Love Drawn Here

Special Thanks to Sanctified Art for their Advent and Christmas Themes

December 24, 2018 Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

This evening we are ushered into the great story of Christmas. Luke welcomes us into the story by sharing what it was like in “those days.” Time was tracked by the time of the current ruler, as in Jesus’ case, it was Emperor Augustus. It would be like me stating today that I was born in the time Gerald Ford was President of the United States, or my children were born in the time of George W. Bush being President.

We have all experienced birth in some form or another. Whether it be yourself or a family member. It can be scary and raise levels of anxiety. Yet, more often than not, it brings times of great joy and quite often a shift in lifestyle. It does not take long to learn that there is something different about the birth we are rejoicing tonight. In all of its ordinariness, we are illuminated by the glory of angels singing and a great light shining all around. Love drew nearer to humanity over two thousand years ago than it had ever been. In the birth of the Messiah, the light reaches to the darkest recesses to share the good news with all people.

We are reminded in our first lesson from Isaiah that there was disharmony among the people. The people of Israel were being oppressed by Assyria, and in First Century Israel, the oppression came from the Roman Empire. There is a darkness that overshadows everything, and the people are just waiting for something great to happen. They are seeking freedom from their oppressors. There is a pervasiveness that comes with the darkness that seems to extend through time; from the very beginning of creation to the world in which Mary and Joseph find themselves trying to find a place to stay.

You would think that Joseph returning to the town of his family, Bethlehem, there would still be some relatives around that would welcome in Joseph and Mary. At the least, there would have been other family members that had to make the same trek. However, is the obvious pregnancy of Mary, due any day now, turning his family away? It is possible that they were ashamed of what they saw, knowing that Mary and Joseph had yet to be wed.

The hospitality that they are hoping to find leaves them on the outside. On the outside of a warm meal. On the outside of a warm bed and a comfortable place to sleep and prepare for the birth. On the outside of the love of family that they were probably longing for. This is the darkness that they were experiencing.

We feel that same darkness when we are not welcome and are left on the outside looking in. We crave to be part of something and yet it seems out of our reach. We long for a hospitality that will embrace us where we are and as we are.

While Mary and Joseph are looking for a place to stay, the plans for them are not yet complete. While no one welcomes them, they will soon be the ones to welcome others into the glory that has been proclaimed to them. The shepherds hear of the great news and come to see for themselves. Mary and Joseph are stunned to find out what they know. In their hospitality, they have allowed others into the great wonder that is now part of their story.

We are told that, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She knew what was to take place as the angel had told her before she was pregnant. It is in the words of the shepherds that she is affirmed, and their words bring a reality to the whole thing. Those words she held dearly, as she knew that her son was destined for something much greater than she could ever imagine. As the love of God drew near to everyone close to the manger that evening over two thousand years ago, it is a love that has never left us. That love is drawn here in our very hearts and welcomes us into something great and mysterious at the very same time.

That love is here when we wonder. That love is here when we seek the truth. That love is here when we reach out to the neighbor and stranger alike in justice. That love is here this very night as we draw nearer to one another. This love that is drawn here extends out to all of creation as we welcome the birth of the Messiah, and we ourselves are welcomed into the great love of God.

Let us pray. Prince of Peace, we rejoice in your birth and the love you brought from all corners of the earth. May the light that you bring to the darkness comfort us and bring us peace. Amen.

Advertisements

The Grace of God has Appeared

43e1593d81e5e65b464c1b3680a87b85--jesus-wallpaper-star-wallpaper

December 24, 2017 Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20, Titus 2:11-14

Birth is messy!

For those of you that have had children, you will know what I mean. Of course, you have the literal mess from the birth itself. There is also the mess that comes with the total reorganization of lives that have been completely changed by the birth of a newborn baby. Even with multiple children, there is an adjustment that must take place and varies in time for everyone.

