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 SERMON TEXT 
Tuesday, January 29 2013

Luke 4:14-21

          This past Monday President Barak Obama delivered his second inaugural address.  This is an event that happens every four years.  And it is in these addresses to the nation that – whoever it is that is the president – tells us what his – and someday I do believe that I will be able to say his or her – but for now – tells us his vision for the next four years for our country. 

          So let’s do a little presidential trivia here.  See if you can guess who gave the inaugural address that contained the following.  Use your playground voice to shout it out – and quite frankly – you history buffs are going to recognize these right away.  Here’s the first one:

          “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” - Abraham Lincoln, 1865.

          “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.

          “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” - John F Kennedy, 1960.

          Okay, yeah, those were softballs.  How about this one? 

          “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

          Yes, you’re right.  That wasn’t any of our presidents.  That was Jesus – quoting the prophet Isaiah.  Last week I told you that when Jesus turned water into wine, it was the first of his miracles.  And I said that we might think of that event as his inauguration – or the beginning of his public ministry.  Today's reading from Luke’s Gospel we might think of as his inauguration speech.

          And just like the presidents’ inauguration speeches lay out a vision that a president will have for our nation – I want you to see that in Jesus’ inauguration speech – he lays out a vision for his ministry – a vision for people who – well – for people who know their need for God.

          I hope that when you hear these words of Jesus – I hope that you do indeed hear them as Good News.  Because that is what they are.  Good News for you and me. 

          Listen again.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

          Now – if you hear what I’m hearing – you’ll hear that this is Good News for you.  It’s Good News for the poor – release for those who are captive – sight to those who are blind – freedom to those who are oppressed.

          SO how do you hear those words today?  On the one hand, there isn’t a one of us who can’t use – who doesn’t need – to hear Good News.  On the other hand – if you’re in a situation where you don’t need any Good News today, well then, perhaps you won’t need to hear what Jesus has to say today.  But – I gotta tell ya – I don’t know anybody who has enough Good News, do you? 

          So whether you consider yourself poor – or not.  Whether you are captive to something – or not.  Whether you feel oppressed – or not – these are Good News words from Jesus.  And I know that for the most part – for most of us – most of the time – life is good.   

          But I know that all of us have struggles – I know that you have struggles – with some thing or another at one time or another.  I – like many of you – have struggled with finances – especially at those times of my life when I was living paycheck to paycheck.     Sometimes we struggle with health issues.  Or relationships.  I suspect that we’ve all had to struggle with difficult people in our lives at one time or another. 

          You’ve heard me say this before.  When you ask most people how they’re doing – the most common answer is, “Oh, I’m fine.  Just fine.”  I have come to learn that when people say they’re doing fine – they’re not doing fine. 

          We are under so much pressure – from ourselves – from our relatives – form our teachers – from our bosses – from the culture at large – to put up this front that says everything’s fine – just fine.  We want the whole world to know that we’ve got it all together.  When in reality – there are those times – sometimes – when we just don’t.

          In fact, I think we try to convince ourselves that everything is just perfect.  Except for one thing: the stories we tell ourselves about being perfect, the commercials we pay attention to telling us that we really can have it all, the ads that promise us that if we just purchase this product we’ll never feel insecure again – these are all false.  And deep down we know it.

          Therefore – the news that Jesus brings us today – is indeed Good News.  And it is Good News because it comes to us at those times in our lives when things are going well – yes – but it is especially Good News precisely at those times when things aren’t going so well – and we know it.  Even when we say things are fine – but they’re not.

           In fact allow me to suggest that sometimes it might even feel to you as though God has abandoned you.  The way I hear it, it usually sounds like this, “How could God let this happen?” or “What did I do to deserve this?”  To that first question – I don’t always have an answer.  To the second one – most often my reply is, “You probably didn’t do anything,” to deserve whatever it is that has happened.  Sometimes things just happen that are beyond our control. 

          But let me tell you that it is precisely at those times – even when if might feel as though God has abandoned you – that the words of Jesus come to us as the Good News that they really are!  God does not abandon us.

          Let me share with you a story.  It’s the story of “…a commencement speech that was addressed to Harvard's Senior Class.  On the morning of their graduation, seniors gather in Memorial Church to hear the minister offer words of solace and encouragement as they leave ‘the Yard’ to take their places in the world.

