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Monday, December 26 2011

Luke 2:1-20

          A Jewish comedian tells about a Jewish lady named Mrs. Rosenberg many years ago who was stranded late one night at a fashionable resort on Cape Cod - one that did not admit Jews. The desk clerk looked down at his book and said, “Sorry, no room. The hotel is full.”

          The Jewish lady said, “But your sign says that you have vacancies.”

          The desk clerk stammered and then said curtly, “You know that we do not admit Jews. Now if you will try the other side of town . . .”

          Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened noticeably and said, “I'll have you know I converted to your religion.”

          The desk clerk said, “Oh, yeah, let me give you a little test. How was Jesus born?”

          Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem."

          “Very good,” replied the hotel clerk. “tell me more.”

          Mrs. Rosenberg replied, “He was born in a manger.”

          “That's right,” said the hotel clerk. “Why was he born in a manger?”

          And Mrs. Rosenberg said loudly, “Because a jerk like you in the hotel wouldn't give a Jewish lady a room for the night!”

          Welcome to our Christmas celebration!  It is good to see all of you here tonight.  We all seem to know that wonderful story – the story that I just shared with you just a few moments ago – the story of a young Jewish couple by the name of Mary and Joseph who gave birth to Jesus in a place where animals were kept – they placed him in a feeding trough – a manger – because there was no room for them in the inn in Bethlehem.  It’s a story that we never seem to get tired of hearing.

          It’s the story of Jesus.  And how he was born.  The Bible calls him the Son of the Most High – the Son of God.  And he grew to become a man – and through the life that he lived – his healings – his miracles – his teachings – but mostly because of his great love for people just like you and me – he showed us the way to God.  And through his death and resurrection we have the forgiveness of our sins – we are made right with God – and because He lives – because He is risen from the dead – we too have the promise and the hope of eternal life with God forever.

          That’s the story.  That’s the story in a nutshell.  I am here to tell you tonight that this is no fairy tale.  The story of Jesus is no fairy tale!

          I am here to tell you tonight – that we tell the story – we tell His story – because His story can change your story.

          Now one of the traditions of this Christmas season is that gifts are shared.  Children especially get excited tonight because they can’t wait for Christmas morning to get here.  I remember that excitement when I was a child – and I lived it all over again when my boys were young.   I still remember when our foster daughter – 16 years old at the time – spent her first Christmas with us.  And she came into our bedroom jumping on the bed – to get Nancy and me up to celebrate that first Christmas morning.

          It is an exciting time of year.  And we look for those gifts.  Quite frankly – looking for that perfect gift – trying to guess sometimes – to buy that someone special – a husband – a wife – a son or daughter – or even a mother-in-law – can be a bit of a stressful thing.  You know what I’m talking about, right?          The perfect gift. 

          Folks – I want to talk to you tonight about the perfect gift.  I couldn’t help thinking about this as I was driving through the center of town here just one block up here at the four corners.  I’ve seen the sign a hundred times.  I’ve been in that store – well – just once for all the years it’s been there.  But there it was – staring me in the face this past week.  The sign on the store – the name of the store – right down here at the corner – it says “The Perfect Gift.”   And I thought, “That’s it!  That’s what this night is all about.  The perfect gift”.

          Now – you talk about gifts.  I couldn’t help rejoicing this past week when we learned that our military presence in Iraq had ended.  And over the years we have seen picture after picture – video after video of soldiers returning to their families.

          The most striking stories, however, are those of the GI’s – both men and women – who come home to surprise their family members.  Mothers and fathers surprising their sons and daughters at school – or at baseball games.  Husbands surprising their wives on the front porch of their homes wrapped up as a Christmas present – and jumping out of that wrapped up gift to the delight and the surprise and to the tears of their totally surprised loved ones.  You can watch any number of these on U-tube.  Any number of them!  And if you do – be prepared.  You’ll need a Kleenex.

