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Looking For Christmas
December 15, 1996

ISAIAH 61:1-4, 8-11

Itís beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Three advent candles are lit, wreaths are hung, the tree is up and decorated. Itís beginning to look like Christmas, but where do you look for Christmas?

The Scripture lesson for today was written during the Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem had been conquered by the Babylonians, the city and temple destroyed, and the leaders taken to Babylonia where they were forced to live and work. Oh, how they wanted to go home. The prophet comforted them, and delivered messages of hope, The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. The Jews looked for hope which eventually was personalized in the hope for a messiah, a savior to save their nation. They were looking for Christmas, looking for a Messiah.

Where do you look for Christmas? In a bottle? Lots of folks do, and the holidays, cheerful though Christmas may be, is a time of depression for many. The use and abuse of alcohol increases at Christmas. Where do you look for Christmas? On the Internet? Time Magazineís feature article this week is about the spiritual quest occurring on the web, even as we speak. People sit before their screens, reading and writing to similar seekers around the globe, looking for Christmas.

Where do you look for Christmas? In things-- by buying and giving things, and the more the better? A few days ago, Disneyís #2 executive, Michael Ovitz, quit. For 14 months of work, he received severance pay of $90,000,000. Excuse me! $90 million dollars?? In round numbers, thatís $6,429,000 per month, $1,500,000 per week, $300,000 per day, and if he put in a ten-hour day, thatís $30,000 an hour! Preposterous! Bah! Humbug! The December 16th cover story of US News and World Report exposed some of the manufacturers who use sweat shop labor to produce too many of the toys, sports equipment, and clothing we purchase. Workers in Haiti are paid 6 cents to produce a childís Disney character sweat shirt and sweat pants that sell for $19.99! After the attention, however, Disney did raise the workersí pay from 28 cents an hour to 32 cents an hour! Disney canít pay workers a living wage, but they can pay an outgoing executive $30,000 an hour, for a total of $90,000,000! As Disney obviously is making too much profit, they could lower their prices so more families could purchase their goods and enjoy their parks.

As we canít find much Christmas spirit in Disney, where do you look for Christmas? In angels? For several years now, America has been fascinated with angels. People today seem to be hungry for the transcendent. Two weeks ago, I quoted the woman who was surprised that people come to worship, because the church is where they are made uncomfortable. In church we ask questions many people spend their lives avoiding. The church confronts us with ourselves and our motivations. But, there is a reason why many come to church, and why young adults are returning to church. There is a longing in us for something more in life than the material. There is a hunger for the transcendent. There is a thirst for awe and wonder. There is a search for some brighter reality far off in the misty distances of our dreams. There is a need to be loved and to feel that our lives count for something. People today are looking for Christmas.

So, where do we look for Christmas? Robert Fulghum tells us of an interesting place to look.

When Sam was 3 years old, he attended the Little School of Seattle.

Which met in the basement of a church.

And kept its general supplies in the foyer of the womenís restroom.

Sam discovered this treasure trove one morning late in November.

Therein was a king-sized canister full of red glitter.

Yes.

Upside down over his head. All over the restroom.

And down the hall and around the corner and into the Directorís office.

But before anyone could mutter 0h-my-god-what-a-mess,

Sam, 3, sang out - hands in the air, laughter on face,

"You know what? - YOU KNOW WHAT!"

Thereís CHRISTMAS in the BATHROOM!"

Thereís Christmas in the bathroom,

And therein lies the message.

Beauty, so said the ancients, is in the eye of the beholder.

And Christmas is and ever will be found where itís looked for.

Most often close by, most always very underfoot.

Hidden away in the cupboards of our lives waiting to be rediscovered in a rebirth of wonder -

Waiting to be dumped over our hard heads like blessing oil.

Waiting to be scattered like red glitter on the walls and hallways of dark December.

Christmas will be found -

In closeted memories, visions, hopes, fears, half-forgotten songs and muddled stories of a child of long ago, and in the story of a child named Sam, Christmas will be found-

Even in bathrooms - by those who know how to see.

Looking for Christmas is not a matter of where you look, but how you look, and what you do. Look for God at work, and then join in to help! And, Christmas will find you! Faith is not so much searching for God, as letting God find you. In unexpected places and captivating, surprising ways, you will see God at work, bringing love, hope, joy and peace. Wherever you see love, hope, joy and peace, you see God at work. Joining in to do Godís work will bring you Christmas in all its splendor.

Mike hated Christmas, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-- overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma-- the gifts given in desperation because you couldnít think of anything else. One Christmas, Mikeís wife Nancy decided to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Their son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. The team, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to Kevinís team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear to protect their ears. Headgear was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Kevinís team walloped the inner-city kids. Mike shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won." Mike loved kids-- all kids. Thatís when the idea for Mikeís present came to Nancy. That afternoon, she went to a sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, she placed an envelope on the tree with a note inside telling Mike what she had done, and that the gift to the inner-city team was her gift to Mike. Mikeís smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years, for each Christmas, Nancy kept the tradition. One year she sent a group of retarded youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a family whose house had burned, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of their Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and their children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesnít end there. Last year, Mike died of dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, Nancy barely had time to get the tree up, but on Christmas Eve she placed an envelope on the tree. In the morning, there were three more envelopes. Each of the children, without the others knowing, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. They found Christmas!

Looking for Christmas is not a matter of where you look, but how you look and what you do. Look for God at work, and then join in to help. On Thanksgiving Day, last month, the Boehm family-- Don, Cathie, Chris and Kim-- went to the Legion Hall at 10:00 in the morning where they helped serve Thanksgiving dinner to the poor and homeless. Cathie reports that one man went through the line three times! At 2:00, the volunteers were fed. Cathie continue to serve, but by the time it was her turn to eat, there was nothing left; so she went home and enjoyed a slice of bread, a Thanksgiving feast of joy and satisfaction. When you do Godís work, you may miss a meal, but who can measure the joy that comes from "Well done, good and faithful servant." When you look for God at work, and then join in to help, Christmas will find you.

ã 1994 Douglas I. Norris