          “The 1998 senior class heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible.  Doctor Gomes took no prisoners that day.  

          “He began: ‘You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren't ready to go.  The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women and, (and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis) you know just - how - dumb - you - really - are.’

          “The senior class cheered in agreement.

          “‘And worse than that,’ Doctor Gomes continued, ‘the world – and your parents in particular – are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best.  But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time.  By noontime today, you will be out of here.  By tomorrow you will be history.  By Saturday, you will be toast.  That's a fact - no exceptions, no extensions.’

          “‘Nevertheless, there is reason to hope,’ Doctor Gomes promised.  ‘The future is God's gift to you.  God will not let you stumble or fall.  God has not brought you this far to this place to ABANDON you or leave you here alone and afraid.  The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.’”

          What Doctor Gomes did for the senior class at Harvard, God in Jesus Christ does for you.  No matter how difficult or challenging life may be for you right now – or has been in the past – or perhaps will be in the future – I hope you hear Jesus’ inauguration speech – as Good News for you.  God has not brought you to this place to abandon you – or to leave you here alone and afraid. 

          You see, the Good News of Jesus Christ is all about grace – God’s undeserved love and favor.  It’s about mercy – and forgiveness and love.  It is help in time of need.  And this is not only the Good News that Jesus declares to us – it is the Good News that Jesus brings to us.  And it is what this church – this gathering of the Body of Christ at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm Street – it is what we stand for – and what we are all about. 

          For those who are lonely – or feeling discouraged – I don’t know – just struggling with whatever it is you’re struggling with today – I want you to hear Jesus’ words to you today as Good News.  This community of faith in Jesus Christ is committed to being the means by which the Good News of Jesus Christ can somehow make a difference in your life. 

          It is our job – it is our duty – it is our calling to gather together – as the church – to encourage one another – and to support one another with this Good News.  Quite frankly – it’s why church matters. 

 

          Touching hearts – changing lives – making a difference – in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

Posted by: AT 08:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 22 2013

John 2:1-11

          My wife Nancy and I have presided over a fair number of weddings in our years as pastors.  By my count I have performed 147 weddings in nearly 22 years.  And that got me to thinking – how many of you have I been the one who helped you tie the knot?  I have 7 weddings that I have scheduled this year, and one already for 2014. 

          And although I have not always been able to attend every wedding reception, I do make an effort to attend – when invited – your wedding receptions.  Wedding receptions are great fun!  Nancy and I always make it a point to stay at wedding receptions long enough to eat – of course – and to take in at least one slow dance.  And then we leave – because – well – since most wedding receptions are on a Saturday – we need to get home because we both have to get up early to go to work the next day.  So we never stay long enough to do the funky chicken. And quite frankly – although I’ve danced it once or twice – I never have learned how to do the electric slide. 

          With that said – I am sure that you all have stories that you can tell about wedding receptions – your own – or any one of the many I am sure you have attended over the years. Even Jesus enjoyed at least one wedding reception – the only one we know of anyway. And that wedding reception story is told to us today as read about it in John’s gospel. 

          And Jesus, we are told, did something – miraculous – at this wedding.  His contribution to this wedding party was to make it one that people talked about for a long time.  In fact – come to think of it – we’re still talking about some 2000 years later. 

          Wedding receptions today are pretty expensive affairs.  According to a website called EasyFinance.com, the average cost – the average – for a wedding these days costs $27,000!  That figure also includes the cost of the engagement ring as well as the honeymoon suite.  But – it seems to me that it is only natural that we would want to celebrate these milestones in our lives. 

          Now, in Jesus’ day it was common for a wedding to last an entire week!  Seven days of feasting, drinking, abstaining from work, and enjoying the company of loved ones, all as a way of celebrating and sharing in the new family's joy.  

          Now at this particular wedding where Jesus, and his mother, and his disciples are at, there is a problem.  They’ve run out of wine.  Again, in Jesus’, day, this would have been a big problem.  It would have been embarrassing for the bride and groom and their families if this were to happen. 

