“Oh – You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout…”
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, and so we are continuing our preparations for the coming – not of Santa Claus, of course, but the coming of Christ into our lives and our world. In the secular observance of the holiday, the song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” reminds us that there are preparations that we must make in the hope that Santa will visit us on Christmas Eve. But for Christians, the Season of Advent is an annual reminder that it’s even more important that you and I make ourselves ready for the promised coming of Jesus Christ. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, we do lots of things to get ready for the observance of Christmas – decorating, shopping, cooking, going to parties, traveling to visit family, and all the rest. But this period of time is also intended to be a season for spiritual reflection and personal preparation so that we are ready to meet Christ face-to-face when he comes again.
The secular song we are using as the inspiration for our sermon series captures the urgency of making ourselves ready. Two weeks ago, we were reminded that we had “better watch out,” so that Jesus’ coming doesn’t catch us by surprise. Last Sunday, we looked at the tears shed by the parents of those innocent baby boys of Bethlehem killed by order of the wicked King Herod, and we were given permission to “cry” (if we want to, or need to) during this holiday season, knowing that the One whose coming we celebrate will turn our mourning into dancing, and our tears into joy.
This morning, our phrase is “you better not pout.” What could this line of that children’s Christmas song teach us? As I was pondering that, I looked up the definition of the word, “pout.” One dictionary on the internet, defines “pouting” like this: To “be in a huff and display one’s displeasure [as in]
‘She is pouting because she didn’t get what she wanted.’” 1
Children are masters of pouting – especially when they don’t get their way. Anyone who has ever gone to the grocery store with a three year old knows about pouting. Who hasn’t had to wait in the check-out line next to all the candy bars, and been forced to engage in a battle of wits with our child? Little Suzie desperately wants a candy bar. She asks, and when that doesn’t work, she pleads for you to purchase her candy. And when you refuse, she will do one of two things – she will either scream or she will pout. I wonder how many times a day in America that little drama is played out? Yes, children are ‘Master Pouters.’
As adults, we may be more self-controlled (MAY be more self- controlled) than that. But the truth is that when we don’t get our way in life, we also can slip into childish fits of temper, sulking, and even pouting. It’s just human nature to want to get our way, and when we don’t get our way, we pout.
So, I can see why the writer of that Children’s song warns us that we shouldn’t pout if we don’t get our way. But what does that have to do with Advent?
At the same time I was reflecting on that very human response to not getting our way, I was also preparing for the Advent Bible Study we are holding on Sundays after worship, this past week, focusing on the story of the Wise Men. And I had an “ah-ha!” moment! Something Bishop Wilke wrote in his devotional study that I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon helped me to see the connection between the story of the Three Kings and that phrase in the children’s song, “you better not pout”.
And by now, I’m sure you are wondering just how the story of the visit of the magi relates to the song’s advice “not to pout, and at first glance, it doesn’t. But on deeper reflection, I think it does. The key is in the very last verse of the Scripture we read – verse 12. What did Matthew write? “But when it was time to leave, they went home another way…”
Of course, the reason they by-passed Jerusalem as they left for Persia was that God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, because the King wanted to harm the child. That is the literal meaning of “going home by another way.”
But Bishop Wilke pointed out that there is also a symbolic or figurative meaning that we can draw from this verse. This is what he wrote in his Advent study:
“They had been in Bethlehem, they had knelt before the King of kings – and now it was time to go home. But a spiritual message resides here, like a gold coin under a rock. When we give our hearts to Jesus Christ, we go home “by another way.” Our lives are forever different.”2 Interesting.
The phrase from the Christmas song warns us not to “pout” if we don’t get our way. But the story of the Wise Men seems to be telling us that, once we have encountered Christ, we can never expect to” get our way” again. After our encounter at the manger, we have to travel a different road – we’ve been changed – no more going our way, but instead, we follow another way – the way that God lays out for us.
In fact, following this “Way” is a major theme in the New Testament. The Way we choose to travel in life makes all the difference – there is a right way, and a wrong way. It is God’s Way, or the highway! In the 7th chapter of Matthew, Jesus himself speaks of this better Way we should choose to follow. He says:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mat. 7:13-14) You see – it makes a difference which Way we go.
And then in John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that He himself is the Way:
Jesus told his disciples: “’You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life…’” (John 14:4-6) I am The Way!
This new way is the Way of Christ. To be a disciple of Jesus means that we would no longer “get our way,” but would walk as Jesus walked – we’d walk in his Way. In fact, before believers in Jesus were called “Christians,” they were called, “The People of the Way.” We see this in a number of passages from the Book of Acts. In the 19th chapter, for instance, we read this:
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way…” (Acts 19:8-9)
And when Paul had been arrested and was making his defense, he also referred to the believers as The Way. In Acts 22, Paul says, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death..” (Acts 22:4) And later in the 24th chapter, “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.” (24:14)
It’s clear that the early believers in Jesus came to be known as people of the Way – because the world could see by the way they lived their life, that they were different. They “marched to the beat of a different drummer.”
Brad Brisco, in his blog on the internet, explains it this way: “The early followers of Jesus Christ were not called people of “the experience,” or the people of “right doctrine,” or the people of “moral values,” or even the people of “the church.” They were called the people of “the Way.” They were known for the way they lived, not only for what they believed or valued. Christians were associated with a particular and discernible way of living and relating that both grew out of their faith and gave testimony to that faith. More than just individuals who had a changed religious position, they were now a new people, a new community embarking on a new way of life — a life worthy of their calling.” 3
All through the New Testament, we see the testimony of people whose lives were forever changed when they encountered Jesus, and they embarked on this new “Way” of life. Wise men from the East worshipped the Christ in Bethlehem, and went home by another way. Twelve ordinary men and many women met the Rabbi from Nazareth, and their lives were transformed, never to be the same again. They had committed themselves to be disciples – to follow Jesus in the Way. A tax collector named Zacchaeus had a chance encounter with Jesus, and as a result, he became a new man who lived his life a new way. Men and women who had diseases or deformities met the Master Healer and they were made whole and became devoted followers of the Way. Even a Pharisee and persecutor of the followers of the Way, a man named Saul, encountered the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus, and he became “Paul,” the most devoted follower of Jesus of them all! Not only did he follow the Way of Jesus, but he paved the way for you and me to follow Jesus in the Way!
Before they met Christ, all these people lived their lives their own way. But after they encountered Jesus, they voluntarily took another road – the way of Jesus – They were converted, and their lives were forever changed.
And isn’t that what it means to be converted to faith in Jesus. To convert literally means to turn around – we are traveling in one direction, but then something profound happens, and we change directions. We are going the wrong way, but when we encounter Jesus, he sends our lives in a whole new direction – His Way – the right Way!
And so, the theme this morning isn’t so much about not pouting when we aren’t able to get our way. No – it’s about voluntarily choosing a new way – a better way – God’s way.
In Bishop Wilke’s study, he writes this: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way… His way is a different way from the ways of the world… Many people forget that Christian discipleship is a ‘way’ – a way of life… So, as Christian believers, we walk a different path… Like the wise men of old, once we have knelt before the Lord Jesus, we go home by another way.”2
And so, during this Advent season, as you encounter Christ at the manger, you have a choice to make:
Which path will your life take? Which road will you travel? Will you continue to live your life insisting that you get your own way? Or, like those oh-so-wise-men-of-old, will you choose to go another way – a better way – the Way of Christ?
One way leads us nowhere. The other way leads us “Home.”