Precious Moments

Sunday Service was led by Pastor Linda Harrison and the Sermon was titled “Precious Moments”.
This week was the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the church was decorated with poinsettias.


A mom wrote into the Clean Laugh website with this story.  Her kids had spent many summer days watching their new Cinderella video  until they knew all of the songs by heart.  To combat the summer heat, they had also left most  of the windows in the house open.  Little did they know that others had been enjoying the video right along  with them. 

A few days later, this mom was out in her backyard when she heard the  burly workmen restoring her neighbor’s roof break out into song. One man was up  on the roof singing in a gravelly voice, “Put it together and what do you get?” And  two other deep male voices joined in the chorus, “Bibbity bobbity bibbity bobbity  bibbity bobbity boo. Music is contagious, isn’t it? You don’t even know you’ve  caught a song until you find yourself perhaps singing it in the shower, humming  it in the car, or dancing to it while you mop the floor or run the vacuum cleaner.  And we all know the frustration of getting an annoying song stuck in our  heads so that we can’t let go of it and hum it obsessively. 

Music has the power  to change our mood in an instant. What song evokes memories of your first love?  What’s the perfect song for driving down a long stretch of dark highway at night?  What song best captures the mood of your teenage years? What song always puts a  lump in your throat? What songs did your parents teach you when you were a kid?  What’s your favorite hymn? What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Just thinking  about those songs puts a smile on our faces. I see a lot of smiles as I’m  standing up here. That’s what music does sometimes. 

It brings a smile to our  hearts. We love those songs. We love to hear them. We love to sing along. 

But not  all of us are such great singers. One day a man was passing a woman who was  singing with a terrible voice. The man asked her why she was singing. “I sing to  kill time,” she said. 

The man replied, “That’s quite a weapon you have there.”  And you’ve probably seen the list of hymns to sing while speeding down the  highway. At 45 miles an hour, might be good to sing “God Will Take Care of You.”  At 55, guide me, O thou great Jehovah.  At 65, nearer my God to thee.  At 75, nearer, still nearer. 

 At 85, this world is not my home.  At 95, Lord, I’m coming home.  At 100, soon and very soon, I am going to see the King.  And finally, at those top speeds that your car might reach, precious memories. 

 This week, our Advent Bible study considered the topic of precious memories.  Each of us shared some of our favorite Christmas memories  and discussed how memories remind us who we are and whose we are.  They give us our identity.  They tell us that we belong to a particular family or group of people,  and they tell us that we belong to God. 

 That’s what memories do.  Do you have those favorite Christmas memories?  I remember my favorite Christmas memory,  the year right before I turned three.  I wanted one thing and only one thing for Christmas.  See, I told you I was a parent’s delight. 

 I only wanted one thing.  And the one thing I wanted was a thing called Clancy.  Now, Clancy was this hard plastic, orange-colored gorilla monkey thing.  He was about this high, taller than I was at the time,  and Clancy had a red shirt, a yellow tie, blue pants, and roller skates. 

 And if you pushed the button in Clancy’s hand,  he would skate along with you as you walked.  And if you wanted to be really neat, Clancy had a hat that he could hold in his hand.  And if you threw coins into it, Clancy would skate all by himself.  I loved my Clancy. 

That was all I wanted.  On Christmas Day, my parents wisely had me open Clancy first.  Or perhaps that wasn’t so wise, because I didn’t want to open anything else.  All I wanted was Clancy, I was fixed on that hard plastic gorilla. 

 Or, toys were different then, let’s just say that.  There’s the memory I have when I was a little bit older,  probably nine or ten, of a game called Crossfire.  My dad and I wanted that for Christmas.  Mom didn’t think that was such a good game for a girl,  but dad and I wanted that for Christmas,  and lo and behold my parents had wised up over the years and I opened all the  presents and Crossfire was last. 

They brought it from its secret hiding place  down in the basement. My dad and I played Crossfire. You had a long board and it  was kind of like an air hockey game only you had plastic guns where you squeezed  the trigger and the guns shot out real ball bearings and if you hit them just  right off the side, they flew off the board.  My dad and I played that game for hours and hours and hours  until we were playing that game with several Band-Aids  wrapped around our trigger fingers  that were blistered and bleeding. 

