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Christ: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the final sermon based on the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, written by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  The original plan was to present the sermon on Sunday, December 30, 2017.  Unfortunately the frigid temperatures prompted the decision to cancel worship that Sunday.  Therefore, this has been edited to be given Sunday, January 7, 2018–Epiphany Sunday.  

As I post this, I can only wonder if the weather will cooperate tomorrow, too.  The forecast is for freezing rain and warming temperatures.  The question will be how accurate the forecast and how the timing of the warming temperatures will be.  I decided to go ahead and post this sermon due to all the uncertainty of the weather.  I pray that this completes the reader’s understanding of this Advent season’s messages.

 

Scripture connections:

 

Isaiah 60:1-7, NLT

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.

7The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,

   and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.

I will accept their offerings,

and I will make my Temple glorious.

Matthew 2:1-12, NLT

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

            King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

            “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

            Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

            After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

 

Christ: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            Here it is the day after Epiphany (January 6) and Christmas season is technically over. Yet, when Mother Nature decides to make her presence painfully evident, sometimes we just have to stop and reassess plans. The frigid temperatures that came with Christmas Day provides us a ‘reality check’ as James Moore referenced in his final Advent commentary.

Throughout Advent, the focus has been on the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are gifts that come wrapped up in the final gift—Jesus. Having to confront the reality of the extreme cold and its risks to the congregation brought a sudden end to the five-week Advent study and Moore addresses this:

. . . sometimes we misread things. Sometimes we misunderstand things. Sometimes we misinterpret things. Sometimes, maybe much of the time we do that with Christmas: We misread and misunderstand what it’s really all about. Before we know it, Christmas has passed us by, and we have missed its warm embrace once again.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 108)

 

In these last two weeks, do you find that you are already missing the true meaning of Christmas? Do you need a reality check now that Christmas is over and life’s routines have resumed?

Certainly the cold makes even daily chores difficult. The sunshine helps, but so many days have had clouds and getting up to start a new day—cold new day—is tough. The calendar is empty of special events and family gatherings. The leftover turkey is gone, and you actually are tired of the holiday cookies and candies.

In an odd way, the entire sense of expectation and excitement that surrounds our Christmas traditions feel broken. Yet, for weeks the focus has been on the gifts that won’t break—hope, joy, love, and peace. The final Christmas gift God gave us is his own presence in the form of a human baby we know as Jesus.

Christ’s birth is a gift from God that keeps all the other gifts from breaking and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. The gift of Christ is a gift that fits everybody, everywhere, anytime. And the gift of Christ provides endless hope, love, joy and peace. Christ is the unifying, lasting, and priceless gift that keeps the other gifts from breaking.

In Isaiah, the prophecy of the final chapter of the Christmas story is outlined right down to the possibility of the kings following the stars to find Jesus after his birth. Written about 681 BC (19911416), Isaiah 60:1-7, identifies that the kings and caravans [of people] will come from the east, from Midian, Ephah, Shelba, Kedar and Nebaioth. Isaiah even adds that the gifts they bring will be gold and frankincense (no reference to myrrh though).

The ancient Israelites remained faithful and hopeful. The literature of the Old Testament weaves the prophecy in and out that God would send a savior, a Messiah, a king to ‘save’ them. The Bible stories are filled with examples of how faith in God makes our earthly lives manageable. Moore explains faith:

Realizing that we can’t make it, that we are down and out, that we need help, God sends us a Savior. In Jesus Christ, God comes into our world . . . to pick us up, to hold us up, to see us through, and to bring us home. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 112)

 

The birth of Christ did not end the trials and tribulations of the faithful Jewish people. In fact, the Bible continues to share the struggles of the people in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.   The faithful maintained hope that “God cannot be defeated,” as Moore continues:

Even though evil will sometimes make loud noises in our world, as Christians we can be confident. We can be filled with hope because we know that ultimately God and righteousness will win. And just think of it: God wants to share the victory with us. That’s why the Christ Child came into the world . . . to bring the good news of God’s ultimate victory. That is our hope. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 113)

 

The birth of Jesus Christ gave us the gift of hope and the gift of love. By joining us on this earth, God came to teach us how to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s plan is explained:

     And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus . . .

