Tag Archives: Luke 2

Mother Nature prompts apology

The last Sunday morning of 2017 and Mother Nature is getting our attention.  The churches in our area have canceled primarily because of the risk involved in getting the parishioners out.

I have one more sermon from the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  Christmas does not really conclude until Epiphany, January 6, therefore the last sermon will be on January 7.  I apology for the interruption, but Christ’s birthday is just the beginning.

My Sunday morning sometimes begins very early and I listen to Dr. Charles Stanlely, In Touch Ministries, and this morning he was speaking about Isaiah 64:4.  We are to wait on the Lord.  That is so difficult, and I needed to hear his words about waiting.

We live in such a state of immediate gratification for almost everything in our lives.  I opened up my Bible and read through the verse, and decided I needed to read the Christmas story again.  I read Luke 2, and then turned to Matthew also.  The references in my Life Application Bible kept noting how Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophecies.

The prophets spokes at different times in different settings, but the message remained the same.  I am reminded how long the Jewish faithful waited for the Messiah and wonder why we think answers from God have to be on our terms.  We must place our faith in God and then wait for him.  The key, though, is to be open to his speaking or showing us what he wants for us–not from us.

Therefore, as 2017 ends and Mother Nature reminds us that we are just part of this world.  Maybe canceling church reminds us that we are subject to all of God’s creation.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May you find peace with God.

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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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Why Christmas?

given on Sunday, November 25, 2012
 

Why Christmas?

Scripture reference:  John 3:1-21, CEB

Have you ever wondered why we have Christmas?  Every year we witness the masses go a little insane as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleaned off.  The crazy push to have the latest toys, the hottest gifts, and the best Black Friday bargain begins.  Why you may not have even had that afternoon nap to sleep off that last bite of pumpkin pie!

Why do we put ourselves into this crazy frenzy when the ultimate gift was given well over 2,000 years ago?  Is it because we received God’s gift of John 3:16:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.   (CEB)

and now we want to demonstrate the significance of that gift by giving ourselves?

Today is that in-between-time when one holiday is over and the next is about to begin.  We have one extra Sunday before Advent begins, but that has not stopped the 21st century masses of Christmas gift shoppers.  The crowds revealed by the news or by personal experience raced out of the Thanksgiving feast right into the Christmas gift-giving season.  No week of down time between the two, only a maddening pace of consumerism.

Still, I found myself slowing down and thinking about why we go through this annual ritual of celebrating Christmas.  Do we understand why we do it?  Do we just follow the masses blindly into the stores?  Do we acknowledge that Christmas is the representation of God’s greatest gift to his children?

Grace is the basis for God’s gift giving, are we doing the same?  If God cared enough for his children that he decided to send the very best, HIS SON, is our 21st century gift giving the same idea—caring enough to send the best?

I struggle with this every year.  You know–wondering if the gift giving is that important or why it has to be so expensive or why should we even do it.  Why has Christmas become so materialistic?  Does our gift giving reflect God’s gift giving?

Remember the purpose of God’s decision to send His Son to walk this earth with the people.  The purpose was not because his children were being so nice, it was because they were being so naughty.           Repeatedly God had sent them warning after warning that the ancient Jews were ignoring his teachings. He had demonstrated all the different methods he could use—plagues of locust, frogs, parting the Red Sea, and the list could go on and on.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of pestilence, and words of caution from messengers and prophets.  And did the people hear the warnings?  Did all the methods seemingly go unnoticed?

God decided to send Jesus Christ rather than destroy everything on earth.  He showed grace.  He sent Jesus, and Jesus patiently grew into the man who demonstrated grace in concrete ways so we, even today, could transform the world.

Grace, as an entry into a dictionary, begins as a noun, an idea from the Greek language meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.”  [The Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, p. 366]

God’s gift of His Son was intended to do just that—bring delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune—to all the faithful followers.  God saw that the original intent of providing a Garden of Eden to his children so they could simply live in grace had reached such a chaotic mess he had to do something drastic to get everybody back to that original plan.

God loved us.  He offers us that love freely, without any expectations other than to love one another.  That is grace in action—a verb.  Looking through the entry in the Bible dictionary, the concept of grace is traced from the beginning of the time as recorded in the Old Testament, through the apocrypha, and into the New Testament.  Not once does the basic premise change.

Added to the concept of grace is “divine grace” which is at times is referred to as “divine mercy.”  Divine grace is understood simply as God’s presence in the form of Jesus Christ or in the examples of other faithful leaders “who subsequently grow in grace, speaks gracious words, and like a divine man, passes unharmed through a hostile mob.”  This is how the Bible dictionary has analyzed the verses from Luke (Luke 2:40, 52, 4:22 and 30):

Luke 2:  40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.  . . .  52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Luke 4:  22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”  . . .  30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

God’s Christmas gift was delivered through the birth of Jesus Christ.  And that gift took almost 30 years to be opened by the very people who received it.  Have you opened your gift?  Have you received God’s grace?  Have you learned how to use the gift?

Maybe the answers lie in why we celebrate Christmas in such a materialistic manner.  Maybe we feel gift giving, holiday parties, and glorious decorations are ways to share grace with others.  Such traditions do “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune.”

But are those gifts bringing God’s grace and peace into the recipients of those gifts?  Are those gifts making a difference in people’s lives, transforming them into Christians who will open up their own gifts to “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune” to others, too?

God’s gift giving was intended to transform the world.  The world was in disarray, much like our world today could be described.  Greed continues to be a problem.  Greed comes with dollar signs attached, but it also is demonstrated in power struggles, in territorial disputes, and even in materialistic goods.

And greed is just one form of today’s problems.  There are so many more that can be listed:  racism, abusive relationships and behaviors, all forms of social injustices, no value for human life, addictions, and the list just keeps growing.  Does the 21st century need grace?  Certainly.

The New Testament carefully preserves the history of God’s gift giving, and it demonstrates or outlines all the acts that we are to follow in order to transform the world into one that “brings delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune” to all who follow Jesus.  Has that first Christmas gift worked?

Maybe that is another reason we have Christmas:  to try once more to give gifts that will create grace in the lives of others.  Maybe our Advent season is like the introduction to an operator’s manual.  We need this season to refocus our lives around God.  We need to look at the gifts God has given to us personally and then look at how well we have used them to give grace to others.

The insanity of gift giving today has developed as we wandered away from the very foundation of Christmas.  We are given grace by God each and every day, but are friends, strangers, or ourselves able to give grace to others whether family or not?

This Advent season, stop and review the gifts in your life that bring you delight, joy, happiness and/or good fortune.  The gift of Advent may be the gift of renewal, reaffirmation, or resolve to accept God’s gift of His Son as he tries to transform the world into a grace-filled Garden of Eden.  We, as his followers, are to accept the gift, and then learn how to use it to provide grace and peace to others.  Such gift giving will surely transform the world into one filled with delight, joy, happiness and good fortune.

Why Christmas?  Why not Christmas!  Each year we need to renew the story so we never forget.  Each year we need to open up the gift of God’s grace and figure out how to give the same gift to others.  That is why we have Christmas.

Holy Father, giver of gifts,

Prepare us for Christmas once again.

Guide us in our own gift giving

as we try to follow your example.

Use this Advent season to share the story

of Your greatest gift, Your only Son.

Help us open your gift so others may receive

the grace and peace given to them.

Teach us how to give your gift to others

so they too may be transformed.  –Amen

 

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