Third Week Of Advent Christmas Sermon

December 7, 2011

In his book Horns and Halos, Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton tells about one of the weirdest auction sales in history; and it was held in Washington, D.C., in 1926, where 150,000 patented models of old inventions were declared obsolete and placed on the auction block for public auction. Prospective buyers and on-lookers chuckled as item after item was put up for bid; such as a “bed-bug buster” or an “illuminated cat” that was designed to scare away mice. Then there was a device to prevent snoring. It consisted of a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear; and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbors. And then there was the adjustable pulpit that could be raised or lowered according to the height of the preacher.

Needless to say, this auction of old patent models was worth at least 150,000 laughs; but if we would look into this situation a little deeper, we would discover that these 150,000 old patent models also represent 150,000 broken dreams. (1) They represented a mountain of disappointments.

It may seem inappropriate to talk about broken dreams and disappointments this close to Christmas. After all, this is the season to be jolly. But it’s not jolly for everybody, is it? For those who have lost loved ones this is the loneliest time of the year. And in a world that glorifies materialism, those who are struggling financially may find it to be most disappointing.

Our friend John the Baptist knew about disappointment. John is in prison now and he’s looking for a sign ” a sign that the long-awaited Messiah has really arrived. That’s ironic, don’t you think? John the Baptist is the one who first proclaimed his coming. But much has happened to John since we last saw him preaching and baptizing people in the wilderness, and now his heart is cast down.

You’ll remember John’s message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This message burned in John’s soul. John wasn’t afraid to proclaim his message to religious leaders and royalty alike. He wasn’t even afraid to proclaim it to King Herod himself. That was why he was in jail.

This was not the King Herod who was the ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus; this was his son, Herod Antipas, who turned out to be worse than his father. Herod Antipas seduced and later married his brother’s wife, but first he killed his brother. The nation was in shock. John the Baptist condemned the king’s behavior and was placed in prison. While in prison John realized that his career as a prophet would soon be ended. His life would be over as well.

There was one thing that John wanted to know before he died. John wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt if Jesus was really the Messiah. Can you blame him? He had given everything he had ” including, in a matter of days, his very life. He wanted to know, has it all been in vain? Is it all an illusion – a dream? In the wilderness John had believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but in the face of certain death he has some doubts. He wanted to know for sure. So he sent some of his followers to find Jesus and ask him, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”

You see, John the Baptist found himself in a disappointing and disheartening predicament. Things were not working out like he had expected. Sometimes that happens. Disappointment.

Particularly at Christmas. This is not an easy time of year. A few years back there was a haunting country song that went like this, “If we make it through December….” Some of you know the meaning of those words. “If we make it through December….” It was December for John the Baptist. He was hurting in Herod’s prison. He was hurting physically and he was hurting emotionally. He was gripped with disappointment.

John Was Disappointed, First of all, Because He Had Different Expectations of What a Messiah Would Do.

He was a product of his time. He expected the same kind of Messiah everyone else expected ” one who would drive out the despised Romans and establish the kingdom of God. While languishing in prison John must have wondered why more wasn’t happening. What’s he waiting for? he must have thought to himself time and time again. Why doesn’t he drive the Roman dogs out? He was disappointed because of his faulty expectations.

Leo Buscalgia learned about that kind of disappointment as a teenager. He writes, “I remember the sudden appearance under my family’s Christmas tree of the largest present I had ever hoped to see. It stood at least a foot taller than I and was twice as heavy; and wonder of wonders, it had my name on it. For two whole weeks before Christmas, this present towered above all others and it defied any conventional attempts to learn of its contents before its time.”

During the weeks leading up to Christmas he could think of nothing else but his present under the tree. He imagined all sorts of terrific presents. On Christmas Day his family gathered together. “The main attraction was to be the opening of my present.” Buscalgia remembered. “How many times in the past two weeks I had anticipated this moment. Even as I was opening it, I remember experiencing a vague sense of disappointment ” the Great Mystery was about to end and I would no longer be able to engage in my soaring dreams.”

His present turned out to be a beautiful handmade desk his uncle had built. “By this time nothing of this world could have satisfied my expectations. I can’t imagine what I had expected. Still, in that disappointment was a lesson which would last a lifetime.” (2)

Sometimes we are disappointed, not because what we receive is bad, but because we have faulty expectations. There are people in this very room who feel that life has somehow cheated them, but I can guarantee you that if you lost everything you have right now, and then suddenly had it all restored, you would be exceedingly grateful. The problem is not what we have, but our expectations.

John the Baptist expected the Messiah to come by storm, but nothing much seemed to be happening. It was not Jesus who was at fault, but John’s expectations. That is the first reason he was gripped by disappointment.

