Sermon for 12/24/18 Luke 2:1-20; Christmas Eve

The two sermons I struggle with the most are Christmas Eve and Easter morning. The pressure is on to say something amazing, magnificent, outstanding, and yet keep it short, maybe a funny or two thrown in, and also, not too political but yet make it applicable to what is going on in the world, in our nation, and also your own lives. But it must also be profound! And if I am judged by only 2 of the sermons I give throughout the year (out of 60 or so) then I really feel the pressure. Then I read the scripture, listen carefully to what it has to say, and I want to stand up and say “did you hear that?? Great. Sermon ended.” I know some of you may not mind.

This text can be so familiar to many of us. It’s easy to tune out and miss some of the finer details. At the core of this story is God becoming human. God, taking on human form and living, working, breathing like any other human. But, first, that human was a baby. This was a baby brought into this world by someone who was forgotten; even worse, she was most likely cast out from society. Were there really no rooms available or had word spread and no one wanted to be associated with an unwed pregnant teenager? And if this baby was to be so important, shouldn’t the word of his birth first be told to those in power? To Quirinius, Emperor Augustus, or others in the houses of power?

But the first to know about this birth (other than Mary and Joseph) were any animals finding refuge in the barn. And they can’t necessarily spread the good news. So logically, the next to be told were the shepherds. Now, despite any pictures you may have in your head about these shepherds, they actually were pretty low in society. They were frowned upon and shamed a lot. Because being a shepherd required you to be with your flock almost 24/7, the shepherds were not afforded time to go to worship. They also could not keep the sabbath. So, they were considered unclean. Society often stereotyped shepherds as being thieves, liars, and just a general drain on society. Had they told the news of this birth, they most likely wouldn’t have been listened to anyway.

I would have to imagine that being a shepherd was a lonely life. Long working hours, often in deserted places, shunned by society, your friends, and potentially your family, living life as an outsider; all of that would make me wonder about God. It might be enough for me to give up on God. Then, in a flash of light (literally, brilliant light) and angel of the Lord comes. An angel brings good news to the most unlikely of people. This is the second time in this story that God has shown up to and through the most unlikely of people; the most forgotten of people; the most shamed and marginalized group of people. Just when the shepherds might have given up on God, just when Joseph thought he had been abandoned by God, God shows up. And God has continued to do that ever since.

Jesus’ birth was a hint of what was to come in Jesus’ life. God makes Jesus known in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people. Jesus showed up to people who had been forgotten. Jesus showed up to people who were kicked out, downtrodden, and maybe even spat upon. Jesus showed up to the unclean, the unkept, the unwelcomed, and the unchurched and did nothing but love. Jesus didn’t come and say “I’ve come for you but only on these conditions.” Nope. Jesus did exactly what Jesus does, he met the people right where they were. And Jesus continues to do that today. He meets us right where we are.

Of course it feels like God really is Emmanuel tonight, God with us. I mean, we’ve got the carols, we’ll have candles later, we’ll taste God in bread and wine, and you’re probably sitting near or around some of your favorite people. It’s easy to feel like God is in this place tonight. But what happens after tonight? What happens when you reflect back on your year as we so often tend to do during this season? For many people, maybe even some of you gathered here tonight, God may feel very far away. You may start to relate more to the shepherds than you thought. Maybe you’ve been wondering all about this God stuff. Maybe you’ve even begged God to show up in your life only to be left in the silence.

This time of year can be challenging anyway. The nights are longer, the days are colder. We see the sun less. You start to pass that same cold around to your family and friends only to get it back 3 weeks later. Maybe this is your first Christmas without a loved one that has passed since last Christmas. Or maybe it’s your 15th Christmas without them. Either way, grief seems to be felt deeper around this time. And while I love being reminded of love incarnate in the form of a newborn baby Jesus, I’m also not naive enough to think that all of your problems (or mine for that matter) magically disappeared when you walked through these doors. I’m also not going to assume that your problems will stay gone until after the new year.

