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 SERMON TEXT 
Wednesday, December 26 2012

 Luke 2:1-20

          We are here tonight to tell a story.  It’s the story that most of us know well.  And we never get tired of hearing it.  And quite frankly, I never get tired of telling it.  And I’ll tell you why.  This story is not just any story.  It is not myth.  It is not legend.  We tell the story tonight because it is my firm belief that this story – His story – the story of Jesus has the power to change your story.

          And I’m not just talking about the Christmas story.  There’s so much more to Jesus’ story than just what we know about Mary and Joseph, of shepherds and angels, of mangers and no room in the inn.  We know that story.  As I say, I love to tell it.  I love to hear it. 

          By the way – have you ever stopped – I mean really stopped – and wondered – why in the world is there such a thing as Christmas anyway?  Why?  Did somebody make these stories up?  If so, then why do we keep on telling these same stories year after year after year?

          I mean, if you and I were to make up a story about the eternal God entering into the world as a human being, we probably would have written a different kind of story.   We would have written a story about the conquering hero on the white horse that everyone in first century Palestine expected the Messiah to be.  That’s how the story would have been told – if the story had been made up!

          And yet we are told that he arrived on earth as a baby.  He came without fanfare.  No flags waving.  No trumpets blaring.  Just a simple birth in an out of the way place called Bethlehem.  Born on the dirt floor of a filthy stable.  Placed in a manger – a feeding trough for farm animals.   That’s the Christmas story.  But the story of Jesus – the complete story of Christmas – is so much more than that.  So this is not just a Christmas story.  This is God’s story.

          You see, Christmas begins in the heart of God.  God sent His Son – in a way that you and I might never have imagined.  Think about it.  What better way for God to enter into the human story?  To be like one of us!  You see, there’s something about a baby that changes everything. 

          Bret Harte, in his classic short story "The Luck of Roaring Camp," tells of the birth of a baby on the American frontier – a baby that made a radical change in a rough-and-tumble mining camp. The only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal, a disreputable woman at best, died in childbirth, leaving a healthy baby boy to be raised by the now all-male camp.

          These rough, hard men made a decision that would reflect changes that would come later. They considered hiring a woman nurse to care for the baby but eventually decided not to. Their logic was this: a nice nurse wouldn't come to their camp, and they didn't want any more women who weren't nice hanging around their baby. And so the work of regeneration began in Roaring Camp.

          The cabin assigned to little "Tommy Luck," as they called him, was kept scrupulously clean and whitewashed. The beautiful rosewood cradle that they purchased for the baby made the rest of the cabin look shabby, so they had to fix up the rest of the furniture in the room. Then a quarantine was imposed on those who wanted to hold little Tommy Luck, so the men had to bathe first – before they would be given that privilege.

          Each act of cleanliness exposed that much more dirt and filth in the vicinity, so that new measures were taken to keep an ever-wider expanse of the camp clean. Since the baby needed rest, the camp became quieter and more dignified, less noisy and boisterous, no longer the "Roaring Camp" of the story's title.

          The story of the baby of Roaring Camp is the story of the regeneration of a people.  A baby changed the whole atmosphere of the Roaring Camp.  So it was two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.  A baby changed the atmosphere for all who have come to know him.

          Folks, we live in challenging times.  Fiscal cliffs.  Violent overthrows of governments.  The tragedy of Newtown Connecticut.  It’s still fresh in our minds.  Still raw.   This darkness.  The human condition has always had its share of darkness.  Life under Rome in first Century Palestine was hard.   But it was into this setting that God stepped into the world.  And when God stepped in, love stepped in.  Hope stepped into the world.  Into the darkness of this world – light entered into this world – the night that God stepped into the world.

          Isaiah 9 tells us that “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”   Folks – that’s what this night is all about.   

