I love the fact that Jesus arrived in such a gentle way, and in the midst of such painful circumstances. Many of our folks are in painful circumstances and need him to come to them gently this Christmas to soothe and to heal. All we need is “a little Christmas.”
A Mustard Seed Christmas
A Sermon on Luke 13:18-19, Psalm 137:1-4 and Luke 2:1-7
(Inspired by a meditation by Charlene Fairchild titled “A Mustard Seed Christmas,” gleaned from the Kir-Shalom website. Unfortunately the link, found on one of the Holy Christmas pages, is currently broken.)
There are times when it’s hard to sing. There are times when an ache in the body or soul becomes an ache in the throat when you try to sing. That was what God’s people experienced when they lost their home, Jerusalem, and were carried into exile in Babylon. “Let’s hear one of your hymns of Zion,” the Babylonians teased the homesick people. “How can we sing God’s song here?” they cried. They couldn’t! They put away their musical instruments.
It was the same years later when they finally were allowed to go home. They wanted to be able to sing songs of rejoicing when they reached Jerusalem, but they just couldn’t. They stared at the ruins of what had been their houses and God’s house, the temple, and tears flowed all over again.
They were home, but found that they were still in the shadowlands of grief. It is the same now when our lives are disrupted. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Israel mourns in exile!
Indeed, the land of grief is a strange land. How can we sing “Joy to the World,”—I mean really sing it from the heart—without our life’s partner at our side, without those irreplaceable people we have lost? How can we sing when our hearts are heavy with concern and worry? Everyone else seems to be busy and happy, but the thought of pasting on a smile and pretending to be joyful is distinctly unappetizing.
Just when Mary needed to be at home in familiar surroundings with caring people as her due date drew near, the powers that be mandated a journey. Joseph and Mary became temporary exiles. It was not a jolly journey to Bethlehem. It is hard to imagine a more uncomfortable ride: to be nine months pregnant, bumping along on the back of a donkey. And then to go into labor in a strange place with nowhere to go.
The birth of Jesus went largely unnoticed in all the hubbub of the tax registration. The revelation of his birth was given only to a few shepherds—nobodies, inconsequential people. It was a small, fragile beginning for God’s act of salvation. Jesus truly was vulnerable. King Herod came close to succeeding in eliminating him. If Joseph hadn’t been listening for a word from God…Thank goodness he listened!
God’s way is often small and quiet. God often works in a mustard seed sort of way. The very kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone planted, a grown-up Jesus declared later. From the tiniest of all seeds, a great, hospitable tree grows! God grows his kingdom from tiny, humble beginnings. God planted a tiny, vulnerable mustard seed in Bethlehem. Yet the Virgin’s tiny boy is the Lord of the universe!
Maybe what we need when we cannot rejoice in a big way at Christmas is a mustard seed Christmas. A tiny pinpoint of light is all that is needed, a tiny touch from Christ’s infant hand on your cheek. Just a tiny glimpse of the great big love that God has for you. The promise of God’s great, wonderful, everlasting kingdom is wrapped up in faith and hope the size of a mustard seed. The promise of God’s everlasting love for you is wrapped up in a mustard-seed sized package: his little Son in a manger.
A mustard seed Christmas. That’s what the first Christmas was: a mustard seed Christmas. Why not take heart and keep sowing all our own little mustard seeds of love at Christmas? One little kind word, one small act of reaching out in friendship and compassion is full of the promise of God.
A few Christmases ago I read a meditation that had really stuck with me. It was titled “A Mustard Seed Christmas.” The author, Charlene Fairchild, described the first Christmas after her mother died at too young an age from a horrible illness called Pick’s disease. It is very much like mad cow disease. It is another one of those diseases that kills the brain. As Christmas approached, Charlene could hardly bear the thought of participating and pretending to be joyful. The word “hope” sounded like something from a foreign language. Her husband reminded her that God works in a mustard seed sort of way, that God can take a tiny seed of faith and grow it into a kingdom of hope.
Somehow that went right to the heart of the matter for Charlene. Immediately she went into her kitchen and rummaged around in her spice cabinet. There it was! A jar of mustard seeds. She took one out and taped it to a piece of white paper and put it up on the mantelpiece in the living room. The mustard seed was her family’s first Christmas decoration that year.
If a tiny, almost invisible seed of faith is all you have this Christmas, if your will and ability to sing Christmas songs is small or non-existent because pain overshadows you, that is alright. A tiny seed is enough. In God’s way of working, a tiny baby born in painful circumstances becomes the Savior of all. Your tiny seed contains the promise of a wonderful hope.
My Christmas wish list for you and for the world is long. How I long for us all to be healed of sickness, and worry and strife and sorrow. How I long for peace, for things to work out in Iraq and Afghanistan so our dear ones can come home. How I wish the human family would learn to get along. My Christmas list is long! I know your list is long, too.
I wish for you even a tiny glimpse of how much God loves you, even a tiny recognition of his presence with you, THE Christmas gift that can never be taken away. I wish for you a mustard seed Christmas.