But the birth we celebrate tonight is more than just a birth. It is an inclusion of those who have long been left behind by us, by the church, by society, for far too long. Tonight while we are in here celebrating, rejoicing, and generally being merry, God is showing up for and to the people who have all but given up on God. And for me, my beloved, this is good news. Because I have no doubt all of us have been through a time when we just about or actually did give up on God. Maybe you’ve had problems in your marriage. Maybe your kids are struggling. Perhaps you’re without a job or without meaningful employment. I know several of you watch the market reports daily and wonder if this is the last year you will tend to your fields. Or maybe you just observe the state of the world and genuinely ask and wonder “where is God?” So many of us have maybe several reasons to feel like God isn’t going to show up, isn’t real, and most certainly doesn’t listen to us.

In those first cries, in that report from the angels, in the hurriedness of the shepherds, we see once again that God came, did come, and will continue to come to those who need it the most. If you’re just not feeling merry this year for whatever reason, then hear this good news: you are not forgotten. God will and does show up first and foremost to you. If you’re feeling like a phoney sitting in these pews tonight, you’re a shepherd. God will show up to you. If you’re feeling like God hasn’t shown up in your life all year, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. If you’re feeling like shame, regret, remorse, grief, anger, or general apathy rules in your life instead of God, you’re a shepherd. God is showing up to you. And when you come forward tonight to receive body and blood, please hear the words “for you.” There is nothing you have to do for God to come to you. God will always come to and for you. And God does not expect you to check your baggage at the door.

So come in your anger. Come in your joy. Come in your faith and come in your questioning. Come with your doubts and fears. For some of you being here is an act of courage. Thank you for being so brave. God is here. God is with you. God will go with you. And God will continue to love you beyond your wildest imaginations. Especially (and maybe essentially) on the days when you can’t feel it, don’t want to feel it, or can’t even love yourself. Christ the babe was born for you!

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Sermon for 12/23/18 Luke 1:39-55; Advent 4

As we anxiously await the one that is to come, we meet two friends.

Two friends who find each other on the opposite end of

Life’s various spectrums and they gather during a very uncertain time.

One is old. Very old. One is young. Unmarried.

Both carry prophets within them. One will be a savior,

The other will point to the savior. Both will die for their proclamations.

God is, indeed, making all things new and turning the world

Upside down.

These two? Elizabeth, who was said to be barren.

And Mary, who was said to be a virgin.

Both, now, worthy of a pregnant pause.

Both, chosen by God to bear prophets.

If that’s not God doing something new and turning the world

Upside down,

I don’t know what is.

This is not a calm conversation. This is not tea between friends.

This is obnoxious, unadulterated, exuberant joy!

When your soul is rejoicing, you are anything but calm.

Both women are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Anything but calm.

And when Mary sings! Oh goodness! When Mary sings

Look out!

Her soul magnifies the Lord!

Her being, her essence, her whole person,

Glorifies the Lord. God has looked on her,

A nobody, and made her

A somebody.

God has shown her favor. Her! Of all people!

Her family isn’t known. She isn’t rich. She is a nobody

From a nobody place. She’s young. She’s unmarried.

And she’s pregnant. Society does not celebrate her.

But Mary celebrates. If God has shown her favor,

Surely God’s favor will extend to all who feel forgotten,

Shunned, forsaken, excluded, and cast out.

There’s something to be said about the joy, glory, and praise

That comes from

Being recognized.

There’s relief and comfort in knowing

God, above anyone else, sees you.

Recognizes you.

Praises you.

Remembers you.

This is most certainly good news to all who have felt like Mary.

And if that was not enough! Mary insists that this same God,

The same God that favors even the most forgotten,

This same God will also humble the powerful.

This same God will feed the hungry with more than just words,

Thoughts, or prayers.

This same God will turn the rich away and instead

Respect the poor with seats of honor.

