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Tuesday, December 26 2017
Vicar David Sivecz
Luke 2:1-20 “Beyond the Surface”
Christmas Eve Children’s Sermon
(Put on the red flashing nose). Hi. I wanted to get into the Christmas spirit. How many of you are excited about Christmas What do you like best about Christmas? How many of you helped decorate your Christmas tree? How many of you enjoy singing Christmas carols? How many of you love the Christmas cookies. For some of us, it might be all of the parties. Others of us we like visiting with family and friends. For the rest of us, the best thing about Christmas is the presents. Yes, both the ones we give and the ones we receive, but especially the ones we receive!
Beside me, who else has big red noses. Rudolph has a read nose, Mickey Mouse has one, and friendly clowns have them. That reminds me of a story. It’s about a little boy who had always wanted to go to a circus. A circus is a group of people such as acrobats, or people who have great balance, trained animals, and clowns that travel around and give performances in a large tent.
Well, one day that young was walking down the street when he saw a poster in a store window. The poster said that a circus was coming to town and that a ticket to the circus cost one dollar. The boy ran home and asked his father if he would give him a dollar to go on that Saturday.
His father told him that if he would work hard and get all of his chores done, he would give him a dollar to go to the circus. Saturday morning came and the boy got up early and did all of his chores.
The boy's father gave him a dollar and the boy headed into the town filled with excitement about seeing the animals, acrobats, clowns, and all of the things that come with a circus. Since he arrived in town so early, he was on the front row when the circus parade started down the main street of town. A parade is where people march down the street celebrating a special occasion. So, the boy was thrilled when the animals and other circus acts paraded by him.
At the end of the parade came the clowns. Clowns are funny and adorable. They make those balloon animals and joke around. Clowns are harmless. Following the clowns was the ringmaster. When the ringmaster passed by where he was standing, the boy ran out into the street, took his folded dollar bill from his pocket, and handed it to the ringmaster.
"Thanks," mister, said the boy, "that was a great circus." Then he turned around and walked home. He never knew what he missed. He thought he had been to the circus, but he had only been to the parade.
If we are not careful, we can be like that little boy. We can get so caught up on the surface, pretty stuff, of Christmas - the celebration, the decorations, and the gifts - that we miss out on the core of Christmas. We miss out on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. His birth is so much more than any gift we will give or receive tomorrow. If the greatest gift has been given to us then why wouldn’t we cherish, appreciate, and enjoy it? With something amazing why would we want to miss out on such a life forming experiencing?
Dear God, We pray that we won't get so caught up on the surface, pretty stuff, that we miss the real meaning of Christmas. In Jesus name. Amen.
Christmas Eve Adult Sermon
Many of us have heard this story before. We’ve heard the Christmas story. Not the one with Ebenezer Scrooge, not the one with Santa Claus, not even the one with Ralphie and his BB gun. But we’ve heard the story of Jesus’ birth. We’ve heard how Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem and there wasn’t any room for them at the inn. We’ve heard how Mary had to give birth to Jesus and how she placed him in a manger.
Then when Jesus was born an angel appeared before a few shepherds and said, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people, to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
This Christmas story is nice. Again, many of us have heard this story before. We’ve seen this story every year in the manger scenes set up in front of houses and churches. We listen to the story through the Christmas music on the radio. We experience it through coming to worship this evening. Again, It’s a nice story to hear once a year.
But, what happens afterward when this season is finished? How does this story from over 2000 years ago have anything to do with our lives today? How does this story impact our day to day lives throughout the rest of the year? Why is this story told again year after year?
Many of us have these questions, and rightfully so. Especially, after this year many of us might believe that this story doesn’t have any significance in today’s world. It might seem like it’s nothing more than an old fable or a fairy tale. Perhaps we believe this because of a previous bad experience. Maybe it’s because we can’t’ wrap our brains around it. Possibly it’s because of what we’ve seen on social media, the news, or in our community.