          Now, quite frankly, we don’t know exactly when it was that Jesus was born.  One of the reasons given for choosing the 25th of December was that it occurs at the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  And that’s important for us to know.  Because it was – it is – into the darkness that Jesus comes.  Into our darkness Jesus comes to us tonight.  And there isn’t a one of us here tonight who does not know what it is to walk in darkness at some time in our lives. Loneliness, pain, grief, confusion, heartache.  

          Now I don’t know what might be going on in each one of your lives right now.  But let me tell you that if you are experiencing any darkness in your life, there is a light.  In Jesus Christ – God chooses to push back against the darkness.  I think we need to hear, that tonight God is here to push back against the forces of darkness.  Jesus comes to us as light.  As hope.            And let me tell you something.  That light never dims.  That light never goes out.  

          Let me share with you another story.  “On The Protestant Hour sometime back, the Rev. Harry H. Pritchett, Jr., told about the worst nativity pageant he could ever remember.  It was at the church where he grew up.  The youth group was staging a manger scene.  Pritchett was chosen to play Joseph and his future wife, Allison, was chosen to play Mary.  They did their parts with seriousness and commitment, looking as pious as possible.  And then it came time for the shepherds to enter.

          “The choir was singing ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night,’ and some of their fellow young people dressed in flannel bathrobes and toweled head gear proceeded to the altar steps.  Young Pritchett and Allison both managed to gaze solemnly at the straw which contained a naked light bulb.  But then one of the shepherds broke the sacred spell.  With his back to the congregation, he said in a very loud whisper for all the cast to hear, ‘Well, Joe, when you gonna pass out cigars?’

          “The spell of that occasion was not simply broken by his remark, it exploded. The Mary and Joseph cover was completely destroyed as it became impossible to hold back the bursts of laughter.   The chief angel, standing on a chair behind them was the worst. She shook so hard that she fell off her chair and simply rolled over on the floor, holding her stomach.

          “The strains of “Silent Night” and “0 Little Town of Bethlehem” were hardly sufficient to cover the uncontrolled snorts of the main characters.  Their much upset but good‑sported youth advisor said, ‘The only thing that didn’t go to pieces was the light bulb in the manger, it never went out.’

          “Harry Pritchett thought to himself later, that’s a nice image – the light in the manger never goes out regardless of any mess we may make of things.”

          That light of Christ never goes out.  No matter how dark or tragic events in the world seem to be.  If you are experiencing a time of darkness in your life, there is hope.  That hope is all because of Christmas.  That hope comes to us tonight because God sent His Son Jesus to earth.  As a baby.  And as you know, a baby changes everything.

          But you need to know that His story does not stop here.  Jesus grew into a man.  He brought light into our world.  Showed us the way back to God.  Died that we might be forgiven.  And God raised Him from the dead.  And because he lives, we can live also!  I never get tired of telling that part of the story either.

          Do you know what that means?  We don’t need to live in fear.  We don’t need to be afraid of death.  We don’t need to fear the dark places of our lives – the dark places of this world.  We were not meant to live in fear.  Love is stronger than fear.  Light is stronger than darkness.

          When God stepped into the world, God’s story touched your story.  God’s story has touches your story this night.  And I am here to tell you tonight that His story can change your story.  If you let Him, He will come into your life and turn your darkness into light.

          Just invite him in.  Into your heart.  Into your life.  Into your home.  “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

                                                                                                Amen

 

 

Posted by: AT 12:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 18 2012

Luke 3:7-18; Philippians 4:4-7

 

          I want to talk to you today about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.  The where you are part is easy.  You’re here.  You’re right here.  You’ve chosen for whatever reason to spend these 60 minutes right here right now in church.  So I want to talk to you today about where you’ve been – and where you’re going.  And I think in light of the events of Friday in Connecticut – it’s important that we do both.  Before we look to where we go from here – we need to examine where we have been.

 

          SO let’s talk about where you’ve been first.  To do that, I want us to look at our Gospel reading today – our reading from Luke chapter 3.  Now—here he is again – John the Baptizer. And his message – quite frankly – doesn’t sound like it’s a word of hope or encouragement – certainly not the Good News that – well, that you and I came here to hear today.  In fact, it sounds downright judgmental. 

