Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas Day Sermon 12.25.2011

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

John 1:1-14 • December 25, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

As I think about the Christmas story, one thing that always fascinates me is that this amazing story of Jesus begins in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the impact that this one event has had on the whole course of human history. And what is most amazing is how incredible it is that, within a half mile radius of the manger, there were literally hundreds of people who were absolutely clueless about what was happening right in their neighborhood. People all around were wrapped up in the little details of their lives – what they were eating, where they were going to sleep, who was in town. While at the exact same time, eternity was breaking into time. God was entering the world.

Maybe things in the first century weren’t all that different than they are today? I mean, the Christmas season starts, at latest, in September and builds into a consumer frenzy in November – maybe it’s OK that it all comes to a crashing climax on Christmas Eve. We’ve mailed our cards, bought our presents, and given our parties. We’ve sung the carols, enjoyed the meals, and shared the gifts. Now, let’s relax. Let’s put away all this stuff, clean up the mess, and enjoy that welcome sense of relief that comes with a job well done. It’s time to move on. I mean, come on, New Year’s Eve is barely a week away!

But have we stopped long enough at this time of the year or any time of the year for that matter, to absorb what it means to believe that God comes to us in a baby named Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

All I want to say on a day like this is STOP! Can we just stop for a minute? Can we stop long enough to get past the lights and shopping and running? Can we stop long enough to actually experience the peace of Christ’s presence in the world? Can we stop long enough to experience the impact that the birth of Christ offers the world as John sheds light on in his gospel today?

John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John is picking up on a uniquely Greek concept of “the word.” It’s often revealing to look at the Greek origins of words like this in the New Testament. If we look at the Greek word for Word in John’s gospel, it is the word “logos” from which we get our word, “logic.” The divine Logos. Philosophers regarded this as the first principle that lies at the heart of all that is good, true, and beautiful in the universe. John is laying the groundwork that Christ was with God before the creation of the universe, and that he was even involved in the creation of the universe. The thought of God with us in Jesus before the creation of anything unveils an understanding of Christ’s presence in the world that revolutionary still today.

It is this word, says John, that took flesh and moved into the neighborhood. The idea of God taking on flesh through Jesus was not a onetime event for John – but part of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and continuing through every follower of Jesus from that time on.

The Greek word for flesh is the word, “sarx.” This Greek word doesn’t simply refer to our skin and bones and parts of our bodies that we can feel and touch. The word, “sarx,” refers to the totality of who we are; it refers to our mind, body, emotions, and spirit – everything that makes us who we are.

At this point you may be thinking, cool, thanks for the short Greek lesson Pastor Craig, but what does this have to do with anything related to Christmas. It’s important because we believe that our God didn’t simply stay in the safety of heaven. We believe that God didn’t choose to live in some sort of eternal suburb, away from the suffering and struggles of life that we all share and experience during our life in this place. God came to earth to share in our joys and sorrows, in our times of anxiety and peace, our struggles and victories, our suffering and strength.

We sometimes miss the reality of God with us that we celebrate at Christmas. Our attention at Christmas is centered on things that have little to do with the Christmas story. The Christmas story is not about buying a new turtleneck for Uncle Norm – although it may include a gift like that as a token of our love for him.

The Christmas story is about the redemption of the world. The Christmas story is about singing praises to our God, who created us out of dust. The Christmas story is about God who became human, God with us.

I don’t know why you are here today, though I’m glad you are and I’m thankful that the weather is a little better than it was last year on Christmas Day. Maybe you’re here because you feel a sense of obligation. Maybe it’s just a tradition for you to worship on Christmas Day. Maybe your spouse made you come. Maybe you’ve experienced a significant loss in your life this past year and you are trying to capture that old feeling that Christmas used to bring to you. I don’t know why you’re here, but I do know that there is good news for you today. For all of us.

The good news is not that the Visa and MasterCard bills won’t come for another 30 day or that all of the holiday parties and preparation is finally over so we can rest. The good news is that the God of all creation, the One who created you and loves you, knew that we could never find our way to God, so God went on the quest for us.

Today and in the days to come, let’s stop and give thanks for that good news. Usually when a baby is born, we like to hold the little one. This baby, this child born in a manger, came to hold us, to embrace us with a love that wakes us up and makes us new each day. Many missed the gift of God’s love for them given through this child in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Many still don’t notice that gift today. A gift that changed the world forever. A gift that you and I have been given, so that we can share it with others.

I pray that God coming to us and embracing us with his love through the Christ-child – is a gift that we will share with everyone we meet in the coming year. Amen.