Regardless of the reason, they make sense. What if, these reasons are based on our perceptions or our initial reaction? What if what we see isn’t really what’s present. What if it’s because we are so caught up on the surface that we haven’t tried looking passed it? Sometimes, we hear this story over and over again, and we don’t realize that there so much more.
This story doesn’t merely stay a story; instead, it becomes part our life or journey. Then we see and experience God working. We understand and experience a God not of control, but a God redemption. We know God in the midst of our daily lives walking with us, carrying us, and ultimately changing us. What we see is God’s presence.
What does seeing and experiencing the presence of God do in our daily lives? Bob Weber, past president of Kiwanis International, told a story about what the presence of God does. The story begins when he went to a small town and spoke to a club.
Because there weren’t any hotels, Weber spent the night with a farmer on the outskirts of the community. After the gathering, he went back to the farmhouse to relax. As he sat on the front porch, with the farmer, a newsboy was delivering the evening paper. When the boy approached them, he noticed a sign that said, “Puppies for Sale.” The boy got off his bike and said to the farmer, “How much do you want for the pups, mister?”
“Twenty-five dollars, son.” The boy’s face dropped. “Well, sir, could I at least see them anyway?”
The farmer whistled, and in a moment the mother dog came sprinting around the corner of the house followed by four cute puppies, who wagged their tails and yipped happily. At last, another pup came straggling around the house, dragging one hind leg. “What’s the matter with that puppy, mister?” the boy asked.
“Well, Son, that puppy is crippled. We took her to the vet, and the doctor took an X-ray. The pup doesn’t have a hip joint, and that leg will never be right.”
To the amazement of both men, the boy dropped the bike, reached into his collection bag and took out a fifty-cent piece. “Please, mister,” the boy pleaded, “I want to buy that pup. I’ll pay you fifty cents every week until I pay the twenty-five dollars. Honest, I will, mister.”
The farmer replied, “But, Son, you don’t seem to understand. That pup will never be able to run or jump. That pup is going to be a cripple forever. Why in the world would you want such a useless pup as that?”
The boy paused for a moment, then reached down and pulled up his pant leg, exposing that all too familiar iron brace and leather knee-strap holding a poor twisted leg. The boy answered, “Mister, that pup is going to need someone who understands him and can help him in life!”
Sometimes we get so caught in not just the surface of Christmas but the surface of Christianity, the church, and God that we miss out on what’s underneath. What’s underneath is the most incredible, miraculous, transformative freely given gift. This gift is God, who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, breaking passed our surface through the birth of Jesus Christ to love and help us. This gift is God coming to us in the form of a vulnerable infant. It’s God understanding us, knowing us, and enduring our same experiences.
So, whatever our reason is for coming here today; whether we want to be here, we were dragged here, we are visiting, or this is the first time experimenting with the church please know that this story isn’t just a story. It’s a way of life that cuts through the surface of our very being. This story isn’t what we see and experience on the surface. It isn’t about the beginning of God condemning, retaliating, and judging us. Instead, it’s about God freely coming to meet us where we are to give us mercy, grace, and acceptance.
Knowing that God loves us this much should shoot adrenaline into our souls. It should grasp us and pull us into this living story. As a result, because of God’s great love, through Jesus, we are sent to love others likewise. So, why would we want to miss out on this during the rest of year? It doesn’t make much sense to receive this ultimate gift and let it stay idle. But instead to allow it to continually impact us, change us, and transform us day in and day out.
So, come and see. Come to church and see this story become real. Give this story a chance or another chance to become more. Give this gift of Jesus Christ a chance to cut passed our surfaces and make a difference. I assure you, you won’t regret it. There will be high and lows, ups and downs, good and bad moments. But, just come and see for yourself. Come and see next week, the week after, and the month after. Come and see how the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes an impact.
Tuesday, December 26 2017
Vicar David Sivecz
Luke 1:26-38 - “Here am I… A Servant of the Lord”
Those four words. Those four words have been spoken many times throughout the Gospels. Those four words have been spoken many times throughout all of Scripture. Many people said those words; whether it was directly from God, through an angel, or from Jesus. Whenever we hear those words, it’s time to pay attention. We should sit straight and focus. It’s time to wake up the person seated next to us. It’s essential because something is about to come our way.
