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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Love Comes in the Ordinary, Common, Every Day (Christmas Eve)

Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. {2} This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. {3} All went to their own towns to be registered. {4} Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. {5} He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. {6} While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. {7} And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. {8} In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. {9} Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. {10} But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: {11} to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. {12} This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” {13} And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, {14} “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

This is such an old, familiar story that sometimes it’s hard to hear it with fresh ears. When this story is read, sometimes all I can hear is Linus’ voice in the Charlie Brown Christmas. But something in this story struck me this year that has made everything new.

Have you ever paid any attention to the “sign” that the angel gives the shepherds? The sign that validates the angels’ good news that the Messiah, the Lord, has come?

You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. That’s it.

Now remember this was during Caesar’s registration for taxation purposes. In order to keep track of whose family owned what land, the people of that region had to register in their family’s hometown. All people who were descendants of King David 1000 years ago were among those who had to go to Bethlehem. Likely there were hundreds, if not thousands were travelling there. There was no room in the inn for countless families coming to Bethlehem during that time. Because who would ever go to Bethlehem? So, as was customary, travelers could stay in homes.

It was common for homes to be two stories tall, with the family on the upper floor, and their few animals on the lower floor. It’s likely that Mary and Joseph were staying in the lower floor of one of these homes with the animals. So, of course, there would probably be a cow, a sheep or two, maybe a goat and a donkey, and, of course, a manger—the feed trough for these animals.

How many families travelled to Bethlehem with small children? Hundreds?

How many couldn’t fit into the small inn of a small town and had to sleep with the animals on the first floor of a home? Most of them?

So how many of those small children were sleeping in mangers that night? Lots of them, perhaps?

Yet the angels tell the shepherds that the sign of the Messiah is that they will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Couldn’t the angel come up with something a little more specific, with a little more pizzazz? Couldn’t they provide some solid evidence rather than something that would have been very common?

Then it occurred to me how exactly right that is. God is present in our lives through the most ordinary of things in the most ordinary of ways. There are signs of God’s presence all around us all the time. The problem isn’t with the sign given to the shepherds. It’s not that God doesn’t provide signs of her presence and love all around us. The problem is that we think we don’t think that’s good enough.

The shepherds went to Bethlehem, found a child in a manger, and began shouting in the streets that the Messiah had, indeed, come! God really was at work! We are not forgotten! God really does love us. God really does love all people! The sign of a baby wrapped up and sleeping in a makeshift crib was enough.

The ways of God’s reign of love aren’t always a dazzling display of lights and drama. Love doesn’t make headlines. Usually God’s presence among us is quiet, subtle, understated. A baby wrapped up and sleeping. A word of comfort. A friend sitting quietly listening. A child’s hug. A stranger showing kindness. A voice of support and encouragement. These are quiet signs of love, present all around us. God’s love has come into the world.

A baby wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger with the animals all around, in the lower level of a small house in the tiny village, is enough. Love has come. The signs are easy to see. This Christmas I hope our eyes can be opened to the reality of God’s love all around us. And may we always see the signs in the ordinary, the common, the everyday.

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Posted by on December 25, 2015 in Sermon

 

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4 Weeks (and 4 Characters) of Advent — Preparing for Christ Changes You

Advent 1

Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist

John’s whole purpose was to point to the coming of Jesus. As he told us earlier today, John himself was not the arrival of God’s kingdom. He helped us get ready for it. It wasn’t about John, it was about one who would come after him, one whose sandals he wasn’t worthy to untie.

Even though he had some extremely devoted followers who thought he was the coming of God’s kingdom, even though some worshiped him, he spent his adult life lifting up Jesus, talking about Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, because Jesus is the one who reveals God’s kingdom among us. It’s the coming of Jesus that changes everything, not the status of John.

If John the Baptist helps us prepare at all, it’s in recognizing that this season isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about Jesus and what he brings.

John points to the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God. That’s our call today as we begin our preparation for Christ among us.

