Don’t Be Afraid…Christmas Eve Sermon

Don’t Be Afraid – Luke 2:1-14 – A Christmas Eve Sermon

It is here. It is right now. I can’t stand it. I have waited and worked and waited and finally it is here. It is Christmas Eve and this is one of my favorite times to preach. I love preaching Easter morning too…but tonight I love just as well. There is something so special and yet so simple about tonight that makes it so easy to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people.

At the 4:30pm service at the Stable I told people they needed to simply let the world go away for a moment and simply be present here in this moment. I ask you all to do the same. We have already read the Christmas story out of Luke and heard the wonder prose of John about the Word making his home among us. What excites me so much about this service is how tangible God is in this moment. There is something about candlelight and the soft singing of Silent Night that makes my heart leap out of my chest and proclaim that God has come to earth.

We need this message as we wrap up another calendar year. 2015 has been hard. I have had to lift up prayers for too many people who have been killed in violent acts. My mind had to wrap around the fact that a gunman walked into a church in Charleston and killed 9. Another walked into two military recruiting center and shot 8 people, 5 of who died. In October we were witness to another person who walked on to a community college campus and killed 9 and injured another 9. 3 more people died and 9 others were injured in Colorado and a Planned Parenthood clinic while 14 died and 21 were injured this month while at work at a holiday party.  There was another shooting today, Christmas Eve, at Northlake Mall in North Charlotte.

All of these shootings made us feel unsafe because were is there safety? These shootings happened at church, at school, surrounded by military, at the doctors and at work. Many of us have looked at this year and we don’t know what to feel and where we can feel safe any more.

These were human atrocities but mother nature punched a wallop this year too. There was the earthquake in Nepal, which killed 2,100. An avalanche on Mt. Everest took the lives of 19. There was horrible flooding which killed many in Texas, Oklahoma and our brothers and sisters in South Carolina. This was a horrible year for wild fires in the west where drought has been ravaging that area for a long time. Then there was the super typhoon that struck the Pacific causing major landslides and brought in 50 inches of rain.

You have all these events and you add the acts of terror that have happened here in California and around the world many people simply want to run and hide. But where do we go? If we turn on the television we have presidential candidates who tell us we should be running scared. They tell the world is falling down around us and what we need most is their leadership. We see images on news feeds of these disasters and we run to see disaster movies like Andres because movies of horrible disasters on the big screen distract us from the real-life ones on the little screens at home.

We are told we are to live in a constant state of fear and we shouldn’t trust our neighbors or those seeking refuge because we don’t know who will want to kill us. We are pushed to retreat to hang around only those who we agree with or see the world as we do. We look for someone to blame and for scapegoats in order to feel better. We surround ourselves with things that make us feel more powerful and secure but are only tools of human.

All of this is happening out there, out there in the world and yet here we are, on Christmas Eve in this place. We are here away from the wet and odd weather outside in this dry and sacred space to celebrate the arrival of God’s son. But what does it all really mean when there is so much out there that tells us otherwise?

A common tradition during this time of year is for many families to gather around the television and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is a wonderful special and I remember watching it with my sisters and parents every year. If you don’t remember the plot to this story, here is a good summary. Charlie Brown complains about the overwhelming materialism of this season and Lucy suggest that to recover the Christmas spirit he directs the Christmas play. Charlie Brown agrees and to help restore the proper spirit he brings an ugly and useless tree as decoration. It takes Linus to help everyone learn about the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

I love Linus’ speech at the end of this show and it warms my heart every time I see it. If you don’t remember Linus he is the one who carries the blue blanket everywhere. People try to get him to stop carrying this safety blanket around but they can’t seem to pry it out of his hands. There is actually a scene where Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog, tries to rip it out of Linus’ hand while they are ice skating. This turns into a massive disaster as Linus never lets go no matter how many other kids they pick up in the process.

When we think of Linus we think of that blanket and we recognize other people who carry around the same safety blankets in our lives. I had a Donald Duck I loved so much it almost fell apart. We cling to physical things but then we also cling to other safety blankets too. We cling to our pain and grief because it is what defines us. We cling to our fear because it makes us warm and fuzzy. This is all a shell we put up around ourselves because we are too scared of the reality if we actually let those safety blankets go.

Jason Soroski is a writer and musician and he wrote an interesting article that spoke to me this season. I knew where I wanted to go with this sermon tonight but Soroski’s article hit the nail on the head.  He points out something special about Linus and the end of this Christmas special. I am going to show you the clip and you see if you can spot it.

