Monthly Archives: December 2012

“God Moved In” – Christmas Day Sermon 12.25.2012

John 1:1-14 • December 25, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

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

Merry Christmas.

For several years now, as I’ve reflected on the Christmas story, one thing continues to fascinate me. The location of this event. It all begins in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was probably not unlike many small towns that we are familiar with in North Dakota. You know the kind of town – where everyone knows everyone else in minute details that make most of us uncomfortable. You know what I mean – you live in one of these small towns and travel to Bismarck to run a few errands. When you get home your neighbor has a play by play recap of your trip to the big city ready for your immediate review. And of course, this play by play needs your review before going to print in the next edition of the town’s weekly newspaper. You just gotta love small towns.

So here’s where my fascination with Bethlehem is. In a town where everyone probably at least knows everyone on a first name basis, I’ve always been amazed that, within a half mile radius of the manger and birth place of Jesus, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people who were absolutely clueless about what was happening right in the neighborhood. Maybe there were just too many other things happening in town that week,or maybe people in Bethlehem were just more absorbed in details that focused on their own individual needs and gratification – really not unlike life in the towns we live in today, if you really think about it.

While at the exact time that everyone was worrying more about who was on the cover of People magazine that week, eternity was breaking into time. God was entering the world. God was moving in.

james-l-stanfield-illuminated-manger-scene-outside-saint-peter-s-basilica-vatican-city_i-G-28-2891-ICCPD00ZIn our gospel reading from Saint John on this cold Christmas morning, we hear, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

What the beginning of John’s gospel reminds us is that the Christmas story had its beginning long before Joseph and Mary, and in a place far beyond Bethlehem. In the beginning, the Word was “with” God. What God was, the Word was. Not human becoming God, but God becoming human. God coming into human flesh, coming in from outside.

It’s not that God wasn’t around before the birth of Jesus. But in the birth of Jesus, God entered into relationship with the world in a new way. The Word came in flesh to live among us and make God known to us. In the Christmas story, God’s desire to bless and love and redeem the world will not be denied.
God moved in.

That’s the joy of the Christmas story on this cold December morning. God has come to be with us. And the good news of this relationship is that nothing in this world can separate any of God’s children from that relationship. Not even our rebellious nature or our indifference; our sins or our suffering. God moved in. In times of insecurity – God is there; in deserts of isolation and temptation – God is there; in gardens of indecision – God is there; in crosses of suffering – God is there. God is there. God is here. God moves in.
An what’s most exciting is that for the writer of John’s gospel, the idea of God taking on flesh through Jesus, of God moving in, was not a onetime event – but part of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and continuing through every follower of Jesus from that time on.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are part of this Christmas story. Just like so many in that tiny Bethlehem town who missed it, I think you and I miss the reality of God moving in too from time to time. Our attention at Christmas is centered on things that actually have little to do with the Christmas story. I know I can think of dozens of things in the past month that have caused me to miss the fact that God moved in. Things that have distracted me from participating in the Christmas story.

Pastor Peter Marty offered a nice reflection about Christmas last week in one of my favorite theological journals, The Christian Century. It helped me focus as I prepared for today. Pastor Marty wrote, “God came into the world through intense labor pains to meet the absence of brotherly and sisterly love. God’s encounter with our often cruel species would happen in a face-to-face manner, a flesh-to-flesh way. The wake-up call began with Jesus. As his love spread beyond the confines of Bethlehem, your face and body – and mine – somehow became involved. So we celebrate Christmas with a joy that must seem odd to some. We sing our hearts out. We cherish relationships that are not entirely perfect. We look other people in the eye. We give chunks of ourselves away. It’s not that hatred and cruelty have disappeared. It’s that the arrival of love in the midst of the sorry mess we have made of creation gives Christmas its special wonder.”

I don’t know why you are here today, but I’m glad you are. 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 or parent 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 Christmas used to bring to you. Maybe you’re struggling for answers to questions that you have in the wake of tragic events that have taken place in our world recently. 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 due for another 30 days 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 you could never find your way to God on your own, so God came after you. God moved in.

Many missed that in the tiny town of Bethlehem so long ago. Let’s not miss that in the town of Bismarck today.
The birth of a savior named Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, that we celebrate this morning, changed the world forever. I hope and pray that God coming to you and me and embracing us with his love through this child has changed us and will continue to change us in all the days to come. God has moved in. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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“Playground Rules” 12.16.2012 Sermon

Luke 3:7-18 • December 16, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

john-baptist2b

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

Many of you probably didn’t hear what I just said, so I offer it again. Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As I was making final preparations for this week’s sermon, the news feed on my computer offered headlines of fallen National Guard soldiers being laid to rest, a string of bank robberies taking place across the country, college students being sentenced for drugs, and another horrific shooting. This time in Connecticut.