          Ask any of those family members what it is like – especially those who are coming home this week – ask them and they will tell you that it is the best gift –the best Christmas gift – that they ever received.

          And yet – I’m here to tell you that the perfect gift – better than the best gift – the perfect gift arrived a little over 2,000 years ago.  God come to us in human flesh.  Wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a manger.  The perfect gift – is Jesus Christ.  The perfect gift sent from God directly to you tonight. 

          You see – God doesn’t need to guess.  God knows what we need.  He knows exactly what we need.  You see…

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator.

          If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.             If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.        

                   If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us      an                                  entertainer.

But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior, Jesus Christ,         our Lord.” [i]


          He became like us, so we could become like him.  Let me share with you a story.

          “Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left.

          “Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, ‘I am your king!’  The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn't.  Instead he said, ‘You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the coarse food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!’

          “The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him, "the unspeakable gift!”

          Tonight – he is the perfect gift.  That’s what this moment is all about.  You didn’t come here tonight just to hear once again this wonderful story.  You didn’t come here tonight just to pass the time. 

          You’re here tonight because you know that you need something.  It might not even be anywhere on your Christmas gift list – but there is something that you need.  You’re here because you know that you are a sinner in need of grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – and forgiveness. I know, because I need it too.  You see, I am a sinner too. 

          What I want and what I need more than anything else right now comes tonight to all of us as a gift.  What you and I need – and what I hope now IS on the top of your Christmas list and mine – is a Savior.  This perfect gift.  His name is Jesus.

          Folks – earlier I said that we tell the story because His story can change your story.  Are you allowing Him to do that?  Are you allowing Jesus to come into your heart – into your life – into your home?  To change your life?   To change your story?  To change you?

          Tonight God gives you the perfect gift—the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  And through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the work of your salvation is made complete.  But it is not mine – it is not yours – until we receive that gift – and open it – and claim it – and welcome this gift – Jesus Christ – into our hearts and into our homes and into our lives. 

          And that’s what Christmas is all about.  This unspeakable gift – the greatest gift – the perfect gift – is Jesus Christ.  Receive this gift today – and know that you are loved and you are forgiven.                   Amen

[i] Author B. J. Morbitzer 1976

Posted by: AT 09:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 19 2011

Luke 1:26-38


          There was a story years ago in Reader’s Digest of a large moose that wandered into a residential area in Calgary, Canada.  A Fish and Wildlife officer was dispatched to try to coax the magnificent animal back into the wild.  After two hours of absolutely no progress, the officer finally shot the moose with a tranquilizer dart. The moose bolted down a lane and eventually collapsed on a nearby lawn.

          The reporters who had been following this event interviewed the lady at the house where the moose collapsed. They asked her what she thought about the moose which had passed out on her lawn. “I’m surprised,” she answered, “but not as surprised as my husband will be.  He’s out moose hunting.”

          I think that’s funny.  This woman’s husband had gone out looking for moose and a large moose had come to him.

          But I hope you also see something else in that story about the moose.  That moose story is also the story behind Christmas.   You see, I am convinced that there are many people today who are trying to find God.  The message that I am proclaiming to you today is that God has come to us – has already come to us.  He has come to us in the child of Bethlehem.

          And if you have ever wondered why – it’s because God says, “Yes,” to you.

          Let me share with you a story.  “Many years ago there was a serious coal mining accident in the Allegheny mountains. Many miners escaped, but three men were trapped somewhere deep in the earth.  No one knew if they were alive or dead.  As the hours passed, intense heat and noxious gases built up within the mine itself.  Two days passed before a search expedition was allowed to enter the mine. The camera teams from the local news station interviewed the three-man rescue team as they prepared to enter what could be their grave.  A reporter asked one of the men if he was aware of the noxious gases and the extreme danger of the mine. When the man said yes, the reporter asked, ‘Are you still going down?’

          “The man replied, ‘Those men may still be alive.’  Without another word of explanation, he put on his gas mask, climbed into the elevator, and descended into the mine.

