WARNING - Work in Progress

WARNING - Work in Progress
WARNING - Work in Progress

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016 - 12/24/2016


(Read Luke Chapter 2)

The Celebration of Birth…

I asked Google for the percentage of the world that claims Christianity as its faith of choice and it told me that 32.5% of people who claim a religious faith claim Christianity.  That’s about 2.1 billion people around the globe who are having a birthday party for Jesus tomorrow.

You may have heard me say this before but do you know why we have birthday parties in the first place?  (Other than it’s a good reason for cake?)  The reason might seem a little morbid, but the reason we celebrate someone’s birthday is because they did not die in the past year.

What is the most important birthday that we celebrate?  It’s the very first one.  Mortality rates for new-borns were not always as good as they are today.  Not so long ago, new-born babies had a very high mortality rate for any number of reasons.  Today this is not the case but all the same we make a big deal for baby’s first birthday.

Then, we not only celebrate birthdays for the people who are alive but we also commemorate the birth of long dead people in our history.  We remember the birth of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. as a nation.  In my family, we remember Grandma McMacken’s birthday by eating Cheerios with Sugar for breakfast and her 4-Hour Beef Stew for dinner.  Birthdays are important to us as a nation, as a culture, as families, and as Christians.

Tonight we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus tomorrow and celebrate Him.  We commemorate Him, and His life on earth, as described to us through the Scriptures but we also celebrate Him as actively present with us because He lives.  

Don’t miss this fact; we celebrate God’s grace to us in the human form of Jesus who died on the Roman Cross, but He was raised back to life on the Third Day.  This Christmas, Jesus is most definitely alive and with us via the Holy Spirit of God who may not be visible to us in physical form, but He is very much alive and with us.

Tomorrow morning, being Christmas Day, we Christians remember to honor the creator of our salvation and celebrate our God who lives.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fourth Week of Advent – 12/18/2016


Christmas is God sharing Himself with humanity.

Hebrews 2:10-18

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Vs. 10 – “make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”

The English word “perfect” needs a little explanation here.  The way we generally understand perfect is to mean “without flaw” -- we describe tests this way; when there were no wrong marks on it we put 100% on it and call it "perfect".  However, the connotation of the Greek word is more like “complete”.  So if you have a 2-gallon pail and you fill it with water, at the very moment the pail is at the brim full it becomes perfect – or rather “complete”.

What the Hebrew writer is getting at is that the humanity of Jesus was completed through the things that he suffered as a human.  Because just becoming flesh does not make someone able to help others.

This is why I don't take marriage or parenting advice from an unmarried or childless person.

In the same way then, what help with life could Jesus offer me if he didn’t really know what real life it like?

Vs. 14 – “Since he had flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…”

This is the miracle of the Christmas season!  

     - Not that the ox and ass kept time puh, rum pa pa, pum – but that God became flesh!
     - Not that there was no room at the inn – but that God became like us!
     - Not that the Angels sang to the shepherds, or that the Wise men saw a star – but that God came to us!

Jesus is not just a good man, a wise teacher, or even a Holy Priest – He is the eternal God on Earth sharing in the plight that you know -- even now.

He became flesh and blood like you and me and shared in our humanity…

Vs. 17 – “That he might make atonement for the sins of the people”

It’s not popular in our culture to speak of the sins of the people.  We are offended at the idea of sin because we don’t like idea of someone that we love being a “bad person”.  And worse, we certainly do not like it if we are portrayed as a bad person.  But the sins of the people, while certainly including our actions, is about our initial separation from a Holy God.  And this “sin of the people” needs to be atoned for and eradicated in order for men to have peace with God.

This is why Jesus is born.  To atone for the sins of men, yours, mine, and everyone else’s, and to live as a man in order for God to completely understand the plight of humanity.

And so God, through the Christ child shares in our humanity and is not separate from us.  He experienced the plethora of pains that we humans experience but he did it without sin, and always at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

There is excitement at the birth of every child because of what that Child might mean, now at Christmas we experience the excitement of the birth of Jesus because of what he meant to us and our world. 

Now, as we celebrate Christmas, we have the privilege of sharing the Good News of Great Joy of Jesus with our world.