. . . 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

     12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

 

God’s gift of the baby Jesus Christ was how the plan was completed. The faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, accept that Jesus Christ, as God in human form, came to teach us how to love one another.

Moore uses an anecdote from Bill Hinson about building a doghouse for his daughter’s new puppy, Happy. After completing the project, he could not get Happy to go into the doghouse. Only after he gave up and went into the house, did he witness a transformation. He saw Happy wagging his tail, go joyously into the doghouse, and lie down serenely. How come? Hinson’s daughter had crawled inside and only then did he trot in beside her:

. . . Where all those other things had failed, love prevailed. That’s what Christmas teaches us. Love is the single most powerful thing in the world. And in the gift of Christ, we receive the gift of love in the most powerful and perfect way. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 114)

 

Happy’s story is much like our own. By accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. The Christmas gifts that won’t break make our life journeys one that last through eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We celebrate the unbreakable Christmas gifts

of hope, love, joy, and peace.

And most of all, we celebrate the greatest gift,

Jesus Christ, your Son who came to be with us.

We know that because you are here,

our lives are renewed.

Give us the wisdom and courage

to put these unbreakable gifts to work

in our lives throughout the coming year,

knowing that you are with us always. –Amen. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 117)

Communion notes:

            The cynics might wonder how it is possible to consider that Jesus Christ is a Christmas gift that would not break. The reality of God’s presence in human form is that the body breaks. Our local tradition is to begin each month with the sacrament of Word and Table, aka communion or Eucharist. The very practice recognizes that Jesus, the man, was broken and died on a cross, but God continues.

            Today, we have heard the final chapter of the Christmas story remembering how the wise men came to find Jesus the infant. Their story is found only in Matthew, written to tell how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jesus is God’s gift of love.

            Join us at the table to accept the gift of Jesus Christ who demonstrated how to love one another despite all the trials and tribulations that confront us in our earthly lives.

            Join us by taking the bread and the juice to recommit ourselves to joining in God’s plan to use love as the tool to provide hope, love, joy and peace to one another right here in our own community, our nation, and our world. There is no other gift so unbreakable as God’s love wrapped up in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

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PEACE: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

Sermon given on Sunday, Christmas Eve 2017, based on the Advent study by James W. Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Even though Advent comes to a conclusion with Christmas Day, the study will be followed for the next week or two.  Many thanks to Moore and Armstrong for publishing this study so others may find the gifts that won’t break:  Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

Scripture: Luke 2:1-6 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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.

 

PEACE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

Life at this time of year sometimes feels like total chaos. There has been all the shopping, the baking, the extra events on the calendar and all this is on top of our typical daily life routines. No wonder everybody becomes exhausted. The idea of peace seems impossible.

Yet, peace is possible. And today, Christmas Eve, in the midst of all the seasonal chaos, peace is possible and it is a gift that won’t break.

Chaos is a permanent state around us and that is no different throughout human history.—even since creation, as John 1 reminds us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)

 

At no time in our lives are we immune to chaos. The key to peace is knowing that God is with us, or as one of our members has said repeatedly this year, “God’s got this.” And that testimony has carried her through the chaos of a medical crisis.

God is with us. Since the beginning, God has existed and continues to be a very real presence within our lives. Have we opened this gift? Today is the perfect time to open this last gift, God’s gift of peace.

[Light the Peace candle.]

Peace is difficult to define especially when our world is in such chaos, but I always have hope that we can reach the ultimate goal of peace. The key is finding peace with God first, then finding peace with one’s self, and that makes finding peace with others possible.

This morning we awoke to find the magic of a white Christmas.   The snow really completes the mental image of Christmas for us in the Midwest. Seldom, though, does a white Christmas become real. I hope that as you stepped out into the natural world you heard the peace.

