Rev. Sandy Johnson
Christmas is Not Your Birthday: Expect a Miracle
This morning we begin the season of Advent, the time in the life of our church where we expectantly wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ; the birth of a savior in a cave in Bethlehem. The Latin word for Advent means “coming.” It is a time of preparation, of readiness – both in our homes and in our hearts, to reflect and refocus on the true meaning of Christmas. The series I have planned for us will give us all an opportunity to prepare for the birth of Christ, hopefully in new and unique ways. It is my prayer that we will all be transformed together into the people that Christ calls us to be.
On August 7, I preached a sermon “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” in anticipation of our Advent season. In that sermon, I shared that it was time for us to evaluate our spending at Christmas and dare to give Jesus back his birthday; to realign our priorities toward God’s mission and ministry on this earth and to turn away from the focus on ourselves. I challenged us all to begin thinking about our own spending, to evaluate whether we were honoring God or Mammon in our budgeting and shopping decisions. Do you remember that message? It may have seemed out of place in August, but it was perfectly placed to be able to inspire us to greatness, to inspire us to miraculous work.
We have been talking about this idea ever since. We have trusted God for the details and a miracle is about to be birthed. The first miracle we are expecting is the Messiah, Christ himself born to Palestinian Jewish parents in a humble and miraculous way. The Messiah would be born, himself an outsider, a refugee and from the lowest rung on the ladder. “His mission would clearly prioritize the poor and marginalized (Isaiah 61:1-8).”
Most were expecting a revolutionary leader, who would lead a political movement that would oust the Romans and instill peace and tranquility to the region: a return to a Davidic type Kingdom. This was not at all what they received. Jesus was the last thing that people expected. “Everything about Jesus’ life stood in stark contrast to worldly priorities and values. He arrived on the scene not in strength but in weakness.” “He lived in tension with the organized religious system. He resisted the world’s obsessions with wealth, pleasure, power and recognition. He identified with the weak and powerless, the widow and the orphan. He did not condemn but instead, defended the sinner.”
Our greatest fear should be that “the real meaning of Christmas would get lost in the chaotic clutter of shopping, spending, escalating debt, making exhausting preparations, and buying stacks of gifts that most of us don’t need or will not ever use.” My prayer today is that we will stop ourselves from making that grave mistake.
“The idol of consumerism is one of the hardest to topple. John Wesley identified the wallet as the last thing to be converted in a person’s life, and Jesus spoke more about money and materialism than any other single topic except the kingdom of God.” Let me repeat that: “Jesus spoke more about money and materialism than any other single topic except the kingdom of God.” Do you think may be this is important? In Mathew 6:24, Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve both God and money. We must choose. Who do you serve? God or Money?
In the next few weeks we will be preparing for and expecting a miracle. Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of a miracle, but instead we have hijacked the celebration and edged out the miracle worker from his own birthday party. Sisters and brothers, it’s time that we take back Christ’s birthday. It is time to plan “new traditions that focus on Jesus’ presence, rather than the often-forgettable presents we expect to receive.”
It’s time we expect a miracle. The word miracle means, “a visible interruption of the laws of nature, understood only by divine intervention and often accompanied by a miracle worker.” What this means is that God used Mary and Joseph to do so two thousand years ago and he uses people like you and me to enact miracles today. We are called by God to birth miracles in the here and now. We are used by God to effect change in our world, one miracle at a time.
The only thing that God asks of us is that we are available and that we fully commit to the act. Most of us are not really qualified to enact a miracle. True miracles are done by those folks who one day will be made a Saint in the Catholic tradition. Or done by someone who will be honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. We are ordinary people, what in the world could we do that would be miracle-like?
“Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that conceived the miracle in Mary’s womb indwells every devoted follower of Jesus. In other words, every work of God is conceived in the heart of a disciple, grows in conviction and clarity of vision, and then is delivered through God’s intended action, or more simply, God births miracles through ordinary people.”
Look to your right, then look to your left. See those ordinary people sitting next to you. They aren’t your ordinary followers of Jesus Christ! They are miracle workers, as are you! We have seen God in scripture choose unlikely people to do extraordinary things – Moses, young David with his sling-shot, barren Elizabeth and let’s not forget Mary. The most humble, improbable folks are the first that God chooses. We all received the Holy Spirit when we became followers of Jesus Christ and Acts 1:8 says that we are to be Christ’s witnesses throughout the world. Jesus tells us that this power is not one of position, wealth or prestige. “The power of Immanuel is the power to create change in the world through God’s action in your life.”
We began planning our own Christmas miracle a few months ago. Just five days after the first sermon on August 7 the skies opened up and a deluge decimated many parts of Louisiana. At the same time when we first began to dream about giving up our dependence on a secular, Santa Claus Christmas, our sisters and brothers in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas were the victim of some of the worst flooding in their history. Coincidence? I don’t think so. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we realized that it was to Louisiana that we were being called.