If we are not paying attention, those four words will quickly pass by us. Sometimes they move so fast that we won’t have time to comprehend what was said. We might miss out on what’s said if we don’t listen to those four words. Specifically, in this evening’s Gospel lesson it might be so difficult to hear. But I can assure you it’s there.
Those four little words weren’t that little. Those four words had significant implications for Mary. More importantly, without those four words, we wouldn’t even be sitting here today. Don’t be mistaken; Mary wasn’t the only one who followed those words. Many people needed to hear those words. People such as Moses, the disciples, and Paul. People who were called and sent out more to cure every disease and every sickness. People who cast out demons, and have compassion on the helpless and the harassed. People who felt unworthy and unprepared. But they needed to hear those four words.
I’m sure by now you’re probably wondering what four words I am talking about during the last couple of minutes. Those four words are, “Do… not… be… afraid.” We need to hear those four words more often. We need to hear, “Do… not… be… afraid…” constantly. Unfortunately, we hear the complete opposite most of time.
We are always surrounded by situations that cause us to be afraid. For as much as we don’t want to be afraid it seems to be around us all the time. Being afraid often controls much of what we believe and as a result of what we do. Think about how much fear dominates our lives.
How often are we not willing to try something because we are afraid what might happen? Do we ever resist change because we are afraid how it will impact us? Has there ever been a time where we’ve feared building a relationship with someone different because we are afraid what they will do to us?
We are grasped by it, whether it’s through talking to others, when we walk out on the streets, and even when we look at the news. For many of us, one of the first things we do, when we wake up in the morning, is put on the radio, watch television, or read the newspaper.
As for myself, when I wake up in the morning one of the first things I do is that I reach for my smartphone to check the headlines. Reading the news has become part of my morning routine. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve always struggled to wake up, just ask my parents, they can testify. Over the years I’ve tried everything; setting my alarm clock on the other side of the room, making coffee so I can smell the aroma, and I’ve even attempted to go to bed earlier. Nothing seemed to work.
Over the years I’ve discovered, there’s something about the light from my smartphone that wakes me up. One of the first apps I click on is the news. It’s what I do instead of reading a newspaper. As I’m scrolling through the headlines, I see every story from across the world. Nothing says good morning like, “U.S. Led Liberation of Mosul Cost 9,000 Civilian Lives,” or “America’s Ballooning National Debt Will Have Painful Consequences,” or “Eight Americans among 12 Killed in Mexico Bus Crash,” or “North Korea Begins Testing Anthrax Onto ICBMs.”
There is so much around us that can make us afraid. As we’ve become more connected, our world has become smaller. As a result, we hear and see everything. Years ago it would take weeks or months to get information about a tragedy that happened across the world. Now we can witness everything.
So, it gets very tiring when I hear people say the world is getting worse, in particular when it comes from the church. There is a reality that there are different challenges today than there were fifty years ago. Many people are aware of the difficulties and the opportunities that are out there. As I’ve heard from many people my age, it’s discouraging listening to the older generations talk about how afraid they are for the future. It doesn’t make much sense to be afraid, especially after hearing what else happened to Mary.
First, what happened was that God sent an angel to Mary, which meant that God noticed Mary. Mary a young girl, an unwed virgin, who was engaged to Joseph was noticed by God. She wasn’t wealthy or well-known or had power. Until this point in her life, she wasn’t an accomplished person. Still, God noticed her and sent an angel.
Second, God blessed Mary. The angel showed up and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Imagine how we would feel if we heard this? What would go through our minds? Deep down, would we believe we would be worthy and great? Or, would we be uncomfortable and a little anxious?