          “Are you still going down?” I wonder if a similar discussion didn't take place in heaven.  I wonder of the angels didn’t ask Jesus – after seeing the mess the world was in – I wonder if they didn’t ask Jesus, “Are you still going down there?”

          “Jesus, what if nobody listens to you?  What if they don’t believe you?  What if they hate you, and spit on you, and put you to death in a most horrible way?  Are you still going down?”

          Well, I don’t know if such a conversation ever took place or not.  But if there was such a conversation – if questions were raised – we certainly know what the answer was.  The answer was yes.  The answer Jesus gave was, “Yes!”  And Jesus is still saying, “Yes!” to you and me.

          And Jesus isn’t the only one who says yes.  Our Gospel reading today from Luke is the story of the angel Gabriel and a young woman by the name of Mary.  Most of us know the story.

          The angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to Mary, a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

          Now Luke tells us that Mary was, “greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  Folks, I think Mary was terrified.  Think about it!  What would you do – what would you say – if an angel suddenly appeared to you— just appeared out of nowhere – and says something like, “Hey there, favored one.  The Lord is with you.” 

          But this is what the angel Gabriel says to Mary, and I think Mary was more than just troubled at what the angel says.  I think she was terrified.  I think you and I would be too.  Mary was terrified.  We know this because the next thing the angel says to her is, “Do not be afraid.  Do not be afraid Mary; you have found favor with God.” 

          And then Gabriel tells her something that I think would take any young woman from fear to shock.  Gabriel tells her, “You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

          “How can this be,” Mary asks the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

          That’s when Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will make this happen.  The power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  

          Now listen.  We’re not told how long Mary was given to think about this.  The way Luke tells us about this encounter is that Mary’s response is immediate.  The wonderful thing is –absolutely the most wonderful thing about this is – is that Mary said, “Yes.”  Mary believed that what the angel told her was true. 

          And she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary said yes to the angel.  Mary said yes to God.

          Now what about Joseph?  Joseph was engaged to Mary.  Not yet married.  Poor Joseph.  Imagine what’s going through his head when Mary tells him what has happened.  “Joseph, I’m pregnant,” and Joseph knows that baby is not his.  Even after Mary tells him the story – you know – the angel – the Holy Spirit – the Son of the Most High God – the throne of King David.  Joseph loves her so much, and yet I’m not sure he believes what Mary has told her. 

          Luke doesn’t tell us about Joseph’s reaction.   The Gospel writer Matthew does however tell us how Joseph takes the news.  His response is to divorce her – in those days that is what it would take to break off an engagement – he wants to divorce her in secret. 

          But then, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him pretty much everything that Gabriel had said to Mary.  The end result is that Joseph goes ahead, and marries Mary.  In other words – Joseph says yes to God.

          So what do we have here so far?  Jesus says yes to go on a rescue mission – a rescue mission for us sinful humans who rebel against God.  Mary says yes to be the mother of Jesus.  And Joseph says yes to take Mary as his wife. 

          And now the story has come down to us.  And the question for us is, what will we say?  Jesus says yes.  Mary says yes.  Joseph says yes.

          But what about us?  Every year at this time of year we celebrate the arrival of God in human flesh – remember – we call this the “Incarnation.”  God in the flesh.  We celebrate that fact every year at this time of year.  God – in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – comes to us as a baby.  Born of a woman.  Born of Mary.  

          So the question.  What do you say?  What are you going to do with this baby – this extraordinary gift from God?

          A man by the name of, “Wade Burton tells about a man who was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami.  He had a stop-over in Atlanta.  While he was sitting at a lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' rest room carrying a tiny baby.  She asked the man, ‘Will you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the rest room.’  He did.  But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd.

          “The man couldn't believe his eyes.  He rushed to the door to call the woman, but could not see her.  What should he do? Put the baby down and run?

