Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

At the Closing of the Year – Dec. 27, 2020

The sign outside the nursery quoted 1 Corinthians 15:51 which reads; “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed!”    

Change is something we long for and detest at the same time. There is an old off-Broadway play called, “I love you, you’re perfect, now change!” And I like the saying, “Change is good…you go first.”

One comedian remarked, “When we begin to talk about change, the only thing we want to change is the subject.” The truth is…the only things we want to change, are the things we do not like. Everything else can remain the same. But it begs the question, can we really change?

French critic, journalist, and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is known for saying back in 1849, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

That goes against what Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said around 500BC, “Everything changes, and nothing stands still.”  So, which is it?

Looking back at 2020, it sure seems like this was a year of change. Who would have guessed how much our lives could be turned upside down by the Covid19 virus? While it is new to us, this is a cycle that others have seen before. Back in 1918-1920, the Spanish Flu took a terrible toll on America and the world.

Geologist will tell us that the whole planet has gone through countless changes over billions of years – but still revolves around the sun without fail. Psychologists will tell us that life situations change but many of our traits and behaviors remain the same. Meteorologists will share that the weather patterns continue to change and evolve – but the 4 seasons remain the same.

We find similar words and patterns in the Bible. In Psalm 51:10 we read King David’s plea to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.”

And Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

But earlier in Romans 3:10-12, Paul writes what appears to be a contradiction, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

And again, in Romans 7:15-20, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 

As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

It is clear, if we want a life change, it is going to be complicated. But, the Bible is also very clear that change is possible. Over and over the Bible talks about transformation, a renewed mind and a clean heart.

Ephesians 4:22-24 reads, “ You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

While we are in the flesh, what we need is a spiritual transformation and a deep desire for obedience that produces change.

It begins with a choice. When I recognize, like Paul explains, that I am out of control. I need help. What I want to do, I fail to do. That’s is when I recognize my sin and failure. If change is going to come, it will come from God, not me. I need a heart change and renewal of the mind.

While I am able to change minor things about my life, through a change of routines, deeper parts of my inner life can only be changed by the Spirit. There is no self-help book that can change the essence of mankind. There is nothing that can remove the weight of sin I carry, except the work of God.

Change is a process. Much like what we read in Jeremiah 18:1-6, “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”

 So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

Once we accept Jesus, that process begins. In fact, sometimes before we accept Jesus, God is in the process of shaping and molding us. But once we become partners with God, we truly are a new creation in Christ; evolving and changing.

As 2 Corinthians 5:17 explains, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” Does that mean we now have no desire for sin? Absolutely not, as long as we are in flesh, the desires of the flesh will call to us.

2 Corinthians 5:6 explains, “As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” To live as Christ, we must remain repentant, faithful and obedient to God’s will. Much the same way Jesus’ modeled the life of a believer.

Paul writes about the mindset we must have, to the church at Philippi, “But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Philippians 3:7-8)

“I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)

We obtain this ongoing change by being God-oriented instead of self-oriented. By being sacrificial – instead of seeking to fulfill our own desires. By returning to God’s word, seeking God in prayer and loving as God loves. By fleeing temptation and turning toward the precepts of God. Finally, by walking the walk and talking the talk faithfully.

That is why God created us in community, we are social creatures. We need God and we need one another. We are living examples to others, as Jesus was a living example to us. As we often say, you may be the only example of Christ that others see. (John 17:18)

Jesus calls us to join him on this journey. He will bring change, but we have an ongoing responsibility, as well.

In John 5:1-15, we find the story of a man Jesus healed by the pool in Jerusalem. This man had been an invalid for 38 years. Why did Jesus choose him? Clearly, he knew something was different about this man. That was kindled in his soul that Jesus detected?

Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir”, the invalid replied, “I have ‘no one to help me’ into the pool when the water is stirred.”

That is where they believed the healing took place. Even though his answer was indirect, his response implied that he wanted to be healed.

Then Jesus said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus was asking him to do something unimaginable. The man could have said, “I cannot.” He could have given many reasons why it was impossible or asked for help. Instead, he took the initiative and rose. 

“At once, the man was cured, and he took his mat with him.” (John 5:9) This meant he would loss his spot, as others would take it. But he had no need to return to the pool. Notice also, once the man started walking, he didn’t give up and sit back down. There was a deeper faith at work in him.

Finally, I want you to take note to what Jesus said to the man later. Jesus found him in the Temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14) We could debate all day what the man’s sins were but that would be missing the point.