Again, God blessed Mary, but it’s not for the reason many of us would assume. She didn't do anything to earn that blessing. Instead, Mary was just blessed. It even puzzled her, and Mary questioned it when she asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
I know it doesn’t make any sense to me either. To be blessed, especially by God for no reason goes against our culture and society. We live in a world that thrives on quid pro quo. In other words, we live by the phrase we earn what we get. If we work hard and play by the rules, then good things will happen. Unfortunately, getting what we deserve bleeds into our understanding of God. Many of us believe that our lives are dictated by how well we live by God’s rules. If we do what God says, then we will be blessed.
Right here in the Scriptures, we don’t find that understanding. What we discover is that God blessed Mary so she could be a blessing to others. As that blessing sunk in, Mary was able to open herself to the work of the Holy Spirit. She was no longer afraid to let God use her. As a result, she blessed the whole world through her willingness to carry Jesus.
The same thing holds true today. God notices and blesses every one of you. Not just when you come to church but also throughout the rest of your week. God will work through you to be a blessing to others. We shouldn’t be afraid to hear those words. Regardless of our situations, what comes with hearing “Do not be afraid” is God’s promise of Good News. It’s not just any good news; it’s the Good News that God favors us. God's blessing doesn't mean God makes us superior to others; instead, it’s God blessing of grace, or unconditional love, favor, and acceptance.
We carry that promise, in the midst of living out Christ’s mission. We carry that promise through everything we experience. It’s the promise that gives us the courage to know that God is working. It’s the promise we carry as we wait for Christ’s ultimate return. That should shoot adrenaline into our souls and help face all of our fears head on.
We should hear those four words as often as possible. We need to say those four words so that others will listen to it louder than the fear they encounter every day. The people who need to hear it are those who the world has forgotten. The people who need to listen to it are those who are broken, lost, and suffering and living in fear. They need to hear that someone is standing up for them.
It’s not just that we are standing up so they will come to church or for us to be the dominant religion in the world. It's not to make God love us anymore. We are standing up so that all will know God’s promise that they are freed from death, from suffering, and from fear to experience abundant life.
So, let’s try saying those words together. Repeat after me; we will start with one word at a time. “Do… not… be… Afraid…” Let’s try it again. “Do… not… be… Afraid.” One more time. “Do… not… be… Afraid…” Now, let’s say altogether. “Do not be afraid.” One more time, “Do not be afraid.” Do not fear death. Do not fear conflict. Do not be afraid of the future. Do not be afraid of change. Do not be afraid of what God is doing in our world. Do not fear what God will do through us. Most importantly, do not be afraid to say to God, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; be with me according to your word.”
Monday, December 18 2017
John 1:6-8; 19-28
I want to talk to you today about being plugged in and connected. 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 – as you know – means the “Anointed One”— the One whom God had for years promised He would one day send to set His people free.
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. Remember? John was plugged in and connected. He was pointing the way to Jesus the Messiah.
Now folks – I think the focus of our message today is this: I am convinced that in our world – in our society 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!
You see – part of the challenge for us would-be John the Baptizers is to get a handle on just what the Christ faith is. In essence, it boils down to this. Is the Christian faith a belief system – or is it a way of living? Well – OK – it’s both. Right beliefs are essential. And once we know what it is that we believe – the Christian faith then becomes a way of living.
Most of you know that one of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Stewart plays a man named George Bailey. George is a man with great dreams and ambitious plans. He wants to get out of the tiny town of Bedford Falls and make a name for himself, but fate seems to have other plans. Problems begin piling up on him.
Just as he is about to head off for college, his father has a stroke and George must take over the family business. His brother comes home from college with a new wife. Again George’s dreams are put on hold. Then George gets married, but there’s a run on the bank and he and his bride must use their honeymoon money to bail out the family business. He even fears that he will be tried and sent to jail over money that has disappeared from the family business. He finds himself saying, “It would be better if I had never been born!”
Believing he is ruined, George determines to take his own life. He is prevented from suicide by an angel. Do you remember the angel’s name? Yes! Clarence. Good old Clarence comes to George’s rescue. He gives George a chance to see what life would have been like for everyone else if he had never been born. Spoiler alert! In the end, George gets his life back. George’s faith in himself and his neighbors is restored as he finds out that his acts of kindness really have made a difference. George discovers that his really was a wonderful life.
