“What Do You Want for Christmas?”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
My guess is that most of you grew up
with the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog. Was it as exciting for you as
it was for me?
I know that you have no way of
knowing that. But my brother and I waited with great anticipation for that
two-inch thick tome to arrive in the mail. We would start with the toy section
dog-earing and bookmarking page after page, and then we would go back and
create our Christmas lists from the numerous items that caught our attention.
Of course, there was also the JC
Penney Christmas catalog, but that was not nearly as good. It did not have any
toys or sports equipment in it.
As exciting as those catalogs were
for my brother and me, I am pretty sure that they never contained anything like
Siulinski enters down the center aisle dressed as John the Baptist. Once Dale
gets up on the chancel …]
too can be the life of the party in the latest offerings from the exclusive
John the Baptist Fashion line.
can prepare the way of the Lord … you can proclaim salvation through the
repentance of sins while wearing this genuine, imitation camel hair cloak.
can let the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit blow through your wild and untamed
can feel the safety and security of God’s embrace when you wrap yourself in
this leather belt.
and wild honey sold separately.”
you, Dale! I mean … John!”
I can assure you that none of my
Christmas lists included anything as fabulous as that ensemble. Well … maybe a
belt. Possibly … a wig.
But I am fairly certain that in all
my years of Christmas list making, I never asked for repentance, or the
opportunity to prepare the way for the Lord.
Now … let us take a breath … and
pause for a moment.
As children, we were like the retail
stores of today. We started ramping up for Christmas the day after Halloween.
By Thanksgiving, we were at a fever pitch. We had no idea what Advent was
really about. We just hoped and dreamed about what we would find under the tree
on Christmas morning.
As adults … we know that this is a
season of anticipation … waiting … and preparation. We should not be anxious to
jump ahead to the middle of the Nativity story with Gabriel’s announcements to
Joseph and Mary. We really must begin with John.
You see, Jesus was not the only
miraculous birth in the Nativity narrative. Gabriel had already made a visit to
Zechariah … John’s father. The Angel Gabriel told Zechariah that their prayers
would be answered, and they would be blessed by the birth of a son. Zechariah
questioned Gabriel’s proclamation because he and his wife, Elizabeth, were of
advanced age. For questioning Gabriel’s message, Zechariah was struck mute
until the birth of his child … his son, John.
There is a lot more to the story.
Perhaps one day we will add a preamble to our Christmas pageant and tell
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story. But let us pause again … and take one more
Zechariah’s name means … “God
Elizabeth’s name means … “God keeps
And John means … “God is gracious.”
All of these things we know to be
true. For those hearing the Gospel Message for the first time, these truths
will all be revealed as Good News!
For the people of first century
Palestine, they were desperate for some good news.
Luke’s introduction to John’s
ministry is much more complete than in the other gospels and gives us a precise
date when John appeared on the scene. It also gives us insight into the world
in which he lived and preached. It was a world of oppression and misery.
The Romans had been in the region
for about one hundred years, but they had only had a resident governor in
Israel since some time around the year 6 CE. Emperor Augustus Caesar died in 14
CE, and he was replaced by Tiberius, who was a ruthless and despicable emperor
that was worshipped as a god in parts of the empire.
Herod the Great died in the year 4
BCE, and rule of the country was divided among his three sons. Herod Antipas
and Philip ruled by the permission of Rome in the north. The third son ruled in
the south and was such a terrible king that he was replaced by Rome. That was
why Rome had a governor in Jerusalem.
Most of the Jewish people did not
consider the Herods to be real kings. They were a self-made and self-proclaimed
monarchy installed by Rome.
And then there were the high priests
at the Temple. Traditionally, the high priest served a lifetime term, but Rome
replaced the priests according to their own will. Annas had been the high
priest but was unseated in the year 14. He was followed by his four sons, and
then by his son-in-law, Caiaphas. (Yes … now is the time when we would boo.)
Caiaphas had been installed as high priest, but it was Annas that stilled
maintained power and influence.
There had been popular movements and
revolts by the people, but they were swiftly and brutally put down by Rome.
The people longed for something to
happen. They waited, watched and prayed. They listened for some word from God.
And then John appeared on the scene. That fiery, young prophet heard the Word
of God in the wilderness and began preaching about the arrival of a new
John was telling the people that the
time had come, and they were ready to listen! They were in slavery again … in
their own homeland! They desired a new exodus. They desired freedom.
Of course, the ancient prophets had told
the people that their captivity was due to their sinfulness, so they preached
repentance. “Turn from your evil ways. Turn toward God with heart and soul. Return
to God and you will be set free!”
John picked up that ancient message
and carried it to the people of his generation. “Repent! Prepare the way for
God to return! Prepare the way for freedom! Make the rough places smooth, tear
down the mountains of sin. Repent … turn your hearts and souls toward God!”
Repent. Prepare the way. Remove any
obstacles that would prevent God from entering into world … into your world.
If John was to come down the center
of Main Street, Saco today … dressed in whatever the twenty-first century
equivalent of a camel hair cloak and a leather belt … and call us to repent …
what would he be calling us to do?
What are the “mountains” that
obstruct the pathway of God?
What are the “rough places” that
prevent God from entering in?
What do we need to do to make a way
We are not talking about making a
way for God to enter into the world. God is already in the world. There is
nothing in all creation that can block or obstruct God … except … except for
those things that we place in our lives. We create mountains of clutter over
which God cannot climb. We create rough places that God cannot cross.
God does not bully us into
relationship. God will not force us to throw open the doors or to clear the
path. We must do that willingly.
What do we need to do to make a way
Turn our hearts and souls away from
the temporal clutter and the worldly obstacles. Turn away from that which will
rust and crumble and perish.
Turn our hearts and souls toward
that which is eternal, that which is divine. Turn our lives and our hearts
What do you want for Christmas?
The gift is a God-filled life.
The gift is peace, and love, and
The gift is Jesus Christ.
All we have to do is prepare the
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