 

          I mean, how many of you would come back here again – if I were to start out every one of my sermons with the words, “You brood of vipers!”  Yeah!  Like that’s going to endear people to Jesus, right?

         

          So John’s preaching sounds harsh.  Judgmental.  And who needs that!  But let me suggest to you that in John’s preaching there is a message – of judgment, yes – it’s there – BUT also one of opportunity.  I want you to look beyond John’s message of judgment – and listen to his message for the good news that it is. 

 

          You see, John’s message was not just a word of judgment, but a word of hope.  And today you and I – we need to know that there is hope.  But – and this may surprise  you – but that hope was wrapped up in that one word that we so often associate with John.  That one little word “repent.”  Now – as I told you last week – we know that we need to repent.  You know that.  I know that.  And we don’t like to hear that word repent.  Just hearing the word “repent” makes me feel guilty.  Even when I have nothing to feel guilty about!  You know?  That’s just what that word does.  Repent!  Repent!  Repent!

         

          OK, feeling guilty already?  Have I said the word “repent” enough?  Now I can’t help whether you feel guilty or not when you hear that word.  It’s like the time many years ago – I think it was sometime in the 90’s – I ran into one of the members of this church – and I don’t even remember who it is anymore – I really don’t – but it was someone who wasn’t coming to church very often – and I ran into them – out and about somewhere – Wegman’s maybe – but I remember the conversation.  This person said to me, “How come whenever I see you I feel guilty?” 


          I know!  I just have that kind of effect on some people.  And I think – I hope – I answered her by saying, “Well, what can you do so that you won’t feel so guilty the next time you see me?”  And then it happened again just this Friday at the Post Office.  I kid you not?  I ran into someone who hasn’t been here in a number of months, and I told her how much we missed seeing her here.  And she said, “I know, I know.  We’re wanting to get back – get the kids into Sunday School.  We’re just so busy.” And then she said, “I haven’t been Catholic in quite a while, but seeing you, all that Catholic guilt just came back and hit me again.”

         

          Folks, listen!  When you hear the word “repent” – or you run into me somewhere – let me suggest that instead of allowing that word to conjure up guilt feelings – that you look at repentance as an opportunity.  When you look at where you’ve been – and IF there’s something there that you want to let go of – you need to let go of – but you haven’t yet let go of – I’m here to tell you today that you don’t need to hold on to that any longer.  You do not have to let some word – some action – some experience in your past define who you are today.

 

          What John was telling the people who came to listen to him was that they did not need to stay as they were.  His message to you today is that you don’t need to stay trapped in your past.  Get over your failures.  Actually – I would suggest that failures can be a good thing IF we learn from those mistakes – those failures and move on.  You can start over.  You can always start over.  The God revealed to us in Jesus Christ – the God we believe in – the God we worship – the God whom we serve – is the God of the second chance. 

 

          You know, I’d hate to live in a world where I was never given a second chance.  In my marriage – well it never would have lasted if Nancy and I had not learned and practiced what it means to give each other second chances.  I wouldn’t want to be in a marriage – heck, I wouldn’t want to live in a world – where there are no second chances – where there is no possibility to repent.  That to me would not be living. 

 

          But thank God, God has given us this gift.  He’s given us the gift – the chance – the opportunity – the motivation to repent.  It is a gift!  We can start over.  We can begin again.  We can – to use our definition of repentance from last week – “Back up, and turn right.”  In other words – God is giving us a second chance – again, and again, and again, to back up, turn around and go in the other direction – the direction that leads us back to Him. 

 

          Another way to describe repentance is in a phrase that we like to use around here.  “God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much you let you stay that way.”  That’s the God of the second chance, and why repentance – when seen as an opportunity – really is very good news.  So this word – repent – really is a very lovely word.  It is a word  that our Heavenly Father gives us to describe what returning to the Father looks like. 