 But we kept playing because we loved that game.  I remember the year that Mom and I couldn’t figure out  what to get Dad.  He’d become kind of housebound,  and he walked with those arm crutches,  and there was not a lot dad could do.  And I had the idea of getting him a Nintendo 64. 

 I told you it was a long time ago.  But I bought that Nintendo 64 with my mom  and we gave it to my dad.  And lo and behold, it was the best Christmas gift  he’d ever gotten, he said.  I remember him sitting with a foot propped up  on his arm crutches with my great uncle Lester, who  was in his late 80s, who had his arm propped on his walker,  while the two of them sat there shooting guns at the screen,  playing duck hunt. 

 (Laughter)  Hmm.  I’m blessed with so many memories,  and those memories help me to identify with my family.  I’ll never forget the memories of my great-aunt Ethel,  who was a pillar of faith for me  and who made me any number of Barbie doll clothes.  She also made for me quilts for my Barbie dolls  out of those little fabric samples you used to get in the mail. 

 I had tablecloths, I had mattresses, I had clothes.  And Uncle Lester even shipped in and built me beds  and a dining room table with chairs for all of my Barbies.  So many memories.  They connect me to my family,  but they connect me to my God as well. 

 For those joys of the season,  I believe are joys that come from God,  Because we celebrate the birth of his son,  we celebrate and we are happy in all that we do.  But sometimes it gets confusing,  and we end up worrying about vacuum cleaners and dust rags  and having everything in order,  and we don’t take time, we don’t make time for that baby.  And the stories and the memories mix together,  and sometimes we forget.  Sometimes we’re confused. 

 Years ago, the cartoon strip Family Circus  carried a cartoon that illustrates what happens so often at Christmas.  It showed a little girl holding her baby brother in her lap  and telling him the story of Christmas.  Here’s how that story went.  Jesus was born just in time for Christmas,  up at the North Pole,  surrounded by tiny reindeer and the Virgin Mary. 

 Ben’s Santa Claus showed up with lots of toys and stuff and some swaddling clothes.  The three wise men and the elves all sang carols while the little drummer boy and Scrooge helped Joseph trim the tree.  In the meantime, Frosty the snowman saw this star in the sky.  It’s easy to see how she could be confused. 

 So many trappings of Christmas are out there and we can easily lose track of  the real meaning of this wonderful season. It reminds me of a nearly tragic  incident that occurred in San Antonio, Texas some time back. It was 99 degrees  September day in San Antonio when a 10 month old baby girl was accidentally  locked inside a parked car by her aunt. Frantically, the mother and the aunt ran  around the automobile in near hysteria while a neighbor attempted to unlock the  car with a clothes hanger. 

Soon the infant was turning purple and had foam  on her mouth. It had become a life-or-death situation when Fred  Areola, a wrecker driver, arrived on the scene. He grabbed a hammer and smashed  the back window of the car and set the baby free. Was he heralded as a hero?  Fred said, “The lady was mad at me because I broke her window. 

I just thought, what’s  more important, the baby or the window?” That’s a good question for us this  Christmas season. What is more important, the baby or the celebration? It’s a tough  one. It’s an interesting question in our multicultural land. It seems in so many  times and places we just don’t know what to do with that baby anymore. 

Every  December schools across the nation make preparations to celebrate winter  festivals. Winter festivals. Pail attempts to celebrate Christmas without any  mention of God or Jesus Christ. We understand, but it’s frustrating not to  be able to let people know that the baby is the reason for the celebration. 

All of  the things that we do stem from our love of that baby and wanting to capture the  joy of knowing that baby, of celebrating the birthday of a king. But it’s so hard  in this time, in this place, and in many other lands, in many other places, to let  people know about that baby, to let people know the reason for the season.  One year in one of those school programs, Candy Chand and her husband attended what  was billed as a winter festival at their son’s school. Nicholas Chand was in  kindergarten. 

The little ones were going to perform the required songs about snow  and Santa and candy canes. Nicholas’s group began with a song called Christmas  Love. As they sang, each child held up a letter to spell out that title of the  song, Christmas Love. But a little girl in the middle of the front row got  confused and held her letter upside down. 

She had the M in Christmas. Warm smiles  and sighs flowed through the audience as they read the children’s message. Instead  of Christmas love, the upside-down M changed the message to Christ was love.  And it’s true. 

