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Dec 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 20, 2020

Intro: The story of Jesus’ birth is told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

In Matthew the holy family is visited by wealthy magi from the east
– in Luke they are visited by shepherds from nearby hills
• two different nations, languages, and social classes
• but both came to the Christ Child by invitation
◦ a star drew the eastern astrologers
◦ an angel sent the shepherds
– after a long journey, the magi made it as far as Jerusalem
• this makes sense, the capital city is where one would look for the king of the Jews
◦ but when they arrived in Jerusalem, their progress stalled
• asking about for a newborn king got the city stirred up
◦ and raised suspicion of an insanely insecure king
◦ biblical scholars directed the magi to Bethlehem, and that’s where we pick up the story

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:9-10

A couple times in elementary school, I experienced moments in which I was suddenly observing my friends and myself as if from a vantage point outside my body. Both times this happened it got me into trouble.
One year my fourth-grade class was assigned a song in a Christmas performance, first for our school in the afternoon and then for our parents in the evening. Two other boys and myself were chosen to sing as a trio the introduction to “Silver Bells.” So, during the school assembly, we began,
Christmas makes you feel emotional,
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.
When we came to the word “emotional” our voices went up in a boyish falsetto, and I do not know what came over me, but the nervousness of the other two boys and the serious expressions on our normally silly faces struck me as the most hilarious thing I had ever seen, and I started to giggle. Then the other two started giggling and a moment later the whole school was laughing–except for the teachers and faculty. Afterward the music director gave us a dire warning, telling us, “That had better not happen tonight!”

– oh well, Christmas does make us feel emotional
• and my message today is, “Let it”
◦ I hope, like the magi, we rejoice exceedingly with great joy
• this fourth Sunday of Advent our theme is, “Feel your way into Christmas”
◦ allow a child-like anticipation to grow in you this week

How big is Christmas? It’s the hinge of history

Alfred North Whitehead commenting on how Galileo and the discovery of the telescope ushered in the modern world, said, “Since a babe was born in Bethlehem, it may be doubted whether so great a thing has happened with so little stir.”
Hannah Arendt added, “Nothing in these words is an exaggeration. Like the birth in a manger, which spelled not the end of antiquity but the beginning of something so unexpectedly and unpredictably new that neither hope nor fear could have anticipated it, these first tentative glances into the universe through an instrument, at once adjusted to human senses and destined to uncover what definitely and forever must lie beyond [human senses], set the stage for an entirely new world and determined the course of other events . . . .
– we have a Savior, we have a hope, we have a new grace-filled life
• the full experience of Christmas involves more than reading the story
◦ and more than theological reflections on the Incarnation
(though that is still significant beyond words)
◦ a full experience must stir up emotions and feelings
Antonio Damasio (Department Head of neurology at the University of Iowa) says, “. . . recall of new facts is enhanced by the presence of certain degrees of emotion during learning. . . . For instance, if you are told two stories of comparable length that have a comparable number of facts, differing only because in one of them the facts have a high emotional content, you will remember far more detain from the emotional story than from the other.”
• in other words, to feel a moment enhances it; feeling adds a layer of depth
– the Christmas story has moments of suspense, danger, and also drudgery
• still, there is one emotion that is not appropriate for Christmas:
◦ to Joseph an angel said, do not fear
◦ to Mary the angel said, do not be afraid
◦ to the shepherds an angel said, fear not
• a proper response to the arrival of Jesus is excitement and great joy
◦ we rejoice in the experience of heaven coming to earth
◦ of God visiting and redeeming his people