Jesus clearly asked the man to change his behavior. Even though he was healed, the former invalid still had some work to do on his own. Jesus would not have mentioned it, if the man was incapable.

None of this is meant to imply that change is easy. And that we can do it without the help of God and others. But it does point to the fact that change is an ongoing process that we must commit ourselves to.

In my lifetime, we have gone from home phones, to beepers, to cell phones, to faxes, e-mail and texts. We have seen the birth of the internet, iPhone, Facebook, Zoom and more.

We have left typewriters behind for computers and laptops. We have gone from in-person worship to worship on-line. Sometimes I get tired of all the changes. But we must remember, we are not the first to live through these kinds of changes. The Word of God was originally passed exclusively through the oral tradition.

But, because of persecution and the fleeing of believers, they relied on letters and later, the Written Word of God. Many wondered what might be lost in translation, but Today, most of us would not want to give up our Bibles.

The Bible reminds us, when everything else changes, God does not. In Malachi 3:6 God declares, “For I the Lord do not change.”

In Hebrews 13:8 we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

And Finally, in James 1:17 we read, “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, whom does not change like shifting shadows.”

Does the name George Mallory ring a bell? If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Mallory is believed to be the first person to scale Mt. Everest. He planned well and did everything right to get to the top. But he failed to navigate his way down from the summit, perishing atop the mountain. He only planned for half the trip.

When speaking about the first person to successfully complete the treacherous terrain of Mt. Everest, it’s Sir Edmund Hillary who is given the credit for not only getting to the top of the mountain – but also living to tell the tale upon his return. His faith went beyond the summit. He was thinking about ‘the changes beyond it’ that would come.

Rev. Billy Sunday once said, “Stopping at third base adds no more to the score than striking out. It doesn’t matter how well you start if you don’t finish well.”

Changes will come, but believers don’t give up. At the closing of the year, we stop and evaluate where we have come from and learn what we can. But then recognize, we have much farther to go.

So, let’s see change as an opportunity, not a stopping point. Welcome change as a chance to share the gospel in a new way. Do not be afraid, pick up your mats and walk!

Your assignment is…to make a list of all the things that hold you back, and then burn them. Never place a period, where God has placed a comma.

As long as you are alive, trust in the one who never changes in the midst of an evolving world. There, you will find your peace.

Happy New Year!

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

A Savior for All the World – Dec. 24, 2020

During World War II, when pilots took off from aircraft carriers at night to scout the North Atlantic Ocean for ships or submarines, it was always at great risk. If the captain of the aircraft carrier got word that an enemy was approaching, they would have to issue a blackout order.

This meant, when pilots tried to return to their ship, they may not be able to find it in the dark. One of the often-undiscussed topics of war is how many pilots crashed into the ocean because they ran out of fuel looking for their ships. It was certainly a calculated risk, but a few hundred pilots lost was not worth risking the lives of 4,500-plus men on an entire aircraft carrier.

Risk is defined as a situation involving oneself to the exposure to danger, harm or loss. While some people may unknowingly put themselves in harm’s way, it is quite another matter to make a choice to risk oneself for another.

The New Living Testament version of John 15:13 reads, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for own’s friends.”  Friends here implies relationship. It means we lie down our lives for those we care about or love.

But who, I might ask, lays down their lives for strangers or even their enemies? According to scripture, Jesus did. Romans 5:10 reads, “For if, while we were God’s enemies (some translations read sinners), we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

This is what God set into motion, when he chose to come to earth. The Lord saw our hopeless state and decided to come for us, on a rescue mission. People were perishing in the darkness and so God acted.

 John 1:1-5 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Verse 1:10-12 continues,

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And verse 1:14 ends like this,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies. He was the Messiah, our Savior, our Lord and our King. Yet even the most faithful did not expected God to appear as a child. Isaiah 9:6 proudly proclaimed, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”

But most people preferred to only hear the second half of the passage, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.”

Again, Isaiah 11:6 proclaimed, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.”

Yet the people of Israel had waited so long, they had no patience for a child. They wanted a Warrior King. A conquering Messiah, an adult Savior and a mature Lord to take control. They did not want innocents, they wanted action.

Advent is the season of waiting and waiting takes patience. We may not always get what we want, when we want it. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t working and handling the situation. God’s mission was well-planned out, instructional, and global.

John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The arrival of this baby in a manger would ultimately change everything and his later return would alter both heaven and earth. Now, let’s be honest, who looks at a baby and thinks Messiah, Savior, King or Lord? Only a select few.

