Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Sermons (Scroll Down)

Who do you Thank?

Genesis 1 and Luke 12: 22-31

November 27th, 2009


            Sometimes when preparing for a message I find it helpful to read or listen to something that is diametrically opposed to what I believe ( it gets my juices flowing).  This week it was a speech given by and atheist Richard Dawkins who wrote a book called the “God delusion”.   In his speech I heard him speak of unknowns, awes, and wonderment concerning the nature of the universe which looked a lot like worship, or glorifying something “bigger” than ourselves.   For him this principal which brought forth such things as “Awe and reverence” was not a personal, active, and living God but rather, a system or a principle which he called “Darwinian Natural Selection”.   You could say he was in a worship mode, but   question was to whom is that reverence and awe directed toward?   For Richard Dawkins it is not toward a personal loving god, but rather a “as he describes” it a simple system, a principle.  However we are not so concerned today with worship, pointed out toward something, whether he admits or not, Mr. Dawkins does that, but rather toward someone who is real and true.  A personal God, who both creates the universe, and watches over the Lilly of the field and the birds of air.  If he has done, and is doing all this, how much more does he care for you and me.       

            Whether we recognize it or not, we are on the receiving end of great gifts from our personal God.  Our God, the true God,  speaks and things come to be.   Not only that, but he says that everything he has made is good.   As we say together in the creed God creates out of nothing, and he looks over creation and “places his stamp of approval on it” by saying it is good.   The reality and truth of God’s loving care is found in his everyday gifts of life, family, food and clothing.  All these things he gives, and we don’t have to ask.  The Christian faith is a very “creation” orientated faith, in that we rejoice in the everyday things of life, and by the grace of God and his Spirit recognize that these are all gifts of God.   Luther writes “He gives me clothing, and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land , animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.   However, we to often live thinking about what we don’t have rather than what we do have.  Think of the following don’ts.   I “don’t” have enough money.  I don’t have the ability to really make a difference in someone else’s life, like maybe someone else I know.  I don’t have enough time, especially when so much is expected of me over the holidays.  I don’t have youth on my side anymore.  I don’t have experience.  I’m not confident enough.  I don’t have enough clothes, athletic ability, food and drink…. And the list goes on and on and on.   Notice what we do with all of this, we reference our lives not in relationship to God, but in relation to how we see others are.  We live our lives in the “I don’t…….”, rather then in the truth of “I’ve got”…   Now mind you this can sound a bit arrogant, and if we are comparing ourselves to others, this is exactly what we have.  However, our reference point is not to ourselves, but our Got’s come from the God who is our Maker, and in Jesus Christ is our redeemer.

            The reason we live in the “I don’t” is because of this thing called sin.  At its core sin is the failure to recognize God’s merciful and real care in our lives.      Go ahead look at God’s power and his creating work, but ultimately you and  I can stand here confidently before God and others because we have a Savior who covers all our real needs.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you as well”.  The fact is that God see’s you and I as worth his rescuing effort.   This is not some sort of abstract rescue, but a rescue that goes to the very core of our existence.   You know what I found fascinating about Richard Dawkins lecture is that he perceived Christians to put God into a box.  That is, if you say that you have to believe in the creeds, the bible or whatever, you are boxing God in.  Your God is much smaller than the “many possibilities” in such false gods as Darwinian evolution.  Yet  to recognize the reality of God’s creating, preserving and redeeming presence in Jesus Christ is in fact “freeing”.  While he does not see it as true, but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ you and I know better.  We know the truth, and this truth sets us free. 

            Yet, God is not finished, he sends his Holy Spirit, to enliven our lives with his words of promise given in his Word, meal, and baptismal shower.    Brothers and sisters in Christ, thank God almighty that he has seen fit to give,  give and give, some more.   You and I  count the blessings every minute for every hour of every day for the rest of your lives and you wouldn’t come close to the final tally.   This Jesus, who has your beginning all laid out, and your end guaranteed, and everything in the middle taken care of,  is certainly worthy to receive our lives of praise.  Amen.

