On February 24, 1948, one of the most unusual operations in medical history took place in Ohio State University’s department of research surgery. A stony sheath was removed from around the heart of a 30-year old man named Harry Besharra.
As a child, he had been shot accidentally by a playmate with a 22-caliber rifle. The bullet had lodged in his heart but had not caused his death. However, a lime deposit had begun to form over the protective covering of the heart and gradually was strangling it.
The operation was a delicate one, separating the ribs and moving the left lung to one side. Then the stony coating was lifted from the heart much in the same way as an orange is peeled. Immediately the pressure of the heart was reduced, and it responded by expanding and pumping normally. “I feel a thousand percent better already,” said the patient soon after the operation.
There is a parable of life here. It is so easy for our hearts to develop a hard protective coating because of accidents and incidents and injuries in our life. They are coated by the deposits of a thousand deceits and disappointments, hardened by the pressures and problems of circumstance. Inevitably, they become smothered and insensitive, choked out even to things divine.
Ever so gradually we find it easier to sneer than to pray. It becomes simpler to work than to worship. Self-satisfied, proud, often cynical, our hearts need a spiritual operation that only something so refreshing as Christmas can perform when we dare to surrender our hearts’ burden before the cradle of Bethlehem. There’s something about meeting the innocent babe in the manger that softens our hearts.
I am reminded of the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Dr. Seuss cartoon story which we’ve been watching since 1966. Why the Grinch was such a “mean one” and hated Christmas was up for much speculation in Whoville, if you will recall. It could have been that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could have been that his shoes were too tight. But we knew that the most likely reason of all, must have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
For all of us, in this busy and stressful time of year, we can miss the wonder of Christmas if we allow the trappings of the season to make our hearts hard, or even to shrink a few sizes too small.
Here’s hoping you have a big-hearted, joy-filled Christmas this year, with plenty of opportunities to be a cheerful giver and share the hope of our Savior with the world around you. From my family, to yours…
This week’s Advent focus is on joy. But let’s face it; sometimes joy can be a challenge for all of us, even in church. Or, for that matter, especially in church. It’s easy to think sometimes that it’s our obligation in church circles to overdo the imperative, filling the air with “should” and “ought” and “must.” Do this, don’t do that. If, on rare occasion, you come to church feeling fairly good about yourself, and about the world–well, we’ll fix that.
But not at Christmas. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” And those simple, yet profound words from that familiar Christmas hymn remind us of why there is to be joy in Whoville…and Shelby County…during this Christmas season. Because the Lord has come.
We do get confused sometimes, thinking that the source of our joy will be the new iPhone, or camo Snuggie, or Lane Kiffin doll, or Bojangles gift card, or whatever else may be on your Christmas list this year. Those things may bring temporary happiness–“oh, you shouldn’t have!”–but they don’t bring genuine and lasting joy.
You have to remember, that when those shepherds heard the message from the angel as they tended their flocks by night (and were “sore afraid”) it was the good news for which they had waited a lifetime. In fact, God’s people had been awaiting their Deliverer for generations, since the prophet Isaiah had foretold His birth in a time of bondage and exile: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” he wrote. “…And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In the least expected of ways, God the Father sent the long-expected Jesus into the world in a feeding trough in a Bethlehem stable. But the Light of the world had come, and He was–and is–“Emmanuel, God with us.” That good news still sheds a different kind of light on us all, even twenty centuries later. Joy to the world!
Each of us, whatever our lot, can experience the joy of Christmas when we stop and reflect, recognize the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, and live in the light of His presence, even in the midst of a dark world. I hope and pray you’ll know that inside-out joy this Christmas.
I count it such a privilege to be your pastor, and can’t wait to see each of you this Sunday at Shelby Crossings, morning and evening, as we “repeat the sounding joy” of the gospel of Christmas.
We put up our Christmas tree and decorated our home for the holidays this week. Consider that a literary “we.” They don’t let me get involved in the inside decoration, though I am required to scale the ladder to dangerous heights to put up the lights on the outside of the house.
But it’s hands-off the tree for me, as well as the other Christmas-y things brought out of the attic and placed strategically around our living room. They don’t even trust me with the manger scene characters.
Which reminds me of the story from a few years back about a Gadsden church that had it’s Nativity scene looted. It was in the newspaper and all over the local tv news as a sad sign of the times we live in.
The thieves walked away with figures of Mary, Joseph and a wise man, as well as a camel. They also stole the exhibit’s centerpiece–a figure of the Christ child.
A cardboard sign in the shed covering the Nativity scene which read “Put Christ in your Christmas and in your life” was not taken.
The church had displayed the same Nativity scene annually, without incident, for nearly forty years. Needless to say, church members were disheartened by the yule-tide pilfering.
“It broke my heart to think someone would steal something like that from our church,” the church’s custodian, J.T. Hollingsworth, was quoted in The Birmingham News.
Now, it would be easy to use this story to illustrate the depravity of our society, that some dastardly individual would stoop to such a low as to steal Jesus and Joseph and Mary–and a camel–from a church’s outdoor manger scene.
However, I’m not sure that many of us don’t do the same thing, figuratively if not literally, each year. When we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season–decorations, shopping, parties, and busy holiday schedules–and leave Jesus out of His birthday celebration, are we not also “stealing” Jesus from our Christmas?
So once again, like the sign left over a vacated manger scene in Gadsden, Alabama, let me encourage you to “Put Christ in your Christmas.” It may be a cliche, but it’s still true.
I am praying for you in this season of Advent, that you are truly “preparing Him room” and that Jesus is the centerpiece of your Christmas celebration. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.