As I tried to figure out a way to explain what the gift of peace was to the kids, I could only come up with one idea—the way the world is when snow falls. There is nothing like it. When snow falls, there is a pureness that one experiences.

  • The visual shows a world with no flaws as the snow covers the dulled yards, turns leafless trees and bushes into white, sparkling gardens if even for a few moments.
  • Snow even has a unique smell, almost absent of odors but also refreshing. We notice that when we go into the stores and see candles and scents with snow as the descriptors. One might think that snow should smell like rain, but it has its own unique scent.
  • And who admits that snow does have a taste. As kids, I am sure we have all ran out into the snow, stuck out our tongue and tasted it. Why snow even serves as the base ingredient for an old fashioned treat—snow ice cream (even though we always add extra taste elements to it).
  • Touching snow may begin with the taste on the tongue, but snow brings out the kids in all of us as we run and play, scoop it up to make snowmen, or fall into it to make snow angels. Even the gentle feel of the snow on our face seems to calm our very anxious souls.
  • Finally, the sound of snow is the key to knowing what peace is. Step into a world where snow has coated the ground, especially as the day begins. The sound of snow is peace. It quiets us, it soothes us, it wraps us up like a warm blanket on the coldest of days.

This mornings gentle snow fall can serve as a real example of what peace with God is like.   (I know, the cynics might try to twist the magic of the white Christmas into the negatives, but I choose to focus on the snow as an example of God’s gift of peace.)

James Moore uses the story of the angels being taught to sing the one hymn to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as a one-time public event. The angels were told that this was the only time that they would sing this one song as a performance. That may seem like a silly story, but thing about how the Christmas carols delight us as we look forward to Christmas.

The story concludes with God explaining to the angels that once they perform this majestic hymn, their job was done. Moore writes God’s response: “Because,” God said, “my son has been born, and now earth must do the singing!”

The Christmas story is told and retold every year in hope that all people can find peace with God. Moore adds:

The Good news of Christmas is so awesome, so full of wonder, that it’s not enough just to talk about it. We have to burst forth in song, we have to sing it. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 85)

The gift of peace begins with knowing God and accepting the gift of his son Jesus Christ as our savior. With that we can also find peace within ourselves even if chaos swirls around us like the tornadoes we know so well.

Accepting God’s gift of Jesus in our life makes it possible for us to find a sense of calm in our lives. Consider all those around you and that you have heard throughout history who demonstrate calm despite the chaos that surrounds them. I can list a few of the most historical examples : Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.

Placing God first and then turning one’s life over to him creates peace within one’s own life. Moore states, “The only way we can be right with ourselves is to be made right by him [God].” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 89)

Finally, the gift of peace expands into peace with others. By accepting God’s gift of Christ, we turn over the chaos to him. Remember our own example this year as we heard the personal testimony in the battle with cancer, “God’s got this.”

Because God has accepted our chaos, we can find peace with ourselves, and that makes it possible for us to find peace with others. Moore explains the tradition of the mistletoe to demonstrate how important it is that we find peace with others, too.

The ancient tradition of northern European Druids is far different than what we may expect. Moore explains:

They believed mistletoe had curative powers and could heal lots of things including separation between people. So when two enemies happened to meet under an oak tree with mistletoe hanging above them, they took it as a sign from God that they should drop their weapons and be reconciled. They would set aside their animosities and embrace one another under the mistletoe.

When Christian missionaries moved into northern Europe, they saw this mistletoe custom as a perfect symbol for what happened at Christmas—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to redeem us, and to bring us peace, healing, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Today we can just imagine what it was like to live in the cold, frigid regions of northern Europe. The environment might be comparable to our lives without God, without peace. The mistletoe of God in our lives gives us the power to find peace with others, too.