Advent Expectations

Luke1:13-15a, 18, 24-25, 57

December 9th, 2009


          Every year after Christmas my wife or I write in this book  (show book) our Christmas memories”.  In 1996 we ended our book with this statement.  “There you have it for 1996. It sounds like our 1997 Christmas will have a little one around.  We wonder what that will be like?”   A sense of “expectation” filled much of our 1996, as we anticipated the birth of our first child.   What would it be like to be parents?  Can we really survive on such little sleep?    Will the baby room be ready?  Few things can match the joyful expectation of a child along the way.   If this true, then how doubly difficult it is for those who desire children, but for whatever reason are not able to have children.     According to one source from 10%-12% of women and men of child bearing age deal with infertility.  Today, at least for some, there are solutions to the problem.  However, in biblical times there was little the medical establishment could do to help.  Elizabeth was one among a long line of biblical women who lived with such issues.  In 1 Samuel we see Hannah praying and weeping for a son so intensely   that Eli noticed her lips were moving, but no sound was coming from her lips.  Rachel of was so distraught at not being able to have children she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die”!  Even Abraham’s wife who was well along in years, so resigned herself at not being able to have a child and laughed at the mere suggestion that she would have a son. (Genesis 18:12).    Then you have Elizabeth.    She had been married for many years, but her husband was a priest and it was his time to serve, so he had left her for a time to go to the temple.  She was all alone, and whe was used to it.  Though, unlike other women she did not have children or grandchildren to keep her company.     As she would progress in years, she and her husband must have wondered who would support them  in a society where children were the primary care givers for the elderly.   No social security here….

          Then there came that promise.     A promise that indeed Elizabeth and Zechariah would not only have a child, but that “He would be a joy and a delight to them, and many would rejoice at his birth.  He would be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1: 14-15).   Every parent expects or hopes that their child will “stand out” in the world.  They hope that their child would be great, and that their child will really make a difference.      Elizabeth’s child, John, would really be this.  However, His greatness would be an “other greatness”.   A greatness that took expectation to another level.   John may have been heard saying….You think I’m great, let me tell you about the one coming after me, “his shoes I am not even worthy to sit down and untie”.   Of him alone could John say “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

           After five months in seclusion, Elizabeth would meet Mary, and her great expectations would take a huge leap forward as her son leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.    What was God doing for her?  What is God doing for us?   He, in his gracious promise, and in the reality of his incarnate son exceeds all human expectations.    

           We to go through life with a variety of expectations, and indeed  this time of year is “filled with expectations”.    If we are younger, we may set our hopes on various gifts.    We adults get a bit cynical about expectations, maybe we’ve been burned too often.    We get burned by others when they disappoint us with their actision.  , or at least feel that way .    It is especially disappointing when we see friends or relatives, people we know and love, who make choices in their lives that are simply not helpful.   Yet, we get even more cynical about ourselves, and it seems to me the older we get the more this is the case.  We have tried to be different, we have tried to get more healthy,  we have tried to be more patient, we have tried to be more faithful and regular in our prayer and worship life.  Yet, who are we kidding.   The disappointment of unfulfilled expectations doesn’t just go toward others, it also flows toward ourselves.

          Yet,  God goes beyond human expectations, he goes beyond human cynicism, and beyond human disappointments.    In this evenings Epistle reading Abraham writes “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations”.   God’s promise of a son, and of a future Savior, would sustain and keep Abraham.   The writer to Hebrews speaks of this “beyond expectations” with these words “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.    How can we be sure and certain?    Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and yes Mary were not given empty expectations, but flesh and blood real hope in the birth of their Sons.  Isaac, would carry on the family line, Samuel would be a great prophet helping to maintain the kingly line,  and Elizabeth would have the one crying in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and   Mary’s son would be the one of whom the song says “the hopes and dreams of all the years are met in the tonight”.  

          God exceeds our expectations in many ways.  You can probably sit back tonight and think of many situations where God went above and beyond what you desired or expected.    Sometimes  it seems the opposite,  and disappointment seems the order of the day.   We don’t know for sure if Elizabeth saw her son perform his “great ministry”.  If she did it probably looked different then she expected.   I’m sure she  would have picked out different clothes for her beloved son, and she may have liked him to tone down his rhetoric.   Mary to, saw her son our Savior, suffer a Calvary death, and her heart   was pierced at his suffering.   Greatness for John,  and greatness for Jesus looked very different from what one humanly expects.    Yet, in Jesus you and I have a flesh and blood real kind of hope, a real place to center our expectations.     Disappointment in ourselves and others, sins both large and small, grief of any sort do not and did not stop our Savior from claiming you and I as his dearly loved ones.   Thanks be to God for advent expectations.  Amen.  