Did you see it? Did you see what happens. Linus drops his blanket. In the middle of him quoting the Christmas story from Luke, he drops his blanket. What is even more telling is that he drops it on a certain phrase. Watch it again because I know some of you don’t believe me.

Linus lets go of his blanket when he says, “And the angel of the Lord said to them, “Fear not.” In the movie there is a slight pause, Linus drops his blanket and then continues. This movie has been around for 50 years and I have seen it probably over a dozen times. I have never noticed this until this article pointed it out and there is no way that this was an accident. Shultz, the creator of the Peanuts, is a genius.

Now you might have noticed that he does pick up the blanket after he is done. And this is true for us. When we realize who God is and what his Son has done for us we drop the blanket but then life continues to happen and we pick it up again. But if you watch the rest of the show, as they rehab Charlie Brown’s messily little tree, Linus wraps his blanket around the tree to show it a little bit of love. In the dramatic ending, his friends all gather around say Charlie Brown was right, it was a nice tree. Then they sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Tonight, we gather around here today, with everything happening out there, today we get a true picture of reality. The reality we claim tonight is that Christ is born. Jesus Christ, God’s son, came to the world in order for us to be in God’s presence again. He humbled himself by putting on flesh and dwelling with us. He came to this world so we could understand and see what God’s love truly looks like.

So let us heed the message of the Christmas angel, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you – wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger….Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those who he favors.”

This is the first Christmas message and my prayer for you tonight is that you will feel this in your heart. May this message of hope, peace, joy and love be found in your heart because God put on flesh because he loves you. He humbled himself because he wants you to have the gift of salvation that is found in his Son, the one in the manger.

With a savior who is willing to come to this world as a helpless newborn in the middle of animals in a stable what do we have to truly fear? With a savior who goes from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross and bears our sins upon himself…what do we have to fear? With a love of God that tells us we are forgiven people and a God who defeats death for our sake…what do we have to fear?

The angel’s message is true. We have nothing to fear because we are loved by God who is willing to send his son to this world for our sake. The God who created the universe put on humanity’s limitations in order for us to have salvation. This God is always with us…even now…through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. With God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our hearts and here in this place tonight…we don’t have anything to be fearful of.

May you feel this hope, peace, joy and love tonight and always…and all God’s people said…Amen.

Christmas Day Service and Mission

Image from UMCom’s article

I, like many out there, is looking at December 25th as a low Sunday.  Maybe not as low as the following Sunday, Hangover Sunday, January 1, 2012.  After reading an article in UMCom’s email newsletter I was inspired to think outside the box about our worship on Christmas morn.  I remembered that Thomasville Medical Center has a ton of Christmas trees up in their lobby from different companies and groups who donate them.  I then thought how sad it would be to be in the hospital on Christmas Day for what every reason, even if it was to give birth or earning a paycheck.

You see where I’m going here…

I called the hospital and talked to a couple of people.  Finally working with the Chaplain there we are okay to hold a Lessons and Carols service in the lobby of the hospital on Christmas morning at 10:00am.  I’m excited.  I was depressed thinking about what it would be like in our sanctuary with only 1/3 of the usual suspects in attendance.  But now, those 30 can come to the hospital and join together in hearing the Christmas story be told in the scriptures and sing all our favorite carols.

I will post about how it goes, but I’m thrilled we are moving outside the comfort of our walls on the day our Savoir left his to come to earth. My hope is that we will gather together, patients, doctors, nurses, custodians, volunteers, new babies, and regular church folk from Trinity and celebrate the birth of Christ.

Matthew 2:13-23 – Sermon – The Great Escape

(Thank you for reading my sermon drafts, I hope it helps you out and please help me out by clicking on an ad)

Matthew 3:13-23
Great Escape

I tell every couple I marry. It doesn’t matter what happens, in the end you will be married. Sure enough there always seems to be a hiccup. I have never had a disastrous wedding, yet. But some of the issues that have arisen were definitely not what they bride had hoped for. The last wedding I did was outside in the family’s backyard. The bridal party had to be sent back to their starting spots, inside the house, because they came in too early. It was awkward as I stood there with the groom and best man wondering what to do. We stood there for what felt like an eternity. Another wedding I did was on the beach. It was beautiful outside, except for the 30 mph wind. I stood in the middle of a circle of shells trying to speak loud enough for everyone to hear me, I’m not sure if they did. But both couples were married at the end of the day.