How about you? One of the most important questions that we could ever ask of ourselves is this: Is the world a better place because I am in it? As disciples of Jesus Christ – I hope your answer is yes. If you believe that being a Christian is more than just a belief system – that being a Christian is also a way of life – then your answer is yes! Yes! Acts of love and kindness follow what we believe. And quite frankly – isn’t that what makes for a wonderful life?
The whole reason for this Advent-Christmas season is that the birth of Jesus Christ changes everything. Talk about someone whose life made a difference! His birth gives us new life – a wonderful life. The life we have been given – the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ – makes all the difference. For us – and for the people around us. Unfortunately we can’t have the gift that was given to George Bailey – to be able to see what life would have been like if we had never been born. But let me tell you – the people closest to you can tell. If you are modeling your life after that of Jesus Christ – if you are aiming at Christ likeness then let me tell you. Your life matters. Your life counts. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are plugged in and connected to Jesus.
Let me close with a story that shows how the love of Christ makes a difference. “It was a chilly night in 1949, just a day before Christmas. Elizabeth English and her husband Herman had an unusually busy day at the store [this was before the days of the shopping malls and online shopping; truly a mom and pop operation,] and all they cared about was getting a good night’s sleep. The only thing left unsold in their store that day [tells you how big the store was,] was a layaway package that was never claimed. Elizabeth carefully put it away before closing the store.
“The next morning, after she and Herman and their son Tom had opened their presents, Elizabeth was cleaning up the kitchen. Suddenly she felt a gentle urge that she should “take a walk.” It was crazy, it was cold outside, but she could not deny the power of this strong urge. And so, on this chilly Christmas Day she said to Herman, ‘I’m going to take a walk.’
“Reaching their store, she encountered two young boys. They were poorly dressed. Their clothes barely covered them against the cold. When they saw her one of them exclaimed, ‘There she is. See, I told you she would come.’
“What brought you boys here,” Elizabeth asked.
“We came looking for you,” one of the boys declared. “Our little brother Jimmy didn’t get any Christmas gifts and we want to buy skates. We have $3, see.”
With tearful eyes, Elizabeth was about to tell them they had no more skates. But then she remembered the unsold layaway package she had carefully put away the previous day. She opened the store and reached for the package sitting on the topmost shelf. And what do you know? . . . the package contained a pair of skates. Amazingly, the skates fit perfectly. “Have this,” one of the boys said, offering the $3 they had to Elizabeth. But Elizabeth wouldn’t take the money from them.
“Go buy yourselves some nice gloves,” she said with a smile.
Then she said to the boys, “How lucky you were that I came.”
“I knew you would come,” the older boy said.
“How?” she asked.
“I asked Jesus to send you,” he said. Elizabeth felt something tingling down her spine. It appeared that God was somehow involved in this beautiful event. “I asked Jesus to send you,” the older boy said . . . and somehow she knew it was true.
Elizabeth walked home with a warm glow in her heart. Dinner tasted more delicious that night. She went to bed with great joy in her heart. But the one thing that made that Christmas really joyous was the one thing which makes every Christmas joyous – Jesus was there. His love had touched her life.
Folks, how will the Christ – the Messiah – the Anointed One – 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 modern day John the Baptizers – who are 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.
Monday, December 11 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
A cartoon once appeared in a national magazine that showed a husband and wife driving along at a rapid pace on a barren, desert road. The wife is saying to her husband, “Yes, I know we’re lost, but I didn’t want to say anything about it because we were making such good time.”
How many people you know does that cartoon describe? How many of you does it describe? Going through what feels like the desert places of life – mahybe even rushing through those places – maybe even making good time – but lost nonetheless.
If you have ever felt that way – and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at one time or another – but if you have ever felt that way – or if you feel that way right now at this moment – is there any hope? Where do you go – to whom do you turn – for a word of hope?