          You see wine held deep significance in the Jewish tradition.   In one sense, it did then what wine does for us today.  Psalm 104:15 tell us that the Lord gave wine to gladden the heart.  Now, as I say that, in no way am I or the Scriptures advocating that overindulgence is okay.  It’s not.  In fact, the Scriptures have a lot to say about the problems of drunkenness.  I just want to be clear on this. 

          So wine was given to gladden the heart.  But more than that, in Jesus’ day, wine served a spiritual function.  Wine is often used in the Old Testament as a sign or a symbol of blessing.  When things were going well for the Jewish people – when they’re hearts were right with God – when they weren’t chasing after other gods – wine was often used as a sign that God’s blessings were upon His people. 

          So in our story today about the wedding at Cana – the celebration came to a grinding halt when they ran out of wine.  I guess you could say that they were awfully lucky – or maybe blessed is a better word – that Jesus showed up – and that he was there when they needed him the most.

          Jesus makes sure the celebration doesn’t come to an end.  And it is here – at this wedding reception in Cana – Jesus performs his very first miracle.  He transforms – let’s say some 150 gallons of water or so into wine.  Now folks – this is not the kind of wine that comes in a box.  This is the best of wines!  I guess you could say that Jesus saves the day for this couple and their parents.   

          But why?  Why does Jesus do this?  Why would Jesus provide wine for this party? May I suggest to you that beyond keeping the wine flowing and the party going for his friends or his relatives – or however it was that Jesus was related to these newlyweds – let me suggest three reasons.  

          Number one.  This was the beginning – let’s call it an inauguration – something like what’s happening in Washington D.C. this weekend – the inauguration of a whole new kind of celebration.  This is Jesus – the Savior of the world.  Jesus could talk all he wanted to about the forgiveness and the Kingdom of God.  But it was his miracles – as well as his power to heal – that showed to those who witnessed these things – that Jesus was precisely who he said he was.  God incarnate.  God in the flesh.  And this, we are told is the first of his miracles.  There would be many more to come.  But this is the beginning of his public ministry. 

          But here’s the point.   The same celebration – the same joy – that comes with a wedding reception is what comes to us in Jesus Christ.  There is a joy – there is a celebration – in knowing that you and I live a life that – in Christ – has been forgiven.  Like wine that gladdens the heart – God’s love – God’s mercy – God’s grace – gladdens our hearts – our lives – and gives us reason to live a life of joy and gladness knowing that our sins are forgiven.  I can’t say it strongly enough.  The forgiveness of sins leads to joy!  Regardless of what else is going on in your life right now – no matter how tough things might be for you right now – the one thing that really matters – the one thing that really matters: being made right with God – is ours because of Jesus Christ!  That is what we call Good News around here.   So, just as wind gladdens the heart, so too, knowing that our sins are forgiven gladdens our hearts today.

          Number two, a great wedding and the great party that follows always makes us feel good about the future.  There’s something about good food and good drink, listening to a little Sinatra as you have that slow dance with your sweetie – sharing in a celebration that young love brings to a man and a woman – there’s just something about all that – well at least for me – that gives me hope for the future. 

          You see, in God's word, both wine and the imagery of a wedding are tied to the hope of eternity.  Listen to what Old Testament prophet Isaiah says.  He says that one day,

          "...the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast  of            well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear"           (Isaiah 25:6).  


Folks – one day – one day we will enjoy a wedding feast to beat all wedding feasts –and it won’t matter if you know how to do the electric slide or not – but the feast to come is where we – as God's forgiven people – will celebrate our resurrected life with Him – forever.   So, just as a great wedding celebration makes us hopeful for the future – so too does our new life in Jesus Christ give us hope for eternal life – and for the wedding banquet yet to come.

 

          Number three.  Good wine, good food, and a great wedding have a way of saying to us “you are blessed.”  You are blessed!  At wedding receptions you are surrounded by family and friends.  And most everyone I see at wedding receptions are having a good time.  The bride and groom are so happy.  And we are happy for them.  And when you are surrounded by people who know you and love you, well, you can’t help but feel blessed. 

          So there you have it.  This episode in the life of Jesus at the wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine tells us that we have forgiveness – a forgiveness that leads to joy.  We have hope as we move into the future.  And we have a realization that in Jesus Christ, we are truly blessed.

