12/7/14- “An Empty Shell”

“An Empty Shell” Sermon preached at Lake Murray Presbyterian 12-7-14 by Dr. J. Ben Sloan based on Matthew 23:35-38

Video of this sermon::

An Empty Shell? Matthew 23:25-28
Joe was a shell of his former self.?? He had just gone through his third divorce. His children did not know him anymore. He was far away from his family, and they almost seemed to not want to be around him. Christmas accentuated it all- his loneliness, his emptiness. Sheila was an empty shell. She was beautiful on the outside. But she was empty on the inside. She looked great, had a nice smile- but her smile was fake and she had to force it to match her shoes and dress. She felt like she was just going through the motions with her family and her work- she had no energy, no motivation, she felt unfulfilled. Many of us are like beautiful packages at Christmas with nothing in them. Many of us have the Christmas lights on the outside but not on the inside. Many of us have the evergreens on the outside but not the everlasting life on the inside. We are like whitewashed tombs- looking great- but still tombs. Makeup cannot change the inside. I. BEAUTY ON THE OUTSIDE IS TO BE ENJOYED- God created us to have sensitivity so we might enjoy life. So our eyes, ears, sense of smell, taste all work together to stimulate us. I think of that verse, ?Taste and see that the Lord is good.? ?? Karl Barth said that beautiful music was the great ?yes? of God. Christmas and Advent seems to elicit a different kind of music. The season where we celebrate the birth of Christ. Certainly Christ appreciated beauty. He said look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. ?? The ironic beauty of Christmas is not found in the incredibly complex- though beauty is there. Certainly it is a complex thing for God to become human. But the simplicity of the story is found not in a luxurious five star hotel, but basically camping out in a barn with the donkey. It is to this simple place that the shepherds came- poor, practically homeless, and found hope and meaning. ???? One of the trends this year is ?ugly Christmas sweater? parties. What makes an ugly Christmas sweater? Usually crazy decorations on the sweater- like reindeers dancing or snowmen singing, or yarn hanging off the sweater. But the sweaters that last year to year are simple, plain, red or white or green. ???? I was looking at a Thanksgiving parade on National TV the other day and right before Santa?s sleigh were about twelve people carrying twelve stars that simply said, ?Believe.? The theologian in me said, ?Believe what?? But the other part of me found in our overly skeptical and pessimistic age people really still want to believe. They really still want to see beauty and not just molecules. They really want to find there is a deeper, more beautiful side of life. We do not need to add to the beauty of the Christmas event. The simple beauty of God being born as a baby to a poor family in Bethelehem does not need any additional beauty. II. BEAUTY ON THE OUTSIDE IS LIMITED- Outside beauty in this life fades like the sunset fades into darkness. Perhaps that makes beauty that much more precious- it is temporary- but this temporariness also reminds us not to try to cling too tightly to the outside beauty of things. All the beautiful wrapping paper on the 25th is gone by the 31st.. The Christmas lights that seem so beautiful Christmas Eve become passee by the twelfth day of Christmas. I know there are some who want to keep the Christmas lights on all year long.?? ???? The beauty of Christmas is the intersection of the miracle with the ordinary; the humble with the most powerful being in the world. When we have stopped believing in the mysterious; when we have stopped believing that God can do the impossible; when we have stopped trusting that God can make a way when there is no way; when we limit God to what we think God should do- we have made God in our image- and Christmas has become for us- just a hollow memory. It becomes then just what is on the outside and not deep or meaningful. But the beauty of Christmas is that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. This brings meaning and beauty to life. IIII. BEAUTY ON THE INSIDE IS MORE IMPORTANT- What makes Christmas and Advent special is not simply the exterior lights and sounds. It is the moments when the littlest child gives the hug to the grandparent. It is the warmth of consolation to the loved one who is grieving at Christmas. It is the soul-stirring story that calls us to the hope of peace on earth good-will toward men. The lights of Christmas mean more when we have that inner light inside of us. The idea of giving inside of us means more when we recognize the greatest gift in Jesus Christ. The beauty of giving is something that comes from inside of us- but inspired by the One who made both inside and out- the Greatest Giver- who gave heaven to earth- gave His Son to us. ?? The Norwegian writer, Sigrid Undset, also provides a vivid image of our fallen condition. Imagine we are traveling by night along the way to our heavenly Father?s house. By the roadside there are puddles which reflect the beautiful lights of our goal. At times these reflections seem so real and so very lovely that we are tempted to stop and try to take hold of them, for they seem to make our goal already present. But if we reach out to grab them, we will lose the reflection and find ourselves covered with mud. There is a true beauty- that we must aim for and not get distracted by all the little reflections. ?????? There is a house on Wessinger Road right behind the Get N Go (or PDQ) that has been empty for years. It is just a shell- no one lives in it. It may look okay on the outside. When no one lives in a house, the house goes downhill. In contrast to that is another empty shell. Right now our Children?s Ministry Building is an empty shell of what it will be?there is no furniture or carpet or children there yet. But the difference is one shell has hope the other will probably be destroyed. One shell has the faith of a thousand people that it will be filled, the other has no faith in it. ???? You cannot buy Christmas. I can still remember a time when I thought Christmas was just about stuff. You cannot even give enough money away to needy causes to get the real depth of Christmas. Christmas is fake- an empty shell if you do not know the Christ behind it all. Christmas is an empty shell without the life of Christ living in you. Let Him live in you- commune with you today.


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