Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve 2013

            There was once a small boy who got a telescope for Christmas—and he would watch the skies, and he saw a star.
            This star was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, shining and good.
            And after a few nights of observation it became clear that the star was showing symptoms of turning into a meteor.
            He tracked its descent and miraculously it landed in his back yard one night, though no one else seemed to notice.
            He woke up his groggy parents—he was more excited that Christmas morning!
            And, after some prompting and poking, they joined him on the patio and saw the star—the meteorite there embedded in their yard.
            All that night they looked at it, and wondered at what it meant. It had the appearance of a diamond and a warm inner-light that was both eerie and inviting.
            In the morning they called a local astronomer and once he examined it he affirmed, “This is the find of a lifetime, we need to tell people about it!”

            To recap, the boy realized the star was there,
showed his parents,
they contemplated its meaning,
and they went and told people about the meteorite.

            Similarly, there are four simple things I want to tell you tonight.
God is with us!
Come and See!
Treasure it!
Go and tell!


God is with us!
                        During my last open heart surgery, when I was 18, I was reading a book of short stories by the French Philosopher Voltaire. Thanks to the rough recovery from surgery I don’t remember anything about those short stories, other than the title of one of them, “The World as It Is.”
            That title captivated my imagination throughout recovery.
It grounded me in my situation,
forced me to be mindful of what I was experiencing,
it didn’t allow me to escape from my situation, but to be in it—to face full on “The World as It Is.”

            Similarly, for the season of Advent, I preached using ideas from an organization called the Advent Conspiracy, which focuses on preparing for Christmas as we experience it, with consumerism and worry about gifts and how to spend time with relatives and the “perfect Christmas,” and the hyper-extended season known as “the Holidays” and all of those things that cause us to dread Christmas.
Christmas as it is, warts and all.

            And it’s worth dwelling on the ups and downs of our lives, not escaping from them to some sort of dream world
—because that’s the world Jesus comes to, the world he is God with us in,
this world as it is, is the world he comes to.

            A world with an uncertain family and a long Christmas Journey, a world with frightened shepherds and tentative fiancĂ©es, Emperors and Governors, censuses and taxes.
            The same world as our own, with family troubles and joys. Unmet expectations and unrewarded sacrifices, as well as moments of grace and surprise.
            With births and deaths, taxes and tithes, loneliness and familiarity.
            This world we live in is the world that Jesus comes to, not as an escape for us, but to be in among us, with us and for us.
            In the world as it is, here we find God, because “God is with us!”

Come and See!
            Do I have news for you! God is here.
Come and see!
            Come and See in a trough, well-swaddled and far from home.
            See him there, the one we call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
            See him there, this little one, so new and fresh, so gentle and fragile.
            See him there, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

            Come and See the infinite and the finite, the common and the uncommon, Humanity and Divinity, God for us in the common things of life.

            Come and See him in shared words of consolation among faithful people.
            And see him in Water and Spirit making children of God
            See him in God’s Word for us.
            Him in our giving thanks and in our shared meal—his very body.
            In our being salt and light to a bland and drear world.
Come and see.

Treasure it.
            Yes, treasure this gift given to us.
            Take it with you everywhere you go—the message that God is with us,
this babe in the manger.
            Make it your incessant prayer, hold it close to your heart like a talisman.

            Bring it with you, because you’ll need it. You’ll need this moment of celebration, this clear moment of surety, in times of trial and times of doubt.
            Bring it with you, as well, because it grows and changes. It, like a child, will surprise you and grow, mature and greet you in new and wonderful ways.
            Like Mary treasure all these things in your heart.
Keep the good news close and make it your own,
allow it to transform you and protect you and surprise you.

Go and tell.
            God is with us, you’ve seen it and will continue to see it, you cherish and nurture this truth as it does the same to you. How can you not share it?
            Share this good news of God come near,
God here in the World as It Is,
seen in the manger and at the altar and throughout our lives—with us everywhere we go.
            Go and tell.
            Tell it everywhere you go,
tell of the shepherds and angels and mangers and the salvation that we have, because God is with us.

            Like that junior astronomer who saw the star, showed his parents, contemplated its meaning, and told the world, let the Christ child do the same to us this night.
            Brothers and sisters.
God is with us!
Come and See!
Treasure it!
Go and tell!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Advent Sermon Series

Advent 1: Worship Fully

Advent 2: Spend Less

Advent 3: Give More

Advent 4: Love All

Advent 4: LOVE ALL

             Quite a ride huh? This 4 week journey of Advent toward Christmas.
            This van ride, this road trip, in which we took out our GPS to track and figure out where we are at and where we’re going… that is that we’re lodged in a secular Christmas season that starts around Halloween, but we’re going toward a Christmas in which we Worship Fully Jesus, God come fully to us.
            Then we lightened our load, tossing out the excessive consumption we as a society are consumed by—we spent less, and in doing so we recognized that our worth has nothing to do with the worth of the gifts we give, but instead our worth comes from the Love of God found in Christ Jesus.
          Then, last week we looked around and saw our fellow passengers, and we didn’t just look at them, but gave more … gave them our time, we began to wrestle with our connections with our friends and family and how we can nourish those relationships and cultivate interdependence.