Give the gift of peace this year. Follow Moore’s advice:

If you want to have a “peace-full” Christmas, go in the spirit of love and fix the broken relationships in your life. If you are alientated or estranged or cut off or at odds with any other person, go in the spirit of Christmas and make peace. Don’t put it off any longer. Drop your pride,your resentment, your grudges, and go set it right. With the help of God, go make peace today. Christmas offers us the gift of peace with others, but it’s up to us to accept that gift. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Christmas is the annual reminder that God loves us and gives us the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ. Accepting that opens us to a world that is peace-filled.

Merry Christmas to each of you. I pray that you have received the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

Closing prayer: (in unison)

Dear God, thank you for the gift of peace.

Help us put peace into practice

            in our lives and show others

            the path to true peace.

Remind us to serve as peacemakers

            and to share the love of God

            with those in need. Amen.

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JOY: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the 3rd of the Advent series based on James W. Moore’s and Jacob Armstrong’s Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  As always, I am very appreciative for the work these two have done and making it available to others for their Advent.

 

Scripture:

Matthew 1:22-25, NLT

     22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[a]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

     24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

 

Luke 1:28-38, NLT

     28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

     29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

     34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

     35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.[d]

     38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

 

Notes for lighting the advent candle for JOY:

Looking up ‘joy’ in the index and concordance of my Bible, I find some interesting pieces:

 

Joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortuned.” The first reference in the concordance is in Deuteronomy and the last one is in 1 John; but during Advent, the focus is on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Just in the gospels, the concordance lists 14 entries of which only five of the verses are included in the traditional Christmas story. The others are primarily either later in Jesus’ ministry or as the end of his life.

In the index, there are fewer listings. In fact there are only a total of 11 of which seven are from the gospels. Psalms includes two, Philippians have three and Romans only one.

Key to all, though, is the emphasis on the emotion of joy comes from being faithful and in relation to God, especially through acceptance of Jesus Christ as your savior.

Mary’s role in the Christmas story helps us to understand this emotion of joy because she delivered the baby Jesus to the world and that human role is something we understand. The gospel of John [16:19-24, NLT] completes the explanation in Jesus’ words as he tries to explain what he meant when he said, “In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me. . . “:

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

 

 

JOY: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            JOY: What a packed word! This small word has immense power to take a gloomy day and turn it around. Yet in today’s world joy is evasive. The climate in which we currently live is so full of political and human turmoil due to so many factors that finding joy could be a chore. Yet, joy is one of the very best characteristics of Christians.

Take a minute to reflect on the people you know that you feel exhibit a Christian attitude. Do you not see them as joyful or joy-filled? I contend that a solid understanding of one’s faith in God and living the Christian lifestyle transforms our human lives into joyfilled lives rather than cynical, embittered, and miserable lives.

As a cook, I can see the recipe for a joy-filled life begins with the basic ingredient of God as introduced to us through Jesus Christ. Maybe that why I find joy in preparing a meal for family and friends; and no time is better than during Advent and Christmas time to realize that the mere act of preparing a meal with all kinds of special dishes is exactly what the gift of joy is. Preparing a special holiday meal is a gift that does not break and is one of encouragement, of thoughtfulness, and of graciousness. The satisfaction that it provides the guests as well as the cook(s) is joy!

In James Moore’s study, he writes that joy has three types: encouragement, thoughtfulness and graciousness. He argues that when God is with us, we provide the very ingredients of those three qualities. He states:

. . . the great truth of Christmas, the great message of Christmas, the great promise of Christmas, the great joy of Christmas, all wrapped up in that one word, Emmanel, which means God is always with us! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 63)

When we prepare a meal, we demonstrate the very idea that God is always with us. (For instance, how else can we be safe with knives and hot stoves and liquids all around us.) God is with us when we realize who we hope will come to our table and when we show love to the guests. The invitation itself is a gift of ‘encouragement’ as you include them in your life and pray for their joy, too. As guests, they are encouraged to join in your life as family and/or friends—what an opportunity to share God’s story, also:

That is part of our task as Christians, isn’t it? We need to say to a scared, anxious, confused, fretful world, “Boy, have we got good news for you!? The good news is that we can share it because God is with us and will see us through. Our part of that good news is saying to people near us, “I care about you,” “I believe in you,” “I trust you,” “You can do it.”