Messiah means deliverer. Savior means rescuer. King means ruler – and Lord means someone who has ultimate power, authority or influence. While a Messiah or deliverer may be stopped, or a king can be ignored, calling someone Lord is truly humbling.

In Rome, they had temples to multiple gods. But to be called Lord made you above all kings, warriors or the so-called gods of the people. A Lord demanded ultimate obedience and sacrifice. And so, to call Jesus Lord was the greatest threat to the Emperor and the Teachers of the Law.

The New Testament calls Jesus Lord, nearly 750 times. That is far more than he is ever called Savior, Messiah or King. Isaiah 45:23b -24 reads, “Before me, every knee will bow; by me, every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’”

Later Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Not only is Jesus coming to offer saving grace, he is the head of the church, the ruler of his people and whether we like it or not, the Lord of all people.

Revelation 5:9 tells us that with his blood, Jesus purchased mankind for God from every tribe, and language, and people and nation. This means there is potential for everyone to be saved. But first, they must admit their sin and failures and submit to his Lordship.

Who approaches a baby, especially a baby in a dirty manger like this? But this, you see, is no ordinary baby. Micah 5:2 reads, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from Ancient Days.”

This baby, this child, is timeless. He existed before time. He has no beginning and no end. He is God and now, God incarnate. While he is in time, he is obedient, but once he returns to heaven, he will be again, Lord of all and in control. In fact, with everything he endured on earth, he was still in control. Try to wrap your mind around that!

Isaiah 40:25-26 reads, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

This is who we honor and adore. Jesus is the one we bow down and seek as our Lord. From evermore to evermore.

And so we sing, “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary!”

And His purpose was, according to John 1:4, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I want to end with this true story,

After a great battle at sea, during WWII, on June 20th, 1944, the US Navy realized they were very close to a Japanese fleet in the ocean. Realizing their own vulnerability, Admiral Raymond Spruance, with only a few hours of daylight left, ordered a blackout on his aircraft carrier. Over 200 planes were still out.

Everyone knew that the pilots barely had enough fuel for the return flight and would have trouble finding their way home in the dark. As night fell, plane after plane ran out of fuel and dropped into the sea. Pilots were disoriented because it was pitch black in the middle of the world’s biggest ocean.

With the pilots desperate for any kind of assistance, Admiral Marc Mitscher ordered his entire fleet carrier illuminated. Many have said the Pacific night turned to daylight. It was a huge risk to take, not knowing exactly where the enemy fleet was located but he felt it was worth it.

Of the 200 planes out, only 16 pilots perished due to the compassion and risk one Admiral was willing to make for them. Admiral Mitscher’s order was direct and clear, “Let there be light.”

The true light of the world, Jesus, came that all mankind may be saved. He is the Messiah, the Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the child born in a manger. Will you take time tonight, to bow to him? He is the Lord God Almighty.

Let’s Pray, O Lord, awaken us to this great mystery, but better still this truth; that you are the one and only God. The Alpha and Omega. The barrier of saving light, our Lord. May we fully submit to your leadership and be obedient to your will. Much the same we Jesus taught us; From birth to death and to the resurrection.

May every tongue confess you are Lord, this is our prayer…

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

The Joy of Discovery – Dec. 20, 2020

People, by nature, are curious. Being curious is defined as eager to learn or understand things, especially if they are strange or unexplainable. We enjoy a good mystery and we love the joy of discovery. The truth is, we don’t always like to be told things, we like to unearth them for ourselves.

If you look on the internet, some of the greatest mysteries people ponder are; Are UFO’s real? What is Dark Matter? Who shot JFK? Who built the great Sphinx in Egypt? Where is the Ark of the Covenant? What happened to Amelia Earhart? And is there really evidence that God exists?

Even when some evidence remains or good theories emerge, sometimes, I think, people just like the mystery. Looking back in history, mysteries have been some of the greatest best sellers of all times. Think, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, or the ever-popular Murder she wrote on TV.

When our kids were young, they really looked forward to playing the board game Clue. In was first made available in 1949 and has become one of the most popular board games of all time. It has even been made into a movie, with 3 alternative endings.

If you have played Clue, you know that there is a murder that takes place in one of 9 rooms in a mansion, by one of 6 suspects, and there is a specific weapon, one of 6, involved. The winner must correctly guess all three parts to win. And there is great satisfaction and joy from the first one who reveals all three correctly.