Some people think emotions and feelings are fictions

For that reason, they should be ignored or suppressed
– as children, we learned we had to do chores when we didn’t feel like it
• but we also rebelled against the adult notion that chores had to be unpleasant
◦ we found ways to turn chores into play
• still, some believe we should replace feelings with rational thinking
◦ for them, thought is solid whereas feelings are ethereal
◦ these same people try to heal broken hearts with logic
– but feelings and emotions are real – our experience of them is real
• the same brain that produces thought produces feeling
◦ and hardly a thought is not attended by a feeling or generated by one
◦ here’s a shocker that researchers have uncovered:
Damasio, “The neurological evidence simply suggests that selective absence of emotion is a problem. Well-targeted and well-deployed emotion seems to be a support system without which the edifice of reason cannot operate properly.”
• there is a biological basis for every emotion
◦ it has visceral sources as well as mental catalysts
◦ of course, internal organs is precisely the language the Bible uses in describing emotions
Damasio, “. . . all emotions have some kind of regulatory role to play . . . . All emotions use the body as their theater, but emotions also affect the mode of operation of numerous brain circuits . . . .”

Emotions and feelings are real, but they do not define reality
– whenever it is right to flow with our feelings, it is liberating
• being aware of our feelings adds richness to our lives
Damasio, “. . . an organism that is responding beautifully to its environment begins to discover that it is responding beautifully to its environment. . . . Having feelings is of extraordinary value in the orchestration of survival.”
– without feelings and emotions:
• we lose a measure of meaningful interaction with others
• we lose some of our connection with nature and its rhythms
• we lose a big part of ourselves

Some people are afraid of their feelings
This is especially true for those who have been severely traumatized

Strong feelings can be exhilarating and exciting, but also dangerous
– they can cause us to see the world and others through a warped lens
and to see ourselves as if in a distorted mirror
• feelings can be generated by misinformation
• but don’t forget, the same is true of our rational thoughts
◦ the brain’s logic can be as flawed as any feeling
◦ this also holds true for our beliefs
– the rational mind cannot effectively control feelings
• they run on two separate yet related circuits
◦ when the volume is turned up on one, it is turned down on the other
• emotions have their own “reasons” – what “feels right”
◦ but we’re not stuck in an either/or position where we must choose
◦ reason and emotion can be harmonized

Some people denigrate feelings

“I don’t go by my feelings”
– this is said as if it is a superior position to take; more rational, stable, pious
• of course, we betray ourselves if we make this statement in anger
– the word feeling describes two types of experience:
• what the body feels – internal and tactile sensations
• what the heart feels – core emotions
Fr. Romuald, “A death, where feeling is gone, is not a body but a corpse.”
– what about the person who suppresses their feelings?
• empathy for others has much to do with being aware of our own feelings

Red Dragon is a scary movie and not one that I would recommend. To me, the scariest line in movie comes when a blind woman is alone in a darkroom with a man who unbeknown to her is a serial killer.
Blind woman: If there’s anything I hate worse than pity, it’s fake pity.
Serial killer: I have no pity
• the person who has no feeling for others is not a saint, but a sociopath

Is it ever right or justifiable to go by our feelings?

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. . . .

it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms
. . . I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love
. . . and I bent down and fed them. . . .
How can I give your up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
. . . my heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst (Hos. 11:1-9)
– What kept God from giving up on Israel?
• not justice, not logic, not holiness, but what he felt for his wayward son
• he describes the conflicting emotions that churned within him
◦ ultimately he invoked his divine prerogative
◦ he went with his feelings
– Jesus, too, went with his feelings
moved with pity, he stretched out his hand (Mk. 1:41)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them (Mt. 9:36)
he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Mt. 14:14)

We want others to feel:
– joy in being with us
• feel interested in us, what we have to say
• feel what we are feeling
– families and friends want us to feel
• they need for us to be physically present
◦ but they want us to be emotionally present too

Conclusion: Wise men and women, allow themselves to feel

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh
a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)
– delivering a message to philosophers in Athens, Paul said,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“In him we live and move and have our being”
even as some of your own poets have said,
For we are his offspring (Acts 17:24-28)

Can we feel our way into Christmas?
Can we own our feelings,
without judging them
or judging ourselves for having them?
Can we get up on Christmas morning, excited about Jesus,
eager to welcome him into our hearts? our homes? our world?
Nehemiah was serious when he said,
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)
Paul was serious when he wrote,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Php. 4:4)

The day is dawning!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
Our Savior is soon to appear!
“Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel”

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