I’ll be honest, with the news of this past week, the greeting that begins every sermon that I’ve ever preached or ever will preach took on a new and deeper meaning. At the beginning of the week, I was tempted to use something more along the lines of how John the Baptist begins his sermon to the crowds in our gospel reading today. Instead of saying, “Grace and peace to you”, I was thinking of offering, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I hope you agree that, “Grace and peace to you,” is a better option for today and really every day for that matter.

The Christian church is in the midst of one of my favorite seasons of the year. And no, I’m not talking about the WalMart, Target, Best Buy season that begins in early fall known as the Christmas shopping season. I’m referring to the season of Advent. Advent is a season of the Christian church in the four weeks that lead us to Christmas. It’s a time for peace. A time for reflection. A time to remember that the light of hope always shines. A time of waiting and anticipating the grace that comes to us in a savior named Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

John the Baptist’s teaching to the crowds who have gathered to hear him and be baptized by him in Luke’s gospel remind us of that. John had no idea that eventually there would be a season called Advent or even something called Christmas for that matter. Yet, his teaching helps us understand one of the central realities of Christian faith and life during this season – that Jesus has come and continues to come into the world – broken as it may be and dysfunctional as we are from time to time. I worry that we miss that. We miss the good news that God is already present. Jesus is here.

I once heard a sermon where the preacher offered the shocking revelation that every gift we receive comes with an expectation. If the gift is a book, the expectation is that the receiver will read it. If the gift is a box of candy, the expectation is that the receiver will eat the candy and maybe even share some of it with the giver of the gift. If the gift is a sweater from your grandmother, the expectation is that she will see you wearing the sweater the next time you are together, no matter what size it is or how ugly it may be.

You see, everything that we are and ever will be, comes from God. And everything that we have or ever will have, comes from God. It should not surprise us that God hopes we will use these gifts in ways that honor God as the giver. As Lutherans Christians, we understand this to be lived out most fully as we show love to our neighbors in response to the love we have received from God through our savior Jesus.

If we truly believe this, John the Baptist’s wild and crazy preaching shouldn’t shock us that much, if at all. John is simply reminding us of what we should already know. And how we should already be living.

John’s inviting us to be ready and to believe that God is already at work in the world because the Savior is coming. God is with us. We are called to watch expectantly for signs of God’s presence in the world and more importantly to participate in response to God’s presence in the world. Even if our families are dysfunctional and broken. Even if we’re grieving the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Even if we’re in failing health. Even if __________, you can insert whatever you wish in that blank. God is at work calling us, turning us, healing us, setting us free, bringing us life.

That’s why of love the season of Advent. Life in Christ is a constant Advent. We are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. All of it is part of Advent living.

The world in which we live today is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we believe it can and should be. And for that matter as God believes it should be. But the coming of Jesus and his presence among us – as one of us – gives us reason to live in the light of hope. Hope that light will shatter the darkness. Hope that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices. Hope that we are never alone or abandoned.

So, I don’t think that John’s words to the crowds in our gospel reading today should cause us to run away or hide in fear. In fact, his challenge to the crowds, and to you and me, is to be ready and always live expecting our Savior Jesus to come. The crowds ask John, “What then should we do?” After the news headlines this past week, my guess is that many of you are joining me in asking God a question very similar to that one. If you are, then take note of John the Baptist’s response. It actually echoes three simple things that most of us learned on the playground.

John expects those who have a great deal, to give to those who don’t have enough. A coat. Some food. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule of sharing.

John expects the tax collectors who were notorious for collecting far more taxes than were just, to collect only the amount prescribed. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule of being fair to others.
John expects the soldiers who took advantage of their authority and power, to not treat others harshly. As we wait for Jesus to come, we are invited to remember the simple playground rule to not be a bully.

A fellow Lutheran pastor, whom I consider to be a mentor of mine, stated this week, “John the Baptist invites the crowds to participate in God’s coming kingdom wherever they are and in whatever they may be doing.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you as you enter the third week of Advent, freely participating in God’s coming kingdom wherever you are and in whatever you may be doing. Come Lord Jesus, come to us we pray. Amen.