Likewise, Christmas is a time of mystery, wonder, suspense and discovery. For Children, it is contemplating a baby born in a manger, Santa, Elves, the gifts, what will I get? And why does it take Christmas so long to get here? It is a time of sleepless nights and magic. They believe and ponder the mystery and joy of it all.

As we age, the mystery runs a little different and deeper for some. Who is this child born in Bethlehem? Is He really the promised Messiah? What does it mean that God is born in flesh? Incarnate, we call it. Is the story of Jesus’ birth accurate? What about the date? Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Was he born in a cave or in a lower room of a home? Was Mary really a virgin? And did the heaven’s open and angels really appear?

1 Timothy 3:16 reads, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh (some translations say in a body), was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, and was taken up in glory.”

And Colossians 1:27 reads, “To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles, the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Whenever we speak of the mystery of God, there is also a paradox. There are the things we can know and things that are unknown. For example, we call the Bible ‘God’s revelation to mankind’. It is God’s revealed word made plain. In it, we find the story of God and of how Jesus came to earth. We also have a revelation of the things past and the things to come.

But here is the inconsistency, not everyone who reads the Bible understands it. To some it is just a book of stories, songs and parables. And yet, to believers, it is God’s living, expanding word of life. What makes the difference?

In simplest terms, two elements are present; First, our willingness to be humble and fully engage the texts is essential. Second, we need God’s Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to us. Part of it is in our hands and part is not.

And so it goes, with anyone who searches the scripture; it must be made alive in us, beyond what we bring to it. As Jesus said in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work, to this very day, and I too am working.”

That also extends to the work of the Holy Spirit, before Jesus left, he said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever the Spirit of Truth.” (John 14:16)

Only through the power of God, in the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can we have the transformation we desire to really grasp the truth of the Gospel. For example, how can mere mortals understand the process of God becoming man?

On the surface it sounds simple, but it is not. God left heaven, engaged Mary, she relinquished control of her body to Him and God placed himself, at the very basic of levels into her womb to become a human being. This is a supernatural process.

And part of our problem is this, Jesus was truly man and yet truly God. Even the greatest theologians struggle with this. One theologian stated, “Our understanding is skewed, it is like one swine discussing pearls with another.”

And as adults, our search for a better understanding of who Jesus was never really gets easier. Those in his own day struggled with this revelation, even though they should has seen the signs and understood. But understanding Jesus is complex.

1 Peter 1:10-11 reads,  “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.”

You see, everyone was waiting for the conquering, heroic Messiah. But Jesus is seen here in both his sufferings and his glory. Pastor John Piper writes, “The Old Testament presents the coming Messiah as a conqueror; and yet in other passages, it presents Him as a defeated enemy. In some Old Testament prophecies, He is seen as bringing joy to the world; in other Old Testament prophecies, He is seen as a man of sorrows. Sometimes He is seen as the conqueror, sometimes as the one who is rejected.

 “Sometimes He is seen in great triumph and strength, and sometimes in abject weakness. He is the one who will bring life; and yet in other prophecies, He is the one who will die. Some speak of Him as King of glory, King of heaven and earth, eternal King, desire of all nations; and yet other prophets say there will be nothing about Him that men should desire Him.”

Jesus, you see is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He does not fit any box we try to place him in. He will not bend to our understanding – we must bend to his. As Mary noted, there is much to ponder about this person we call Jesus. (Luke 2:19)

Rev. Peter Larson writes, “Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked, “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.”

Pope Benedict once wrote, “In his greatness, God has let himself become small. God has taken on a human face. Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.”

Colossians 1:15-20 describes Jesus like this, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation; for in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or in heaven . . .”

Charles Wesley, John’s brother wrote this hymn many years ago, listen to the first few lines…

Let earth and heaven combine, Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine, the Incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.

He laid his glory by, He wrapped him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye, the latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days, he here became and bore, the mild Immanuel’s name.

Unsearchable the love, that hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above, or man or angels thought;
Suffice for us that God, we know, Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near and make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know, For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love, and sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove, and see his glorious face:
Then shall his love be fully showed, and man shall then be lost in God.

One of the greatest joys of discovery we see in the Bible is the way God display’s his arrival to the Shepherd’s working in the fields. They are not scholars. Some would call them, the most ordinary of all, in their time. Mostly uneducated, often family members and smelling of sheep and goats.