This same God chose the most vulnerable of all,

An infant, to become human.

This same God chose the most forgotten,

An unwed teenager,

To birth the Word into the world.

This is the world turned upside down.

This is a world totally different than we know it.

This is a world where hope is stronger than power,

Where mercy is stronger than money,

Where grace is stronger than grit,

And where love is stronger than anything else.

This is a world where an aged woman

And unwed teenager

Can both be pregnant, can both be birthers of the word,

And can both be proof of God’s unending dedication to

Uplifting the forgotten.

This is a world where walls, borders, and checkpoints

Cease to exist. And instead, all are greeted with

Welcomed, opened arms.

This is a world where the powerful and rich will cower.

This is a world where those on the margins are finally

Listened to and valued.

This is a world where every human life has value.

And it doesn’t matter if that human life is brown, white,

Gay, straight, fat, thin, or any other box checked,

God remembers the forgotten and

We’ve all been there.

Mary’s song is our song if we sing it in the key

Of G-O-D. Instead, we so often sing it in the key of

M-E.

In Mary, in Elizabeth, in John the Baptist, and in Jesus,

God is turning this world upside down.

But that’s okay. When God turns things upside down,

And makes all things new, that includes us.

That alone is worthy of soul magnification!

Sermon for 12/16/18 Luke 3:7-18; Advent 3

Who does he think he is? John the Baptist has some nerve.

We came to be baptized by him and instead

Were insulted by him. Did you hear him?

Who in the … hey buddy! We heard you.

We all heard you. A brood of vipers?

We’ve come to you to be baptized. And we get this instead?

Name calling and a lecture. It might be enough to make

Any normal person walk away. But you have us curious.

You’ve told us to “prepare the way of the Lord” and now

To “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” What does that even mean?

Repentance is something more for…well…Lent.

Yet, the crowds gathered dare ask “what should we do?”

“What should we do?”

“What should we do?”

Do we ask that question of the Lord?

Will we like the answer? What is God calling us to?

Are our hearts filled with expectation? You’ve called us to watch,

Wait, prepare, and anticipate. And now, you’ve called us to repent.

Repent from what? Afterall, this is a season of joy!

You love us despite all our flaws, God. And perhaps a season of repentance

Starts with confession. So, confession time.

Much like those gathered around John, we’d rather not hear this message.

We’d rather concentrate on our holiday to-dos:

Wrapping, cooking, preparing for family, frivolity.

Because we’d rather not hear this message

Is the exact reason we need to hear it.

Yours is a reminder that the birth of Christ

Still matters.

It made a difference then and it makes a difference now.

John called on those gathered to share coats

(especially if you have more than one).

We are called to share our food. And we are called to share

What we’re eating, not merely our leftovers.

Even the dogs get crumbs.

We are challenged to take only what we need.

Don’t hoard. And in no way take advantage of those who

Have less. And bearing fruits of repentance also looks like

Never using power or threats (empty or not) to gain

More power.

Despite the passage of time,

Nothing has changed.

People are still cold. People are still hungry.

People still take and keep more than they need and

People (and governments) are constantly using power

To gain more power. How quickly we forget

No one can out-power God.

And once again we ask “what should we do?”

Dare we be brave enough, bold enough, maybe even

Foolish enough,

To examine our own lives?

What difference does the birth of Christ make

For your life? For my life?

We celebrate. But what are we celebrating?

None of it makes a difference if not for

The birth of the one to come,

The life of the one who has come,

The death of the one who came,

The resurrection of the one who did come, and

The return of the one who will come again.

Society tells us to hoard, indulge, and splurge!

You call us to share, give, and show compassion.

Every man for himself. Worry about only those you love.

The manger humbles us. The manger is love

For all.

What shall we do?

Celebrate the ways we already answer your call.

What shall we do?

Rejoice in the ways we serve you without a second thought.

What shall we do?

