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Wait on the Lord for Joy
December 23, 2007

Wesley United Methodist Church

LUKE 1:39-45

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. The baby, whom we know as John the Baptizer, leaped for joy. Our theme this Advent season is “Wait on the Lord.” May you wait on the Lord, trust in the Lord, relax in the Lord, until you experience joy, until you leap for joy.

In a barber shop a junior high teacher was describing the excitement at school when classes were dismissed for Christmas vacation. He said, “Oh, there was foot-stomping, wall-pounding and all sorts of rejoicing, all sorts of joy.” “Real wild, eh?” asked the barber. “Yes,” replied the teacher, “And that was only in the teachers’ lounge.” I suspect there are some teachers here this morning who can relate to that.

Baby John, even in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy in response to Christmas. The coming of the Messiah, the birth of the baby Jesus, is a gift of joy, a gift from God. Uncontainable, irrepressible joy is all around us, waiting to be experienced. “Joy to the world” we sing. Why is there joy? Because, “the Lord is come.” How can we not experience joy when we realize the Lord has come. And, when the Lord comes into your life, the joy is uncontainable. When heaven is your destination, when the kingdom of God is your home, joy is irrepressible.

Joy is a gift, a Christmas gift from God. Christmas is about giving. God gave us his Son. God gave us salvation. God gives us joy. Our response? Give generously. When the wise men arrived at the stable, after their long trek following the star, Matthew 2.10, “They were overwhelmed with joy.” Joy at finding the Christ child overwhelmed them. Their response? They gave expensive gifts of gold and spices. Or, as one little boy in a Christmas pageant, exclaimed, “They brought gifts of gold, common sense and fur!” Overwhelmed with joy, the wise men gave. I don’t think stingy people are joyful. Old tight-fisted grouchy Scrooge was not a joyful man. Joy is experiened when we receive God’s gift of salvation, and give generously in response.

A pastor made an appeal. A woman member of the church handed him a check for $50 and asked, “Is my gift satisfactory?” The pastor immediately replied, “If it represents you.” He was wise, wasn’t he? I’m afraid I would have answered, “Whatever you think.” The woman thought about his answer, and took back the check. A few days later, she returned with a check for $5,000 and again asked, “Is my gift satisfactory?” Again the pastor answered, “If it represents you.” After a few moments of hesitation she took back the check. Later in the week she came again with a check. This time the check was for $50,000. As she placed it in the pastor’s hand she said, “After earnest, prayerful thought, I have come to the conclusion that this gift does represent me, and I am happy to give it.” She gave until it felt good! She waited on the Lord with intense personal examination, and gave until she found joy.

2 Corinthians 5.17, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” When you are in Christ, you are a new person. How can you not be joyful? The old is gone, the past is over, every day is a new day filled with opportunities, filled with the transforming grace of God.

There’s an old story in Mexico about a little girl called Pepita who wanted nothing more than to give the Christ child a beautiful gift on Christmas Eve. But, Pepita was very poor. She felt she had nothing to give. Her cousin, slightly older and wiser, told her that no gift was too humble. If Pepita gave the gift with love, the Christ child would be pleased. So Pepita stooped beside the road on the way to church, gathered a bunch of brightly colored weeds, and placed them on the altar.

An 11-year-old German boy whose parents had immigrated to Hollywood heard the story and discovered that the weed grew well in the southern California climate. Fourteen years later he was the first person to develop a variety of the weed that could be grown successfully indoors. Paul Ecke takes credit for making the poinsettia a symbol of Christmas. A weed is now a symbol of God’s best.

God can take weeds and transform them into plants of beauty. God can take people and transform their lives. Some people, on the one hand, consider themselves adequate. They have little need for God. They overlook the weeds in their lives. On the other hand, there are those people who feel their lives are overgrown with weeds. They feel there is not much God or anyone can do. They have given up. But, God can take people who think they are nothing but weeds and transform them into beautiful flowers. When you look at poinsettias, can you not help being joyful? When you feel despondent, depressed, sad, and forlorn, look at poinsettias and remember how God can take weeds and transform them into beautiful symbols of Christmas, the good news of how God came to the earth to save you, to transform you from a spectator to a disciple, to transform you from a weed to a flower. 

Not only does God transform us from weeds to flowers, God transforms our eyesight. Becoming a new creation includes our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5.16, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” When we are transformed, we look at others from God’s point of view, and not a human point of view. We look at people differently. We look beyond prejudice, preconceptions, judgments, and outward appearances. 

One of my favorite Christmas stories is told by Nancy Dahlberg. Her family celebrated Christmas Eve with her husband’s parents in San Francisco, and they were headed back to Los Angeles on Christmas Day. They stopped for lunch in King City. The restaurant was nearly empty. She heard Erik, her one-year-old, squeal with glee, “Hithere!” (Two words he thought were one)). “Hithere!” He pounded his fat baby hands on the metal high chair tray. His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled, chirped, giggled; and then she saw the source of his merriment.

An old man in a tattered rag of a coat, obviously bought by someone else eons ago; dirty, greasy, worn baggy pants, a spindly body, toes that poked out of old shoes, a shirt that had ring-around-the-collar, and a face like none other with gums as bare as Erik’s. “Hi there, baby! Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster.” The parents exchanged a look that was a cross between “what do we do?” and “poor guy.”

The meal came and the noise continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room, “Do you know patty cake? Atta boy. Do ya know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo!” Erik, the baby, continued to laugh and answer, “Hithere.” Every call was echoed. No one thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. The parents were embarrassed. Even the six-year-old asked, “Why is that man talking so loud?” 

The father hurried to pay the check, imploring his wife to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. She bolted for the door, hoping the man wouldn’t speak. As she walked past him, she turned her back and Erik, with his eyes riveted to his new best friend, leaned over his mother’s arms, and reached out his arms to the man. 

As she came eye-to-eye with the old man, Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide. The old man's eyes and his mouth implored, “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need for her to answer. Erick had propelled himself into the man’s arms. Erik laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain and hard labor gently, so gently, stroked the baby’s back.

Nancy, the mother, stood awe-struck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik. Then the man’s eyes opened and set squarely on the mother’s. He said in a firm, commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.” Somehow she managed, “I will.” As he handed Erik back to his mother, the man said, “God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” With Erik back in her arms, she ran for the car. Her husband wondered why she was crying, holding Erik so tightly, and saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.” 

She learned a great deal that Christmas. She learned to look beyond outward appearances, beyond preconceptions, and to look at people from God’s point of view. And, the old man? His Christmas with a little baby was pure joy.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

© 2007 Douglas I. Norris