of God. But it also means that very soon it will be obvious that there’s more than a cookie in her belly, which could lead to the destruction of her marriage and her reputation. She could even be put to death.

And yet, Mary says yes, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” She takes the risk and she accepts the gift of God’s joy; of God’s love; of God’s peace. There are a lot of reasons she could say no: not the right time, not the right place, not the right man, not the right plan. And yet, instead of weighing the pros and cons, instead of counting the costs, instead of listing the reasons to refuse the gift, Mary simply says “yes”. “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

So, my friends, today, I want you to say “yes” to Christmas. Say “yes” to the cookie! Eat and enjoy! Sing and be merry! January’s coming soon enough. There will be plenty of time to eat right, drink bottled water, take vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. So this Christmas, I want you to eat the cookie. I want you to open your heart; open your life and accept the joy of the birth of our Savior.

True Christmas is, of course, about more than the joys of a cookie. In fact, the reality is that the joys we refuse are more often spiritual and eternal; and far more meaningful and transformative. The joy that we are guilty of leaving behind is the joy of accepting God’s loving gift, of letting Christ bless us, and giving ourselves to follow Jesus. Christmas is more than a chance to eat and open presents. It’s also a chance to open ourselves to Jesus, and to be filled, to be satisfied, to be nourished, to be strengthened, as only the presence of Jesus can do. It’s a time to recommit ourselves to God and to recommit our lives to worshiping and serving Him. It’s a chance to let the remembrance of the birth of Christ so long ago, lead to a new birth of Christ within us, right here, tonight. His birth was not only life-changing 2,000 years ago; the result of His birth is meant to be life-changing for each of us gathered in this holy place tonight.

And yet, we don’t have to accept God’s joy any more than Mary had to. We can say “no”, and continue to let stress rule our lives, to be more concerned about holing back than serving others, more concerned about counting costs than reaping true rewards, more concerned about what we can’t have in our lives; what someone else has that’s better than ours; than what we’re truly missing in our lives. We too can say, “It’s not the right time, it’s not the right place, I haven’t earned such a gift.” Well, none of us have, but we’ve been given it just the same. And there’s never a wrong time or a wrong place to recommit ourselves to following Jesus. This is the season of joy; of love and of peace. Have we felt that joy yet? Have we embraced the joy of this season? Or in our stress have we refused the joy God offers us as a free gift?

Now, I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to come to me next month with a frown on your face. Your belt will be a notch looser, and you may even be waddling a bit. And you’ll say, “Father, I did what you said, I ate that cookie, and now I weigh five pounds more than before Christmas!” And I’ll say, “Me too. But, how did your cookie taste?” And your eyes will glaze over, and you’ll look up, and with a big smile on your face, you’ll say, “It was awesome.”

My friends, in this very moment, the gift of Christ; the gift of joy, love and peace; is once again being offered to each of us. What will you do? It’s all up to you. But if you ask me, I’d eat the cookie, I’d get on my knees tonight and thank God for the gift of His Son and welcome that joy; that truest of joys, in to the depths of my heart. And only then can we all say, “Thank you Lord. It was truly awesome!”

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas and may God give you His joy.

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