          “When calmness settled in he went to the Traveler's Aid booth and they soon found the real mother.  The woman who had left him holding the baby was not the baby's mother.  She had taken the child, perhaps to satisfy a motherly urge to hold a child.  The man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found.  After all, what was he to do with a baby?”

          In a way each of us is in the same situation as this gentleman.  We are left with the question, “What will we do with the baby?”  Will you say yes to Him?

          On this weekend before Christmas, it is so important that you and I understand that this is not a fairy tale.  We will hear more about this on Christmas Eve to be sure.  But it’s important for you to know that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  God does come to us – has already come to us.  He has come to us in the child of Bethlehem. His name is Jesus.  And through his life, death and resurrection we have forgiveness of our sins.  Life eternal with God forever.  Hey!  I say yes to that!

          So thank God Jesus said yes.  Thank God Mary said yes. Thank God Joseph said yes.  And most importantly thank God that God says yes to you! 

          Will you say yes to Him?  Will you?                             Amen


Posted by: AT 09:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 12 2011

John 1:6-8; 19-28

          Two weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of static.  Intermittent, but persistent static.  I tried to ignore it, but you know that that’s not going to work.  So when my head finally cleared enough to figure out what was going on, I realized that it was coming from a radio somewhere.  So I got up out of bed and realized it was coming from the clock radio in the guest bedroom.  So I did the only thing I knew to do without turning on a light.  I reached down – and I unplugged it!  It’s one of those weird things.  Neither Nancy nor I are able to explain why that clock radio decided to go off in the middle of the night when it had not gone off before.  I don’t know why I hadn’t unplugged it in the first place.  I mean – the only time it needs to be plugged in is when we have guests staying in that bedroom, right?  Why waste the electricity if no one’s using the clock?  Makes sense to me. 

          But that does remind me of the old George Burns – Gracie Allen show.  If you’re younger than I am, you probably don’t remember that show, but Gracie played the role of a scatterbrained wife with her husband George. 

          In one episode Gracie called in a repairman to fix her electric clock.  The repairman looked at the clock, and then told her, “Lady, there’s nothing wrong with your clock.  You just didn’t have it plugged in.”

          And Gracie replies, “I don’t want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is.”

          Our reading from John’s Gospel today focuses on the ministry of John the Baptizer.  John is a man who is plugged in.  He is plugged in to God – the One who sent him.  And as a result, John makes connections.

          John connects God – to the coming Messiah.  Messiah means the “Annointed  One”— the One whom God had for years promised He would one day send to set His people free.  And we know – through people like John the Baptizer – that the Messiah has already come in the person of Jesus.  

          Through a ministry of baptism and repentance, John is preparing the way. He is getting people plugged in and connected to Jesus Christ – the Messiah. 

          So John connects God to Jesus.  John gets people plugged in and connected to Jesus.  And thus he gets people plugged in and connected to God through Jesus.  Did you get all that?

          You see, for years the people of Israel – the Jews – had been waiting for the Messiah.  The prophets – especially the prophet Isaiah – had foretold what and who to look for.  That’s why the religious leaders in Jerusalem asked John who he was, and why he was preaching about the Messiah.

          “Who are you?” they ask.  And John’s response is clear, “I am not the Messiah.  I am not the prophet.  I am not Elijah.  I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said. 

          In a world and in a culture waiting for Messiah – John helped build a sense of anticipation.  John was plugged in and connected.  He was pointing the way to Jesus the Messiah.

          Now I’ve got to tell  you – I am convinced that in our world – and in our culture – people are still looking for a Savior – a Messiah.  What is needed are modern day John the Baptizers

          – people who are plugged in

                    – people who are  connected

                             – people who can offer hope to people who are searching

                                      – to people who are hurting

                                                – to people who are lost.

What we need are modern day John the Baptizers who point the way to Christ!


