On Christmas Eve afternoon, in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, Pastor James Howell of Myers Park United Methodist Church inexplicably found himself compelled to go to downtown Charlotte. So he did—even though there was still a lot to get ready for Christmas Eve services that evening.
He left his work, drove to downtown Charlotte, parked, and started walking around. Soon he saw a woman coming toward him pushing a stroller while pulling behind her a rolling suitcase. He was struck by the effort she was making despite the utter exhaustion on her face.
When they were nearly about to pass they caught eyes. Somewhat instinctively, and somewhat awkwardly, the pastor said, “Merry Christmas!”
The woman replied, “Merry Christmas? Not for me.”
Pastor Howell said, “Tell me about that.”
Somewhat confused, and certainly skeptical, the woman squinted, looked the man over, dressed as he was in dress shirt, sport coat, wool slacks, and with a very Caucasian complexion, and said, “You don’t look like the kind of fellow who would understand.”
The pastor simply said, “Try me anyway.”
And then, inexplicably, the woman shared why it wouldn’t be a Merry Christmas, starting with the words, “It’s so hard…”
She shared her story of struggle, brokenness, worry, fear, frustration, loss, rejection, pain and everything else that goes with a story beginning with the words, “It’s so hard…”
Pastor Howell listened intently—and when she was done he said, “I’m not sure what I can do, but can I pray for you.”
The pastor prayed with her, and for her, and when he was done he said, “I have some friends…” referring to his congregation, “I have some friends who I am going to ask to pray for you too.”
Moments later, both with tears welling in their eyes, they parted. They didn’t exchange names or contact info—he didn’t even tell her he was a pastor.
But do you think either of them will ever forget that Christmas Eve?
The unforgettable happened because both made an inexplicable choice. One chose to go out of his way at an extremely busy time. Another chose to accept an invitation to share something deeply personal, and I would say, deeply holy—her story.
It’s Christmas, and the woman’s story—even unknown as it is—is compelling because we know enough of the story, don’t we? Life…it’s so hard, isn’t it?
Life is pushing and pulling at the same time. Life is struggle, brokenness, worry, fear, frustration, loss, rejection, pain.
Life…it’s so hard.
Yet at Christmas we are reminded that even in a hard life there is still to be found hope, peace, joy, and love through the choices we make—the obvious, like going to church on Christmas Eve, and the not so obvious, like doing the inexplicable.
Throughout this Advent season we focused on how we can work to intentionally choose Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Each sermon in the sermon series, was titled, “Choosing Hope”, “Choosing Peace”, “Choosing Joy”, “Choosing Love.”
Don’t worry if you missed one or two or more of these sermons—there’ not going to be a final exam tonight. But if you are having trouble sleeping, all the sermons are available on our church website.
Still though, throughout the season God’s word showed us how faithfulness to God is not something that just happens, it is in fact something we have to do, something we have to choose.
But it is hard. It’s hard because life is hard.
Faithfulness to God—in a world that gives us a million reasons not to have faith—is hard.
Choosing hope in hopeless times is hard.
Choosing peace in times of chaos and conflict is hard.
Choosing joy in times of fear and grief and brokenness is hard.
Choosing love in a world of hate is hard.
It’s all so hard—even at Christmas when the sights and sounds of the joy filled, peace on earth good will to all are crammed down our throats.
Still though…in it all…we have choices we can make.
We can make the obvious ones—the ones that keep things status quo, the ones that keep us where we are, the ones that keep us comfortable even if we are comfortably miserable.
Or we can make the not so obvious choices—the ones that are inexplicable, the ones that take us out of our way, to places unknown, maybe even uncomfortable places, and have us enter into community with people who maybe don’t look like the kind of community we normally keep.
It’s the inexplicable choices, the choices in spite of the million reasons not to, that take us to the places where we most often, and most closely, encounter the holy.
The Christmas Story reminds us that God is found in the inexplicable, the unlikely, the uncomfortable places.
The Christmas Story reminds us that Jesus understands that life is so hard because from the beginning of his life it was hard.
The Christmas Story reminds us God did not remain aloof and distant in heaven, but rather God came down, God had arms, and legs, and a heart, and parents, and friends, and work, and needs, and people and circumstances that came at him and demanded of him and ridiculed him and rejected him and made life hard.
God in Jesus knew pushing and pulling at the same time, he knew struggle, brokenness, worry, fear, frustration, loss, rejection, pain—he knew death itself.
And he came into our world, into our lives, to redeem it all…to save us all.
Which means because of Christmas we now have choices before us.
In his book Let the Journey Begin, Max Lucado talks about the choices before him in each new day. They are the same choices before us in each new day.
Lucado shares how he makes his choices saying…
It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming and in a few moments will arrive. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands.
It is now that I must make a choice.
Because Jesus was born…because Jesus lived… because of Calvary, I’m free to choose.
And so I choose.
I choose love. No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. Today I will love God and what God loves.
I choose joy. I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical… the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace. I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.
I choose patience. I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite Him to do so. Rather than complain the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose kindness. I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose goodness. I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse.
I choose faithfulness. Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
I choose gentleness. Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
I choose self-control. I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful-ness, gentleness, and self-control—to these I commit my day.
If I succeed, I will give thanks.
If I fail, I will seek His grace.
And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
“Because Jesus was born…because Jesus lived… because of Calvary” Lucado knows he’s free to choose the ways of this world, or he can choose the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ—even when there are a million reasons not to.
We have the same choices before us.
The Christmas Story reminds us God is found in the inexplicable, the unlikely, the uncomfortable places.
The Messiah was supposed to make a grand entrance!
But instead he was found in a barn.
The Son of God was supposed to be mighty!
But instead he was a little baby.
The Savior of the World was supposed to conquer the world.
But instead he died for it.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but yet it was. It was all hard, inexplicable, unlikely, uncomfortable—and it shows us that Jesus gets it when we say, “It’s just so hard…”
It’s why Jesus came. It’s why we celebrate and remember his coming to us again tonight. We do it to be reminded that in this hard life Jesus knows what makes life hard; Jesus knows why life is hard. It’s why he came—to shows us we are free to choose.
What will we choose?
Will we chose to celebrate tomorrow, and go back to our status quo on Wednesday?
Or will we do the inexplicable? We will keep choosing—even when there are a million reasons not to—will we keep choosing Christmas…everyday? What will we choose?