In this messiness, we find ourselves living into the uncomfortable. Something that we are not quite acquainted with and at times scares us half to death. This messiness redirects us and we may even get buried and lost in the middle of it all. And as we all know, as we are able to get the messiness tidied up in one area of our lives, it rears itself in another part of our lives. This is a reflection of the broken world that we live.

This broken world was in existence over two thousand years ago when Mary and Joseph made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Now talk about messiness!

Their story is one that is so messy that our stories could pale in comparison. Many of you, by memory, could walk through the birth story that has been retold in the gospel of Luke. It is a story that we hear every Christmas and a part of the essential foundations in our faith as Christians.

They too found that they had to reorganize their lives. A reorganization that would forever change the face of the world and that would lead billions of people to follow a new born baby. It was not convenient though. It never is when an unwed teenager discovers that she is pregnant. Not to mention the fact, that the angel Gabriel tells her that it is the Holy Spirit that comes to her and she will give birth to the Son of God. This turns Joseph’s and her life upside down. After some discernment and a lot of trust in the Lord, they find themselves in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay and Mary to give birth.

The messiness of a stable, surrounded by animals. Not the royal palace that we would assume the Son of God to be born. And he is placed in a manger. A feed trough that the animals were probably recently eating out of until they needed a place to lay baby Jesus.

It is here that we find Jesus in the most unlikely of places! Not the first place that we would have looked, but probably one of the last.

Thank goodness for the angels that came to the shepherds in the field bearing good news and directions to where Jesus had been laid in the manger. In their own messiness, the shepherds are the first ones to come and visit the newborn king. It is in their simplicity and awe that they come to the manger and share the prophecy that has been told to them through the angels. A prophecy that fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrews and one that brings hope to a world that is desperately in need of hope. The shepherds then go out “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Being the first to bear witness to Jesus in this world.

It is in the letter to Titus that the author proclaims, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

What a word of hope that still resounds true for us today!

In the midst of our messiness, the grace of God has appeared!

In the midst of our broken world, the grace of God has appeared!

In the midst of our divisions and fighting, the grace of God has appeared!

It is in this grace of God that we are reminded that Jesus has come to us swaddled in the great love God has for all creation. A love that begins and ends with God. A love that can be found within each one of us as we open our hearts up to the incarnation of Jesus in this world. A birth that brings good news to a world that aches for any bit of good news that it can receive. We are now called to glorify and praise God. Proclaiming this good news for all to hear. God was, is, and will be with us for all eternity. Merry Christmas!

Let us pray, Wonderful Counselor, we give thanks for the news that the shepherds proclaimed as they left the manger. We pray that as we enter into this season of Christmas and into the new year that we be bold enough to testify to this same message. Amen.

Longing in the Wilderness

IMG_20170802_063955.jpg

December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

At some point in all of our lives, there is a longing that resides within us and it can be hard to name. We know that something is calling us to greater things, but we are not sure what it may be. The longing can take on the form of nostalgia as we look towards the past and wish that we were back in a time where things seemed much simpler. Those days when we were children and we did not have too much to personally worry about. We long for that time where we may have felt more secure. That same longing can also bring a sense of pain as old memories are restored and we are confronted with those things that we would rather not approach.

The institutional church is great at longing. Longing for days past. Longing for days when there were a 100 children in Sunday School and the sanctuary was full every Sunday. Yet, when we long for the things that were, we tend to forget God in the present and the trajectory that the Spirit is guiding us.

There is a longing that we can point to this morning within our lessons. First, in Isaiah, the people of Israel are nearing the end of their Babylonian Exile and there is a longing for what they had many years ago. They longed to be back in Israel and the familiar, even though a couple of generations had passed. They knew it was their home and they longed to return to the land of their ancestors.

This is picked up in our gospel lesson from Mark this morning. “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” There is a longing among the Jewish people that takes place across time. A longing to be in touch with God. A longing to repent of their past grievances and to be found righteous in the eyes of God that had seen them out of exile.