 

          So now that you know how to deal with where you’ve been – how about we take a look at where you’re going?  Where we’re going?  What would you say if I told you, you were made for joy!  Now there’s a good news word if ever I heard one.  You were made for joy!  Not worry.  Not guilt.  Not regret.  Not fear, but joy!

 

          Listen!  I know that a message on joy is a difficult one to hear after what we witnessed on the news these past two days.  And I know that we worry about our kids.  We worry about their safety.  No matter how old you are.  No matter how old your kids are.  You never stop being a Mom.  You never stop being a Dad.  This has always been the case with every parent for every child in every age.  And quite frankly, an event like this might lead us to live our lives in fear.  But we were not meant to live in fear.  That’s no way to live either.  I do not want to live in a world of fear, do you?

 

          Sometimes it seems that we get to a point in our lives and realize that we’ve  spent so much time fretting over so many things, complaining about this and that – and all the while, life is passing us by so quickly.  So let me say it again: You were not made to live in fear.  You were made for joy.  You weren’t made to fret and worry.  You were made for peace and love and light and joy.  We cannot let one man’s actions take those away from us.  Yes – we do live in an evil world.  But there is so much good, too.  So much good.


          That’s why I like so much what St. Paul has to say to us today in our lesson from Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

          So let me ask you.  What’s stealing your joy today?  Huh?  What are your joy stealers?  What is it that robs you of your joy?   Is it guilt about your past?  Is it worry?  Are you worried about your future?   About your kids’ futures?  Are you afraid?  Guilt and worry and fear will suck the life right out of us.  We were not meant to live with these joy stealers.  Guilt, worry, fear.  No.    You were made for joy. 

          How many of you remember advice columnist Ann Landers?  “We’re told that Ann Landers used to get about 10,000 letters a month about people’s problems.  She was asked, what is the number one problem that people have?  She said the number one concern of most people is anxiety.  She said people are afraid of losing their health, afraid of losing their wealth, afraid of losing loved ones.  She said people are afraid of life itself.”

          There are so many things that rob us of our joy.  But do you remember what the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah?  “Do not be – afraid – Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  Do you remember what the angel said to Joseph?  “Do not be – afraid – Joseph to take Mary as your wife.”  And to the shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night?  “Do not be – afraid – for behold I bring you good news of…”  What?  “…great joy.”  Great joy!  Yeah, you know that one.

          As you look at where you’ve been, don’t let guilt from the past rob you of joy.  And when you look at where you’re going – don’t be afraid.  Don’t worry – don’t be afraid of the future.  Do not let one man’s actions take your joy away from you.  God is the One who holds the future.  Maybe all it takes for us to overcome the joy stealers of guilt and worry and fear is for us to trust more and worry less.   Love is stronger than fear.  Joy is stronger than fear.

          Well, I wish there were some way I could convince you that you don’t have to live with guilt when you look at where you’ve been – and you don’t have to live with worry or fear when you look at where you’re going.    Not when you were made for joy!  And the reason I can say that is because of the very thing that we celebrate every year at this time of year.  It’s all because a Savior has been born.  It’s all because of Jesus. 

          And by the way, let me also say that the next time I run into you at Wegmans – or the Post Office – I don’t want to hear any of you say to me, “Pastor – why is it that whenever I see you, I feel guilty.”  No – I want you to look to Jesus – I want you to turn and look to the God of opportunity – to the God of the second chance –– to God – who wants your life to be filled with peace and joy.

          My blessing for you today is this.  May your life be blessed – may you live in hope – filled with joy.  May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

          That’s why Jesus came the first time.  That’s why Jesus comes to us now – in this very moment.  So that in spite of tragedy and loss, we can still come to a place – even if it’s out there somewhere in the future, but to a time and a place where we can still say: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say Rejoice!”     

                                                                                                          Amen         

Posted by: AT 01:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

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