Some compare them to trash collectors today. They perform an important job, but they don’t have many fans. Their sphere of influence was small, and yet, this is who the angels appeared to first. Nobody but God could have predicted this. Luke 2:9-14 reads,

 “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke continues, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

These Shepherds were literally blown away by what had happened and what they found. They were like a child on Christmas morning, opening the greatest present, the one they always dreamed about. Everyone was amazed at what they shared, because they were so excited about what God had done, they could not contain themselves.

The first ever documented Christmas sermon was given by St John Chrysostom back in 386. Back then, Christmas was called The Feast Day of the Nativity. Here is how he began…

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, – but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory!

“All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

And he ends like this, “For this is all MY hope, this MY life, this MY salvation, this MY pipe, MY harp. And bearing it I come and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on Earth peace to men of good will.”

What do you do when you discover that God has given you such an amazing gift? Like the shepherds, you will do anything to share it. Why? Because life will never be the same again. There is no fear of death, no chance that peace will be lost, you have a newfound joy that fills your soul and a love that overflows. This is the discovery of Christmas.

This is what began with God coming to earth in Christ Jesus. The truth is, no one can fully explain it to you, until you discover it for yourself. Search and you will find. Seek and you will discover. All who look with their whole heart will know the truth.

The best gifts come in unusual packages. Who could have imagined that the best gift would came wrapped in flesh? Still unsure? Maybe it is time you did your own investigation. God came first to mere shepherds, because that is true, everyone can discover the truth.

Your assignment is…to spend some time digging into the Bible about the birth of Jesus. Look at the prophecies. Look at the facts and details. Humble your heart – and then be prepared to be transformed. You might just find the hidden treasure God promises, and then your life will never be the same.

Enjoy the mystery and the joy of discovery.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

No Longer a Child – Dec. 13, 2020

Back when I was in Seminary, I took CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). It is a program where pastors get to practice their ministry skills, often in a hospital or nursing home. Afterwards, they get together to discuss what happened with a senior supervisor.

During the class, clergy learn their strengths and weaknesses and spend time becoming more self-aware. The program often stretches clergy in places that make them uncomfortable, but it helps them learn patience, empathy, compassion, the need for silence, and it helps them learn how to listen and spend time reflecting on ministry.

I remember when I started the program. I was working weekends at the hospital and going to school during the week. I remember telling my supervisor that I was ok working in the hospital but unsure about working in the nursing home (Up until then, I had very little experience with nursing homes).

I had only visited my grandfather in the nursing home and did not like the experience. Guess where my supervisor placed me? Yep, right in the nursing home next door. I could tell you so many stories from my time there, but only one is important today.

My job was to make rounds and to stop in and visit folks. I often talked with them for a while and prayed with them. What amazed me was the different personalities and attitudes people had. Some were as excited as little children to get a visit. Others, not so much!

During the Christmas season, I put on a red hat and went about trying to cheer people up. Many people sang carols with me or talked about Christmas’s past. But one elderly man refused. When I walked into his room and said, “Are you excited about Christmas?”

I remember him saying, “Are you crazy? What is there to be excited about at my age? Christmas is for children, not old people.” He was a Strong Christian man, so tried to engage him with scripture.

I said, “Jesus said we must be like children. Remember Matthew 18:3? Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

To which he replied, “I prefer 1 Corinthians 13:11. Paul wrote, ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.’”

Then he went on to explain that he was too old for Santa, reindeer, colored lights, sappy music, over-spending, and especially for babies. Then, he declared, that was the end of the conversation and he asked me to leave.

Let’s just say, we spent time a fair amount of time in our clergy group processing that conversation and reflecting on it. Whether you agree with people or change their mind is not the point; instead it is about listening to them and trying to understand where they are coming from.

A quick search on the internet, on the topic ‘Why I hate Christmas’ will also give you some real insight.

Folks who never got what they wanted for Christmas, really dislike the holiday. Others who lost a loved one on or near Christmas, or those who don’t like their relatives are very vocal. Others complain about the cost, the hustle and bustle, the sugary sweet music (Too sentimental), the silly hats, sweaters, reindeer antlers that folks wear, and the fake happy attitudes people seem to have. I never realized some people had such strong feelings about Christmas.

Each year, I would pull out my Christmas CD’s in September or October to get myself in the mood to plan out potential Christmas sermon ideas. Sure, there are some songs I avoid, but there are a lot of great old classics and fun new songs.