Listen to our reading from Isaiah again. “Comfort, oh comfort my people says your God.” And then, the reading goes on to say, “A voice cries out: Prepare a way in the wilderness – make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Prepare a way. In your wilderness. In your chaos. Prepare a way. Through the muck and mire of whatever it is that you might be going through right now – what I want you to hear right now is God’s word of comfort – to find God in the wilderness places of your life:
- Some of us have experienced the death of a loved one this past year. The death of a loved one can feel like a wilderness experience.
- Some of us know what it’s like to go through the pain of divorce.
- Some are struggling with serious health issues – either your own or that of a loved one – some illness, or a surgery, an accident, trauma, dementia. Or just the challenges – the aches and pains that come along with growing older.
- Maybe it’s the loss of a job through a lay-off or downsizing.
- Not enough money to pay the bills.
- Failing a test or a course at school. It happens.
- Moving to a new city or a new state where you don’t know anyone.
- The pain of loneliness.
- The burden of a drug or alcohol addiction – again maybe your own, or that of someone who is close to you.
- Sin can also be a wilderness experience, a place where we have lost our way, or a situation where we have become attached to other gods.
Well – this list goes on. These are desert experiences. Wilderness moments.
Having identified some of life’s challenges – is there hope in these difficult situations? You bet there is. Advent is a time when we prepare to meet the Savior – especially as the Savior comes to meet us in the wilderness experiences of our lives.
So what word of comfort can we expect to hear on this second weekend in Advent? What word of hope will help? When you leave here today – what’s the good news that you can take with you?
Listen again to what our reading from Isaiah says; and although Isaiah is speaking to the nation of Judah at a time when they have been conquered by the Babylonians – and they are in exile in Babylon – I want you to hear these words as though they are spoken to you. “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Speak tenderly to the folks gathered for worship at Zion Lutheran Church in Clarence Center.
Listen! No matter what your wilderness situation might have been – or what it is right now – God comes to you– right where you are – and offers a word of forgiveness – of hope – and a word of comfort. And it’s all because our God is a God of love. He will not let you stay in our wilderness experience – not for very long anyway. That’s good news! Good news for you today!
And then Isaiah finishes this marvelous passage with these words:
“He will feed his sheep like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms,
And carry them close to his heart.
And gently lead those that are with young.”
Do you see the image that Isaiah is painting here for us? Do you see here a picture of Jesus the Good Shephed? It’s like the story that Jesus told of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to look for the one that is lost. Let me share with you the following story:
A number of years ago, there was a story in the Los Angeles Times called “A Mother’s Search for Russell Love.” Beverly Elliot lived in Houston and had not seen her son Russell Love for four years. She had not heard from him in two, but she knew he was homeless somewhere in Los Angeles County. Neither the FBI nor the L.A. Police Department could help her.
Longing to get in touch with her son, Mrs. Elliott ran a personal ad in the L.A Times for 12 days. It read:
RUSSELL L. LOVE – From Houston or anyone knowing where he lives please call his mother collect. [after including the phone number, she continued] Russell, your mother will never forget you. She loves you!
Maybe someone would see the ad, she thought, and get in touch with her.
A man named Ralph Campbell, who had spent 25 years on the street, had given some extra sandwiches to a friend. The friend had turned to another friend and said, “Russ, do you want a sandwich?”
Campbell phoned the newspaper. He led a reporter to some shipping containers in a parking lot on Western Avenue. There were some bedrolls there. He thought this was where Russell love might be sleeping.
The next morning the reporter returned. A young, blond-headed man was asleep, rolled up in a bright yellow blanket. When he finally awoke, the reporter asked if he was Russell Love. He said he was.
“Your mother wants you to call her,” said the reporter. He gave Russell the ad. Russell rolled up his bedroll and walked off down Western Avenue, the paper with the ad under his arm.
Russell called home on a Friday. His mother told him how much she missed him. They talked three times between Friday and Monday. She said she would send him some money. When she got paid at the end of the month, she would send him a ticket to fly home for Christmas.
