Last Saturday I told a story about my son, Matthew. Now, I never used my kids as examples in my sermons. . .while they were living at home. After they left the nest–they became fair game. This week’s story is about yours truly. But unlike Matthew’s story, I’m NOT the hero. It was from December of 2007. I’m calling this story:
I Will Be Joyful, Even If It Kills Me!
In December, 2007 I was forced to do something (again) that I claimed I would never do this time of year. It is something I absolutely loathe. Every year at this time I say I will not do it, I will not do it! And every year I find myself forced to do it. I find myself groaning in my heart, much like Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:15—For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. What was it so terrible I found myself forced to do? I HAD to go to the local discount super center to pick up some things. The items I needed were only there, and if I could have made myself get up at 2:00 am, I would have gone then—but that’s when I do my best sleeping.
Understand something. . .these are “my” people. This is the area I grew up in as a child. For the most part, these are good, solid, salt of the earth people; EXCEPT when it comes to Christmas shopping. My people turn into monsters and vile, evil hordes. Oh, there are those exceptions; but those exceptions are almost as rare as the winning lottery tickets. If Dante lived today, I’m sure he would have included an extra level of hell!
So, with a sense of dread and angst, I entered the challenge—of finding a parking place, and then dealing with those annoying people who stop on the main aisles to converse with friends and family. (I’ve often wondered why some families don’t just go ahead and announce that their Family Reunion will be held at the local Wal-Mart.) Some people seem to find it a thrill to go shopping this time of year—I am not one of those.
I suppose my dread comes from my past experiences of having worked in a retail environment during this time of year. Not that I believe in different levels of hell and punishment (because I don’t)—but if I did believe that, working retail during Christmas would certainly be classified as one of the lower levels.
But before I left the house, I decided this time I would, no matter what, display in my face and words and actions, the spirit of joy, love and peace. On the drive there I kept reminding myself, “Self, be joyful!” The idiots and morons on the highway was challenging my resolves. And once in the parking lot, there were those asinine people just sitting there, waiting for someone to leave so they could have a close parking place. They’re too lazy to walk, but not too lazy to fight like a barbarian for those specials.
Still, when I parked, my resolve was intact, a bit battered, but intact. I began the walk smiling and being joyful. (Yes, sometimes preachers do practice what they preach!) I made it a point to tell everyone “Merry Christmas” with a smile and sincerity in my voice. And, I must confess, I saw a change in people’s expressions when I am joyful toward them. (Hmm? Could it be something to this thing of sharing joy?)
Well, to make a short story long, I finally navigated several detours (because of people conducting family reunions, don’t get me started again) and like St. Nick, checked every item off my list and entered the next challenging level of holiday shopping—finding the check-out with the fewest people. Having conquered that level, I placed my items on the counter and thought about what a stressful day she must be having. So I started to engage the cashier in some cheerful conversation–God knows she needed it. Then she had the nerve to be cheerful to me first. Quite frankly, I don’t know how she managed it, but she did. When she asked me how I was doing, I thought, “Now, here’s a great opportunity to witness!”
What happened next was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit just blind sides us with grace and love. My reply to her (and I thought it a clever opening line), “I am blessed by the Lord.” And without missing a beat, her reply was “And highly favored!” The sound of joy in her voice when she said that was so uplifting to me (so much for me being a witness, in fact, I stopped witnessing and started be witnessed to). But what she said next, spoke so powerfully to me that I need to share it with you.
With the sound of holy laughter and joy in her voice, this lowly cashier said to me: “Too blessed to be stressed!” Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, my drive home was much more full of joy than my drive there, and it wasn’t because the adventure was over, but because God used an ordinary cashier to remind me what this wonderful season is all about—That We Are Too Blessed To Be Stressed!
Can you even imagine a portion of the stress that young Mary must have felt when Gabriel first announced God’s plan for her life? But Mary’s faith was able to override her emotions (and some might say logic) and her faith enabled her to become an instrument of God’s presence and His love, as I was reminded of God’s love and presence by that cashier.
Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. Luke 2:42-45 (New Living Translation)
And in our text today, her cousin Elizabeth affirms God’s activity in Mary’s life with that power line in verse 45: You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said! And in response, Mary burst forth in song, like in a Broadway musical. Mary gave us the very first Christmas song as she sang praise for the presence, power and activity of God in her life. Mary was way too blessed to be stressed!
And so can you! When you believe that God will do what God has said that He will do in you, for you and through you, the blessing continues. So, as the countdown continues—more parties, more gatherings, more shopping, don’t get stressed out like I did. Be ready and be alert because God is going to break into your ordinary and sometimes stressful days with joy and love. For many people, they are too stressed to be blessed. You do not have to be one of them because of God’s presence and power. Open your eyes and hearts to see the ways God is blessing you.