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11.29.15 The Four Ps of Christmas Luke 1:67-79 Sermon Summary

by on December 1, 2015

Those who desire a more meaningful Christmas need to keep these four things in mind. These are the four Ps of Christmas.

  • Presents: a caution about the first P
  • Promise: the Present God has given us in Christ
  • Prophecy: three ways to understand this third P
  • Presence: the true meaning of Christmas
  • Prayer: a bonus P for readers

The first P of Christmas is, of course, Presents. There are many reasons offered for the tradition of giving presents at Christmas. One says we are imitating God whose gift of salvation to the world in Jesus we celebrate at Christmas. Another suggests we are imitating the Magi who came bearing gifts to the Christ child. A lot of it has to do with our wanting to avoid becoming an Ebenezer Scrooge, a la Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

These are all noble explanations as to why we give presents at Christmas, except for this one glaring difference: All these precedents deal with gifts to the poor. Today we spend most of our money on presents for our family, friends, and ourselves. Just think of the “black Friday” spectacle. As much if not more of that shopping is done for ourselves as for others. And I don’t think anyone is giving deeply discounted TVs and red Mercedes Benzes to the poor. . .

The second P is Promise. The primary promise of Christmas is peace. Biblical peace refers not only to an end of war, but also an end of all that leads to war. This includes a cessation of hostilities, but also a transformation of the heart from greed to generosity, from fear to hospitality, and from anger to forgiveness.

Zechariah sings of the promise of peace. God has “raised up for us a mighty savior from the house of David,” he says, the house out of which God promised to restore peace. God had also promised Abraham that we would “worship without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days,” he says. He concludes with praise for the “light which now shines on all who live in darkness, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” To Zechariah, Jesus is this light; he is the new David; he is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

In Jesus, the second P of promise is fulfilled. We participate in this fulfilment by our union with Christ. This is the primary meaning of the sacraments of baptism and Com-union: We are joined to Christ at the font and renew that union at the table. The sacraments call us to a continual re-forming of our lives according to Christ. As we grow more in conformity to Christ within us, we experience peace within, and we create peace without. This is the final fulfillment of the second P of Christmas: Promise.

The third P is Prophecy. Growing up, I learned three ways to think about prophecy. The first was simply that prophecies predicted Jesus. The purpose of the Older Testament statements was to help us identify the Messiah when he arrived. But then I learned about the historical context of these statements, how they referred to actual events contemporary with the author and original audience. And there was also the inconvenient fact that not everyone concluded that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies.

So I learned a second perspective, called the “two horizons” approach. Prophecies indeed had a historical significance, but also a future one. They were relevant on two horizons—one in the near future, the other in the far off future. So, for example, the reference to the “Son of Man” or “One like a Human Being” in Daniel is, on the near horizon, the Faithful Community, or an Angel, or the liberating rebel leader Judas Maccabeus, or perhaps the author himself. But on the far horizon, this “Son of Man” is none other than Jesus. Jesus (or at least the Gospel writers) claims this title for himself.

Most recently I’ve learned of a third approach to the prophecies, necessitated by the fact that not all them have come true in Jesus. In other words, for those of us not willing to posit yet another “third horizon” further out into the future, how are we to understand the prophecies? This third approach says that the prophecies are reiterations of the promise. Brian McClaren, for example, writes, “Prophets in the Bible have a fascinating role as custodians of the best hopes, desires, and dreams of their society. They challenge people to act in ways consistent with those hopes, desires, and dreams. And when they see people behaving in harmful ways, they warn them by picturing the future to which that harmful behavior will lead.” (We Make the Road by Walking, p. 64)

In other words, God’s promises were revealed in Christ in a concentrated way. This is why Jesus is called the Incarnation of God’s Word. But the promises are realized through us as we live in Christ (see above). The third P of prophecy calls us in vivid ways to live according to the second P of promise.

Finally, the fourth P of Christmas is Presence. It was the prophet Isaiah who gave us God’s promise of “Emmanuel, God is With Us.” God’s presence encompasses the other three Ps: God’s being with us is a gift, that is, a Present; it is also the fulfillment of the Promise; and God’s presence is the means by which we live according to the promise, depicted by the words of Prophecy.

Here, then, is the true meaning of Christmas: it is Emmanuel, God is with is, the fourth P, Presence.

We give you thanks, faithful God, for the prophetic words of Zechariah who reminded us of your promise that we would worship you not with fear, but in holiness and righteousness. We thank you that in Christ this promise is fulfilled, for he demonstrated true worship, holiness, and righteousness through his obedience to you, even obedience unto his own death. We pray that in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we may receive Christ more and more, and be conformed more to his image, and be empowered to live as his disciples in the world, children of God who are grateful for the gift of Christ, who place our hope in your promises, who take heed of the prophets’ words, and who recognize and manifest your presence throughout our lives. All this by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

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