Christmas Eve Service

Luke 2:8-14

December 24th, 2009


          It is a predictable/traditional time of the year.   Traditions, for the most part stay the same.   For example when to open gifts, what to have for dinner, whose house to visit, and the list goes on.   We gather in this place, and the songs are similar, and of course we end with a candlelight service.   However, that first Christmas was anything but predictable.      Shepherds of all people the first receivers of the good news, who would have thought?    Even to have no room at the Inn, in a culture that esteems hospitality, was not the norm or predictable behavior.  In some ways it is also surprising that the shepherds started out as fearful and or helpless.      

          Yes, in this Christmas account, the presence of the angels and the glory of the Lord first brings fear.   Oh, I know the angels says “fear not” shortly thereafter, but the first reaction to the presence of God among them was one of great fear, and great distress.     Recently I was thinking that this flu bug going around, probably wasn’t going to get me.  I exercised, ate right, and pride fully thought even though everyone around me is sick, not me.    Ah yes, pride goeth before the fall.   Sparing you the details, the fall was reality, and for a good portion of a day earlier this week floor was my closest friend.   Now what does this have to do with the Shepherds fear?    Well, the basis of their fear was helplessness before the angels and the glory of God.  It is a good thing to be reminded of our helplessness before god.    They had no place to go, in other words they couldn’t’ run away.   Even if for a brief moment, they must have thought “you know, I really haven’t attended synagogue as I should”, this excuse in the presence fo this angels wasn’t going to cut it.  They may have thought,   I really haven’t lived the kind of life one should live, but even this would ring hollow.     They were helpless and they were fearful.  This is where tonight’s Christmas account begins.  It begins where we are all at.   Sure, we gather at different stages in our life, we gather with a variety of experiences.  Yet,  before God,   we first stand like those Shepherds, helpless, fearful.   If not, we should.    God knows us better then we know ourselves, he knows about our half hearted commitment to Christ and his Word.  He knows our failures; he knows we are not as strong as we sometimes like people to think we are.   He knows that we encounter events and things on a daily basis we cannot control, and that we don’t have a clue how to get through.   So what do the shepherds do?  How do they stop themselves from being terrified?   How do they deal with this helplessness, great fear, great helplessness before their maker?  

          They do nothing?   But God, the almighty one, who from eternity created and keeps watch over the world, does more than something.  The angel says “fear not, I bring you even greater news of a greater joy.   “For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord”.   For these shepherds, for these helpless shepherds, God took care of the fear, and replaced it with an even greater message.    Everyone   present here tonight is in desperate need of a Savior.    One who rescues us from helplessness.  One who rescues us from fear.  One who rescues us from sins, yes even those two or three that come to our mind.    One who rescues us from shame.  The bible says  “If God before us who can be against us”.   One who rescues those who have learned the hard way, that my way is not better then God’s way.   Every other religion, every other approach to God, says that in some way we need to reach up.   Oh, but with this news , God reaches down, way down to live among those who need a Savior.    God doesn’t send us five advice points in order to get out of helplessness.  He doesn’t say, the key to having a connection with me is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Rather he sends his Son, his real flesh and blood Son.  One who is not only God himself (Immanuel) but the perfect human.    He sends him as our substitute, one who has sacrificed everything, even his life itself, so you and I can be lifted up.   Our helplessness is real, our diseases and sicknesses that devastates us are real,  sin that separates is real, the devil who seeks someone to devour is real, but this Savior is dare we say “even more” real.    He lifts up the helpless, bears our diseases, conquers Satan, and forgives our sin.    There are a number of great miracles and wonders in this account, including God becoming flesh, multiple angels lighting up the sky, but the greatest miracle is that this Savior has come to rescue you and   rescue me.   Amen.      