“I’m going to see that he gets all the ID necessary to get a job,” said his mother. “I’m going to make it possible for him to rethink his decision and come back into the world he came from and to make a better decision.”
Russell Love did go home. A follow up article showed a picture of him and his mother together. It told about the way they “grabbed each other and hugged and hugged.”
“It feels great to be home,” Russell said. “It’s nice to be a family again after being a traveler.”
Folks – isn’t that what Advent and Christmas are all about? They’re about God coming to us. God comes looking for you in your desert places. God knows what’s going on in your life. If we’ve sinned against God – God is there to forgive. If we’ve somehow messed up – in any way – God is there to give us a second chance. If we’ve wandered away – God is there to call us back home – and to bring us back home.
Listen! In this life we will have heartache and pain. In this life we will have setbacks and hardships. So no matter what your tragedy might have been – or is something you’re going through now – or – perhaps might one day be something you will have to deal with – especially those circumstances beyond your control – I want you to know that God comes to you – especially when you need him the most.
And he brings a word of hope for those who need hope. A word of encouragement for those who need encouragement. And a word of comfort for those who need comfort. He comes to you – and he says to you – “I love you and I am with you. I will walk with you – and when necessary carry you – but in all circumstances – help you to rise above whatever your wilderness situation might be.”
“Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God.”
This is the voice crying out in the wilderness – the wilderness of your life. This is what we celebrate every year at this time of year. It’s all about the God of mercy and love and grace. The God of comfort. The God who comes to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
Monday, December 04 2017
The older I get, the faster it seems to me that December rolls around. Anybody here know what I mean? And yeah – I know – that’s just the way it is. Talk to anyone and they will tell you – as we get older – every year seems to go by faster. And yes, studies have been done to try to explain why this is so.
There was a short article in the Buffalo News some two weeks ago that focused on this phenomenon. And the best answer that I have ever heard as to why this is so is this. Every year that goes by represents a smaller percentage of our overall life. So for instance – for a two year old – each year of that two year olds life represents one half of his or her existence. Whereas for a 100 year old person, each year represents 1/100th of their existence.
Or to put it another way – “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end – the faster it goes.”
That said, I just am having trouble realizing that December is here already. I just came back from vacation where for the last three weeks it’s been in the high 80’s and low 90’s for daily high temperatures. Where people are getting ready for Christmas by putting Christmas lights on cactuses. And for someone like me who has spent all of his life here in the northeast – putting Christmas lights on a cactus just seems so wrong. So wrong. It really is funny looking.
It’s December – ready or not. And it’s time for us to be doing all of those things that we love to do – all those things that are actually fun to do – but for some reason we sometimes stress over and we sometimes have a hard time getting done in time.
I remember a time years and years ago when my extended family was at our house for Thanksgiving. And the conversation turned to Christmas – and at whose house were we going to spend Christmas. And in the middle of this conversation I remember my mother saying, “Do you ever wonder why we do all this stuff?” And the only answer we could come up with was, “tradition.”
Listen! When it comes to Christmas – I am of the opinion that tradition is a good thing. No matter what your family traditions might be when it comes to waiting – when it comes to getting ready – when it comes to doing the things that you enjoy – these Christmas traditions are a good thing. I mean – that’s why we do them, right?
But sometimes – these things can bring with them added, unwanted stress. I like the story of a woman who said that one December, she and her husband Richard had a truly hectic season. Running out of time, she went to a stationary shop and asked them to print their signature on their Christmas cards, so they wouldn’t have to take the time to sign each one.
Soon they started getting cards in return from friends. The cards were signed with things like, “The Modest Morrisons,” “The Clever Clarks,” and “The Successful Smiths.”
After a number of cards signed like that, the woman wondered, “What is going on here?” And then it hit her. She and her husband Richard had sent out some 100 cards neatly imprinted with the words, “Happy holidays from the Rich Armstrongs.”
Well, your name doesn’t have to be Richard to know that in Jesus Christ – you can have a rich life. A rich life of joy and peace. And that is what we here in the church like to talk about and focus on during this rich season of Advent and Christmas.