Confess our desire to limit the resources you alone provide.

And rest in the assurance that we are forgiven.

The one in the manger? He came so that all may know love.

The one in the manger? He saved us all.

God already saved the world through Christ.

God needs no one else to save the world.

God will judge all with righteousness and mercy.

There’s no need for us to do it as well.

What shall we do?

Remember the birth of Christ mattered

Over 2000 years ago.

It still matters today.

That birth equals our life.

His death equals our life.

His resurrection is our hope.

Sermon for 12/9/18 Luke 3:1-6; Advent 2

Imagine.

For just a moment.

That you are John the Baptist.

You’ve been traveling all around. Spreading the news:

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” You’re traveling all around the

Jordan river area. This is the gateway of commerce, of government,

Of power. But you’re the one proclaiming a new way.

A new government. A new power. A new ruler.

And now you’ve found yourself in the wilderness. It figures.

People have always questioned you. It’s not strange for you to hear whispers

When you come and go. It is what you wear?

What else would you wear besides camel’s hair?

You’re a prophet, after all, not some rich emperor with access to the

World’s coffers. Maybe they whisper because of what you eat?

And you wonder if any of them have ever tried

Locusts and wild honey. It’s delicious. And really,

In the wilderness there aren’t a lot of other options.

You have been encouraging people to “prepare the way of the Lord”

For some time. But this world is a noisy place.

People more powerful than you. People more notable than you.

People maybe even considered more

Human than you fill the space with words that mean nothing.

You, John the Baptist, are surrounded by people that others listen to,

For some reason.

Yet.

Yet.

Yet. The word of God came to you.

But you are not John the Baptist.

You are you.

Yet.

Yet.

Yet. The word of God comes to you.

And what do you do with it? What do we do with it?

Proclaim the way of the Lord in the wilderness or ignore it?

Sorry. Wrong number. Or

Yes Lord, send me!

Decisions like these are never easy, clear cut, or without troubles.

What shall we do with a proclamation that makes no sense?

“Prepare the way of the Lord.” And how do we do that?

“Make his paths straight.” Lord! I don’t even know what path I’m on!

How can I make yours straight?

Valleys filled, hills made low, crooked made straight, and rough ways made smooth.

What does this all mean, Lord?

If you, God, come to me; and you always do, and I’m to deliver this message,

What does it mean? And why me? Why the wilderness?

God you are doing something surprising. You are always doing something

Surprising.

We are no different from John. We are surrounded by “somebodies” in this world.

But the word of God comes to us. Comes to me. Comes to you.

And this word proclaims that everything we know to be true will be

Flipped upside down.

Paths are supposed to wander. Valleys should be, well, valleys.

Hills should be high. Mountains should stand in grandeur.

Crooked and rough ways are that way for a reason.

But when we prepare the way of the Lord,

What we know to be true is no longer. And in the wilderness,

We may wonder, what else is no longer true?

None of this makes sense. And, perhaps Lord, that is the good news.

You, Lord, are making all things new. You continue to make all things new.

Including me. Including those I love. Including this hurting world.

If you make all things new, that means I may be granted another day,

Another hour, another minute, another moment to try and follow you.

The time between “Prepare the way of the Lord” and preparing your way with palm leaves

Shouting “hosanna in the highest” and escorting you to a cross seems to go

So quickly.

You are making all things new. But maybe I don’t want new.

I am comfortable where I am, with what I am, with how I am, and with who I am.

You make all things new.

This includes those who wish to do me harm. And those I wish harm upon.

Maybe I don’t want repentance, forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace to come into this world.

Newness is unfamiliar. Strange. A wilderness. But.

But.

But!

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” In a world where power matters,

Status matters, prestige matters, skin color matters, gender identity matters,

Bank accounts matter, education levels matter, legal status matters; you, Lord!

You make all things new in the promise of all flesh. ALL FLESH. Shall see the salvation of God.