          Let me share with you a story.  It is by all accounts a true story, and “it happened at the John Reynolds Hospital in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey some years ago. There was a ward there for patients with a terminal illness who have no family.  A woman from a Presbyterian church in New Jersey would take magazines down that hall two or three days a week.  She came to one man's door that had a large NO VISITORS sign on it.  She opened the door just a little and said, ‘I'm not here for a visit.  I see the sign, but I do have some magazines.’


          “He said, ‘Didn't you see the sign, NO VISITORS?’


          “‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I did.  But don't you see I've got Newsweek, Time, Forbes, Fortune, Sports Illustrated...’


          “‘Sports Illustrated?’ he said.  ‘Yes,’ she replied.  I have a Sports Illustrated right here, would you like it?’  ‘Yes I would,’ he said.  She gave him that week's issue.  He thanked her, and she promptly went out the door.


          “A couple of days later, she came back.  She said, ‘I've got all these magazines again, and I did bring you a couple of back issues of Sports Illustrated.  I even stopped on the way over and got a different sport magazine thinking you might like it.’


          “‘Thank you very much,’ he said.  ‘This is wonderful,’ Then he looked at her and said, ‘Now, wait a minute.  You're not religious are you?’  ‘Now what do you mean religious,’ she asked.  ‘Aw, you know what I mean, trying to ram religion down somebody's throat.’


          “‘Oh, no, no, no – I'm not religious if that’s what you mean by being religious.’


          “‘Good,’ said the man.  Just so we understand each other.  I'm not religious



          “Every week, twice a week, sometimes three, there she was coming in with Sports Illustrated and other sports magazines, and they would talk, just little snippets, for months.  One day, after many months of this, he said to her. ‘You know, I have cancer.  I'm going to die.  My wife is gone, I don't have any children,  my parents are gone.  I have no brothers or sisters,  I don't have any family.  I don't have anybody.  Next week I'm going to have surgery and I'm scared.  I'm not sure I'll live through it – and even if I do, I'm not sure what I have to live for.’


          She listened, and then said, ‘When you come out of surgery, I'm going to be there, because I’m so grateful you’ve shared this with me.’  They had a good, intimate conversation, and then she, ever so slowly and graciously, said to him, ‘You know, you said you're not religious, but you've just shared with me that you've got surgery coming up. I'd like to pray that God will be with you. Would that be alright?’ He nodded.


          “‘Yes, it would,’ he said.  ‘I'd like that.’


          “She prayed a few brief sentences, and closed with the Lord’s Prayer.  When she got half-way through, she felt his hand reach into hers, and he recited with her:


          “‘…And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory forever!’


          They both opened their eyes and she looked at him incredulously.  He said, ‘I know, I know, I said I wasn't religious and I'm not really.  I got so turned off with religion because people always tried to ram it down my throat.  But my Grandmother and Grandfather taught me the great hymns of the church and helped me memorize passages of the Bible.  But I was too stubborn to come back home to God – that is, until I met you.’


          “Two months later, he died.  But in his last months, [he came to know a certain peace.  He faced his death without fear.  He had met his Messiah – Jesus Christ – once again for the first time – through a Christ-like woman] – a woman who was plugged in and connected to Jesus Christ” – who was armed with nothing more than her faith and a Sports Illustrated magazine.


          Folks, how will the Christ – the Messiah – Jesus – come to you this Advent season?  And more importantly – will others see and recognize Jesus Christ the Messiah in you and me?   If there is even just one result that I would like to see from what you see and hear today –– it would be my hope that you would leave here today plugged in and connected to Jesus Christ – and that through Jesus Christ – know that you are plugged in and connected to God.  I could not ask for more than that today.  And who knows?  Maybe there is someone here today who is getting plugged in and connected – meeting Messiah Jesus again for the first time.


Therefore – as plugged in and connected disciples of Jesus Christ

           – may the light of Christ shine in and through our lives

       May that light be a sign to others

       That they may hear

       That they may see

       That they may believe

That Jesus Christ is truly the Messiah – the One sent from God – the Savior of the world.


Posted by: AT 08:58 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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