Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some Christmas Thoughts

Here's my message from Christmas Eve.  I had meant to post it before now, but you know how things go this time of year...with any luck, I'll share some other Christmas Eve and Longest Night thoughts from years past (though because of the demise of my flash drive, I will be retyping each one of them, not just copying and pasting), before Christmas is over next Monday!  And then, who knows what I'll write about...

“For Me?!”
Christmas Eve Homily 2013

When we got ready to go to the first party of the season this year, we tried to explain to our two-year-old that we were going to a Christmas party…and his response was, “A birthday party?  For ME?!”  Needless to say, as you might expect with a two-year-old, we have a little ways to go before we completely understand the concept of Christmas parties, or the “real” meaning of Christmas, at all!
But as we read the Christmas story, we see a whole host of people asking that same question, “For ME?!”  In part of the story that we didn’t read tonight, Zechariah asked the angel, “For ME?!” when the angel told him he would have a son, who would become John the Baptist.  Unfortunately for Zechariah, asking that question got him 9 months of no speaking!  When the angel came to Mary she asked, “For ME?!” and then proclaimed her obedience to God, in the face of certain scandal and questioning by the people around her, when she was found to be with child.
When the angel showed up in the middle of a dark and quiet night, to some dirty shepherds out in a field, that angel didn’t wait for the shepherds to ask, “For ME?!”  The angel said, “I am bringing you news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)  And then all the angels showed up in full force, to make sure the shepherds got the point—something BIG had happened—for them, and for all people!
We should know that this news is for all of us, and makes a difference in our lives.  We should know that God has given a sign to us, that the world would never be the same after the birth of that one baby boy.  But sometimes, instead of knowing that the news and the gift are for all of us, even us sinners, we ask, “For ME?!” because we don’t think we could accept such a gift.  We don’t think we are worth such an offer as a Savior, as God-with-us, just like sometimes we don’t accept someone else’s Christmas gift because it seems too much for us.  But the good news of Christ is for us, for all of us, and there is nothing God wants more than for us to accept that good news and the gift of grace.
Now, sometimes when we ask, “For ME?!” we think it’s something we don’t need.  We forget that we need to accept the gift of Christ’s grace, that God isn’t offering us a bonus of some sort, but something our very souls have been longing for—the opportunity to be made right with God, the grace that is greater than all our sins.  The good news of Christmas isn’t just a nice message or a frivolous “extra” offered to us by God, but the one and only thing we’ve been needing for longer than we even knew.
Other times, we forget that Christmas isn’t actually about us, but it is for us.  Though the story of Christmas, as scripture tells it, includes a large cast of characters and we learn some very intriguing things about many of them, it is really about God’s work in their lives and in the world through their lives.  When we lose perspective and forget about that, we can also forget that Christ came for all people, not as a gift some deserved for being extra good.  The most important person in the story is the one who comes without words, without being able to do anything for himself, the child who was promised, the child who is announced by angels, who comes for us all.
His birth was announced first to those who were outcasts and commoners—shepherds—and not to powerful rulers.  So they went to check the facts, Luke tells us, and then they went to tell others: “When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:17-18)  It was a grass roots effort, the night that Christ was born—some old dirty shepherds had the news to share, and the people wouldn’t have known if the shepherds hadn’t told it.  And then, Luke says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)
So yes, Christmas is for me and for you!  We don’t have to ask and wonder.  We don’t have to feel like we’re not good enough for Christ to come for us.  We don’t have to think we’re not ready enough for Christ to come for us.  When we hear the story again, the amazing, incredible, crazy story about a baby who comes to save us all, who is God right here with us, we don’t have to ask, “For ME?!”  Like the shepherds, we can know that it’s true and praise God for the wonder of it all.
But there’s one other thing I should tell you about what my son has been up to recently.  He has also taken to taking things out of the shopping cart when we’re in a store somewhere, and handing them to people who walk by, saying, “For YOU!”  And once we know the story, and remember again that it is the story of God at work, come to save all of us, we are sent out to do like those shepherds did, to tell others and let them know the story is, “For YOU!”
Will you come and receive the Christ tonight, born in a manger, God-with-us, come to save us all?  Will you come and believe the story again, no matter how many times you have heard it before?  And then, will you go and share it with others, praising God for God’s mighty and wondrous deeds, at Christmas and always?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Looking for Light

This was my meditation for my Longest Night of the Year Service on the 21st.  I always really appreciate having that service and doing some writing for it.  I'll probably post last year's meditation, whenever I get a chance to type it up--I lost a lot of my files from the past several years when my flash drive died recently... 

