Sermons prepared for and delivered on Holiday Weekends (and the Thanksgiving Weekend is one) are tricky things.
You suspect attendance will be down (it was, slightly, but much higher than last year’s Thanksgiving), you wonder if the energy level will be off, and so you debate on whether or not you should give a top notch sermon or save it for a “better” Sunday.
Well, as it turns out, I felt good about my preparation for yesterday’s message. I thought the bible interpretation was both solid and inventive, the metaphor was memorable, the application into people’s lives practical, and the title was one of my favorite: “The In Utero Leap.”
All that to say I briefly debated giving this message on a non-holiday weekend in December and coming up with something else for yesterday.
I’m glad I didn’t do that, however. I trust that the people who needed this experience and these words were present in our Worship Center. And for those who weren’t, here it is: The In Untero Leap, a message with the bottom line of instead of hogging the spotlight, shine it.
I have a spotlight here. Spotlights, obviously, have that ability to center the attention of an entire room of people on one person. Or on one group of people. That’s the purpose of the spotlight – the shine attention on one individual. Duh.
But isn’t it true that some people have that tendency to, as they say, hog the spotlight? This is true both literally – on stage – and symbolically, where even people who are not on camera nevertheless demand the attention. You know this. You’ve seen this. Kanye West essentially kicking Taylor Swift offstage at the Grammys. Why? He wanted the spotlight that she had. Or the politicians you know and the most dangerous place to be is in between them and a TV camera. Why? There’s a spotlight around and they want it. Even preachers! It is so dangerous to put several preachers in a row in any kind of program, even funerals. Why? They (we!) try to one up each other! Limited spotlight and we hog it! It’s a bit frightening how true this “hogging the spotlight” is offstage as well.
I remember being at a luncheon that followed a wedding recently and as conversation flowed around me I grew increasingly agitated inside. Why? It wasn’t about me! I was like Oh, let me tell you about the church! My kids! My Y! My me! Why? Because there was a spotlight and for some odd reason the bride had it at her own wedding! See, that’s really the most sinister side of hogging the spotlight. Because shy people can do it. Not only in wanting to insert themselves in the middle of every conversation but even in being so wrapped up in themselves and their own problems that they can never look beyond the spotlight they’ve placed on themselves. Complete self-absorption. It’s hogging the self-spotlight and it’s even characteristic of people who wouldn’t be caught dead on stage and under the lights. And here’s the most sinister truth of all: some people are so desirous of the spotlight that they will self-destruct to get there. You may know people like that. You may be a person like that. You might be self-destructing NOW because of it.
But of all the people who hog the spotlight – literally and figuratively – there is one group of people who can hog it effortlessly. Without trying; simply by being. You know who? Babies! They just have to be born!
In fact, being in the spotlight is a baby’s survival technique – if they aren’t being held, fed, or soothed enough THEY WILL LET YOU KNOW! If you aren’t paying attention, they’ll demand attention. Because they have to live! So a baby has the spotlight because they’re cute, because they’re hungry, because they just are, and once that baby has the spotlight, they’re hogging it & not sharing it.
And that understanding helps us understand this in utero encounter between baby Jesus and baby John the Baptist. Here’s what’s happening. Mary – just a teenager – has just heard from an angel that although she is a virgin she is pregnant (don’t try this at home) and the baby will be the son of God. So for reasons Luke doesn’t fully explain she immediately takes a grip to visit her cousin Elizabeth who six months ahead of her in pregnancy. Elizabeth is showing while Mary is more in the morning sickness stage. Note the urgency in the story: READ 1:39-40.
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
The pace of the story here is designed to leave you breathless; I suspect her hurry is both a “you’re not gonna believe this, cuz!” AND it is a rush to obedience. God has spoken, God has promised, I believe him, so I am taking him at his word. Now: just so you know – Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah are OLD, the baby in her womb is going to be John the Baptist and when Z first got the news of THAT he scoffed and so God renders him speechless for the duration of E’s pregnancy. So when Mary arrives (to stay for 3 months!), E is 6 months pregnant, she’s OLD, and she’s got a husband who can’t talk back when she orders him around. Cousin Mary is young and her baby daddy speaks less than Z and he’s invisible to boot – but that’s later.
Yet look at 1:41:
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting and the baby leaps up in her womb. Now: can we acknowledge something? I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve seen it and heard about it but don’t know it like, um, some of you. I remember when Julie was 8 months pregnant with Taylor we “took her” to a Don Henley concert in Cincinnati. I was like, “this is great! She’ll hear this now, it will seep in and she’ll grow up a DH fan!” And she was ACTIVE that night in utero! But it didn’t translate beyond. Nope. All Kenny Chesney (AV) and no DH. But apparently this in utero leap is a whole nutha level from any that came before or after it. And it is somehow linked in 1:41 to giving E a fresh anointing of the HS – which makes me curious: celeb Pentecost at Xmas?