Maybe the best gift we can give someone we love this Christmas is a gift that will not break: the joy of encouragement. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 64)

 

But back to the meal, we plan the meal, knowing the guests’ likes and dislikes as well as knowing the traditions the guests enjoy sharing. From the minute the decision to serve a meal is made until the final dish is put away, the cook(s) are operating with love. Love guides each choice and step of the meal’s preparation. Planning and preparing the meal is also an exercise in ‘thoughtfulness’ which Moore identifies as another type of way to give joy.

Deciding to host a family and/or friends dinner takes thoughtfulness when considering what to prepare. We know the guests well enough to know the likes and dislikes, the allergies, and the traditional expectations. But consider if the meal were being prepared for strangers. The mere act of serving a meal to strangers is an example of thoughtfulness, but Moore had another example of taking that to even another level tell the story of the First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, LA, who decided to serve dinner on Christmas Day for anybody who might be hungry or lonely. The meal offered not only a complimentary meal but also fellowship and Christmas carols:

Moore said, “Just after lunch on Christmas afternoon, I drove to the church to see how things were going. . . . As I went inside, I met several members of our outreach committee coming out the door and heading for home. ‘What happened?’ I asked. ‘Is it over? Didn’t anybody show up?’ A committee member answered, ‘Oh, they are in there for sure. About 300 are eating right now. The only reason we are leaving is that some new workers came in to relieve us.’ . . .

When I went into the kitchen, I was moved to tears by what I saw: There was my good friend, a rabbi, along with 14 members of his temple, who had told our people, ‘This is your special day. Go home and be with your families, and we will work for you.’ (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 65)

 

Just imagine the joy Moore experienced. The thoughtfulness of the rabbi and his volunteers delivered joy in so many ways. In a surprising way, the story of Christ came to Shreveport and it was a gift that cannot be broken.

As a cook, preparing a meal for my family and friends at any time of the year provides extra prayer time for them, too. Serving a meal and joining in conversation can provides special, non-stressful times to talk out issues, provide words of encouragement, and demonstrate Christianity.

Cutting up the vegetables for the salads, becomes a practice of thoughtfulness, too. Each one who sits at my table gets a salad that is unique for their own tastes. Even the menu takes thoughtfulness to make sure that it is appropriate for the eaters. And then, for those special events, the preparation includes the traditions that match those at the table. The meal is a gift filled with thoughtfulness in hopes of bringing joy to each one seated.

Moore’s third form of the gift of joy is graciousness. Preparing a meal may seem a bit of a stretch to explain graciousness, but it comes with two views. First, consider the graciousness of the meal as the host/hostess. There is a level of selflessness demonstrated by the cook(s) and the host/hostess to prepare for the meal. The joy of graciousness is demonstrated by the work that goes into the meal—a form of sacrificial love.

Secondly, there is a gift of graciousness that the receivers give, too. Acknowledging the work of the cook(s) and/or the host/hostess provides a level of joy to them, too. Giving the gifts that do not break whether it is hope, love or joy, also has a return for those who are doing the giving. The doers end up receiving joy from witnessing the effect of their efforts. The guests, too, return the gift of graciousness in expressing their joy openly.

The essence of Christmas is the joy or gracious, sacrificial love. Christ came to show us what God is like and what God wants us to be like, and the word is love: love came down at Christmas, and the joy it brings is the best and most unbreakable gift of all! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 67)

During the next week, we will continue to listen to the news and hear of all the challenges to life whether it is the wildfires in California, the hurricane victims still trying to rebuild their lives, or all the individuals who have been abused or harassed or bullied in one way or another, God calls us to give the gifts that won’t break. Those gifts are to provide hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and joy to those who are joyless.