For my first Christmas Eve midnight service I did what I did two nights ago. All the lights were turned off and all that was lit was the advent wreath. Then I blew out each candle until it was just the Christ Candle in the middle illuminating the whole room. It was a truly holy time. Then I blew the Christ Candle out and there was darkness. I thought it would be great if then I would light the Christ Candle and explain that out of the darkness came a great light that defeated the darkness forever. This light was Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger. I lit the match and in a wonderfully dramatic and liturgical moment I lit the Christ Candle.

It sat there burning for three whole seconds. Before I could even get the next words out of my mouth it went out. So I struck the second match, success for four seconds and then complete darkness. Four matches later the candle still wouldn’t stay lit. People were starting to chuckle. Others started to worry. The whole sanctuary was uncomfortable. Finally I gave up on the new Christ Candle and lit one of the other advent candles. The rest of the service went smoothly but I was a little crushed and embarrassed. Then one of the parishioners came up to me after the service and said, “You know what, no matter what candle you lit, it’s still Christmas!”

Sometimes things don’t work out like we had hoped they would. Your Christmas might have gone differently than you planned. But you are not alone, the first Christmas and the time following was full of confusion and craziness. Imagine you are Joseph for a second. There he is, engaged to a sweet young girl. He was a carpenter and was making a life for himself. Then his fiancé comes up to him and tells him she pregnant. I’m sure he is feeling rejected, stunned, ashamed and furious at this point. Then she goes on to tell him that it is God’s son and that she was still a virgin. Now he is beyond furious and on the verge of insanity. As he plots his next move to quietly break up with her an angel comes and tells him “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

He is faithful to his God and so he still takes her as his wife and does not consummate the marriage until after the child was born. The government then attempts to take a census which forces him to journey to his family’s hometown, Bethlehem. He traveled for days with a donkey and a very pregnant woman and when he got to his hometown he was greeted by no vacancies. Finally the settled down in a stable and there the child was born and more angels and strangers came by to say congratulations.

Sometime later some Magi showed up at his front door wanting to see the baby. After they left God speaks to Joseph again, this time through a dream, and tells him to move his family to Egypt. Joseph does in the nick of time too because the king Herod is irate that the Magi gave him the slip and the child born to be King is somewhere still out there. He demands that every boy two years old or younger be killed in Bethlehem. This is known as the Slaughter of the Innocents or the Massacre of the Innocents. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that between six and twenty children lost their lives in Bethlehem at the hands of Herod. Dozens others in the outskirts where probably killed as well. All of them died for no other reasons except a King scared he would lose his power and authority.

In 4 AD King Herod died and Joseph is told in a dream that it is okay to return. So out of Egypt the Holy family returned to the Holy Land. Matthew is making a sure that the readers of his gospel feel the connection between Moses, the main leader in the Jewish faith, and Jesus. Moses was in Egypt and freed his people. Jesus was in Egypt to stay alive and came out to free his people. Matthew then quotes Hosea 11 to tie this into Hebrew Scripture. For Matthew he wants to prove without a doubt to his Jewish audience that this baby born in a manger, this infant who ran to Egypt and then returned is the one God promised. He is the messiah.

As I read this my heart continued to go out to Joseph though. He has had four visits from God now and each time his world is turned upside down. One, he learned he was going to be a step-dad to God’s son, no pressure there. Two, he learned he had to move to another country to keep his family safe. Three, it was time to go back because the vicious king was now dead. But God had one more message to Joseph, he told him to go to Nazareth in Galilee because Bethlehem was still a little too dangerous. Life just never seemed to get straight for Joseph. Every time he got settled, God would through him a curve ball.

We all know people who have lives like this. One thing happens and then another and then another. A past parishioner of mine was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at the age of 37. She fought it hard with chemo and radiation. During this time she also found out that she also had the BRAC 1 gene which meant she was predisposed to getting cancer again. She decided to be proactive and had a full hysterectomy, a tram flap and her other breast removed. During this time her step-father had a heart attack at church and died. Her mother went into a downward spiral after this and died some years later. Soon after this she was laid off from her job. Over and over again she was asked to start over, not by choice but by life’s curve balls.

Life is not perfect. Weddings are never perfect. Christmas is never as perfect as the Norman Rockwell paintings and nor should it be. If life was perfect; if life gave us everything we needed when we needed it; if life was seamless, stress free, and worriless, than why would we need a God? I’m not suggesting that God gives us struggles so we will need him. But if life handed you everything you would have no use for a God that offers everything. If life was perfect there would be no need for redemption, no need for repentance, no need for salvation.

