(Preached Sunday, December 18, 2016)
It’s a story told so simply, with such spare attention to detail and yet so explicit in its narration, that we could, if not prepared, easily miss the point.
Jesus Christ was born. God’s Son. The Son of Man. The Prince of Peace. Love came down. Hope exploded over a hungry earth. God handed us salvation in a manger, and said, “Here. Take it. It’s yours.”
There’s a great and dangerous misunderstanding that salvation only matters when we die. Salvation is the promise of heaven, or so the half-truth goes.
The whole truth is that the gift is handed to us now. Salvation is now. The healing of our hearts, our minds, our lives, our relationships, our nations, our planet, began in that manger and has continued to unfold over century after century and, all the more, every day, when we take our trust out of the hands of our own power—our own strength, our own talents, our own skills and plans and ideas—when we take our trust out out of the hands of our own power and put our trust in the power of Jesus.
“Here, Jesus. Take these. They’re yours.”
Yes, salvation is the promise of a life eternal to come. It’s also the promise of a life abundant now. We’ve been given this way out of sin, and out of despair, and out of hopelessness, confusion, boredom, joylessness and fear.
“Here,” Jesus says, “I’ll take those. They’re mine now.”
There’s an old fairy tale told about a stranger who wandered into the forest one afternoon and stumbled upon a fawn whose leg was caught in a trap. I’ll help you, he told the fawn, he opened the trap, and the fawn ran away. That night, the stranger had found a place to stop and built a fire. Just after the sun had set, a slender young woman, simply dressed but dazzlingly beautiful, walked unexpectedly into the circle of light cast by his fire. In that way that only fairy tales can make happen, she was the fawn, transformed at dusk and dawn, and she came to bless the stranger who’d helped her.
“Go,” she said, “each day, to the place where you found me, and each day a treasure will be yours.”
So, he went the next day, and found gold. The next day, he found more. The third day, he found more, and so he gave it to passersby. Here, he said, and gave away his gold. And each day, he’d find more, and each day he’d give more, until no one in that land was hungry or cold. There was no more debt, no more greed, no more bribery, because everyone had enough. And those needs set aside, the people in the land began to seek more noble goals, the things the gold couldn’t buy, things like justice and beauty and peace.
The stranger stayed in the forest, and everyone knew where to find him. By the roadside, gold in hand, begging, “Take this. Take this. There’s always more.”
Just a little over two weeks ago, some of us saw on the news the horrific warehouse fire in Oakland, California. It was a warehouse that had been converted—illegally—into apartments and art studios. On one floor of the warehouse, there was a stage where a band was playing on a Friday night. Nobody knows how the fire started, but, once it started, it spread fast. There were no fire extinguishers, no smoke detectors, and only 3 exits out. Thirty-six people died, and more would have except that one man found an exit. Rather than run for his life, one man stayed at the exit, yelling, “This is the exit,” over and over again, until everyone still alive in the building got out. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3998336/Hero-stayed-door-Oakland-warehouse-fire-screaming-exit.html)
Jesus is our gold. Jesus is our exit. Jesus really is the way, and the truth, and life abundant.
For some of us, there was a single, defining moment when we discovered this true gift, a time we can point to and say, “There, that’s when I got out,” when Jesus turned us from sin to grace. For all of us, there are a multitude of small, ever defining moments in which Jesus keeps turning us from sin to grace, again and again, when we’re tempted to bend the truth, when we share the big fat gossip of the moment, when our quick trip through Apple movies lands us in the adult section, when we lose our temper, when our eyes stray, when we make ourselves sick with worry, when we just lose track of who we are and what we believe…
My friend Andrea Messinger preached a sermon this past summer at Glenkirk Church in California, and I listened to it a couple of days later. It was a sermon about prayer, and she spoke specifically about praying for our kids. She said something that stuck with me.
Pray for your kids to trust Jesus, she said. Just pray that. It’s all you need to pray, because, as long as their faith is in Jesus, nothing can destroy them.
We worry about our kids, don’t we? We worry about the things that can hurt them. We worry about the mistakes they’ll make. We worry that they’ll get lost or forgotten or lonely.
But, here’s the thing: Andrea’s right. If they trust God, what hurts them can’t destroy them. If they trust in God, the mistakes they made (a) will be forgiven and (b) will lead them to something more marvelous. If they trust Jesus, they’ll never be lost or forgotten or alone, ever.
And what’s true for them is true for us all. If our faith is in Jesus, if we really put our life, our faith, and our futures in Him, then nothing can destroy us, ever.
Why would we not want to share such a gift—share life itself—with our children, our families, with our friends, all around us, whenever and wherever we can, when our words, with our actions, with what we do, with what we leave undone. To the best of our awkward abilities, why wouldn’t we want to be pointing the world to Jesus all the time?
The obvious answer to this seemingly rhetorical question is this…our faith isn’t in Jesus, not completely, not yet. You’ve heard about the exit. You’ve listened to stories about the gold. But it hasn’t sunk in, or the doubts are too big, or excuses too persistent. The unconverted heart can’t lead anyone to anything ever.
And yet…the unconverted heart is no less precious to God.
Joseph left Nazareth, Joseph registered with Mary, Joseph found that manger, and Mary delivered that child for the sake of the unconverted hearts, of all places and all time, and in this sanctuary today. Jesus came to seek and save…us all.
So, here’s the offer, one more time. Here’s Jesus. Here’s the gold. Here’s the exit. Here’s the gift.
Here. Take it. It’s yours.