This year, in memory of Eddie Money, I listened to his song, “Everybody loves Christmas”. Cindy reminded me that not everyone does. Then I thought, Maybe, just maybe, that is because the real meaning gets lost in the over the top secular celebrating and shopping. Christmas was never meant to look like this.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy giving gifts and getting them. I enjoy family time, most of the time. Every family has a few prunes in the grape bowl. And I enjoy the food and festivities. Most of you know I like caroling and volunteering to ring the Salvation Army Bell. I like getting a Christmas Tree and drinking eggnog. I especially like the Peppermint stick Ice cream, this time of year. But there is a lot more to Christmas than that.

Unfortunately, some folks only attend church occasionally and all they hear are the same old stories. This time of year, we usually read from Isaiah, Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. Most of it is focused around the baby born in the manger. Because of that, they often miss the rest of the story. They may miss the bigger picture.

If you think Christmas is only for Children, please just listen to me for a few minutes. Christmas is about God coming down and being born, in flesh. But that is just one snapshot, one momentary glimpse. We must look deeper and wider to see the truth.

The truth is; this life is no accident. God created the world and all that is in it with love and with purpose. That can be hard to believe at times, I know. The world often seems to be chaotic and more of a mess than anything but that is not God’s fault and it wasn’t his plan. We live in a fallen world. It happened, long ago and we live with those consequences. But the Good News is; God doesn’t want to give up on us. This child born in a manger is mind blowing. God literally ripped open the fabric of time and space to leave heaven and be born here.

Galatians 4:4-5 reads, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

I am not too proud to admit it, I make a lot of mistakes. I am only human. In fact, I have hurt others and even God himself. I am a sinner and there is no way I can fix it. No matter how hard I try, like Paul writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Look back throughout the ages, mankind sometimes shines but we also leave a mess behind us. We need help, deeper spiritual help and transformation. That is why God came to the earth and out of his comfort zone, to redeem us. Redeem is just a fancy word to say he paid our debt or took our punishment. Jesus was on a rescue mission.

The God of the universe, the God of all time, came to help us and show us how much he loves us. Not to judge us but to serve. Isn’t that crazy? Who thinks like that? God does. He came vulnerable and gentle into the world. What an amazing risk He took.

Do you want to change someone’s heart? Try vulnerability instead of a hammer. Try serving instead of directing. Try listening instead of shouting out instructions. Try asking questions instead of focusing on what you think you know.

Listen to how Isaiah 9:6-7 describes Jesus, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, – and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called; “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal (or passion) of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is what Christmas is about and it isn’t just for kids!

The birth of Jesus was just the beginning. It was the surprise, but his journey had just begun. Very few of us cannot love a baby, but as we know, they do not stay little long. Jesus had a life to live, an example to set and a destiny to fulfill.

Jesus would grow and preach in the Temple as a young boy. (Luke 2:41-52) He would be tempted and remain faithful. He would become a great teacher and crowds were amazed when the heard him speak. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. And he would challenge the Leaders and Teachers of the Law, who followed the rules but did not show mercy or compassion.

Jesus spoke hard words at time. He paved a new way of thinking and acting. He challenged the norms and loved the unlovable. He travelled where others would not go, and he even shed tears when he was hurting inside. His vulnerability was strength. Not really a child’s story, is it?

But it doesn’t end there. Christmas, you see, casts a long shadow to the cross and the death and resurrection of Jesus. His final words were, “It is finished.” His plan was to take away the sin of the world and redeem us! Then we must accept what he has done for us.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He also called himself the gate or door that all must pass through. All who enter through me will be saved, he said. John 10:9

Even as a child, you can come to the Lord. But I believe it takes a lifetime to really begin to understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And so, Christmas you see, just opens this amazing and wonderful experience of knowing God more intimately. His birth was not an end in itself; instead it is an awakening of our souls into a bigger mystery of seeing how awesome God is. When I think of Christmas, I look at the manger but then pull back and focus on the work of Saving Grace that brought Jesus here.

A pastor shared this story about a Christmas Card he saw many years ago. He said the Magi were kneeling reverently by an empty crib. In the background, Mary paced up and down the stable with the baby crying in her arms. Joseph just looked at her anxiously, as the Wise Men looked at her with daggers in their eyes. 

Then one of them shouts at her, “Won’t you take that baby outside? Some of us are trying to worship in here!”

It is funny but makes a good point, at Christmas we have to be careful not to focus on the wrong things. The birth of Jesus started a chain of events that would alter time and our futures. The truth is, that the birth of Jesus, in which God made himself known to us, is a story for people of all lands and ages.