The Shepherds Response

Luke 2:16-20

December 25th, 2009


          Last night we heard that the message given to the shepherds first caused legitimate fear, they were in fact helpless before the Lord.  They needed a Savior, just as you and I need a Savior.  Jesus comes, and through the angels we hear that this Savior is not only for the whole world, but also for us.   Today we are going to look at the response of the Shepherds.  It was a response of obedience, a response of spreading his word, and it was a response of rejoicing. 
          What were the shepherds to do after they heard the angel’s message?  They were to find Jesus, not because he was lost, but because without him they are lost.   “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.  They were simply to look at the Savior and be in the presence of the Savior.  To be obedient is first of all to go to where the Savior born for you is located.  To go where he promises to be?    If they were to go and see the Savior, though,   their daily ‘shepherding activities” would have to take second fiddle  for a while.    Our old nature tells us there are so many better things to do with our time then to spend it listening, singing, and hearing and receiving His Word.   Places where Christ chooses to dwell for us.   Our old nature says what difference does it make if I have the Lord’s Supper?  What difference does it make if we hear this account again and again?     After all I learned this as a child, and most of it is just review anyway.    When it comes to worship, reading the bible, spending time in prayer we say or at least think things like   “what is the least I need to “do” to stay in the Christian faith.”      Can you imagine the shepherds saying something like this to the angels?   It might go something like this.  “You know that sounds great, but we have all these sheep to watch.  I tell you what, our next crew gets in at 7am, and we’ve got a few errands to run in town.    If we get a chance we’ll swing by the old manger scene after we pick up a few things in Bethlehem.        Is this how faith talks?   Jesus has chosen to be with us in our baptism, where two or three are gathered in his name he is in the midst of them.   He says “This is my body shed for you” .    The Bible says faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.   Jesus has chosen to show his mercy in some very tangible, real ways.  Go where his Word, his meal, his baptize fellowship together.  Being obedient, by being in his presence.   Even though his presence would look pretty ordinary.  After all I’m sure this baby looked pretty similar to any other Middle Eastern baby.  Yet what they saw only was great because of what they heard about him.    This is the way it was with Jesus throughout his life.  Jesus would experience hunger, but it is said about him that he is the bread of life.  Jesus is the well spring of eternal life, but on Calvary he would thirst.  He who is the way, would also become weary.  Jesus who is the truth would be accused by false witnesses.  Jesus who is just and holy would be condemned to die by the unjust.  He who is king would be born in a stable, why?  So that we could have a place in his mansion.  “Let’s go- started the shepherds in a lifetime of trusting, and believing God’s Word. 

          What else did they do after opening the passage?   They not only went, but it also says  they spread the word, and told what was said about this child.       The shepherds in effect became preachers of the gospel.   Our faith while certainly personal, is not a private affair.   In our families, at work, without being overbearing we too can say things like “I don’t know where I’d be without my Savior”.     While the message of the gospel is for you personally, it isn’t only for you.   It is to spread like a rock in the pond.  Whether we are shepherds, farmers, students, accountants, prison workers, retiree’s, homemaker, instructors, factory worker or office managers it is our great privilege to speak what has been said about the child.  That’s another reason why we gather together, so that we may state and/or confess together what the Lord has done.   We are to speak it within our families, proclaim it to our grandchildren.   May we like Paul say I’m not ashamed of the “gospel”, the good news of great joy, which is for all people.  The shepherds, I have a hunch, were not the most gregarious, outgoing of sorts, but through the gift of the spirit they spread the message.  

          They went back to their life, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.”   Our life to is   to be a life of praise, of thanksgiving to God, for all he has said and done.  Granted our lives, do not always reflect his love, but all the more reason to give him praise.  For our Savior is a Savior who continually picks us up, cleanses us, and sends us back out into this world.    Their place in life didn’t change, for they were meant to be shepherds, but they sure were changed.      

          The Shepherds show us a life of obedient trust, by going where Christ has chosen to be for us.  They also show us that this life of obedient trust moves as a life of outreach toward others.  Finally, they live a life praising and glorifying God for all he has said and done.   Help us Lord, live like the shepherds.  Amen.