          Any questions?  Actually the only question I have is why aren't more people – or maybe even more of us enjoying the party?  Think about it.  Good wine and a good time at a wedding leave us feeling joyful, hopeful and abundantly blessed.  And let me tell you that the same thing is true with Jesus.  God loves a good party.  And In Jesus Christ – just like a good wedding banquet – we have joy, hope and blessings far beyond what we could ever hope for or imagine. 

          Jesus says – again in John’s gospel – John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Would that describe your life lately?  I know – there are circumstances and events – worries and stressors in life that drag us down.  But I want you to know that in Jesus Christ joy, hope and blessings are yours.

          So let me suggest something.  This week, try something different. Imagine that you're sitting at a wedding. In fact, imagine that your son or daughter just got married – to an incredible mate. Imagine that the party is paid for by somebody else and that you're surrounded by those whom you love.  Now, since it's a Saturday night, you don’t have to worry about going to work the next day – unless, of course, you’re a preacher. 

          Imagine that. Try and feel that. That is what life in Jesus Christ can be like. 

          By miraculously providing wine for the wedding at Cana, Jesus ensured a great party for those in attendance.  At the same time – by doing this – he kicked off – he inaugurated – he announced that he himself is the Savior of the world.  And he invites us to the banquet – and into a new relationship with God and with each other through him.  The Bible in several places refers to this new relationship as a wedding banquet.  A wedding banquet that is awesome – and we have been invited to it.

          The Christian life is an awesome way of life.  It is an awesome way to live.  And let me tell you, it will fill you with more joy, more hope and more blessings in abundance than anything that a life without Jesus ever could.      Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 15 2013
By Dr. Robert Zielinski

Today's Gospel is another of the times when Jesus speaks about money.  He does this rather often, but usually when he does, the message isn't really about money.  At least not entirely.

 Jesus praises a poor widow for her contribution to the Temple because although the amount was tiny, to her, it represented a true sacrifice.  She had nothing to spare, but she gave anyway.  He contrasts this to the many others who gave far more,  but who could also afford it.  They weren't really going to suffer at all for the lack of the money they put in.  The widow, on the other hand,  wasn't sure where her next meal was going to come from.  The amount in her hands wouldn't make any difference for the Temple, but it might for her.  She could easily have put the coins back in her pocket, given nothing, and no one would have condemned her.  She could have stayed home, kept her meager offering that was pocket change for the others in the story, and tried to eke out another day, like always.  She had a readymade excuse....why didn't she take it? Why was Jesus so impressed that we are still talking about it 2000 years later?

I believe it is because of the larger message in this story.  The money is not the point, it is the willingness of this poor widow to step out in faith to an uncertain conclusion. That is the absolute definition of faith...to step outside what you know for sure and follow what you believe instead.  If you know what is going to happen, that isn't faith.

But when faced with uncertainty, we all often choose to stick with what we know, even if we secretly know it isn't a good option. The usual is comfortable. The unusual is not.  And the unknown is downright terrifying.

But Jesus didn't come to make us comfortable.  His message was not to reinforce our human instincts to follow the path of least resistance.  Very often, his message is exactly the opposite of that.  Show love to those who show you hate.  Forgive those who do you wrong. The comfortable choice is hardly ever the one Jesus wants us to take.  He pushes us to leave our comfort zone and get out there, with him, on the edges.

And that what the poor widow does today. She truly doesn't know how she will survive with no money in her purse, but she gives anyway because she believes she should. She steps away from her last possession and trusts that faith will find a way.

I  am one of those big givers in the Gospel today.  Linda and I have been blessed with excellent resources, and  we give accordingly.  But for me, writing a check has always been the easy part.  The right thing to do? Sure. Helpful, yes, and it felt good to inch up the ladder to a 10% tithing level over the years.  But I still felt like the people in the story who were throwing big amounts in the coffer. I was giving from my riches.  I was safely inside my comfort zone with my checkbook in hand.

What I was not so good at, what was outside my comfort zone,  was getting out there and getting my hands dirty.