Chuck Swindoll writes in his book ‘Growing Strong’, these words,

“Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone, “I love you.” Give something away–anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.”

Finally,  the song “Grown-Up Christmas List” was composed by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner wrote the lyrics. Amy Grant sang a beautiful version on her 2nd Christmas CD, ‘Home for Christmas’. Here is how the song begins,

Do you remember me? I sat upon your knee,
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies.

Well I’m all grown up now, and still need help somehow.
I’m not a child, but my heart still can dream.

So, here’s my lifelong wish, my grown-up Christmas List.
Not for myself, but for a world in need

(and here’s the chorus)

No more lives torn apart, then wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts.

And everyone would have a friend, and right would always win,
And love would never end.
This is my grown-up Christmas List

Some might call that sentimental, but hey, what is wrong with wanting the best?

Because that is exactly what God wants for each of us, no matter our age.

Your assignment is…to make a list of the gifts you want to give God as a thank you for Jesus. How can you give back? This is not meant to be a demand, but an honest gesture of goodwill. Maybe you can reach out to another and forgive. Maybe volunteer or give to the church. Or maybe, just pray or smile at another. Every gift, from every age, is appreciated.

May we then act on our decisions and bring a positive change to the world.

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

For Some, Christmas Never Comes – Dec. 6, 2020

Rev. John Edgar Park was born in Belfast, Ireland on March 7, 1879. He was a Congregationalist Minister, author, writer of hymns and later, was the president of Wheaton College in Massachusetts. He was bigger than life and was known for his grand storytelling.

One of his most famous stories, some say was based on actual events, was called “The Man who Missed Christmas”. It was original published as a short story in 1911; and later included in a book of Christmas stories. It was also adapted into a play…

In the story, George Mason was a bank executive who worked late on Christmas Eve, in fact, he was the last one in the building. George was a loner, but he was meticulous about details. Before he left, he decided to check everything inside the safe one last time.

He spun the dials, turned the handle and swung the massive door open. After he stepped inside, slowly, noiselessly, the large door swung shut behind him. The automatic overhead light switched off and that is when he realized he was trapped and in the dark. 

He hurled himself at the door and screamed for help until he had no voice left. As he sat down, he found relief in thinking someone would open the door tomorrow. And that is when it hit him, tomorrow was Christmas day, and no one would be coming for 36 hours.

Panicked, he wondered if he would have enough air. As he ran his hand over the bottom of the door, he felt a faint rush of cool air and he relaxed. The tension was suddenly released, when he burst into tears. Somebody would miss him, but who?

He was unmarried and lived alone. A maid cleaned his apartment, but he never talked to her. He had been invited to spend Christmas with his brother and his family, but the children got on his nerves and they expected presents.

A friend had asked him to go to a retirement community and play the piano on Christmas day, but he turned the friend down. George preferred to be alone at home, listening to records. That is when he realized, nobody was coming because nobody would miss him. George sat in the cold safe feeling miserable, all through the night and through Christmas day.

On the day after Christmas, bright and early, the head clerk came in and opened the safe, then went to his office to begin his paperwork. George snuck out unnoticed and quickly got a drink at the water cooler. Then he went home and changed. When he returned to the office later, no one knew what happened, but George was a different man.

Next Christmas, he left early on Christmas Eve to go see his nephews. They were waiting for him to help trim the tree. Afterwards, he was taking his brother and sister-in-law to a Christmas Play. George was excited about Christmas this year. He didn’t want to miss another Christmas. He finally found out what he was missing. Love.

That is my condensed version of the story, but you get the idea. Sadly, there are too many people like George in the world. I am not suggesting they are like Ebenezer Scrooge, although that may have been the writer’s inspiration. Instead, I am suggesting that many folks go about ‘the busyness of the holiday’ and miss its true meaning.

We are certainly not the first to do that, in fact, our scripture passages today are filled with people who missed what was happening right under their noses. Luke chapter 2 begins, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.” (Luke 2:1-3)

The Census was taken, any time the Roman Emperor decided to raise more funds. That is why this event and others like it, were not always well-recorded. A census was done at the whim and pleasure of the Emperor.

Most Romans had very little insight into Israelite prophecy or sacred texts. If Caesar did, he certainly would not have opened the way for the coming of the new king. But the truth was, he was indifferent to anything that had to do with other nations. So were most of the Roman people, they worshiped ‘the one who provided for them’. So, for them, Christmas never came.