Christ was love. This is the message of Christmas but we need to  state it in the present tense. Christ is love. We sing love was born at Christmas  and we know that’s what Christmas is all about. 

Love. That’s the meaning of the  season. A love so great that brought God to come down here and live among us.  Brought God to enter this world as a tiny baby. 

God is here. There is the story  of a grandfather who’s trying to comfort his little grandson, Jeffy. Jeffy has done  something wrong. His punishment is timeout in the playpen, but Jeffy cries  and begs his granddad to get him out. 

Grandfather knows that Jeffy’s  punishment is just, but his love for the boy won’t allow him to watch the child  suffer. So grandfather chooses to be both just and loving. He climbs in the playpen  with Jeffy. In this way, he shares his grandson’s punishment and at the same  time offers him comfort. 

Christmas is about love. From the very beginning this  has been so. God saw his children’s plight and God crawled into the playpen  of our existence. To have the spirit of Christmas is to have the spirit of love. 

 The spirit of Christmas. Sometimes it’s hard to find, sometimes it’s easy.  Sometimes it’s found in a simple song. The joy of those Christmas carols. 

I’ve  always loved them. My mom and I had a tradition that started as far back as I  can remember. We would watch the parade on Thanksgiving Day and then we would  get out the Christmas records. Music was different then too. 

We played that music  every single day and the collection was always growing with more and more songs  of the season. We played those songs as we got ready for Christmas. We played  those songs as we dusted and ran the vacuum cleaner. We played the records  when we baked cookies. 

We sat and listened to the records on the Victrola.  Do you remember those? Then the stereo, which was a big long thing that sat on  the floor. And then finally on the turntable. Over the years we added eight  tracks, don’t remember those, and cassettes to our collection. 

Then with  the arrival of our first CD player we started to add CDs. Now some of those  songs have made it onto my iPod and my iPhone ever since Thanksgiving. I’ve made  time to listen to them every day. I must admit though this year I cheated. 

I  started listening to them a little early. I needed an extra dose of encouragement.  I needed some Christmas love. And those stories that we share, those memories  that we have are stories of Christmas love. 

Even if the memories are tough and  hard and painful, we know that God is there. We know that God is here. And  there’s comfort. There’s comfort in times that we don’t understand. 

Every once in a  while, we hear about someone who’s been touched by the spirit of Christmas love  and it renews our hope. Once there was an old man in a small town. He was an  ill-tempered fellow who kept to himself and he avoided his neighbors at all  costs. Most people give up on these folks, leaving them to rot in their  self-imposed loneliness. 

But every once in a while, love steps in and turns the  situation upside down. One Thanksgiving season, the youth from a small West  Virginia town decided to do a good deed for this cranky unfriendly old man. The  old man had been injured in a farming accident. He was facing a harsh winter  with a dwindling supply of firewood. 

The teens decided to cut enough firewood to  fill the man’s wood bins for the winter. They gathered in the woods that night,  their pickup trucks brimming over with firewood. Just as they were placing the  last few logs in the wood bins, the old man suddenly jerked open his front door,  his shotgun aimed into the night. “Don’t shoot us,” the youth leader said, “we just  came to help you with wood.” The old man looked at his overflowing wood bins and  growled, “I don’t need any help, get out of here.” Later the teens discussed their  act of kindness gone wrong with the youth leader? Why would God ask them to  do good works for those who don’t appreciate them? A few weeks later at the  Christmas Eve service, the whole congregation noticed when the cranky old  man walked in the door. 

During the prayer time, the pastor asked if anyone had some  Thanksgiving to share. The old man stood and began, “A little over a month ago I  I ran some kids off my property. His voice faded as his eyes overflowed with  tears. The love of Jesus had broken through the old man’s defenses. 

That’s  what Christmas is all about. Love. Love for everyone. We know that it’s true. 

Love  flows from the heart of the Creator straight into our lives and it’s all  wrapped up in a tiny babe surrounded by his mother Mary and his father Joseph  and cattle and sheep and shepherds and later wise men and above them a glorious  star. Angels sing in the heavens and for one glorious night we see a glimpse of  why this world was created. It was created for love. We live in a God  invaded world. 