How about an Advent challenge for this week? Apart from ourselves and our own lives, watch for signs of God’s kingdom breaking in.

Watch for mercy shown in places you wouldn’t expect it.

Watch for bizarre generosity.

Watch for love that moves people to deep sacrifices.

When you see these things happening, in the spirit of John the Baptist point it out to someone!  Tell them that’s what Christ looks like! Tell them Jesus is showing up there!

As John makes clear, it’s not about us. It’s about the God’s kingdom, coming with Christ.

 

Advent 2

Luke 1:5-20, 57-64

Zechariah

Patience and perseverance. Two things that Zechariah the priest had in abundance. Praying for years and years for an heir, someone to assure his lineage and bear his name.

Year after year, praying the same prayer. Year after year, waiting for it to be answered. Perseverance, year after year after year. Never giving up. Patience and perseverance.

Two of the most imporant Advent themes too. Patiently waiting for Christ to appear and make things right. Persevering in being about the work of Christ. Patience and Perseverance.

These great themes of Advent have never seemed more appropriate for us than they do now.

On Wednesday in San Bernardino, CA there was yet one more act of massive violence and death.

In the United Kingdom, our American infatuation with guns and violence was assumed as one English reporter broke the story, ”Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic and fear. This time in the city of San Bernardino in California.”

We’ve become so immune to these stories that the first mass shooting on Wednesday (San Bernardino was the 2nd) wasn’t even reported, because only four people were injured, and only one of them died in Savannah, GA.

Patience and perseverance, Zechariah reminds us this Advent. We wait for the presence of Christ to come and remove the violence and hatred that infects our culture. And we also persevere in the struggle to live lives of love, peace, and forgiveness in the face of such violence. We do not cave in to it. As disciples of Jesus we persevere in looking violence in the face and saying, “Our God is bigger. Our love is more powerful. We will persevere in living non-violence in the midst of violence. Come, Lord, Jesus.”

For years, Zechariah practiced patience and perseverance. Though struck mute for nine months, he continued. Through doubts and questions, he continued. Patience and perseverance. How long, O Lord?

And an Advent miracle happened. Not only did Zechariah become a father, but his son was the one to announce the coming of God’s kingdom of peace. To baptize Jesus as he began his ministry of God’s love in the midst of violence.

In Advent, we practice patience as the violence continues all around us, patience in the face of a culture too broken for us to fix. Patience as we await the coming of the Christ.

And in Advent we practice perseverance in the face of violence. Perseverance in living lives of peace. Perseverance in calling out the horrors that have taken root in our society. Perseverance in being Christ’s people of love, of peace, of compassion, of mercy, and of forgiveness.

Patience and Perseverance. Thank you for that example, Zechariah.

 

Advent 3

Luke 1:24-25, 39-45, 57

Elizabeth

After prayìng for all those years to have a child, Elizabeth is finally pregnant. You’d think she would take to the streets shouting this good news to the world, wouldn’t you?

But instead, she goes into seclusion for five months.

How lonely she must have felt. She had been isolated all her life by the women around her who were already mothers.

Even her husband had been struck mute, so she can’t have a conversation with him and get his perspective.

She was not the only woman to conceive miraculously, and they would understand her situation. But they were long dead and only remembered through stories.

This was a miracle, but a lonely one. For five months she lived in seclusion with no one to share her hidden living inside her. But Mary in on her way.

Then, five months into her lonely pregnancy, there is a knock at her door. Her relative Mary had travelled all the way from Nazareth to visit her. As they exchanged greetings, suddenly, Elizabeth felt the baby in her womb leap for joy! Her hidden hopes were dancing!

All Elizabeth’s loneliness disappreared in an instant. These two women, each experiencing miraculous pregnancies, each being promised their sons would be important parts of God’s mission in the world, poured out their hopes and dreams together. Elizabeth finally had someone who would understand! Someone she could share this hope with!