In the longing, they find themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness can be a scary place if you are not familiar with it. You don’t know what is around each bend and each turn could lead to the unexpected. The wilderness does not tell them when it will end. The wilderness can make them forget who they were, or it can help them look toward the future.

Everyone of us could point to some time in our lives when we found ourselves in the wilderness. A time where we felt lost and did know where to turn. A time that all hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps, some of you may even being finding yourselves in that wilderness now. Amid the decorations that we have up in preparation for the Christmas Season, celebrating Christmas may be the farthest thing from your mind.

We may find ourselves longing for days when we felt more comfortable. We even celebrate the days gone past. Richmond has the Good Old Days Festival. My hometown, has a Frontier Days Festival. Now, I am not saying that we should not remember those that have gone before us and helped lay the foundation for our families. These festivals are great for building community and being in relationship with one another. Our Jewish ancestors had several festivals that they celebrated and still celebrate to this day. As we look towards the past, let’s not forget that God is working towards the future.

Those days that we felt comfortable, may have been uncomfortable for others. This is not the kingdom of God that Jesus preaches. The entire world will continue to find itself in the wilderness until we can come together and be reconciled with one another.

In the wilderness the Israelites find hope. While they may have been in the wilderness for decades, Isaiah tells them that their waiting is over and they are being called back to the homeland. It is John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness that proclaims he is clearing the way for someone even greater than him. While John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it is merely with water that he baptizes. It is in the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist prepares the way to lead people out of the wilderness. It is in Jesus Christ that those that have followed John will find the true God. The God that forgives all sins and breathes the Holy Spirit upon people, calling them to continue proclaiming the good news. That is the first verse of Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark wants to let his readers know what they are going to be reading. This is the good news that comes to the people of Israel as foretold in the Hebrew scriptures, This is the good news that they have been waiting for. This is the good news that was with creation at the very beginning.

In the midst of our own wilderness, many of us are still searching. Searching for something that may be lost. Searching for meaning in our lives. Searching for what it is God is calling us to. Perhaps, you have given up searching. It is hard work, that is true. As we find ourselves in the wilderness, Jesus never said it was going to be easy.

The people that began following John the Baptist were searching for something. They were longing for something greater. People today are searching as well. Longing for deeper relationships and yearning to find meaning in a life that sometimes feels overburdened by the negativity of our world. It is in the voice crying out in the wilderness that we find our hope. We first hear of Jesus Christ, in the gospel of Mark, from John the Baptist. He is simply preparing the way.

The way has been prepared for us. Jesus has come into the world and fulfilled the prophecy of the prophets. In Jesus Christ, we find the grace of God in flesh for all people. The grace of God that welcomes in saints and sinners alike. The grace of God that calls us out of our longing and searching. The grace of God that loves beyond compare.

As you find yourself in your own wilderness, look for those that have prepared they way, and listen to the voice of God calling you and naming you as a beloved child. For as Mark writes, “this is the beginning of the good news.” Do you understand that? It is just the beginning. We find ourselves in a wonderful story that has not come to completion yet. In this story we find hope and grace.

Let us pray. . . .God that fulfills our longing, we come to you in the middle of our own wildernesses. Reveal to us the calling you have placed on our lives as we desire to follow your Son, Jesus Christ. We give thanks for those that have prepared the way and we ask for strength and perseverance as we wait for your kingdom to fully be upon us. Amen.

God Comes Home to Us!

all-hearts-come-home-for-christmas

December 24, 2016

Luke 2:1-20

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2:11). Amen

Who among us does not love a wonderful homecoming story? Books are written about them. Movies are made. Songs are sung. Many revolve around the Christmas season.  You could have turned on the Hallmark Channel this season and been inundated with them. On Friday, there was a story in the Detroit Free Press about a girl who had lost her beloved bear at Detroit Metro. Through the power of social media, the bear was found and returned safely to her after he had an exciting day at work with an airline employee. Christmas can be a season of homecomings for all of us, even stuff animals.