Because we could not go to him, he came to us. And because God came  to us, everything is forever changed. Someone has summed it up in a little  Christmas fable. Once there lived a humble fisherman and his not-so-humble  wife. 

Nothing the fisherman ever did was good enough for his wife. Her complaining  nearly drove him up the wall. One day the fisherman caught an especially large and  shiny fish. Before he could toss it in his nets, the fish spoke up, “Release me  into the sea again and I will grant you a wish.” The fisherman, though skeptical, gave  it a try. 

“I wish my wife could be a fine lady of leisure and live in a comfortable  house with a white picket fence.” Imagine the fisherman’s surprise when he  returned home to find his humble shack transformed into a cozy cottage with  lovely furnishings and a white picket fence. Instead of her usually shabby  clothes, the fisherman’s wife wore crisp linen dresses and served his dinner on  china plates and the fishermen thought all was well. Not much time passed before  the fisherman’s wife began to complain again. “You had one chance to make a wish  “and all you wished for was a nice house. 

 “If you’d been thinking straight,  “you would have asked for the fish  “to turn us into a Duke and Duchess  “who live in a splendid mansion.”  The fisherman thought he’d never hear  the end of her complaining.  “Then one day what should pop into his boat  “but the shiny talking fish,  “the fish who had granted him a wish.  “I’ve got another favor to be asking you,”  the fisherman stammered.  “Ask away,” the fish replied. 

 “Could you maybe make the missus and me  “into a duke and duchess living in a fine mansion?”  “Of course,” the fish replied,  and then it leaped over the side of the boat.  And for a very short time,  the fisherman enjoyed peace and quiet at home,  but he knew it couldn’t last.  Soon his wife wanted a bigger mansion and a better title,  and each time she complained,  the fisherman would go back to the lake  and call for the fish to grant his wish.  Finally, the fisherman’s wife decided that it wasn’t enough,  that she wanted to be God. 

 Nothing less than ultimate power and glory  and luxury would do for her.  The fisherman reluctantly returned to the lake  to make this final request.  “So she wants to be God, does she?” the fish asked.  “Are you sure that’s what she wants?”  the fisherman replied. 

 Of course, the fish answered, then it swam away.  The fisherman dragged his heels going home that evening.  He was too scared to see the results of this wish.  But when he rounded the corner in the woods,  he didn’t see the fine castle he shared with his wife. 

 In its place there was a small cave.  And inside that small cave was a feeding trough for animals.  and inside that feeding trough lay a tiny baby.  The fish had granted his final wish. 

 What a story.  What it means to be God.  To come into the most humble of circumstances.  To come and to change the world forever. 

 In our day and age, things go so fast that  We often fail to pause and remember that great truth of Christmas.  The great joy of the incarnation God made flesh, Emmanuel God with us.  Because in an instant, at the birth of that baby,  everything changes in an instant.  Things change so fast today, but still the baby remains. 

 The baby who came and changed everything in an instant.  An instant.  Well, Christmas seems to go faster each year.  I remember when I was little, I thought Christmas would never ever come. 

 And now that I’m older, I think, “Uh-oh, it’s going to be here before I can get ready.”  It seems to come and go faster and faster each year.  When we’re little, we want it to come faster, and when we’re bigger,  sometimes we want it to come slower.  But as Christmas comes, we’re called to pause,  to make time for the reason for the celebration,  to make time for the baby in the manger,  to store up our memories and hold them in our hearts,  as Mary did so long ago, holding in her heart all that happened at the birth of  Jesus, remembering the shepherds, remembering the stable, remembering the  angels. I can’t even begin to imagine what those angels sounded like. 

I know  what it sounds like to hear maybe 2,000 people singing together, but the army of  the heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest,” that’s music I wish I had  heard. That’s music I’d know I’d remember and the power and the glory of it all.  What wonderful music we have at this scene. What wonderful music we have at  this season. 

As I said before I’ve always enjoyed Christmas music. I’ve always  enjoyed church hymns but those Christmas carols are so special. When I was 12  years old, the pastor’s wife asked my mom and dad if I’d like to learn to play the  organ. I’d been playing the piano since I was a little type and played the piano  in church and they thought it would be good for me to learn to play the organ. 

