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Simply Passing Through - By Pastor Thomas Engel


A perfect job has popped up recently to help pay for those extra December expenses. Reviews.org is advertising the “Ho Ho Holiday Dream Job.” The winner will earn 2,500 dollars to watch twenty-five Christmas movies in twenty-five days, and then fill out a short survey.

What’s your favorite Christmas movie? Is it Elf, Home Alone, Rudolph, Frosty, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, or Miracle on 34th Street?

I searched to get a list of Christmas movies to see if I have been missing any over the years.

The first search listed one hundred movies. Die Hard is second on the list. For those who like intense explosive action in a Christmas movie, Bruce Willis, as Detective Lieutenant John McClane, has shoot-outs with the bad guys until he saves the day on Christmas Eve.

Not to snub any Die Hard movie fans, but my favorite Christmas movie is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The musical score for that movie is top-notch. It has everything from classical music to the coolest jazz arrangements.

And, of course, from a theological stance, the movie gives a very clear Gospel message. In the final scene, when Charlie Brown is totally exasperated because he comes up empty after his pursuit to find the true meaning of Christmas, he screams for an answer.

Linus, who usually gives answers of sound reason, but who also has to have his blanket, clearly recites, in his little boy’s crackly voice, from the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Saint Luke, the events of Jesus’ birth.

This scene made for some controversy as it directly told the true meaning of Christmas on public television.

Most Christmas movies follow the typical formula for making a story. A character who has issues goes through dramatic stages, like a mean old Scrooge who is bitter, among other things, about his partner’s death, Jacob Marley, on Christmas Eve.

The conflict in these movies is resolved in the climax when the character finds the true meaning of Christmas.

But, in almost every Christmas movie, when it comes to finding what Christmas is all about, the answer comes up far short.

Scrooge goes from an old miser to a jolly old elf. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart, plays the iconic role of George Baily, the disappointed dreamer, who finds that he is living a fulfilling purposeful life in a small town. And Kevin, an eight year old boy left home alone during Christmas, learns that he really does care for his sometimes annoying but loving family.

We have to agree that these are wholesome and good themes of love and joy, but they miss the mark about what Christmas is all about.

When I was starting out as a pastor over twenty-five years ago, I can remember in Advent sermons beating up on the commercialization of Christmas.

What we do with Christmas makes for an easy target. The Christmas season seems to be all about getting your hands on a good sale.

It’s so important to get that sixty-inch flat screen television that people are willing to run, push, shove, and knock down anyone in their way as the super store opens its doors at the crack of dawn on Black Friday.

Not so much chaos this year-maybe we need to keep the restrictions of limited store capacity to make for a more civil Black Friday.

See, here I go again. It’s so easy to be more of a “Scrooge” about Christmas than Scrooge had been. To me, Scrooge at the beginning of his story had a point. I can find myself saying, ‘“Bah humbug” to all the glittery fuss about Christmas.

In our attempts to make this time of year so special, we make it superficial.

A red flag snaps up in my mind whenever I hear someone say, “I want to make this Christmas perfect in every way.”

In my mind, I’m saying, “It’s already perfect because of our Savior’s birth over two thousand years ago.”

I can go on my rant for awhile about what our consumer-based society has done with Christmas. And I wonder in my faint memory of my earlier sermons if they had left impressions that were more like scoldings than messages of Law and Gospel.

Maybe the congregation as they listened to me go on and on about our non-religious celebration of Christmas, they were thinking, “Good grief, Charlie Brown, get over it.”

I might even have been hypocritical. Because after I preached against the practices of the world’s secular celebration of Christmas, I went home and ate Christmas cookies, put up Christmas lights, made my Christmas list and checked it twice, sang Blue Christmas with Elvis on the radio, went Christmas shopping, took my son to the mall to see Santa, and drank hot chocolate from a Christmas mug and ate a lot more Christmas cookies while I watched Christmas movies.

I like Christmas movies just because they are fun to watch. I identify with Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation. He overdoes everything, but his heart is in the right place as he wants his family to enjoy the season together.

I think I did all these things-and I still think I do them-in the true Christmas spirit of Jesus’ birth. That I do them like that by faith-I hope I do so. I intend to do so.

Through the years, I have come to see that we are not to beat up what our society does with Christmas, but for us here today, we just need to get it all in perspective.

When it comes to your Christmas traditions, I say, “Go for it!”

In this year of 2020 with so many hard things that have come our way, we need to especially celebrate the birth of our Savior with everything that we got.

Of course, I will begin by summing up health community advisements in this time of a pandemic-let’s keep it all safe.

But, still, it’s like the song says, “We need a little Christmas at this very moment.” So, let’s roll out everything and have joy in all that we do, for peace is on earth because of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

As we begin this Advent Season, we need to see that the message of Advent is not to be the antithesis to the world. We are not to dump everything in the world and try to reverse it all.