Children come home after being away at college. Families gather together for a sort of reunion which can bring joy and celebration to many. The journey to get home can be as easy as driving across town to one’s parent’s house, or as lengthy as flying half-way across the world.

Coming home may bring struggles and challenges all of its own. Unfortunately, not everyone is welcome home. There may have been an argument or disconnect at some point that harmed relationships.  Perhaps, the means are not available to get home. Perhaps there is not a home to return to.

Tonight, we experience a homecoming. Our gospel lesson brings us the wonderful story of Joseph and Mary returning to the land of his ancestors. I think it would be safe to assume that they most likely had challenges in their travels. How would you like to travel 90 miles either on foot or on donkey while being nearly nine months pregnant? Not only was it a long journey, Joseph was returning to his ancestor’s homeland with angst and an unsureness of what was to come.

When Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, there was no place for them. There appears to be no family in the area and they get turned down when looking for a bed to lay their weary heads and tired feet. Was this the homecoming they expected? Was this how Joseph really wanted to start his life with Mary? They eventually settle for a stable as shelter and a feed trough that will have to make do to lay their newborn child.

They were longing for a place of comfort and rest. We too long for home. We long for loved ones that will greet us when we walk through the door. We long for a place that is familiar and full of love. We long for a place that will give us peace. There is a Simon and Garfunkle song that speaks to this longing. You may have heard of it, it is titled, Homeward Bound. The refrain is:

Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Do we long for Christmas, as much as we long for home? Not just the presents and family, but do we long for the Christ child that comes to be in our midst? The child that lies in a manger that is changing the course of the world. The child that angels speak of. The child that shepherds in the field are compelled to go and see for themselves. Do you long for Christ this same way?

It is God’s desire for us to long for Jesus. The longing does not begin with humanity. The longing begins with God. It is God that longs for us. It is God that has created and has loved and has kept busy over the world that we live and breathe in. It is God that is with us in the darkness and in the light. God wants that relationship.

It is in this longing that God made the decision to come and be with us in the newborn baby, Jesus. In Jesus, we experience God with us, Emmanuel. God with us in a way that the world had never experienced before.

God coming to us in the form of a newborn baby, is a homecoming like no other homecoming! It is a love that comes down to earth that brings light to the darkness. It is a love that brings a promise of peace and joy. The awesome thing is that this love that comes to live among us, and within us, is a love that is for all people. The joy that we celebrate this evening is one that is with us at all times and for everyone. For in Jesus’ coming down to earth, we are promised salvation and a grace and love that knows no end.

As God comes home to us, may we celebrate in this Christmas season a love that is beyond measure. And may we too celebrate our own homecomings. Welcome home!

Glory to God in the highest heaven!

To You is Born This Day

the-birth-of-christ-frans-ii-the-younger-francken

Luke 2:1-2

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christmas Eve is not just another day! I am sure that each and everyone of us has some memory of Christmas Eve pasts, either good or unfortunately sometimes bad. This evening we are all together in one place for a time of worship and celebration.

Our reasons to be here may be varied. It may simply be out of the expectations of family, because this is what we do every year. It may be because Christmas is our favorite time of the year and Christmas Eve worship is the culmination of all of the waiting during Advent. It may be that we have come here to worship and give our praise and thanks to the newborn Christ, a Savior to the world.

I think we can all agree that the last few months have been tough. The mounting violence in our own country and around the world has shaken us. Our level of fear has most likely been ramped up! We fear that the violence may someday come much closer to us. We fear those that are different from us in many different ways, simply because we do not know them or have had an opportunity to meet them.

Fear is a natural human reaction to things that are out of our control. Fear can push us to do things that we would not normally do. Fear may also drive us into seclusion where we think we are much safer. To curb the fear we will quite often turn to something else that provides us comfort or a perceived security. Quite often as children we have a special blanket or stuff animal that we carried around that reminded us of home and provided a sense of comfort. I had both. A blanket that I carried around until it literally fell apart. A blue rabbit, handmade by my grandmother, that had to be repaired several times that eventually ended up missing an ear. These provided a sense of comfort to me.