“Looking for Light” 
Longest Night Meditation 2013
Matthew 2:9-10

 Brock, Benjamin, and I were returning home one evening recently, and as we rounded a curve in the subdivision, the lights at one house clicked off.  We realized as we drove down the street that the power was out all the way down the street, but just on one side of it.  We were thankful to arrive at home and find that our power was on, though I know our neighbors were not nearly as pleased, as they sat in the dark across the street.  It was comforting to see the lights of home.
We’ve heard some of the story of the wise men tonight.  They were people looking for light and longing for home, like us in some ways, though they followed a star in the sky, which I doubt many of us have done.  Yes, perhaps the wise men weren't unlike us. Sure, they had purpose and they were excited about the mission they were on. They looked forward to seeing this king that they had been searching for, for so long. But they were probably also weary, tired of wandering and tired of wondering when they would get to where they were going. They had spent so long looking at a light up in the heavens; perhaps they were more than ready to find a welcoming light on earth below. Their journey had involved untold peril. They could not have known when they started out just what they were in for. Maybe it was a surprise to them to run across Herod, this nutty king who seemed, at best, a little bi-polar in his response to their request for help finding this new king. It had been a long, strange trip, indeed.
            And yet, Matthew tells us that when they arrived at the house--possibly after two or three years of travel, two or three years of wondering if this was all worth it—and they saw that the star had stopped, they were overjoyed. They were overjoyed! What else could they be? They could be disappointed because they had found some plain old little Jewish boy and his mom, but they weren’t. They could be confused, thinking this was surely not the right place, but they didn't stop and just ask for directions. The light they had been looking at for so long finally came to rest somewhere. They were overjoyed!
            We have nearly come to Christmas. We may have been chasing after joy in parties and presents, this whole time. We may have been on the outside, looking in, thinking everyone else knew the joy of the season and we were left out. Tonight, with the wise men (though they won't show up for quite some time, really!), let us rejoice to see that the journey we have been on, the journey we will continue to travel on, has been worth it. The darkness has not won. Just like for the wise men, the distractions and the dangers along the way have not overpowered us.  We have come this far, and we are still standing. And lest we be tempted to lose hope, even now, even as we have nearly made it through the longest night of the year, yet again, we hear again the words from the first chapter of John.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world."
~John 1:1-5, 9 (NRSV)
I guess it’s not surprising that we would talk about light and darkness a lot at this time of year, when we experience so much literal darkness.  And the Christmas story reminds us all about the difference between light and darkness.  We may just find ourselves in spiritual darkness, as well as physical darkness, this time of year.  And the promise is that no matter how much darkness we may feel like we’re sitting in, it cannot overcome the light that is Christ, shining into all the darkness.
The light that we have been looking for has arrived. There is no darkness in our lives great enough to put it out. There has never been, nor will there ever be. When we think we are in the midst of the pit, the light shall still be shining. When we think we are lost along the way, the light does not leave us to grope blindly in the dark. No, despite all our cares and the darkness that seems to set in, the light has, in fact dawned. We don't always recognize him. We don't always hear his voice. But he remains: God with us. Emmanuel. The very king the wise men traveled so far to see: God with us. The light of the world.
Let us, too, be overjoyed this Christmas, not because we have no sorrow, not because we feel no heartache, and not because we experience no pain. Let us, too, be overjoyed with the wise men because, at last, the one who came as just a baby is, indeed, the light we have been looking for. There is light in the darkness. New day will dawn again. And the light we have been looking for will be light to all people, that no darkness will ever extinguish.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.