Advertisements

“God’s Quest for Us” Christmas Eve Message 12.24.2011

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Luke 2:8-20 • December 24, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our savior and lord Jesus, a gift born for us today. Amen.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the hallway at the church and passed by an excited young man – probably about 5 or 6 years old. He wanted to show me a picture of the nativity scene that he had just colored while he was with his family in worship.

As he showed me his wonderful artistic creation, he knew exactly who everyone was. “These are the shepherds and their sheep. And here are the wise men. And here is Mary, she’s Jesus’ mother.” He said excitedly. “And this is the Virg, Mary’s husband.”

“That’s a beautiful picture. You’re a great artist!” I said. And then I said, “You said that Mary’s husband’s name was the Virg. Are you sure about that? Wasn’t Mary’s husband’s name Joseph?

The young man looked at me in a confused kind of way. “If Joseph is Mary’s husband,” he inquired, “then why are you always talking about the Virg and Mary?”

Now I hope you hear the humor in that conversation. And I also hope that you hear the concern I have in conversations like that as one of your pastors. If you and I are being honest with ourselves, every one of us has felt the same way this young man felt about what Mary’s husband’s name actually was.

I mean, come on – who really knows what “figgy pudding is” or “a yonder virgin” or a “natal star” that we sing about at Christmas?

Here’s another interesting insight in the spirit of one of my favorite contemporary theologians – late night talk show host David Letterman. Here are the top 5 things to say about a Christmas gift that you’re not quite sure about, really don’t like or maybe even know what it is –

Number 5. Hey! Now there’s a gift.

4. Boy, if I had not recently gained 200 pounds, this would fit perfectly.

3. Gosh, I hope this never catches fire!

2. I love it, but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.

And the number 1 thing to say about a Christmas gift that you’re not quite sure about.                         I really don’t deserve this.

At this point, many of you may be thinking, “what do you mean I don’t deserve this gift? I’ve worked hard, I’ve given a little of my time to volunteer and shared some of my money with others this year. I’ve treated others well – at least most of the time. I’ve share my love with those around me – at least when they weren’t driving me nuts. What do you mean I don’t deserve this gift?”

Please listen carefully – the gift that you and I were given on that first Christmas is the best gift any of us will ever receive. A gift that you and I don’t deserve, but a gift that we receive anyway.

When we hear the Christmas story as we just did during worship on this most holy of days, do we hear it as a boring old over-romanticized theatrical production that we’ve heard a million times before? Do we hear it today and still think that Mary’s husband’s name was the Virg? Or do we hear it again as if this was the very first time.

I think the writer of Luke’s gospel wants us to hear the Christmas story like it’s the very first time we’ve ever heard it – every time we hear it. Luke wants us to see the faces of the shepherds, to see the faces of Mary and Joseph and the animals, to see the face of the baby Jesus and to find ourselves once again filled with awe and wonder, to find ourselves glorifying and praising God for all that we are invited to experience in Jesus – who came to us as a child.

Luke doesn’t want us to simply be fascinated by the Christmas story’s romantic quality and splendor. Luke is inviting us to explore the Christmas story’s depth. The unconditional and undeserved love that God has given us in the gift of this child. A gift calls us to live beyond setting aside a few hours each year to remember its significance or spending all of our energy believing that if we just work hard enough, God will pay more attention to us than he does to our neighbor.

I don’t know why you are here today. I won’t pretend to know whether you even believe in this gift that God has given to you in a child named Jesus. I don’t know – maybe you’re here because you feel a sense of obligation to go to church at Christmas or maybe it’s a tradition for your family to worship on this day and you didn’t want to hurt their feelings and let them down, so here you are. Maybe your spouse or grandmother made you come. Or maybe you’ve experienced a significant loss in your life this past year and you’re trying to recapture that old feeling of past Christmases. I don’t know why you’re here. But I’m glad that you are.

What I do think and what I do believe with everything that I am as a pastor and I do want you to hear today is this – you and I have been given a gift.

A gift from God that we celebrate today that’s not given to those who deserve it the most or have worked the hardest to be good this year. The gift of Christmas is that the God of all creation, the One who created you and loves you, knew that we could never find our way to God on our own, so God came to us. God went on a quest for us. And God’s never-ending quest to come to us is the good news of Christmas that we received as a gift.

Usually when a baby is born, we like to hold the little one. This baby, this child born in a manger, came to hold us. To embrace us with a love that wakes us up and makes us new each day. I pray that God coming to you and me and embracing us with love through the Christ-child – is a gift that you and I will share with everyone we meet in the coming year.

Merry Christmas! Christ our savior is born! Thanks be to God for this gift. Amen.