Babies are always worrisome. I know first time parents who couldn’t sleep the first few nights without holding a mirror up to their newborn’s mouth every hour to see if he was still breathing. I was one of those parents. Parenthood is an initiation into a life of worry and a life of unforeseen issues. Campbell is going to be that child that always keeps me on my toes and on my knees in prayer. Since her first birthday she has burned her fingers on her birthday candle, fallen down the stairs, chipped her two front teeth, electrocuted herself, fallen out of her cozy coup and gotten road rash on her face, and then the other day I was turned my back for a second and she did a full flip out of her crib and landed on her head. We have pulled her off a ladder, stopped her from running into traffic, and caught her attempting to jump off the couch. I know Alycia and I are sounding like parents of the year, but Campbell is going to be one of those kids. She is the one we will be taking to the emergency room every other week. She is the one I pray will survive to age three.

But Campbell’s second year of life is still a cakewalk compared to what the Holy Family had to go through. Parents worry about their children but I have never feared that someone was out to kill my children. I may have had a nightmare or two but I have never been warned by God to run for my child’s life. I have never been told in a dream that if I move to a certain city because my family’s life is in danger. I cannot imagine the stress Joseph had on his heart. I cannot even fathom the sleepless nights because of the stress of how he was going to provide for God’s son and his new wife.

There are passages in the Bible that we can read and easily understand the message we can take from it. There are those passages that drip modern relevancy. But this is a scripture you have to dig into a little, sit with a while before you learn what this means for us. This passage today tells us two things. One, God is always with us and is at work in our world. We can see that from the ways that he sent dreams to Joseph and kept the Holy Family safe no matter what the world was attempting to do.

We can also see that Jesus truly is the Messiah. In the telling of this story Matthew continues to form the foundation of proof, using Hebrew Scriptures, that this child born to Joseph is the son of God. He is the messiah, the promised one, God with us. He is the one that lives up to all the expectations and does so perfectly. Our lives might not be perfect and our holidays might be chaotic. We are sinful creatures living in a sinful world. We live in a world where leaders find it okay to massacre babies and have families run for their lives. Our world is looking for something to hold on to when everything spins out of control. We are reminded, that in uncertain times, our God offers protection. May you find the peace in the chaos that God will protect you and always be by your side. Joseph understood that and had faith enough to follow. May we all have the same faith in the same God today.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

Square Peg into Round Hole

Tis the season. The horrible time of year when many Christians wage war on the culture around them and demand their religious Holy Day be recognized. Some call it a clash of cultures; others the “War on Christmas.” I call it a time to roll my eyes and once again grin and bear it, silently…sort of.

I look at this cultural issue like the picture here. It is a square peg being forced into a round hole. Over and over again, year after year, Christians in the United States complain, rant, and belittle the culture around them. Through this repetitive cultural beating their hope is that everyone recognize Christmas. WHAM. They protest people saying Happy Holidays because somehow it puts Jesus back in Mary’s womb. WHAM. They tattle tale on different business that aren’t because they haven’t fallen in line with what they deem as the only means of hello or goodbye during this time. (click here to see what I mean, the name alone speaks of the common mix between culture and religious belief) WHAM. I start to hit my head on my wall in my office when I read stories like this one from the UM Reporter. WHAM, *ohh that one hurt a little*

My biggest frustration is the lack of clarity by many of the Christians in the US. What needs to be clarified is that, sorry to drop this bomb, but we are not a Christian Nation. We are a nation with a lot of Christians in it. This means that the culture in this nation should not be held accountable to our Holy Days. We are not the only religion that celebrates meaningful days during the month of December so Happy Holidays is a little more all encompassing, compassionate, and understanding.

For many Christians I think they look at our culture, our nation, and see a round peg because they are a round peg. They would like everything to be like them. But the truth is our culture is square. It is formed differently than Christians are formed. Our culture is formed by democracy, capitalism, the media, and tons of other forces. Christians are to be formed by Christ. See the difference?

Instead of banging on the square peg trying to force it to go through the round hole, why not realize you are the round peg that fits there. Instead of shouting about how Christmas is being forgotten, why not embrace our culture in the way we are taught by the one who forms us? Why not be Christ’s love for the world. I have a feeling if more Christians did this that square peg would turn round quicker.

Came with the Frame Update

Well, my plea was only heard by two people. Thanks Pat and Jodie. Although I could not read Jodie’s picture. Here is a great picture that Pat sent me. The sad thing was I couldn’t use them. I downloaded them but then the only way they could show up was to keep a flash drive in and I didn’t have a spare one. So thank you Pat and Jodie for participating in my failed attempt.