In Advent, we wait for miracles. We hope for God’s presence to make a difference in our lives and in the world. Even though we long for God to do something new, we often are made to feel we can’t share those longings. “Faith is personal,” we are taught. You don’t talk about your faith to people, it causes problems. Your faith is your own, so don’t impose it on anyone else.

Like Elizabeth, how lonely we’ve made our faith and spiritual life to be! We hope for God to be present, and we have a hard time sharing our hope. Sometimes we even quit hoping, because hope can’t live in isolation.

Like Elizabeth, we can become so lonely in our hopes that we have convinced ourselves that God doesn’t work in our lives. We can become so isolated in our deepest dreams that we might even believe God isn’t really present in the world.

Elizabeth understands. She shares our secret hopes. She knows the isolation. She knows what it’s like to long for God’s intervention but be unable to talk about it. She knows that there are hopes hidden so deep within us that we can’t share them with anyone, sometimes even ourselves.

Advent is the season when Mary comes to visit. When she comes, all our hopes and secret dreams hidden deep inside us leap for joy! We can share our hopes.

Like she was for Elizabeth, Mary is on her way. What are the hopes hidden deep inside that you have never shared? What secret dreams do you have that have never been expressed? What longing has been isolated so long that you have a hard time admitting it to yourself? Mary is on her way. What needs to leap for joy inside you when she arrives?

Advent is the season of hope. And Jesus’ coming into the world means that our deepest, most secret longings hidden deep inside us are getting ready to leap for joy. With God, all things are possible.

 

Advent 4

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph

You’ve gotta feel bad for poor Joseph. He’s really stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either protect and care for his pregnant, soon-to-be wife, or be faithful to his God’s law and divorce her for her adultery (which it would be considered even in the case of rape). Apparently there’s no way to do both.

So he plans to divorce her, but quietly. That way he fulfills the law of denouncing a woman who, for whatever reason, regardless of who is to blame, is pregnant outside of marriage. He also does the best he can do to keep her safe from the extremists who would call for her to be put to death. He thinks he’s figured the best compromise way to handle this.

And then the angel visits him and throws everything into deeper chaos. Oh, no, the angel says. This hand of God is involved here. Though you aren’t the father, Joseph, you need to go ahead and raise this child as your own. He will be the one anointed by God as Messiah. So stick to the original plan and get married. Deal with the consequences of God’s work—for the rest of your life.

What amazes me is that the text describes Joseph going along with all this. He’s willing to risk everything to be part of what God is doing.

We tend to stop here. As if everything’s fine now. Joseph is OK with this pregnancy, Joseph and Mary will raise this child together. God is at work. It’s a miracle. All’s well.

Uh, yeah—not so fast. Yes, God is involved. And, yes, they have been called to be part of what God is doing here. But now the reality of living this out is in front of them. When God calls you to step into with what God is doing, your life is different.

Nothing would ever be the same for Joseph, and certainly not for Mary. Every aspect of their lives is now changed. This isn’t just a pregnancy, it’s stepping into the work of God in the world. For the rest of their lives.

Joseph didn’t ask for this. This is not an answer to prayer. This is God at work in the world and Joseph and Mary are called into the middle of it.

That’s the way it is with God. God calls, and if we answer, our lives are transformed forever. Because:

When God loves, and we live out that love.

When God forgives, and we live out that forgiveness.

When God is compassionate, and we live out compassion.

Not because it’s wonderful and glorious. Not because it makes us cozy and warm. But because God is doing it and has called us into it. God’s mission in the world isn’t easy, certainly not convenient, not always comfortable. Ask Joseph. But it is God at work. And therefore, as Christian people, it is us at work too.

Joseph and Mary’s lives are changed forever because they recognized God at work. Being part of what God is doing shaped everything for them—from that moment on.

Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on. Because God is still at work. The mission of God is still the same: bringing peace, compassion, forgiveness, love to all people. As we recognize God at work in bringing these things to the world, we recognize that in following Jesus, we step into that work too, our lives are also changed forever. Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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