Sometimes, when we see what is happening in the world, for it does have some big bad messes, we want to hammer it down to nothing.

But, whenever I want to rebuke the world, I remember the beginning of the verse, John 3:16, that talks about how “God so loved the world....”

If God loves the world, we need to love it, too, even as we see all of its warts.

Advent is like any other time of the year as far as keeping perspective. All year long we engage with the world. And, we come here on Sundays to worship and to check our outlook on life.

On the Fourth of July weekend, we watch fireworks, but we also remember to praise God for all that He gives us in this great nation.

Just a few days ago on Thanksgiving, we ate turkey and a mountain of mashed potatoes, and yea, I have to admit that I did eat mountains with an ocean of gravy, but we also gave thanks to our Lord for all of our blessings.

It’s okay to engage in a pop culture as long as you keep a perspective that you influence it from a believer’s values, and it’s not the other way around.

Any time of the Church Year is about keeping a perspective on our lives in the light of God’s good will for us.

As we are to live in this awesome world that God has for us, it still has some things to watch out for.

The world has sin, and we can get lured to follow its ways. Mostly, we are to recognize that we are sinners and can make some good problems for ourselves all on our own.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are always asking God to bring His Holy Kingdom here to earth as it is in heaven.

Not everything is holy down here, for evil exists, but God does rain perfectly good things down for us, too.

So, the world and ourselves have some issues that we need to keep a watch on, but this world for now is the place where we are to be.

Each part of the Church Year as a special theme on perspective. Advent’s theme is about how we look at time.

This First Sunday in Advent is Happy New Year for the Church Year. The dictionary definition of Advent means “the arrival of something.”

In the church, we look at the first arrival of Jesus’ coming when he was born and his Second Coming when he comes to take us all to heaven forever.

Again, Advent is not meant to reverse everything about the world and start something totally different.

Advent is about looking at this time that we are in now and how we are to live in it.

Like all times, this time has it troubles. That we know that this time has troubles does not come to us first from Fox News or CNN.

We get the details from today’s news, but this news of troubled times comes from the prophets of old and from Jesus over two thousand years ago.

The trouble in any time is a sign that Jesus is coming again. No generation will pass away without a sign of some kind.

At sixty years old, I look at children wearing masks and having their childhoods sadly interrupted by a virus.

This pandemic of 2020 is their sign, and this sharing of this news is not so easy to bear.

Today is November 29th, and imagine if it is the year 1941 when we were on the verge of war. For that generation, another war throughout the world was their sign.

These signs are full of trouble, and we would rather not have them.

But, we keep thinking that we are here today to get a perspective on these days.

Well, if we know that the sign has a purpose, and in that purpose, we see something meant for the good in the long run, and then in that meaning, we can move to an understanding that we are meant to live in this time.

This perspective does not bring a Lazy Boy recliner type of comfort, but our comfort is not of earthly things but of spiritual things.

The signs are full of trouble for us, but they are also pointing us to The Last Day when Jesus comes again.

On this Last Day, Jesus brings us to a new heaven and new earth that has perfect joy and lasting peace.

Our perspective is that we are living in this certain hope that it will not always be like this-, but that real soon-we will be seeing our Lord and Savior face to face.

I don’t want to diminish this hard time that we are living in, for it is giving us hardships.

But the Advent perspective for this time and any of the hard times that this world has faced is that we are basically simply passing through it all.

We know that this time will end one day, and in the big picture of things, it will be ending soon.

On this day and in coming days, we live with hope that Jesus will come again and take us to be with him forever.

And we have all the blessings that Jesus gave us when he first came by his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

We have forgiveness of every sin and strength, and every time we receive his body and blood, we are reminded what Jesus has done for us, and we are comforted that Jesus is here with us as we go back to a hard world.

So, my suggestion is to watch the Hallmark Channel with its seasonal Christmas romance movies. Get a box of kleenex and watch two people going through all the drama that it takes to fall in love. Oh, its just so romantic.

For a couple of hours, let it distract you from this hard world.

But, like everything else we do, we can do it by hearts and minds of faith in our Lord and Savior. We can do it all in this faithful way. We can hope we do so. We can intend to do so.

All the signs that we are seeing are pointing us to that day when Jesus comes again, so we know that it will certainly happen.

All generations will see the signs that point to Jesus’ Second Coming, but only one generation will actually see Jesus come.

I am hoping that Jesus comes real soon, for if we can have this hope together, we will live with joyful anticipation together for that Last Day.

In a true perspective, we are all just simply passing through these times until that glorious day when Jesus comes again-whenever that will be.

So, we pray together everyday with the closing words of Scripture, and this short prayer is packed with everything we need for these times-Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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