Luke 2:8-14

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to 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. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And so, as the world focuses on the traditions of exchanging presents with on another, we in the church will do well to remember to share the Good News of Christ with the world!  Just as God shared Jesus with us at Christmas, we now share Jesus with the world for Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Third Week of Advent – 12/18/2016


Luke 2:8-12

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to 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. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

News that Causes “Great Joy”

The angelic host appeared to the shepherds living in the fields.  The way I understand it, the shepherd was the lowest class of people in Israel.  I am really not sure how to define the concept in terms that Americans can understand without pointing to a social or working class and inadvertently cutting it down.  I guess the best I can do is point to the caste system of India.

The caste system in India is a social ordering.  I am not sure what started it or how people were ordered into it, but everyone in India were part of it.  There are four castes (or segments); the Brahims, the Kshatriya, the Vaishyas, and the Sudras and they are in order of importance from top to bottom.  There was still another caste which was considered ever lower than the bottom of the caste system and the people in this caste of society were considered Untouchables and they were not even considered hirable for anything nor were they considered worth anything more than blight in society.  In the world of the Israelites, the Shepherd were considered the bottom caste, the Sudra at best, and might have even been considered Untouchable, but no matter what they were considered, they were the bottom of the social order.

So the very fact that the angelic host came to the shepherds is a big deal. The birth of Christ was not announced to the Priests (which were the Brahmins), the warriors or city leaders (the Kshatriya), or the skilled laborers (the Vaisyas), but the angels announced to the unskilled shepherds (the Sudras) of the Israelite society the appearance of the Christ and Messiah who is the Savior of all the people.  In this single act, God legitimated and showed the bottom of society as worth more than all the other classes of the Jewish society.

And this is the Good News that causes Great Joy because the Christ Child is for those of us who are on our knees knowing that we are not great but rather recognize that we are in need of a savior.  We are prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day because he is our redemption from a dark and cruel world that will not give us value, but whom God values by giving us His son who endured the Cross for us all.

Sometimes the higher the position that we hold in society or the more valuable that we consider ourselves can work against us and not allow us to recognize the reason that we should have great joy at the announcement of the child’s coming into our world.  But I pray that we can see ourselves and bend a knee with the shepherd at his birth.

Matthew 25:40

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Week of Advent: 2016 - 12/04/2016

SERMON – The Stones of Peace…

Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In Matthew 3:1-12, John the Baptist is baptizing the people and along came the Pharisees and Sadducees.  John calls them “Brood of Vipers” and asked them who warned them to come and avoid the coming wrath of God.  He told them not to give him the excuse that they are the children of Abraham because God could make children of Abraham from “these” stones.

It took me about 20 years to learn that reference to “stones” in the Gospels are not arbitrary comments, but when such comments are directed to the leaders of Israel, there is a history that makes these references quite specific in meaning.

Luke 19:37-40 – Jesus had his disciples secure a donkey

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Again, Stone references are specific to the Jewish leaders and to us if we will listen.

When Joshua led the children of Israel through the Jordan and into the Promised Land, Joshua had assigned one person from each tribe of Israel to grab a stone on their way through and deposit it on the other side.

Joshua 4:20-24

20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[c] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

And so, when the Jewish leaders are reminded of the stones, they are being informed that what is happening is the hand of God in their midst.  Either they have forgotten their heritage, or they are choosing to ignore it, but John the Baptist tells us that the Child in the manger is the very entrance of God into our world.  He is Emmanuel and the very stones tell us so.

What is the significance of God on Earth?

The babe in the manger is the miracle of all miracles.  The babe in the manger is God having come to earth to show us how to live as well as to save us from the coming destruction of God final judgment of sin.  The babe in the manger shows us how serious God is to love and redeem us.  How serious he is to be a part of our lives.

Once we recognize how serious God is to be a part of our world then it makes sense when we hear things like the words he speak about the Holy Spirit in John 14

John 14:15-20

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The idea of Emmanuel – God with us, born of the Virgin in a manger on Christmas Day then is just a stepping stone to our Lord’s words in vss. 19 & 20.   

We light the candle of peace today as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas morning because he is the miracle of all miracles.  We prepare to celebrate as God is in Christ, and Christ is in you.

Be at peace today as you recognize God with us.