Luke continues, “So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:4-7)

To be counted in the census, folks were required to travel back to their hometown. That is where your family was and your inheritance. It was a quicker way of calculating your net worth. So, Joseph and Mary returned, despite her very pregnant condition.

When they finally arrived in Nazareth, even though they were expected, the town was overrun with visitors and family members. Joseph’s family was just an average family, their home could not accommodate so many people. And it may have been, first come, the first getting there to take the best rooms.

Not to mention the fact that Mary was pregnant. If she had the baby inside, the whole house would be declared unclean. The King James Bible and several other translations read that Mary, “wrapped the baby in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The Greek word translated inn is kataluma. While it can be translated as a place of lodging, it can also be translated as a guest room.

Since no one knows for sure, let’s look at both options. They might have had no room at their family home, so they tried to stay at the local inn. But they were turned away.

Or, it is possible, that they made it to the family home and had to stay in a lower room, one where the animals were kept. That would be a good place to have a child and not made the entire home unclean. Often, in their day, women gave birth in tents set-up outside.

Either way, no one in Nazareth had any clue what was really going on. They were just too busy to notice. The Savior of the world was born in their midst, and they missed it completely.

And the truth is, they never accepted or acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. His entire hometown rejected him. They thought he was just one of them, nothing special. Even his family called Jesus a little crazy on occasion. He was just too familiar. They couldn’t believe.

Finally, King Herod got word that a new king was being born close by when the Wise Men showed up looking for the baby. While he pretended to care, he was threatened by this potential event. He called in his high priests and they confirmed the prophecies. Herod asked the Wise Men to tell him the location, when they returned, so he could worship the child. But his real plan was to have the child killed.

Jesus was born just 90 miles from Jerusalem, but they missed it. Herod was only protecting himself. The religious leaders knew, and yet they did not travel to see this child. A new king would upset the balance of power and no one wanted change. This child was a threat to their way of life. So, for them, Christmas never came.

The Messiah came instead to Mary and Joseph, to Simeon and Anna in the Temple, to the Wise Men, and to the shepherds in the fields. They were witnesses on that first Christmas Night and in the years to come. Many were folks outside the mainstream. But they were waiting and watching.

Even after all we know about Jesus, some today refuse to believe. There is plenty of proof, evidence that is nearly impossible to dispute, if you do the work. But some of the same problems that existed back then are still present today.

Some people only think about what they have from moment to moment. They miss the bigger picture about who the real provider is. They look to the world to fulfil their needs. Others are just too busy or just unwilling to make room for Jesus in their lives. There are miracles all around, but they go unnoticed.

Still others, claim they have heard the same old story to many times and dismiss it. They are too familiar, or so they think, and just don’t take Jesus seriously. They think they know all they need to know. And finally, some people miss the Christmas story because it might cause them to have to re-think their lives or change.

One of the big news stories this last week was from a quote from Jake Tapper on CNN. He was interviewing Dr, Anthony Fauci about the Corona Virus. They were discussing how people should limit the number of family at Christmas this year. Dr. Fauci agreed that this year, Christmas would seem very different.

Then, Jake Tapper said, in so many words, “So Christmas is not going to be possible this year due to Covid.” When I heard that, I just laughed. My thought was, “So, how do you define Christmas?”

Again, it reminded me of the Grinch from ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’. After the Grinch thinks he stopped Christmas from coming, the people of Whoville come out singing. And so, the grinch stops to ponder this. It came, he thinks, Christmas came anyway.

He says, “How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before…”

For some, Christmas never comes. They are too locked into their lives, expectations and busyness to see the truth all around them. The real meaning behind Christmas is not the hoopla, the food and the presents. It is about the love of God poured out his people. It is about grace and mercy.

Christmas is the birth of God in flesh, coming to a hurting world to redeem us, when we cannot redeem ourselves. It is about an amazing love, like no love we have ever known, and still find it hard to believe at times.

No one and no virus can stop Christmas from coming. It may look different from the past, but maybe just maybe, we missed the point. This year, turn your hearts toward Jesus and then out to others in the world. Try to see things through God’s eyes.

No matter what comes our way, Jesus is Lord and all the world needs to know. So, share the Good News.

Your assignment is…to make room for Jesus in a new way. See Jesus in a new way. And share your love for Jesus in a new way this Christmas. He risked it all for you and me; it is time to get serious about our faith. Only those who trust in him and believe, can change the world. Be his disciple. Love others; change the world.

May it be so,

“And all God’s People said, Amen”