given on Sunday, December 28, 2008
How was your Christmas? We had a busy week with all the different family gatherings. We have eaten way too much, especially sweets in my case. We have had the joy of giving—and receiving. And somewhere in all this the Messiah arrived. Remember the Messiah?
During the Advent season we have prepared for the Messiah. We have followed John Wesley’s approach that includes studying the scriptures, looking at the history, considering our experiences, and reasoning all this out together. The concern now is how do we include the Messiah in our daily lives.
I had a surprise conversation this week while standing in the grocery store trying to decide what meat to buy. An acquaintance came up and said hello. Naturally this is not unusual as we all know we tend to run in to friends and acquaintances at the stores all the times, but this one turned into a theological discussion for almost a full five minutes.
By coincidence, this individual had just learned that I was preaching and he started sharing his own beliefs. I certainly was not prepared for this conversation, nor was I out to evangelize; I was there to get the food I wanted before the storm hit. Still, I listened and I shared my views, too. Even though he was brought up Baptist, he is still struggling to understand why some still preach hellfire and brimstone if God is a loving God.
I told him I could not accept that theology because I see God as loving unconditionally. After a month of studying about the arrival of the Messiah, I am even more convinced that Christmas is evidence of a loving God. The God in the Old Testament kept waiting and waiting for his children to follow his laws and to love one another. He tried destroying everything, but he still allowed Noah and his family to survive. He still allowed man to use free will. He just cold not give up on humans.
What was God to do? God so loved us that he gave his only son…(you know the scripture, John 3:16). That is right. God loved us so much that he gave us Christmas. He sent the Messiah to us. The Messiah was the very first Christmas gift and what a gift! Look at the tradition we now have developed because God loved us so much that he decided to step down on this world he created and teach us personally how to love one another.
Now as traditions go, Christmas did not happen automatically. Even though Jesus was born roughly 2020 years ago, Christmas as a Christian tradition did not begin immediately. Jesus was a human, and as an infant he had to live the human experience. Jesus had to grow up, he had to be taught the faith of his fathers, and he had to experience those teen years just like each and every one of us has. Remember, we learned in our review of the genealogy Jesus was also connected to the line of Levi, the priest; and priests usually did not begin their duties until they were around 30.
I suspect many today might have thought that Christmas as we now know it began almost immediately. Some may think or connect the gifts of the Wise Men to the tradition of Christmas even that first year. Sadly these misunderstandings persist and very little is being done to correct them. The Messiah is here, yes, but what do we do now?
First, we must continue to study. Knowledge can only deepen understanding, and yes, I am a teacher so studying seems natural—or at least one might think that but it takes work. Now that we know the Messiah is here and we have opened up all the gifts under the tree, now we need to open up the understanding of the Messiah. We need to make sure we understand why God loved us so much that he was willing to step down here on this earth and go through this human experience to teach us unconditional love.
I propose that we use this year to look for ways to learn more about our faith. We need to intentionally develop our own faith in order to live out our faith and to demonstrate to others how faith makes our lives so rich. I know this may be a tremendous challenge because our lives or so full of work, of family, of responsibilities, and even of health issues. Yet we know that our faith makes it possible for us to manage. Paul knew this and we often hear the verse Philippians 4:13. Jan Karon even used this verse as a major theme in her Mitford collection about Father Tim: “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.”
Oddly enough reading that collection of novels probably has been instrumental in my personal mindset of managing time. I have known for a long time that being a working mom alone is tough, but adding additional responsibilities with church, organizations, even professional responsibilities can be exhausting. When I began reading the Mitford collection, I began seeing things a bit differently. I realized that it really is God that gives me the strength to manage all the different facets of my own life. Interesting how even a novel series can teach us, especially if we have someone we can discuss the reading. Intentional faith development depends on studying, but it also depends on community. Learning is often best when done with others.
Secondly, I propose that we establish some goals for our worship. Now I am not saying that we need to change what already exists, but I think we can look at improving our personal worship experience. I think we can do this individually and as a congregation. We have really done this during the Advent season; in fact, as tough as it has been for me to prepare worship for my first Advent season, I have learned so much to build on next year. But each Sunday should be as important as any Advent or Lent Sunday.
The Messiah is a gift that is worth sharing. The Messiah is a story that needs telling. The Messiah is a gift to value and to give praise to each day of our lives. Our gift back to God and to each other is a meaningful worship each Sunday of the year. What can we do with this excitement of Christmas to enrich our lives each week?
Finally, we must share our Messiah with others. Chance meetings with acquaintances even in the grocery store are opportunities to share. I probably could have ducked out of the conversation, but I did not. Why in the world did this man need to talk about his faith? I do not know, but it is in those chance conversations that we sometimes provide the most significant witness of how our faith has made a difference in our lives.
As Methodists, we have long been quiet. We are not known for our evangelism, we are known for allowing others their own space, so to speak. When I was first asked to serve on the traditional evangelism committee, I did not understand why. Now I think I understand. Evangelism is living out your faith on a day-by-day basis. I may have accepted the call to step into a pastoral role, but it took years to even consider that role. I credit serving on the Evangelism Committee as a key factor in opening up my mind to serving as a pastor.
Do not be alarmed; I am certainly not proposing that each one of you take on that role. I am just saying that maybe we should be alert to the various methods or opportunities that can become ways of sharing the good news of the Messiah. What better gift could we ever provide than to give an individual the gift of Jesus in their life. What better time than right now during Christmas to make a decision to share this gift with others?
Welcome to a new year. The Messiah is here and has been here for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Messiah is real. The Messiah is the reason for the season and the answer to life in the 21st century. The Messiah is a gift worth understanding thoroughly. The Messiah is a gift from God that deserves worship as our thanks to God and as our opportunity to stay connected to God each and every day of our year. The Messiah is a gift worth sharing with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. The Messiah is a gift that just keeps on giving, sorry jewelers, but it is true.
Join together this year as we make the commitment to practice intentional faith development. Join together this year as we work to make worship meaningful. Join together this year as we improve our skills in sharing our faith with others. Jesus is the reason for the season and when next year’s Advent begins, let us know that we have done our very best to make sure that the Messiah’s story is told and we can celebrate once again that God so loved us that he gave his only son that all who believe in him can have eternal life. What a Messiah!
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of your son. We have celebrated his birth in grand fashion. We have celebrated with family and friends. We have worshiped together to hear the story, to celebrate the story, and to share the story. As we begin this new year, guide us as we work to study, to worship, and to share the story of the Messiah. Help us to demonstrate unconditional love each and every day. Help us to live lives filled with your word.