As adults we often turn to other things to stem that fear. It could be an addiction that ends up leaving us dependent on something that pulls us away from living a full life. We turn to ways of protecting our family and ensuring their safety that at times can possibly ramp up our fears even more.

Fear is not a new thing. It is a natural human reaction. Fear is alive and present in the Bible and this evening, on Christmas Eve, we have an example of that fear. First, you can’t tell me that Mary and Joseph didn’t have at least a little bit of fear of waiting for the unexpected. Mary, an unwed mother, not knowing what the reactions of everyone they encountered would be. Joseph, possibly fearful of harm being done to Mary because she was pregnant and unwed.

We are told that the shepherds were terrified. They have encountered the unexpected. An angel of the Lord comes to them to bring them good news and they are truly terrified because they do not know what is going on. They are fearful of the unknown. The angel is quick to reassure them though, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” It is in this that all fears are vanished.

One of my favorite Christmas specials is a Charlie Brown Christmas. I was reminded this past week of one part by a gentleman, Jason Sonoski, writing a blog post online that speaks directly to our fear. If you recall, Linus shares what the true meaning of Christmas is by reciting the story from our gospel lesson this evening. It is during his recitation of the scripture that he drops his security blanket, that bright blue blanket we always see him with, on the stage and speaks boldly when the angel instructs the shepherds to not be afraid.

It is in this simple little action and the words of the angel to the shepherds that we come to the realization that the birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. We are given the permission and encouraged to drop all of our false insecurities and fears because the love of God has entered this world in the form of a newborn Son.  Yes, Mary gives birth to a newborn son in a lowly manger. The thing is though, He is not born just to her.

Once again we turn to the angel speaking to the shepherds and hear, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This newborn Son, Jesus, is born not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the entire world! And how is this message celebrated? By inviting the least likely of guests!

First, Mary is an unwed teenage mother, and is the mother of the Savior! This in itself is good news. Next, the shepherds are invited to the party to celebrate the newborn King. Shepherds, who are out in the fields day in and day out caring for their flocks. They most likely do not smell the most pleasant and have little to account for. Yet, they are invited! Matthew shares with us in his gospel the visit of the three wise men, who most likely were practicing a different religion altogether.

Christ is born for the world! This evening we celebrate his birth and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom here on Earth. Jesus is born for you this day! And for you! And for you! Do you get the idea? Jesus is born for all of humanity. Jesus is born for each and everyone of us. We do not have to be anything special. We don’t have to do anything special. For it is in this gift of God in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that we receive grace upon grace.

Now the question is, what are you going to do with that most precious of gifts? As we all come together this evening for various reasons, it is my hope that we all leave this evening glorifying and praising God for all that we have heard and celebrated. It is in Jesus’ birth that God tells us that we are loved: deeply, truly, and forever. “To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Christmas Eve Devotion

themangerscene

Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

We have been waiting for this day for a month. And it still has snuck up on us for some reason. Could it possibly be that we are missing the snow and it does not quite feel like Christmas with all of the rain and 50 degree weather?

We come together this evening, regardless of what the weather may be telling us, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We come to worship and praise God for the gift of Christ being born over 2000 years ago in the most unlikely of places. Today that place may be in the most desolate places in the world. Christ was born to bring hope and a promise of saving grace. This year that hope could be shared in many places throughout the world. In the midst of the violence that is still taking pace in our country and world, God breaks through with the promise of a life that sheds all of the unnecessary things and leaves us simply being in God. May this Christmas Season bring you joy and a passion to go out and share this wonderful news.

Let us pray.

God Incarnate, we give thanks for the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ. May we celebrate this Christmas season by caring for our neighbors and being filled with your love that overflows. AMEN.