A promise of redemption. A promise of saving. Saving us from this world. Saving us from death.

Saving us from ourselves.

We are the ones hollowing out valleys, building up hills and mountains, and

Making paths crooked and rough.

Even our best intentions are put to death in your birth and your death.

The word of God may soon come to us. To you. To me.

In a world that wants to label you a “nobody” God finds you to be a

Somebody. And the word comes to you. What will we do with it?

Prepare the way of the Lord!

Sermon for 12/2/18 Luke 21:25-36; Advent 1

The sounds of the season fill the air. The bells ring next to red kettles.

Children laugh and practice their songs. Registers print receipt tapes

As long as your arm. The sound of ribbon being curled: zip. Zip. Zip.

The timer goes off on the oven. Cookies are ready. The train chug-chug-chugs

Around the tree. Mannheim Steamroller echos through the house.

Be on guard. Be alert.

Anticipating the birth of the Christ child is cheery and exciting. One may even say

“Merry and bright.” It is, after all, the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Robust Santas and chubby angels fill our atmosphere.

The UPS man, FedEx lady, mail person, and Amazon all get a workout.

This is a time of new beginnings: family gatherings, traditions, friends, merriment.

Be on guard. Be alert.

Despite our routines.

Despite all our preparations.

Despite all our best attempts,

Uncertainty dwells.

It sits, like a package under our tree.

No name on it.

No one wants to claim it. We’re curious yet hesitant.

After all, who wants uncertainty?

Uncertainty about life, the economy, the markets, our families, our health, and on and on.

There are few things we’re not uncertain about.

That is the gift of uncertainty: we learn what we know is true. We learn

Certainty from uncertainty.

Be on guard. Be alert.

A warning. An odd one. An odd source.

Jesus, the very adult Jesus, gives us apocalyptic warnings.

Can you take those someplace else, Jesus?

Your warnings are drowning out my Christmas music.

You say there will be signs. Signs in the sun, moon, stars.

You say we will faint from fear. Jesus! This isn’t the Christmas we asked for.

What kind of promise is this? You say (basically) that

“Nothing lasts forever.” How difficult it is to hear this as good news.

We live in a time when we so desperately cling to what brings us joy:

Family

Friends

Employment

Celebrations.

And yet, nothing lasts forever. Heaven and earth will pass away.

We have so many worries in this life. It feels almost unfair for you,

Of all people,

To give us another worry.

We cling to what we know. We desire to stay in this place of permanence.

The reality that nothing is permanent is one we’d rather not face.

We hold on so tightly to things (and people) that will not last.

We grip onto what little control we have and squeeze tight.

We desire to feel like something, anything, can be controlled by us.

Then we can say “at least this is in order.” We should know better.

We should know that order comes from chaos.

That light comes out of darkness. And

That life comes from death.

But we refuse to learn and instead wrap ourselves in the false

Narrative that we can control anything.

Be on guard. Be alert.

Okay, Jesus. You’ve got our attention.

Be alert.

The one who is to come. A baby. The birth that changes the world.

The birth of the Christ child signals the end.

It signals not the end of times, but the end of:

The empire.

The end of order as we know it.

The end of ancient power structures.

The end of status quo and the start of status whoa!

On what can we rely? In what do we put our trust?

God, you make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.

In the pouring of the wine.

In the promise of water.

Your words, your Word, Jesus Christ will never

Ever

Come to an end.

After all, that baby, the one who signaled the end?

He is Emmanuel: God with us.

What does it mean that only Jesus and his word remain permanent?

It means we dare to hope. Dare to love. Dare to dream. Dare to believe in grace.

Things of this world will pass away. Be alert. Be on guard.

This we know to be true:

“Good and upright is the Lord.”

“You are the God of my salvation.”

God strengthens our hearts and restores our souls.

The end may be coming. The kingdom of God is near.

All we thought was important will be gone. And we are left

With redemption.