What would it look like for us to enact a miracle? Could we really get our congregation behind a project of this proportion? Are there enough resources – financial and human resources – to get this project off the ground? I began meeting with Connie and Bambi– our new outreach coordinators and shared the vision God had given me, that we could put a team on the ground in Louisiana, to be the hands and feet of Christ. To share our own Christmas miracle with some folks in Baton Rouge.
It didn’t take long for them to catch the vision and they have shared it with you in the last couple of weeks. We are on target to pull off our first mission trip to help families not so different from our own. To help a family to rebuild their home. This will truly be a miracle.
I have a third miracle brewing, one that I’d like to share with you all. Remember that a miracle is “a visible interruption of the laws of nature, understood only by divine intervention and often accompanied by a miracle worker.” In October, Darlene Medina suggested that I meet with a friend of hers, Linda Faiss who is on the board here at St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. I wasn’t entirely sure why she suggested that we meet, but I agreed to meet with Linda, eager to make a new friend.
We discussed her work at St. Jude’s, our own churches (she is a member of St. Christopher’s) and then she asked me about our plans for our building. I don’t think it’s any secret that I have felt for a while that building a $1 million-plus church on our property may not be what we are supposed to do. I have felt God leading me to kick tires and turn over rocks as it were – to think outside of the box and to follow the crumbs that God is leaving for us. I have been praying and meditating on what God’s intentions are for us. What is the miracle that God is preparing us for?
I have kicked a lot of tires and have a stack of rocks that I’ve looked under. I have believed for a year or more that God was getting ready to do something miraculous. And on that day in October, sitting at Starbucks with Linda, I heard God say, through Linda, “Have you looked at the Smith Building?” Now I had never been inside of the Smith building. You know the one I mean, yes? On Wyoming and Utah? The old CSN building, the one originally built by Vernon Howard to house his religious organization called “New Life.”
I immediately dismissed her suggestion saying, “The City isn’t going to give us the Smith Building.” And then she said six simple, very powerful words, “Oh, but I think they might!” That got me thinking, maybe I should go take a look. I know that years ago, when we were considering purchasing our property, a team looked at the building and decided that it wasn’t what they wanted and they proceeded to purchase our land.
Curiosity got the best of me and so I called Roger Hall with the City and asked for a tour. When I went inside of the building, I was floored. The space could work beautifully for a church like ours. There is plenty of space for worship, Sunday School, a kitchen, and office space. I could envision all of our ministries being housed in one place, in the heart of our community.
As perfect as it could be for our church, I was sure that the city wouldn’t just give us the building. I knew that it would be way too expensive for our budget. But God gave me a vision that day – a vision of our church being centrally located in town. A vision of our church logo, perhaps redesigned to be a heart, rather than a circle. And not just a plain heart, but rainbow heart with the tag line, Boulder City UMC, The Heart of Boulder City!
I could see how we would be able to fulfill our ministries in new and dramatic ways. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night or many to follow. Two weeks later I met with our City Manager, Dave Frazier. He let me know that the City would absolutely consider leasing the building to us. Anyone want to guess the price? You’re looking at 8800 sq. ft. on the first floor and over 6000 on the second floor. What do you think the price is?
He said he would lease it to for the cost of utilities which is about double what we are paying here at St. Jude’s.
NOW, we have not decided to move…yet! We are putting together a proposal, to list the pros and cons of such a move. I have asked a few members of our church council to come together and evaluate the possibility and present a recommendation to the church body if it looks like something that makes sense for us to do. We plan to hire someone to come and inspect the building before we make a decision, so that we know what we are getting ourselves into should we move forward on a lease. All I can tell you right now is that I see God at work, preparing a miracle for us – whether it is the Smith Building, or another inventive way that God has to bless us, I know it is coming.
As we prepare for the miracle of Christ’s birth, we are also preparing to bless our sisters and brothers in Baton Rouge. We know that God is in the miracle business and we have accepted the challenge to give sacrificially in order to birth this miracle.
“Christmas is about a miracle. Miracles don’t just happen; they are born through the pains of labor. Pain is not comfortable and the labor preceding birth is intense, but if we are willing to go through with it, God will conceive miracles in us. Immanuel has come to move us out of our comfort zones.” Let us pray: God of Miracles, we humbly submit ourselves to your will and ask that you would use us in mighty ways. Give us the courage to give sacrificially this Christmas so that your people in Baton Rouge may receive your miracle. Gracious Lord, we also humbly submit to your ways. We pray that if it is your will that the Smith Building would become our new church home. We wait for you O Lord, the author of miracles all around us. Amen.
 This series is inspired by the book by the same name by Rev. Mike Slaughter. Abingdon Press, Nashville; 2011
 Slaughter, Mike. Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2011. Page 1