Is there one part of the Christmas celebration that you like to control? When I was growing up, my sisters and I could all help assemble our tree – yes it was artificial – but only my Dad could put the lights on - yes this was before pre-lit trees were a thing. When the tree was all decorated, it was my Dad who said that the tinsel had to be put on one strand at a time. You could not throw globs of it on and hope some of it would stick, you had to pull each strand off and place it on the branch.
Is there a part of the Christmas celebration with your family that you like to control? Beyond Christmas, is there at least one area of your life that you like to control? Go ahead, own it, raise your hand, and if you want to raise your spouses hand right now then you really have issues of control. Let’s just be honest and say that we all have issues of control. I have issues of control.
Those who know me and work with me know that I have a few control issues. I like to make sure all the light switches in the lobby are all going the same way, and yes I have been known to turn lights off at one end of the hall and go to the other end and turn them on just so they are all going in the same direction. I will move things around in the lobby so they look right – which really just means looks right to me. I have turned flowers, straightened stacks of bulletins, moved wooden tables so that all the grain is going in the same direction, and moved hymnals and Bibles in the pews so they are all lined up. I’m getting therapy for all this – but those issues of control are still there.
It’s not just the church, however, ask my family or friends and they will tell you that where I have real control issues is my refrigerator. Here is a picture of how I usually like my fridge to look. I know, it’s almost empty – but that way it is really organized. On the door, all the bottles have to be facing the same way, and organized by type and size. There is a place for eggs, a place for drinks, a place for cheese and meat in the drawer and everything has to be in the right place. But the sad thing is that it’s not just my refrigerator I try to control, it’s my family’s fridges as well.
If I visit my family for more than about 24 hours, I will simply start to control their fridge. I’ll collect the soda that is scattered all over and put them in one place. I’ll organize the salad dressings and condiments so they are all placed by type and size, and I’ll put things in their proper place – i.e., the place I think they should go. My mom loves it because it usually means I will end up cleaning her fridge at some point, but it is an issue of control.
It’s not just fridges, however, it is also closets, storage rooms, and my garage. I like things to be under control and one of the great things about living alone is that I get to control all those things. What couples might argue about, like the right way to load the dishwasher, or whether or not you need orderly lines when you vacuum (by the way – you do), or the right way to squeeze out toothpaste is not a problem for me, I do it my way. But before you judge me, let’s be honest, we all try to control things.
Parents try to control their kids and not always in good ways. Many parents will push their children in sports or education and some parents will make plans for their child’s future before they are even out of diapers. We have heard recently about the college admission scandals and how some parents used all the control and power they had to control where their kids went to school. Making sure our children are in the right college isn’t just important for them, sometimes it is important to us, to our self-image, and in a social media world, our self-image is something else we all work to control. If you have ever taken more than one photo, or selfie, to get just the right image to post on instagram or facebook, then there is some control issues going on in your life.
When I was in seminary I was talking with a friend of mine during my last semester and I told her how I was constantly organizing and reorganizing my room and she said, you know why you are doing that don’t you. I said, no. She said, you can’t control anything in your life right now but you can control your room and what you keep, what you throw away, and where you put things. I was stunned because she absolutely nailed it. Nothing in my life was under control as I was waiting to hear about an appointment at a church after graduation. When I couldn’t control one area of my life, I was compensating and trying to control everything else.
I realize now that when I am stressed, when I feel like things are out of control, I work to control what I can. So in the chaos of Christmas when we are feeling stressed and things are out of control, are there things we try to control? Maybe it’s searching for that perfect gift. Maybe it’s working to make sure every gift looks like it was wrapped by a professional. Or maybe, like my Dad, you try to control the tree, the lights, the decorations, and the tinsel. It’s ok to admit it. I get it, but here’s the hard truth for all of us today – to really embrace the celebration of Christmas, and to really embrace the life God has for us, we have to learn how to travel light and let go of control.
This season we have learned that to grab hold of all that God wants for us, we have to be willing to let go of stuff, and distractions, and bitterness, and yes – control. If we want to celebrate Christmas to the fullest, we have to learn how to let go of control, because there would be no Christmas without a few people letting go of control.
