Christmas in July Quarantines the Grinches! (7/26/20)

Posted by on Jul 28, 2020 in EventReport, FEATURED, Worship & Prayer | 0 comments

“Christmas in July” has become a PUMC tradition.  On a hot Sunday in July we get out the Christmas trees, wreaths, and advent banners.  People come to church dressed in Christmas garb; they wear clothes that somehow yield to the hot conditions outside while adding to the Christmas ambience inside.  We sing Christmas Carols, read the Christmas story in the Bible, and consider a sermon that reminds us that Christmas lasts all through the year.

On July 26 2020, we celebrated Christmas in July!

 

Grinches

Pastor Jim’s sermon was entitled “How the Grinch Can Actually Save Christmas.”  The Grinch is the subject of a Dr. Seuss book who lives by himself on a hill outside of Whoville.  In the valley below, the joyous Whos celebrate Christmas by giving eachother gifts.  But the Grinch doesn’t have that joy, and all he sees is the gifts.  He figures that he can reduce the Whos to his own joyless level by stealing the gifts they had prepared.  But by the end of the story, the Grinch discovered that it wasn’t the gifts that gave the Whos their joy.

There are many “grinches” in our lives today.  Illnesses, loneliness, financial struggles, and fear impose circumstances on us that seek to steal our joy.  The pandemic that we are now enduring is like a grinch that tries to steal our joy by drowning us in worry and fear.

But as the Grinch discovered, faith-centered Joy and circumstance-based happiness are two different things.

 

A Grinch Changed our Circumstances

We celebrated Christmas in July this year, but there was a big “grinch” in the room: the Covid-19 pandemic.  This pandemic, as it has with everything else, changed our Christmas in July celebration; we could not gather in our sanctuary to celebrate together.  Instead, we stayed at home and watched the service on our computer or smartphone screens.

Even if there was a LCD screen between us and our church family, we were still able to find ways to tap into the joy that God offers.  Christmas Joy isn’t limited to Christmas Day, and it’s not confined to our church building either.  Despite the change in circumstances, we found new ways to continue to celebrate Christmas in July.

 

Potter’s Hand

At 9:00, our Adult Sunday school class gathered together.  Under different circumstances, this group gathers in the “Potter’s Hand Room” in the balcony above the sanctuary.  The morning starts with a pot of coffee and donuts brought by class members.

On this Christmas in July we couldn’t do that, so we stayed at home, made our own coffee, and met together using Zoom.  Seeing eachother on a computer screen is different.  We loose the ability to shake hands, hug, and sense eachother’s presence.  And yet, there’s still a sense of real joy even under the virtual circumstances.

The Potter’s Hand class has been studying the book of Matthew.  On this Christmas in July, we had reached (perhaps ironically), the 26th chapter. Matthew chapter 26 describes the arrest, trial, and rejection of Jesus.  It is the chapter before His crucifixion and death.  And yet, we were studying these events in the hour before celebrating Christmas.  Death and supposed defeat, followed by birth and joy.

But isn’t that the experience of the Grinch?  Grinches impose difficult circumstances, but through them we learn to trust even more deeply in God.  In verse 39 Jesus prays  “…yet not as I will, but as You will.”  The “grinches” seem to have their way in  chapters 26 and 27, but these difficulties only serve to heighten the joy of the resurrection when we reach chapter 28. 

 

Children’s Sunday School

On a “normal Sunday” our Christian education wing would be filled with children meeting in different age-based classes.  We can’t use those rooms during this pandemic, but… at 9:45, the kids of our church met.

The Facebook meeting wasn’t in person, but it was still personal and loving.  Kate and Lance Bird greeted the “audience” with a joyous “Good Morning” and families responded with comments on the Facebook post.

Kate opened the Bible to Luke’s Christmas story, and we joined with Mary and Elizabeth to wonder at the miracle of these two births.  John was born to a couple well-advanced in years, and Jesus was born to a couple before they joined together.  Both births were announced by visions and angels, and both were a joyous intervention into human life by our loving and all powerful God.

All of the characters in this story had fear.  Elizabeth and Zechariah (her husband) were afraid of the past; they were “too old” to have a baby.  Mary and Joseph were afraid of the future; what will people think, what will all of this mean.  The shepherds were afraid of the present; a host of angels was appearing in front of them.

But the good news is that Jesus came into our lives to take away that fear and to replace it with joy.  He came for all of us.

The circumstances of age and biology sought to rob Mary and Elizabeth of their joy, much as today’s circumstances seek to rob us of our hope.  Fear of the unknown took over their minds, even as worries and “what ifs” invade our own lives today.  The “Grinches” seek to rob us of the good news of Jesus’ coming, but joy and hope built on God can never be taken away.

 

Worship

During the pandemic, “going to church” means “tune into the Live Stream.”  Instead of finding our pew, we we go to the website bookmark on our computer or phone.  Instead of shaking hands, we click or tap the “play” icon.

But when we “came to church” on this Sunday, we saw something unusual:  a fireplace in the sanctuary!  True, it was a “green screen” creation of technology, but it reminded us of the warmth of community.  Pastor Jim opened the service by sitting in a chair positioned in front of the fireplace, surrounded by glowing candles, and backed by a virtual Christmas tree.

The Grinch reminded us that this was only a technical illusion.  But the “green screen” and empty pews couldn’t rob us of the joy that comes when a family gathers together to celebrate the Joy of Christmas.

The Grinch says “No”….

The Grinch tied to steal joy.  In Whoville, he took away the Christmas gifts.  In Pitman, he took away our proximity. 

But something strange happened.  Not only did his actions fail to steal joy, they actually worked to increase joy.  In Whoville, the absence of gifts didn’t squash the joy and hope of the Whos; they were as joyous as ever.  In Pitman, we were greeted with the love of a family gathered around a fireplace. We ended our time together by singing “Joy to the World” and proclaiming that “Our God Saves.”

In Whoville, the Who’s joy was contagious enough to change even the Grinch.  At the beginning of the story the Grinch’s heart was “two sizes too small,” but by the end of the story he was joining in on the celebration.  The joy of the Whos turned his puny heart inside out, and he began to see something more powerful than himself.

God says “Yes”…

But what will happen to the “grinch” in Pitman?  Can God stop the “grinch” of this pandemic from robbing us of our  of our faith, love and joy?  Is it even possible that the “grinch” of 2020 can make our hearts grow?

Something unexpected happens when “grinches” try to throw roadblocks into the paths of people who are grounded in faith.  Not only do the roadblocks fail to lead to despair, they cause us to look even more closely to God and we end up experiencing a deeper joy. 

When your “house is built on a Rock” (Mathew 7:24-27), efforts from “grinches” will backfire and increase your joy.  Faith, when tested, becomes stronger.  When it becomes dark, we look for the Light.

 

Joy to the World

Sunday July 26 2020 was an unusual day.  It was a day of paradoxes.  Outside it was hot and humid, but inside we built a fire.  The calendar said July, but we considered it to be December.  We studied the trial and crucifixion, but ended up celebrating the birth and life-giving power of Jesus.  We looked at the fears that seek to overwhelm us, but came away with the hope of a God who seeks to transform us.  We entered an empty sanctuary with a “green screen”, but celebrated the joy and warmth of our Christian family.

The Grinch came.  The grinch took away our toys.  The Grinch made things different, confusing, and hard.  And yet, the power of the Holy Spirit is in us and the promise of eternal life drives us forward.  Jesus takes away our fears, and the Grinch is chased away.

Joy to the World!

 

 

 

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