 So they gave me a key to the church and I took lessons and learned how to play  the organ, which was just the greatest joy in my world at the time. I remember I  I had had not one, not two, but thankfully three lessons when the pastor’s wife who  played the organ got sick. And at the ripe old age of 12 with three lessons  under my belt, I took over as church organist for almost a year. It was my  first Christmas Eve service to play on the organ. 

I was delighted. I loved the  music. The service was at 11 p.m. and about 6 o’clock as we were finishing our  dinner, the snow started to fall harder and harder and harder. 

It was a regular  blizzard. Dad and I had to go out and start to shovel about 8 o’clock so that  we could get the car out of the driveway because my dad said, “You will be there.  You promised. You will be there.” So we shoveled and we shoveled and we shoveled  and we packed into the car, and we put concrete blocks  in the trunk because this was the time of no front-wheel  drive. 

 And dad told my mom that she had to sit in the back seat  with me because the roads were bad  and we needed all the weight we could have in the rear end.  So we set off for church a mite early.  I’m pleased to say we got there in time, and I was ready.  I had a little bit of time to practice, and I was excited. 

 Now I have to tell you another thing.  My mom always took a notebook with her to church  when I played, and she would sit in the back pew  and she would make notes, like that was too loud  and that was too soft, and you made three mistakes  in that song.  My mom kept a good record, and she had that notebook  that Christmas Eve, and the pastor wanted to start out  with joy to the world, and the sanctuary filled up  despite the blizzard, and I was ready to play  Joy to the World with all the gusto I had.  And I played it with all my 12-year-old gusto. 

 I looked back and saw that my mother  wasn’t in her usual seat with the notebook  or giving me a signal to play softer or more loudly.  My mother was standing out in the aisle  in the middle of the church, holding the notebook sideways,  and she had quickly scribbled as darkly as she could,  “Slow down.”  I guess my joy and my excitement was too much.  And my mother stands out there in the aisle,  mouthing, “Slow down,”  and holding her notebook, “Slow down.”  I repeat those words to you this morning.  “Slow down.”  “Slow down and make time for the baby in the manger.”  Slow down and take time to reflect on the miracle of Bethlehem. 

 Slow down and share that love of Bethlehem with your family,  with your friends, and even with strangers.  Slow down.  Remember that God is here.  Emmanuel, God is with us. 

 God invades our world.  And we live in a world where God always is present.  And that’s why we’re here this morning.  That’s the great truth we celebrate. 

 Christ is love, love of the creator for his creation,  love of the father for his children.  Christmas is love.  We need a savior.  We have a savior. 

 And we must ask the savior into our lives.  We need a savior.  We have a savior.  We must ask him in and then share the savior with others. 

 There was a boy named Wally. He was big for his age, seven years old.  Everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas  play, especially considering the fact that he was also a slow learner.  Perhaps with a little work, he could pull the curtain. 

 To everyone’s surprise, the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper.  The boy, of course, was delighted.  After all, all he had to learn was one line, “There is no room in the inn.”  He had that down in no time at all.  Then came the night for the program. 

 The parents took their places.  Every seat in the auditorium was filled.  The children enjoyed singing, “Oh, come all ye faithful.”  The lights dimmed.  A hush moved over the audience. 

 The curtain opened on scene one.  Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn.  Please, sir, my wife is not well.  Could we have a room for the night?  Wally was ready for his line. 

 He had rehearsed it for weeks.  He had gone over it all night.  He began, there is, and hesitated.  He started over again. 

 “There is…”  And nothing came.  His mind went completely blank.  Everyone was embarrassed for him,  but poor Wally just didn’t know what to do.  Joseph thought he would improvise  and started walking away toward the stable  on the left of the stage. 

 Seeing him walk away,  Wally in desperation called out,  “Look, there’s plenty of room at my house.  “Just come on home with me.”  I love that story because I think that should be  our response to the babe of Bethlehem.  There’s plenty of room at my house.  Come on home with me. 

 Better stated, there’s plenty of room in my heart.  Come in and live there.  Yes, during the Christmas season, there’s a hustle,  there’s a bustle, there’s a crowdedness,  but there’s also a baby in a manger.  There should be plenty of room in our hearts and I pray that we ask Jesus to  come on home with us. 

Amen.  .