The presence of Christ – which is what we celebrate – brings that joy and that peace that I know that all of you want and need. Otherwise, without the presence of the living Christ with us – especially at this time of year – what we have is nothing more than another hectic holiday.
That’s not what I want – and I know that that’s not what you want either.
So let me remind you – as I do pretty much every year – that in these days leading up to Christmas – it’s okay for you to take a step back from whatever hectic pace you might find yourself in – take a deep breath – and remember just what this season is all about. And what it’s for.
In a nutshell – we like to say that Advent is a time of waiting, watching and getting ready. The main thing that’s on everyone’s mind of course is – waiting for Christmas and getting ready to celebrate Christmas. Just look around and you can see that we’ve already started doing that here in this room. We’re waiting and we’re getting ready for a celebration here too!
And this celebration is of course a celebration of Christ’s first coming – the birth of the Christ child. It’s a past event, as we know. But the church is wisely – I think – using Advent to point out that there is a need to be mindful of the need to get ready for the second coming of Christ as well. The thing is – we just don’t know when that’s going to be. So can you see why we focus on the waiting and the watching and the getting ready at this time of year? It’s not just for the celebration of Christ’s first coming among us in a place called Bethlehem. One of my jobs today is to remind you that Christ will come again. The trouble is we just don’t know when that’s going to be.
And that’s where our reading from Mark’s gospel comes in. Listen to how it starts. “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Doesn’t that just give you warm fuzzies! Warms the cockles of my heart, let me tell you. After I read that just a few moments ago, I had to say, “This is the Good News. It is the Gospel of the Lord.” Just warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it!
Look it! Although this passage isn’t on anyone’s favorite top ten list – and as frightening as these verses might sound – let me tell you – let me assure you – that there is nothing for us to be afraid of. When Christ comes again – it will be a time of joy for all who are in Christ Jesus. What you want – what I want – and what WE need in this life is love, peace and joy. Love, peace and joy. And that is what Christ has come to give us. That – and forgiveness
Well – another word for this is grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. These are the gifts Christ brings to us. They are ours to be sure – but not to keep to ourselves. They are ours to pass on to others. Let me tell you a story, and see what I mean.
In our early colonial history George Whitefield of England made five visits here to help establish the church in the emerging nation. On one of Whitefield’s visits he stood on the steps of the courthouse in Philadelphia to preach to the typically large group of people whenever he appeared. A young boy saw that Whitefield was having trouble reading the Scripture lesson in the gathering darkness, so he got a lantern, lighted it, and held it so that Whitefield could see to read. The pastor was grateful. The lad stood there and became so engrossed in the gospel story that the lantern slipped from his hand and broke.
Years later Whitefield was again in America on his last trip here and was entertained at the home of a Philadelphia pastor. The pastor asked him if he remembered preaching in Philadelphia and how a boy who was holding a lantern for him dropped it and it broke.
“Yes, I remember” said Whitefield. “I would give anything to know what ever became of that young boy.”
“I am that boy,” said the pastor. “Your preaching that day and the kindness you showed me when I dropped that lantern made me who I am today.”
Folks – that’s grace. That’s a picture of grace.
Listen! Every year at this time of year we talk about getting ready. Getting ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming that we call Christmas. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you to be ready for his second coming. And please don’t get the idea that that means you’ve got to clean up your act. I’m not saying that at all. Christ has already cleaned up your act. Where we are in need of repentance, we certainly need to pay attention to that. But you’re already forgiven – and that’s all you need. No. Getting ready – being ready – and staying ready is nothing more than a realization – and an acceptance of the fact – that you are already forgiven because of God’s love and grace.
So what’s it take to be ready? I would say pretty much doing what you’re already doing – IF what you’re doing is practicing that whole love God – love your neighbor thing that we talk so much about around here. Passing on those gifts of love, joy, peace and forgiveness that you have already been given.
Being the person God is calling us to be – doing the things that God is calling us to do. That’s what it means to wait, to watch and to be ready.