 So finally last year, I decided to do something about it.  Zion has sent  groups to a pair of missionaries in Haiti for three years now. Nora and Leon are a husband and wife team, and Leon is a native.  He grew up on the little island of Ile a Vache (literally, the Island of Cows) off the southwestern coast of the main island.  He took the education he was fortunate enough to receive and felt called to give back to his home.  He has returned with his degree and built a school and an orphanage where there was none, where everyone told him he couldn't.  He says I didn't build it, the grace of God did, and they call it Grace School because of that.  The locals used to call him "crazy".  Now they call him "Papa Grace".

Nora and Leon are two of the most inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

Many others have contributed to the trips from outside this  church, but most of the people who have gone are members here or have connections to members here.  And your Council has offered financial support to all three trips.

When the third Haiti trip came up, I thought, why not me?  If not now, when?  Linda couldn't do it for health reasons, but she understood my desire to go, understood the need, and though it was outside her comfort zone, she supported me the whole time.  It would be a sacrifice for her, too, just holding down the homefront alone. In the last 30 years, we had not gone two days, much less eight  without contact, without conversation.

It was a little scary.  It was ridiculously hot.  The water was scarce and what bathing we could do was ridiculously cold. The toilets didn't always work.  There were many periods without electricity.

For the Haitians, this is normal.  This is their comfort zone, because it is all they have known their whole lives.  But to our eyes, the hunger and poverty were devastating.  Gutwrenching. 

We ate three times a day.  Most of the people we came to serve eat about three times a week. I may feel hungry at some point today, but I have vowed to never again toss casually toss about the phrase "I am starving".  Because once you have really seen "starving", you know that you have never been there.

Many of the children wore shirts with no pants because they don't own any. No shoes.  With no sanitation or storm sewers in place, you can imagine what they are walking around barefoot in.

Most of them, including the pastor at The Church of Jerusalem where we ran the first two medical clinics ever in that neighborhood,  live in hovels that we wouldn't deem fit to use as storage sheds for our lawn mowers. 

What passes as medical care for human beings there would get you arrested for animal cruelty if you treated your pets that way here.

Hunger and poverty are no longer just words or abstract concepts to me.

As Lee Lindeman, one of my companions so chillingly put it, we saw things we will never forget, and things we wish we could.

It wasn't Clarence. It was anything but comfortable. It was miles outside my comfort zone.  

But it was life changing.

And I have to go back.  There is no end to the misery there, and we are only putting band-aids on gaping wounds. Like the widow from the Gospel today, our little week of contribution won't make a dent in much of anything.

 But I have to go back.

I have to go back to see the progress that Nora and Leon are making, the aggregate of all the groups, ours and others like them, plus the day-to-day efforts of these two amazing people.  The progress that was obvious to me the day I saw my first patient at the Church of Jerusalem, where there had never been a medical clinic, and realized that these people were much worse off than those in the community around Grace School on Ile a Vache.  Because they hadn't had Nora and Leon taking care of them for these years.

Leon tells us that we needn't worry that we couldn't do enough while there, because no human or numbers of humans can fix this world.  Only God can do that. Have a little faith, he would say.

The people there, in all that misery and squalor, have a faith that humbles you.  You ask yourself all the time, could I maintain my faith in the face of this?  They have a vague sense of what we have left behind in the States, even for only a week, and they know we are there in His name.

"Our hands, his work" became an unofficial motto of our trip. Trying to let Him fix it.

On my last day there, I sat in the early morning reading a devotional, as is my near daily habit. The Bible reading  rang vaguely familiar, and as I got farther into it, I realized it was because I was mistakenly a week off in the devotional book.  I was reading the prior Tuesday over again, the one I read the morning we arrived.

But this was no accident.  It was a "God wink", if you are familiar with that term....a "coincidence" that isn't really that, but God throwing just what you need to see or hear in your path at just the right time.

Though I read it the week before, it meant so much less to me then than it did just seven days later.

The scriptural reading for the devotional was Revelation, chapter 7, verses 15-17:

He who sits on the throne will spread out his tent over them.

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.  He will lead them to springs of living water.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eye.

I sat in the pre-dawn darkness, listening to the arriving tropical storm we would come to call Sandy when it rocked our East Coast.

I cried as I read the words in the Bible.

And  I knew at that moment, I had to come back.