The Second Reason John Was Disappointed as That He Was Looking For All the Wrong Signs.

The followers of John the Baptist caught up with Jesus. They asked Jesus John’s question, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” The day of the Lord had arrived. There was evidence that God’s kingdom had begun. “Just look around,” Jesus told John’s followers, “to see what is happening.”

Centuries before, there was a prophet named Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied about what would take place when the Messiah would arrive. Isaiah said, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer.” Those weren’t the signs John was looking for. He was looking for something more dramatic. He was looking for thunder and lightning.

Charles Kuralt, in his travels across the United States, found what looked like a Christmas tree growing in the most unlikely place in the Rockies. “Trees need good soil and good weather and up here there’s no soil and terrible weather,” Kuralt notes. “Nothing can live up here and certainly not trees. That’s why the tree is a kind of miracle.”

On a barren stretch of U.S. 50, without another tree in sight, grows this Juniper tree. “Nobody remembers who put the first Christmas ornament on it ” some whimsical motorist of years ago. From that day to this, the tree has been redecorated each year. Nobody knows who does it. But each year by Christmas Day, the tree has become a Christmas tree.

“The tree, which has no business growing here at all has survived against all the odds.” People who live miles away in all directions know and love the tree. “Just looking at it makes you think about how unexpected life on earth can be. The tree is so lonely and so brave that it seems to offer courage to those who pass it ” and a message. It is the Christmas message: that there is life and hope even in a rough world.” (3) Isaiah wrote, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.”

But see, those aren’t the kinds of signs that impress people. We want greatness writ large. That’s not God’s way. God chooses to work in the little insignificant places of life ” like a manger, a carpenter’s shop and a cross.

The Third Reason John Was Disappointed Was That He Didn’t Give God Time.

John wanted action now! We can understand that, can’t we, in light of his current situation? But God takes his own sweet time. After all, He has been working on this world for hundreds of millions of years. But His purpose is just as sure and His plan is just as unstoppable.

Lincoln Steffens remembers one Christmas while growing up when he wanted a pony more than anything. “I prayed and hoped I would get a pony,” he wrote. “My good little sisters — to comfort me — remarked that Christmas was coming, but Christmas was always coming and grown-ups were always talking about it, asking you what you wanted.” His parents played games with him, asking him what he wanted for Christmas. “All I want is a pony,” he told them. “If I can’t have a pony, give me nothing, nothing.”

Christmas Day arrived and the children were up at 6:00 a.m. At first they were overwhelmed by all the presents. “My sisters had knelt down, each by her pile of gifts; they were squealing with delight, till they looked up an saw me standing there in my nightgown with nothing. Nothing.” The young boy didn’t get the pony he wanted more than anything else for Christmas. His sisters joined him in his agony, running back to their bedrooms crying. He refused to eat anything. He was too upset. He went out to the stable, and his mother came out to comfort him. He noticed his father watching him from a window for a couple of hours. This was his worst Christmas ever – not one present.

Then he noticed a man riding a pony down the street, a pony with a brand new saddle, and it was a boy’s saddle. The man was reading the numbers of the houses. “He looked at our door and passed by,” Lincoln remembered. That was the last straw. He flung himself on the ground and began crying uncontrollably. “Say, kid,” the stranger asked, “do you know a boy named Lennie Steffens?” “Yes,” he spluttered through tears, “that’s me.” “Well,” he said, “then this is your horse. I’ve been looking all over for you.” The man told Lennie his excuses for being so late, but the boy never heard them. “I could scarcely wait.” Before too long he was riding down the street on his pony. To this day he still doesn’t know if that was his best Christmas or his worst. (4) You see, the pony was always coming. It was Lennie’s impatience and uncertainty that drove him to the brink of despair.

I’ve been there, haven’t you? God doesn’t work according to our time schedule, but according to His. And sometimes He doesn’t appear to be working at all. But He is. He is. Certainly, he wasn’t working according to John the Baptist’s timetable. But he was working. The fact that we celebrate the life of John the Baptist two thousand years later is proof that he was working.

How about you? Is your life filled with disappointments because you have unrealistic expectations? Are, you looking in all the wrong places to find your happiness? Have you learned to wait upon the Lord?

The kindergarten teacher carefully lined up four little “cherubs” for the annual Christmas program. Each carried a huge cut out letter. As they stood side by side the letters would spell “star.” A slight mixup occurred and those present in the church nearly fell out of their pews as the four little performers took their places ” in reverse. They spelled out “rats,” not star. That’s what happens when you get your priorities out of order.

Bethlehem teaches us about expectations, about signs, and about patience. God begins with a simple babe and humble surroundings and He works slowly, surely. But He is at work. Let us not lose hope. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.