Jacob Armstrong adds to the study how we can gift the gift of joy when tragedy strikes, we lose a loved one, or we simply feel unhappy with our lives. He writes:

. . . Can there still be joy?

Yes, God says. There can be joy. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about our hoping, believing, waiting for God to come and make something out of our mess. We wait for God to step into what appears to be impending doom and save us. Advent hold out the belief that in the midst of that kind of waiting, God brings the gift of joy.

  • God often uses the most impossible thing you can think of as the very sign that God is with us. And in the impossible being made possible, we find
  • The Jesus story teaches us that we can find joy even in scary and impossible situations.
  • Knowing God is with us is the gift that brings joy. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 72, 74, 76-77)

 

So, Merry Christmas! As you begin the final week of preparation, remember that the story we celebrate provides the gifts that won’t break. The gifts of hope, love, and joy are worth all the efforts we put into loving one another as much as we love God and as much as we want to be loved. With these gifts, will come one more—the gift of peace.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, thank you for the gift of joy

And for the way it brightens our days.

Help us give joy to others

Through what we say and do.

Show us how to make this Christmas

A true season of joy. Amen

Work Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

 

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Hope: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

Welcome to Advent!  This sermon was given on Sunday, December 3, 2017 as the first of a series based on Moore’s and Armstrong’s book and devotions, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Please read the introduction and the sermon based on what I read in their book.  Many thanks to them for writing the study.  I pray that it reaches into the hearts of the readers as it did for me.

 

All of us have had our hopes built on getting something for Christmas that we thought we just had to have. Maybe you were a kid, but maybe you were even a grown up and just had to have this one thing you wanted for Christmas.

Preparing for Advent, I looked at three different studies trying to find one that I felt expressed or explained the Christmas experience for today’s Christians. Today we begin the study by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break.

Let me share a story from Moore’s introduction (paraphrased):

Bishop Kenneth Shamblin told a story about his 5-year-old son’s hope to get a particular red truck for Christmas. He did everything he could to make sure that his parents knew what he hoped to get for Christmas. And he did get it. But shortly after dinner that Christmas Day, he came to his dad crying with the broken truck in his hands. The Bishop reported that the truck was quickly fixed, but it raised an interesting question: What are the Christmas gifts that won’t break? (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 7-8)

 

I expect that there is not one of us who has not experienced something similar in our lives. Whether it is a gift that we thought we just had to have or it is one we gave to fill someone else’s hopes. We thought it was the perfect gift, but then it broke or did not fit.

The introduction references one of Jesus’ lessons in Matthew 6:19-21: (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 8)

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

 

What happens when we put all our hope and anticipation into something? How often do we end up being disappointed or find that it is only a temporary good feeling? For many today, Christmas is broken. Truthfully Christmas season is just the wrapping for the unbreakable gift God has for us: Jesus Christ.

 

Hope

 

Advent is a time when we begin to anticipate the celebration of God’s ultimate gift to us—his son Jesus Christ; and today is the first of four Sundays that make up Advent. In our culture, the holiday season is in full swing with the stores all dressed up, with Christmas music playing, and with Santa making stops at all kinds of places. Yet, very little really explains why Christians are preparing for Christmas Day.

The Old Testament is filled with prophetic literature telling the faithful that a savior was going to come fix the problems that seemed so overwhelming that the faithful were losing trust. Yet the faithful continued to hope that God would send a savior. Just like the little boy who put all his hopes into getting a little red truck, the ancient Israelites hoped the prophecies would be fulfilled. Hope kept faith alive.

Why is it important that we celebrate Advent? Are we in the very same crisis as the ancient Israelites? Are we prepared for Christ to appear? Have we lost hope? Advent reconnects us to the story of God’s ultimate gift and during these four weeks let’s look for gifts that never break.

            The Christmas story begins in Matthew with God talking to Mary and Joseph. The circumstances create an awkward situation for the engaged couple, but the story tells us that an angel separately visited each of them to announce that they would be parents to a baby.