 It may not be Haiti for you, but trust me when I tell you that you must get outside your comfort zone once in a while. Maybe for you, it is writing that check a little bigger each month or year than the time before.  Maybe it's joining Jeff Allan at Habitat for Humanity, or Kristen Arends at Friends of Night People, or Jan Diver and Sue Jarrett at Family Promise .  All are fine ways to shed your comfortable exterior and get out there, like Jesus would. The author of Hebrews says "let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

We each have different gifts, and different comfort zones.  Jesus calls us, he compels us to use those gifts to their fullest potential, not just where we find it comfortable or easy. If you say you follow Jesus, you simply have to push yourself to do what is hard for you but what you know in your heart is right.

I went to Haiti.

I'm going back.

This week, ask yourself what it is you have been avoiding.  And then do it instead.

 

Posted by: AT 09:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 07 2013

Matthew 2:1–12, Isaiah 60:1–6

 

          Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the 12 Days of Christmas, right?   “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”  OK.  You know that song.  But because of the way we in these United States celebrate Christmas, you might be hard pressed to know that the 12 days of Christmas actually run from Christmas day to – anyone want to take a guess?  Do the math.  Twelve days from December 25 takes you to – January 6.  That’s today [tomorrow].  So the 12 days of Christmas run through to January 6 – the day we call Epiphany.

 

          Couple of things that we associate with Epiphany.  First – it’s the day that we associate with the coming of the wise men to visit the Christ child.  And the second thing that comes to mind when we hear the word Epiphany is to remember what that word means.  Epiphany is a revealing or a revelation.  Think of it as an eye opening experience – or what I like to call – an “ah ha” moment – when suddenly – well maybe gradually – but usually suddenly something comes into focus – and you find yourself saying, “Ah ha!  Now I get it.”

          So, since the twelve days of Christmas don’t come to an end until today, let me ask you a question.  How many of you still have your tree up?  Good.  A fair number of us do. 

          Now, let me ask another question.  What is on the top of your tree?  Is it a star or an angel?  Star or angel?  How many angel people?  How many star?  I would have thought there might be more star people.  Because – you know – everybody wants to be a star.

          Growing up, my parents always put a star on top of the tree.  It had a little opening for a light bulb to fit through, so there was a lighted star on top of our tree.  Nancy and I have had an angel on top of our tree for as long as I can remember. 

          Now you might not even know why you have one or the other on top of your tree.  Most likely it’s tradition.  Kind of a, “we’ve always done it that way,” kind of thing.  But let me suggest to you that there is rich meaning behind the angel – behind the star – that you may or may not have on top of your tree.

          Like the Christmas trees we have in our sanctuary.  We have … oh…we don’t have a star or an angel.  We have bows.  Bows.  You know, my wife Nancy will never give a gift – will never feel the wrapped package is complete unless it has a bow.  So you know what a bow on top of the tree means?  It means that God gave us the best gift that could ever be given – the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  Which is precisely what we celebrate each year at this time of year.  But most likely you have either an angel or a star.

          Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, waiting for a sign from God.  So the Shepherds knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah, born in Bethlehem.  

          And the Star was for those who were searching, for those who were still unsure, for those still with questions, for those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.

          May I suggest that God sent the angel – God sent the star because God always meets us where we are. He met the shepherds in their fields, watching their sheep.  

          Meanwhile, God met the Wise Men, these travelers and searchers from the East – as they searched the stars for answers to the meaning of life. These foreign travelers – these Gentiles – were among the first to witness this newborn Messiah, the Savior of the world because God chose to meet them where they were.

          Now, we really don’t know where these wise men came from.  We’re told they came from the east.  So they could have been anywhere from, say, Babylon, or present day Iraq, to India, or maybe even China.  We really don’t know.   In fact we really don’t know much about them at all.

          We are simply told that they came from the east.  And – don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble – but we don’t know how many of them there were either.  Could have been two, could have been a dozen.  All the Bible says is that they brought three gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. But they traveled to this tiny out of the way place called Bethlehem.  And there God met them in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. 

          But here’s what I want you to see.  God met these wise men – God met those shepherds – where they were.  But God didn’t leave them where He found them.

          Remember? The Angel's message to the shepherds had been so compelling that they went running with haste.  They dropped everything and went into town to see this baby.  And when they went back to their flocks, they went back changed.  These were different men.  They returned, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” Yes, these were different men.