           And now, here we are, two days from Christmas Eve, it’s just over that mountain. It’s just through that bank of fog.
          You can almost see it.
          You can almost hear it.
          In fact, you can hear it.
          Yes, you can hear Mary’s song, the Magnificat—you can hear her interpret for us what that manger means, what Emmanuel, God with us, is all about.
          In her self-proclaimed lowliness she encourages us to look around and see our neighbors with new eyes.
          She encourages us to actively be concerned for, and on the look out for, those who are so often invisible.
          She encourages us to recognize how this “God with us” changes how we are with one another.
          She encourages us to celebrate the topsy-turvy tumult of Christmas.
          She encourages us to love all.
          Let us pray.

          We drive toward that music, over that hill and through that fog, doing just fine, we’ll all get there in time.
          Then comes a banging against our back window.
          Holy cow, there’s an ill-clothed very pregnant woman banging on our window!
          “Why didn’t you stop for us?” is the first thing out of her mouth.
          “We didn’t see you,” we reply.
          “What do you mean you didn’t see us? I waved and both of us shouted at you when you drove by us, we even flashed you with our high beams.”
          We mumble something about “the fog,” squish her into our Advent Van with us, and drive back a quarter mile to an Oldsmobile Station Wagon—with the wood paneling and everything—broken down there—there’s a man with his head deep down into the engine.
          “Didn’t think you’d stop,” he said, “people rarely do… it’s like they don’t see us… too focused on Christmas I suppose.”
          Two of us get out and hold engine pieces in place while he does something that gets the car running again, while the rest share a thermos of hot chocolate with the woman.
          They thank us, tell us they’re the guest of honor at Christmas and it’s good they’ll be able to make it to the manger, and then drive off toward Christmas…
but we all sit in our little van with the heat going for a while. We drove by Mary and Joseph… what does that mean?
          It means, as we go along on our travels there will be fellow travelers broken down on the road, people put in lowly places and in need of a helping hand.
          It means we have to look for them, because there is a lot of fog in life, and we sometimes are so concerned with the songs of the season that we don’t engage our eyes as well as our ears. There is, in fact, a danger that we’ll miss seeing God with us, God among us, among us all.
          I think of a situation a fellow Pastor just dealt with—there was a man living in their recycling bin who wasn’t welcome at the local shelters for a variety of reasons. The church opened their doors to him and he attended their bible studies and the coffee hour after worship, when he can’t make it to worship itself… and they finally found him a shelter that will take him in…
and when he left one of the children innocently asked, “Was that Jesus.”
          Truly out of the mouth of babes.

          Yes, preparing for Christmas, going along this long Advent road, means being unsettled by those broken down along the way, unsettled because the song Mary sings is an unsettling one,
one that topples the ruthless and enthrones the lowly, feeds the hungry and sends off the rich unfed.
One that insists we care for, and be with, human beings broken down along the way, because that’s the very act of God we’re preparing to celebrate.

          And today you have in your hands two small ways to help those broken down on the highway of life.
          The first is an insert you’ve likely seen for the last month to help fund the ELCA’s response to Typhoon Haiyan—
if there has ever been an example of a people made low and in deepest hunger the survivors of that horrible Typhoon are an example.
          I probably don’t need to remind you all, but just in case you’ve not heard, the ELCA’s response to disasters is phenomenal—we had boots on the ground in the Philippines before the US military did.
For that matter,
as those in New Orleans and the people on the Jersey Shore can attest,
we stay committed to healing that which has been broken long after everyone else has left.
          Secondly, there is the ELCA Good Gifts Catalog—a program that went out to people all around the world in need and asked the simple question, “what do you need?”
“What do you need to fight malaria?
what do you need to fight hunger?
what do you need to create or sustain your new church, and your seminary?”
and then set up this program in which we can give those very things as gifts.
          I’m sure there are other ways we can help those who are the least among us,
those stuck on the road leading toward Christmas—
in fact I’m sure there are more concrete, down to earth, and personal ways to do this that you all know of, and I hope and pray you will do so.
With that we’ve reached the end of this Advent road—all that remains is to rejoice that God has come near in the person of Jesus Christ. A+A