Mary had to be frightened, but she placed her faith in God’s angel and accepted her role as the expectant mother. Joseph must have really been shocked when the angel visited him. He knew he was not the father, yet he was given the responsibility to name the baby.

The gospel of Matthew, which is written for the faithful Jews waiting for the ancient prophecies to be fulfilled, explains how Mary and Joseph learned of their roles:

     18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a]quietly.

     20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:18-21, NLT]

 

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt? His hopes for a wife and family were dramatically crushed—or at least could have been crushed except for one thing: Joseph believed the angel. Much less he had been given the name for the baby.

Advent is a time to give the gift of hope. When events in our lives seem completely out of control and we have a sense of impending doom, God never abandons us. Joseph may have thought he was alone and all his plans were ruined, but he held on to his faith in God, trusted the angel’s message, and was filled with hope that this child he was given to raise as his own son was the long-awaited Messiah. What a gift!

We have a similar power when we give others the gift of hope. For those who may be trapped by a sense of hopelessness, we can share the story of how much God loves us and never abandons us. We can give them the gift of hope by demonstrating our own faith and how it makes our lives joy-filled.

God’s gift of his son Jesus is the reason for the season (apologies for the cliché); and when Joseph gave the baby the name Jesus, he signaled to the faithful how this child revived the hope for the Jews. The name Jesus is a derivative from the name Joshua who tore down the walls of Jericho. Moore writes that Jesus’ name means “wall-breaker” and he proceeds to explain how Jesus broke down walls that divide us from one another and from God:

“Now, this idea of Jesus being the wall-breaker, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, can better be understood when we see it against the backdrop of the Temple’s physical layout in the time of Jesus. The Temple was a parable in stone, exposing the prejudices, or walls, that existed in society during biblical times—walls that included a few privileged people but excluded or shut out most. As worshipers moved through the temple toward the high altar (the Holy of Holies), they encountered a series of walls holding the people back from God.

“The first wall held back foreigners, people of other races and nations. The second wall held back women. The third wall held back all men except the priests. The fourth wall, a veil surrounding the Holy of Holies, held back everyone except the High Priest, who was permitted to go inside the veil only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Even then the other priests tied a rope around his ankle, so that if he fell or passed out, they could pull him back without going inside!

“The Holy of Holies, which represented the presence of God, was remote, fearsome, austere, and unapproachable. But then came Jesus, and he broke down the dividing walls and made us one. He brought God out to the people. . . .

. . . The walls we build today are every bit as real as those in the Temple. Here are some of them:

“. . . walls that divide nations . . .

“. . . walls that divide men and women. . . .

“. . . walls that divide clergy and laity. . . .

“. . . wall that hold people back from God. . . .

Do you remember what happened in the Temple when Jesus was on the cross? The veil around the Holy of Holies was torn apart, from top to bottom. God did it! God tore it! God broke down that wall!” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 18-19)

 

Sharon shared the explanation about the torn veil earlier this year, and it is so important to review the importance of God’s action in relation to the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born to teach us how to live with one another by breaking down all that separates us from each other.

Christians around the world are celebrating Advent’s first Sunday focusing on the hope that we have “for peace on earth and good well toward all people”. This is the gift that won’t break whenever we give it away to those who feel hopeless.

Are you giving the gift of hope this year?

Whenever you do anything that shares God’s love as Jesus taught us, you are giving the unbreakable gift of hope. Remember that the gift of hope comes in many forms:

  • “. . . the gift of hope for healing.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for refuge.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for deliverance.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for salvation.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 29-30)

As Moore writes, “. . .become an instrument of hope to others this week. Give the gift of hope to those who need it by giving of yourself. . . . ” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)

This is giving hope, one Christmas gift that won’t break.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, thank you for the season of Advent and the gift of hope. Help us to prepare our hearts for your coming and to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Amen (Moore and Armstrong 2017) (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

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