Mary was a young girl who knew what she wanted in life. Many scholars say she may have been as young as 13 or 14, when girls were given to men in marriage, but no matter what age she was, Mary knew what she wanted. Like all Jewish girls in her day what she wanted was a man who would be faithful to God and to her. Mary had that man, his name was Joseph, and everything was under control… and then this happened. Luke 1:26b – 30.
Mary was greatly troubled, but another translation says she was confused and disturbed. That confusion and disturbance came because the plan God had for Mary was NOT the plan Mary had for her life. Luke 1:30-33.
This was not Mary’s plan at all. There is confusion and uncertainty and she even asks God about it and how this can happen. Luke 1:34-37.
It’s not recorded in Luke, but I wonder how long Mary wrestled with all of this before she replied. I wonder how long she remained confused and disturbed by the sudden change of plans and the loss of control. I have to believe that if Mary was like most of us, which she was, there may have been more than a few seconds as Mary processed all of this and came up with a response. Her response shows us the big idea we need to take away from her experience. Luke 1:38.
This is the big idea we need to take away from Mary’s story, we don’t always have the power to control our lives but we always have the power to surrender. Mary surrendered herself to God’s purpose and plan and power and once she did, she found that God is always faithful.
That’s the real take away from this story. While we don’t always have the power to control our lives, we can always surrender to God, and every time we do surrender to God we see that God is faithful. Every time Mary surrendered to God she saw and experienced God’s faithfulness.
- May it be… and Mary found herself pregnant by the power of God. God’s plan is at work
- May it be… and an angel confirmed this plan to Joseph.
- May it be… and Mary who may have been shunned by her neighbors was welcomed and her situation was affirmed by her cousin Elizabeth.
- May it be… and after Jesus is born, shepherds arrived with the story that angels told them that the Messiah had been born and was lying in a manger –this was confirmation that what God had said was true.
- May it be… and Magi arrived saying that a king had been born and a star proclaimed his birth and this child was the King.
- May it be… and Mary and Joseph got the news they need to flee to Egypt to protect their child from Herod and where did they get the resources for this trip – from the Magi who brought God. Again, God was faithful and in control
Mary surrendered to God and at every step, God proved himself faithful – over and over and over again.
Now fast forward 30+ years and Jesus is being asked by God to carry a cross. It is the night before this is to happen and Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He is in agony. He wants to be faithful, but it is going to be difficult and painful. He knows that he will die on the cross. Jesus is literally wrestling in prayer and when he finally surrenders he uses almost the same word his mother used many years earlier, may it be with me according to your will. Not my will but Thy will be done. Both phrases are based on the same Greek word for God’s will.
Jesus surrenders and when he does he finds out that God is faithful. Three days after he died on the cross, Jesus rose from the grave and defeated sin and death. Everytime we surrender to God, God proves himself faithful. It may not come in an instant, Mary went through periods of doubt during those nine months, and Jesus died on the cross and laid in a tomb for three days, but in time God proved himself faithful, and in time God will prove himself faithful in our lives. For us to experience God’s faithfulness we have to be willing to surrender, and surrender means we give everything to God, and it means doing this every day.
The story of Mary tells us that we can find the blessing of God’s love and the purpose of God’s plan by letting go of control and surrendering to God. Jesus calls us to let go of control and surrender to God, and he assures that every time we do, God will prove himself faithful. Jesus says, those who lose their lives for my sake, those who surrender to God, will find life.
What is it that you are trying to control that God wants you to surrender?
What’s the burden that is causing you to be disturbed and confused that God is asking you today to let go of?
I want to invite Rick to come and lead us in a time of reflection and this week some action as we reflect on what it means for us to truly let go of control.
Travel Light – Letting Go of Control
Questions for reflection and action.
What is it that you are trying to control that God wants you to surrender?
What burden is causing you to be disturbed and confused?
(tear here and place in the gift boxes at the door)
For this week:
1. In what specific way can you let go of control during your celebration of Christmas that will help both you and your family experience a better holiday?
2. Where have you seen God’s faithfulness in the past that might help you let go of control today?
3. What one area of your life do you seek to hold on to control? Relationships? Finances? Your children’s future? Job? Surrender this area to God in prayer every daythis week.
4. Join us for worship on Christmas Eve as we once again surrender ourselves to Jesus. Invite others to join you.