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What Jesus Wants For Christmas: Follow Me
December 17, 1995

LUKE 1:46-55; 5:27; 9:23-25

I followed a bumper sticker yesterday. It read, Lead, Follow, or get out of the way. Humankind can be divided into three groups: leaders, followers, and get out of the way! But, even the leaders follow something or someone. If not someone, they follow their beliefs, their values, they follow a vision. Jesus wants to be our leader. Jesus sees our world struggling to find direction, vacillating from this to that, looking for answers, and Jesus calls, as he did to the first disciples, "Follow me." Let's give Jesus a present this Christmas; after all, it is his birthday. Through the sermons, I am spelling the word GIFT. The G in gift stands for Get ready-- wait for God's time by taking time to get ready. The I in gift stands for Ignite love, love of God and love of neighbor. The F in gift stands for Follow me.

Picture Jesus ahead of you, a few feet in front of you, beckoning and calling, "Come this way. Take this road." We can all give examples of people we know who have taken the wrong roads, chosen the wrong turns, gone with the wrong people, ruining their lives with drugs, alcohol, greed, crime, alienation. Keep Jesus in sight. He is ahead of you, beckoning. Every morning when you wake up, picture Jesus leading you throughout the day. With confidence and assurance, you can rise to meet the day, ready for a day of adventure, open for opportunities to love God and neighbor, to ignite love.

"Follow me," beckons Jesus. Follow Jesus where and to do what? Mary's song, which was read this morning, gives us direction. This song has been named The Magnificat because it begins with the word magnify. "My soul magnifies the Lord," sang Mary. We discussed this phrase in the Men's Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning. We decided it is not the Lord who is magnified, who is enlarged; but our perception of the Lord. When you hold a magnifying glass to the newspaper, the newspaper doesn't get any bigger. What is enlarged is our ability to see. When Mary got an enlarged perception of the Lord, she saw a revolutionary vision. The Magnificat has been called a revolutionary document, and is a testament of what Jesus did, and why they nailed him on a cross. Listen again to some of the phrases from Mary's song;

scattered the proud

brought down the powerful

lifted up the lowly

filled the hungry

sent the rich away empty

When you take those phrases seriously, you see that Jesus calls you and me to a revolutionary lifestyle, calls us not only to have compassion for the poor, but to do something about poverty.

There are two kinds of action required. One is to minister to individuals. Mother Teresa with her hospital in Calcutta is a shining example of compassion for the poor. Jesus gave the example of the good Samaritan who befriended the traveler who had been mugged on his way to Jericho. The United Methodist Women are collecting food and toys this morning for Christmas baskets to give to the needy. This is good, this is compassionate, but it can only go so far. Some politicians have said we should do away with the welfare system and let the churches take care of the poor. Are they really serious?

There is another kind of action that is needed to deal with poverty. Corporate action is needed to tackle not only the results of poverty, but the causes of poverty. How many times do you suppose the good Samaritan helped wounded travelers before he organized a Jericho Road Improvement Society, and cleaned up the problem? Followers of Jesus need to minister not only to individuals, but seek to change the systems that produce poverty.

When you begin talking about changing systems, challenging the proud, lifting up the lowly, sending the rich away empty, you are then talking about rabble rousing, which, of course, is what Jesus did! When the politicians talk about letting churches take care of the poor, I don't think they mean they want churches leading a crusade to change the systems, which is what needs to happen! Christians will not be very popular. But, Jesus wasn't popular either. Oh, he was for a while, but not when he began challenging the religious and political authorities.

When Jesus wants you to follow him, the road he takes you down may not be lined with roses. The task Jesus gives you to do may not be easy or even popular. You heard his words from Luke 9:23-25,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

Hear how Eugene Peterson paraphrases these verses in his book, The Message.

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat--I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

Where is Jesus calling you to follow? What is Jesus calling you to do? How do you know? In Kanzantzakis' novel about St. Francis of Assisi, he pictures the following conversation between Francis and his fellow monk, Brother Leo.

"Brother Leo, the only joy in this world is to do God's will... Because what God wants, that, and only that, is also what we want--but we don't know it. God comes and awakens our souls, revealing to them their real, though unknown, desire. This is the secret, Brother Leo. To do the will of God means to do my own most deeply hidden will."

..."But, Brother Francis, sometimes we want many things. Which among all of them is the will of God?"

"The most difficult," Francis answered with a sigh.

The most difficult is where Jesus calls us to follow, but it is also the most joyful. True joy is to follow Jesus. I've long been intrigued with the phrase, Who for the sake of the joy set before him, endured the cross, Hebrews 12:2. Enduring the cross was joyful? We may not think so, but there is joy in doing what you were put on this earth to do. A deep feeling of joy helps you to embrace suffering, cope with whatever comes along, deal with hardship and pain, and endure, because ultimate victory is assured. We were never promised it would be easy, but we are promised joy and peace.

When Jody Kranz, who will be joining us next month as our Minister of Discipleship, is asked why she wants to come to our church, why she feels it is the will of God for her, why she believes Jesus is calling her to follow him to Merced, she replies, "Conrad and I have prayed about our decision, and we feel a deep sense of peace." A diaconal minister has more freedom of choice than an ordained minister. The phone rings. A District of Superintendent says, "Doug, the Bishop and superintendents would like you to go to Merced. You have twelve hours to pray about it and sleep on it. I'll call you back at 9:00 tomorrow morning." Usually the answer that comes through prayer is, "You had better say yes, because who knows where they will send you if you say no!" But, a deep feeling of peace and joy is yours when you pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

"Follow me," beckons Jesus. "Take care of my people, especially the poor." An American couple once spent Christmas Eve in Paris. Everything had gone wrong when they checked into their hotel on Christmas Eve, there was no Christmas spirit in their hearts. It was raining and cold when they went out to eat. They found a drab, little restaurant, shoddily decorated for the holiday. Only five tables were occupied. There were two German couples, two French families, and an American sailor by himself. In the corner a piano player listlessly played Christmas music.

The American couple were too tired and miserable to leave. They noticed that the other customers were eating in stony silence. The only person who seemed happy was the American sailor. He was writing a letter, and a half-smile lighted his face. At a table with a French family, the father slapped one of his children, and the boy began to cry. At another table, a German wife began berating her husband.

Suddenly, they were all interrupted by an unpleasant blast of cold air. Through the front door came an old flower woman. She wore a dripping, battered overcoat, and shuffled in on wet, rundown shoes. She went from one table to the other. "Flowers, monsieur? Only one franc." No one bought any. Wearily she sat down at a table. To the waiter she said, "A bowl of soup. I haven't sold a flower all afternoon."

The young sailor finished his meal and got up to leave. Putting on his coat, he walked over to the flower woman's table. "Happy Christmas," he said, smiling and picking up two corsages. "How much are they?" "Two francs, monsieur." Pressing one of the small corsages flat, he put it into the letter he had written, then handed the woman a 20-franc note. "I don't have change," she said. "I'll get some from the waiter." "No, ma'am," said the sailor, leaning over and kissing the ancient cheek. "This is my Christmas present to you." Then he came to the American couple and said to the man, "May I have permission to present these flowers to your beautiful daughter?" In one quick motion he gave the corsage to the man's wife, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and departed.

Everyone had stopped eating. Everyone had been watching the sailor. Everyone was silent. Then, Christmas exploded throughout the restaurant like a bomb.

Jesus wants us to follow him this Christmas, and always. What an adventure he has in store for all of us-- compassion and action for the poor, meeting needs, acts of kindness. Follow Jesus, because, What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris