Luke 2:1-20, Christmas Eve
In many families, a new Christmas tradition is the Elf on a Shelf. (This little guy is similar. Thanks Kim.) The elf is one of Santa’s helpers. Every morning, he appears in a new place in the house. At night he returns to Santa to report on the children in the house. It’s the Elf’s job to let Santa know if the children have been naughty or nice.
Each day, the children hunt through the house to find the elf. He might be in the kitchen on the sugar canister, or in the living room watching TV, or in the bathroom in the tissue box. For most children, it’s a fun game.
For others, the Elf on the Shelf is scary. For these children, it seems that the Elf is Santa’s spy, watching every move. Instead of fun, the Elf becomes a terrifying presence, who is tasked with making sure the children are obedient every second of every day.
Some people have this same idea about God. They think, I have to be perfect or else God won’t love me. They are convinced, God won’t forgive me for what I’ve done. They believe, I am not obedient enough to be God’s beloved child.
Because we all tend to think that way sometimes, Jesus came to tell us God is not like the elf, or even like Santa.
… The coming of Jesus started with an act of obedience to God, which meant disobeying the cultural rules of the day. Young women did not get pregnant before getting married. Those who did risked being ridiculed, shunned, possibly even stoned to death.
Yet, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to give birth to the Messiah, the Savior of his people, she didn’t hesitate. She trusted the angel, and was willing to obey God instead of the rules of her society.
When Mary told her fiancé Joseph what was happening, he didn’t believe her. He didn’t want to make a big scene, so he offered to quietly break the engagement. But then he had a dream, with a visitation by an angel. The angel told him that his beloved Mary would give birth to the Savior, and he should not be afraid to marry her. Joseph obeyed, accepting the angel’s promise. He and Mary got married, and made plans to raise their baby, God’s own Son.
I can’t imagine being 9 months pregnant and traveling 50 miles on foot, up-hill and down, but Mary did just that. Reluctantly, I’m sure, Mary and Joseph headed for Bethlehem, obeying the Roman proclamation that they needed to be there to register for the census. So, they were in their crowded ancestral hometown when the baby was born.
That same night, God’s angels visited some shepherds as they were watching their sheep in the fields near where the baby was born. The angels told the shepherds about the good news of the messiah’s birth, and told them to go look for him. They obeyed the angels and went to see the newborn, and returned to their flock praising God.
Later, the magi would arrive from distant lands, obeying the call of the star which led them to the home of Mary and Joseph. There, they gave honor to Jesus as they would to any king. They also obeyed the angels’ warning to not return to Herod to tell him where they found Jesus.
… We don’t have angels or stars telling us how to obey God today. We do have Jesus’ own life of obedience to God. We do have Jesus as a role model for how to live obediently, loving, kindly, forgivingly, the way God wants us to.
When you think of obeying God, don’t think about the Elf watching your every move. Think about giving God your obedient love and sharing it with all of God’s children.
For example; last weekend Mike and I watched a TV show honoring the Marines’ Toys for Tots program. One of the commercials had me in tears of joy.
There was a Marine standing guard, as still and watchful as he could be. A child of about 6 approached him with a piece of paper in his hand. The child said, “Are you Santa Claus. People told me that you are Santa Claus. If you are Santa, would you read my list?”
They stood there silent for a moment, the boy holding out the list, and the soldier as still as he could possibly be. Finally, the Marine made a small movement, opening his hand for the list. The boy broke out in a grin of amazement. “He is Santa Claus! He is Santa Claus!”
The Marine could have obeyed his orders to remain still. Instead he obeyed his heart, God’s call, and the mission to serve as well as protect. He accepted the list from the boy, and helped him believe in Santa, and love, and the goodness of people.
… Even when we know what God wants from us, we will not be perfectly obedient – we are human, after all. We are created, sinful, children of God. It is not possible for us to be perfect. God knows that. It’s for this very reason that Jesus came to earth, first as a cute, cuddly baby, then as a traveling teacher with radical lessons, and then as the crucified and risen Savior.
Because of Jesus, we do not need to be perfectly obedient. We do not need to fear the consequences of our sin. We do not need to be afraid of the elf reporting to God if we have been naughty or nice.
Instead, we can be free to live, love, share, and enjoy life. When we disobey along the way, we know we are forgiven, through the love of Jesus. This is good news for all of us. This is news worth passing on. So, go from here in joy, and share that joy with someone else this week. If it helps, talk about the elf. Amen