          And then the Wise Men from the east.  They were looking for something. They weren't sure exactly what it was they were looking for.  But they came seeking, and God sent them a star.  They came seeking just like so many of us.

          The Wise Men’s search for answers – for meaning – lead them to Bethlehem.  And that is where they found what they were looking for.

          But here’s the next thing I want you to see.  Once they found what they were looking for God wouldn't let them return the same way they came. God warned them and sent them off on their way back home by another road.

          God met the Wise Men where they were but God didn't leave them there. God brought them to Bethlehem on one road, but He sent them home by another road.  Now this can serve as an illustration for us – a metaphor if you will – to describe what happens to you and me. 

          You see, God comes looking for us.  He meets us where we are.  And instead of using angels or stars – may I suggest that he uses other kinds of messengers – to meet us where we are.  Now I believe God can use anything or anyone to grab our attention.  But I believe that God most often uses believers – Christ followers – disciples of Jesus Christ – to get our attention.  To meet us where we are.  To lead us to the Savior.  And once we have that life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ – call it an Epiphany – call it an “aha moment,” – our lives cannot be the same again.  We come to Jesus as we are on one road – and we are touched and we are changed – and our lives continue on another road.

          Let me tell you about another wise man, a wise man of our day, who like the wise men of old, was led by the stars and then lead home by another road. From a young age, Hugh Ross was consumed by the study of physics and astronomy. He devoured scientific texts, and found in them a knowledge that excited him. His studies of science and the order of the universe led Hugh to the belief that there had to be a Creator somewhere that set the whole thing in motion.

          Let me ask you, have you ever had a conversation like that with yourself?  You’ve looked at the stars – you’ve looked at the world around, you and you’ve asked, “Where did all this come from?  How did all of this get here?”  You know that you can’t get something from nothing, and you’ve concluded that there must be a supernatural power – let’s call it God – that must be behind all this.

          Well, that’s the conclusion that Hugh Ross arrived at.  And as a young man, he began studying the sacred books of the world's major religions. He measured each one against the known facts of science and history. If there was a Creator, Hugh felt, and if this Creator went to such great lengths to make an orderly universe that could be understood, then such a Creator would want to communicate with His creation in an orderly and truthful manner. Hugh Ross' study of the stars and the planets led him to believe that there was such a God.  Hugh Ross found that God in the Bible.

          He wrestled with his knowledge of the universe and his understanding of the Bible., and eventually he was ready to ask Jesus to be Lord of his life. Today, he is the director of Reasons to Believe, an organization that publicizes the historical and scientific truths of the Bible.  Dr. Ross comments, “As an astronomer, I have achieved my ultimate quest: My education led me to the stars; my faith led me beyond.”

          Dr. Ross searched for knowledge; what he found was Truth and it sent him home by another road.

          Today, you’re invited to come to meet the Savior with the Wise Men. But like the Wise Men we're invited to go home by another road. This morning we're invited to come to Bethlehem, “the house of bread” and to leave by another road.  And today we also offer bread and wine for the journey.  Kind of neat, don’t you think?

          Now, again, I don't know what it is that brought you here today.  I don’t know what’s on your heart and mind right now.  Some of you are here today, and your hearts are filled with joy!  Others might be a little skeptical about what I’m saying here today.  Maybe you – like the wise men – are searching.  Looking for answers to the meaning of life – to the mysteries of life.  Some of you may have heavy hearts, or you’re going through some trouble right now.  I don’t know.  But this much I do know.  God is here.  God is in this place.  And God is meeting you where you are. 

          It’s a trite saying, but it’s true –wise men – and wise women – still seek Him.  So in this new year, I invite you to come and meet the Savior – Jesus the Messiah.  Come and meet Him.  Let Him take you down a different road – show you a different way – the road that He wants you to travel on.   The road of healing.  The road of forgiveness.  The road of new life in Jesus name. You came here on one road.  You can leave by another.  And I believe that’s why the Lord brought you here today.  The Lord brought you here today for a reason.  And not just to take up space in a pew, either.  No. 

          No.  As we begin this New Year, let me encourage you to listen.  Listen to God.  Be fed by God.  Be touched by God.   And let God send you home by another road.   

                                                                                                                   Amen         

 

 

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