And then look at 1:43:
43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
READ. My Lord. Whoa! Jesus in Mary is an embryo, inches long at this stage, a collection of cells, dare I say it, what some would call a choice . . . and to Elizabeth he is already Lord! Many of us already believe that he is the King of Kings, but it’s fascinating to me to think that at this stage he is Embryo Of Embryos! Above every embryo ever. EVER.
Which brings us to 1:44 where Elizabeth repeats (for emphasis) what Luke has just said:
44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
Ah, for joythis time. Football fans know of the Lambeau Leap but this is better because it is the In Utero Leap and the leaper is John the Baptist. And so what would make a baby – who remember, whether it’s in the womb or out of it hog the spotlight & do not let go – leap for joy?! Why the in utero leap by JtB? Here’s why: 1:43 and my Lord. Something supernatural is going on, someone supernatural is there, and baby JtB recognizes in the womb that he has been suprassed, outshone, outpace, outdone. He realizes the spotlight has shifted from him to Him! And that’s the best, most liberating thing about him! John’s life begins, in a sense, when he gets surpassed. When he is in the presence of embryonic royalty.
Joy arrives for baby JtB when he becomes the first baby EVER to get out of the spotlight so he can shine it on someone else. He’s the first and only baby to realize he wasn’t put on earth to command attention; he was put here to give it. He had a prenatal education that some of us have yet to learn: the world does not revolve around us! Hogging the spotlight brings ever diminishing returns – and ever dimming light.
So where does that leave us? Here: Instead of hogging the spotlight, shine it. This baby did what no other baby has done. I’ve been surpassed, my life isn’t about me, I’m leaping because he is Lord & whatever spotlight I had I now give to him. What a radical re-orientation of life! Instead of THIS side of spotlight you shift to this side so you can shine it on the leap-worthy Lord! (Demo)
Here’s why this is so true & why I have been waiting weeks to get in the spotlight to tell you this as we begin Xmas: this is for shy people, too. Those who wouldn’t dream of hogging the spotlight . . . yet they hog the spotlight. Meaning: those folks, including many of you, who although they are private people, cannot get away from having their lives revolve around themselves. People who are so wrapped up in their own unhappiness that they can’t gaze up from it even to ask, “What does God want? What does God say?” Someone here today is in that exact place. You are so absorbed in the unhappiness of your marriage, in the instability of your kids, in the emptiness of your job, that you are unable to look beyond yourself and to your Father. And the more you focus on you, the worse it gets and the more painful the decisions you make.
In contrast to that, what I’m talking about is so liberating. Liberation from self-absorption. Leaping for joy when you realize suddenly, shockingly, that you are not the most important thing in the word. Instead of hogging the spotlight, shine it.
And I believe that while this mindset begins with a moment of clarity, such recognition continues with habits. Those massively small steps you take every day to reorient you from a spotlight hogger to a spotlight shiner. Consider this: Your #First15 (AV). First 15 minutes of every day. What is it usually? Check messages, turn on TV, make breakfast. Wired up, connected in, on the go. Man, what a difference it would make if the first 15 minutes of every day from now til Xmas was given over to the Lord. Take a breath, find a chair, and open your bible. We’ll even give you the Scriptures and send you the prayers. I’m not asking for the rest of your life; just the rest of Christmas. It is a God-honoring tradition of beginning the day not in your head but at his throne. Even if you are not a religious person today, start your next 31 days with the #First15. Sit and rest and count up all those things for which you give thanks. The day begins with the spotlight off you & on him. Because this kind of long-term humility is not microwaved into your life in a momentary decision; it is marinated in. Instead of hogging the spotlight, shine it.
And though I’ve already spoken of how this truth intersects with private people, it also speaks to spotlight grabbers as well. To extroverts. You know. Those ppl who have a knack for bringing every conversation back to themselves. Let me tell you what I did. That reminds me of the time I. Oh yeah, we did that and more! You, know, the one-upsmanship. People who so clamor for the spotlight, they will kick you out of the way when no one is looking. Some of you have been kicked. And some of you do the kicking. You’ve done it so often and for so long you don’t even know you do it anymore. Listen: you know what today’s truth remind you? It’s not about you. Gosh, what a great line to repeat to yourself all Xmas. My life is not about me. My life is about the one who made me alive. When was the last time you brought Jesus into conversation? You know folks who don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ because at some point they were sold a dead religion. And you, you have been divinely appointed to their lives to point them to the Savior. Xmas is the ideal time. That baby saved me. That baby made me sober. That baby restored me. You know if you talk too much about you. Time for some him. Instead of hogging the spotlight, shine it.
If you do that, you’ll be in good company. Because what baby JtB started in the womb, adult JtB completed 30 years or so later. Because what is the best saying we have from JtB, the one that preachers ought to use before preaching? John 3:30:
He must increase and I must decrease.
Ah, not a spotlight hogger. From the in utero leaper to the adult preacher a spotlight shiner. How about you join him?