Candles, Characters, & Carols VI- Christ

This is a sermon originally given on 12.24.11:

 

Last summer I had the privilege of serving at a church in North Carolina. There was a lady there who I had gotten to know and work with. She was really nice and good with hospitality. One day she came up to me with a sort of smile and told me, “Erica, my grandchildren are coming to visit next week. Just so you know they are the most precious grandbabies in the world. Ever. I wanted to make sure you knew that.” Oh, ok. Thanks. The way she said it was kind of intimidating like if you don’t agree you’re in trouble. When I met them, I don’t know if they were the most precious children I had ever met in the entire world, but I said they were. She scared me.

 

Something happens when a baby is born. Things change. Think back to a time when you held your child as a baby, or a grandchild, nephew, niece, a friend’s baby. This time last year my nephew was 12 days old. He was born on December 12, 2010. His name is Jacob. I saw him yesterday, he’s doing well. This is my parents’ first grandchild. I noticed that when I held Baby Jacob, the tone in my voice was different. Kind of quieter, you know. When my parents, especially my mother, hold him she has this sort of glow. Maybe you know what I mean. This side of her came out that I don’t remember seeing before. Babies change things. Babies change people. A baby changes you.

 

We are here to celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus Christ, that baby in the manger. God’s only begotten Son. The Savior. This is a festive occasion & I certainly don’t want to rain on the parade, [there’s enough rain outside for that J] but Jesus isn’t the only miraculous birth in the Bible, is He? Think about it. There is a theme throughout the Bible of fertility issues, miraculous births, and special children. Let’s think about Moses, Samuel, & John the Baptist. Don’t worry, we’ll get to Jesus too.

 

Moses– born a Hebrew under the Egyptian slavery. The Hebrews grew in population, Pharaoh felt threatened, and Exodus 1:22 tells us that “Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River.” BUT Moses’ mother, put Moses in a basket, into the Nile River, and Pharaoh’s daughter picked him up down the river. This is amazing, isn’t it?! Moses would go on to lead the Hebrews out of slavery and toward the Promised Land. God worked through Moses to deliver an entire people group, gave the 10 Commandments to him, and in one my favorite passages in the entire Bible, Moses experiences God. Exodus 33:21-23, “The LORD continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

 

Moses is so important that the Gospel of Matthew uses many allusions to Moses such as the law being clarified on a mountain, deliverance of people, and so forth. Today, if you go to askmoses.com, you will find an extensive collection of writings on Jewish theology and tradition. Ask who? Moses. Askmoses.com. You may have seen these shirts that were popular a few years ago. They said Jesus is my homeboy [slang for friend]. There was another shirt in the same line that said Mary is my homegirl. And I have seen a 3rd design- Moses is my homeboy. Moses- super important. God worked amazing things through him. Moses is incredible and highly respected, but I don’t worship him. Moses was a savior as God worked through him to save the Hebrews, but Moses isn’t my savior.

 

Samuel– Samuel’s mother, Hannah was barren. This was a source of much stress and shame for her as fertility issues can still be a problem for many couples today. Hannah prayed to God for a child and promised to give the child to God. So, Hannah had Samuel & takes him to the temple, to Eli the priest, and Samuel grows up in the temple. Samuel will go on to anoint Saul & David- Israel’s first 2 kings and is considered Israel’s greatest judge.  

 

There are some strong similarities between Hannah’s song of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2 and Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, but Hannah isn’t Mary. Hannah doesn’t birth the Messiah. God is even in the name of Samuel. That ‘el’ means God. The name Samuel can mean heard by God. You have to watch out for those names in the Bible with ‘el’. There is something special about these folks. More than their mamas think they’re special. Elisha means my God is salvation, Elijah means my God is the Lord, Emmanuel- God with us. Samuel even has the name of God in his name, but I still don’t worship him.

 

John the Baptist– What about John the Baptist? Again, Elizabeth was barren. The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah in Luke 1: “But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

 

All of this happened as Gabriel said. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, but he was not Jesus. The words and work of John the Baptist were so amazing that people thought he was the messiah, but he was not. Matthew 3:2-3 says “In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!'” John was even prophesied about, but he is not the Messiah, the Savior. John baptized Jesus, but he is not Jesus Christ, the Messiah. This brings us to Jesus.

 

Jesus– Just a minute ago we sang the song What Child Is This. Listen carefully:

What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary. Good Christians, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him; the King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him. This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

 

This is who Jesus is! Christ the King. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. The Word. The Son. Lamb of God. Emmanuel. The Savior. Son of Man. Son of God. Light of the World.

There have been some amazing people who have prepared the way for Him. There are amazing saints through time, holy people among us today, but there is only one- one- Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah.

 

In a minute we will confess who and what Jesus is:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:  who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,                     suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

 

This must be who Jesus Christ is to us- more than a baby, more than a teacher, more than a historical figure. A personal savior. A life changing presence in our life every day. This is a baby that changes things. There is something different in us, as believers, as Christians, once we believe the meaning and message of this baby.

 

As with all babies, you can’t help but think of their future. What will they be when they grow up? Who will they become? Well, we know the story of Jesus. He grew in stature and wisdom, gathered disciples, healed, taught, and sacrifice Himself. Why? For our forgiveness.

 

As the great hymn, O Holy Night says: “O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging, O night divine, the night when Christ was Born; With glowing hearts we stand by the Babe adored… Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Long live His truth, and may it last forever, For in His name all discordant noise shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise us, With all our hearts we praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, His power and glory evermore proclaim!”

 

Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but we also remember the bigger picture. His life. His sacrifice. I don’t know if you have heard this, but Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ in Hebrew. House of Bread. Let us take a moment to quietly reflect on the meaning of Jesus in our own life…

 

Advertisements

Candles, Characters, & Carols V- Love

Fidelity. Faithfulness. Endurance. Earnestness. Commitment. Certainty. Joseph.

Pope John Paul II taught in Theology of the Body, that commitment & faithfulness = love- especially for women. Was Mary not truly loved by Joseph as he first decided to divorce her quietly instead of making a scene, but then stayed with her & Jesus after an angelic visit? Joseph was faithful to the tasks given to him- name the baby Jesus, see that he is educated, raise Jesus, etc.

“Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” [Matthew 1:19-24]

Joseph’s commitment to taking care of his child [stepchild?] can be a helpful comparison of God’s love for us, His people. God is faithful to His people, raises us up to spiritual adults, & is committed to His people as shown by the way He gives grace upon grace, the Son as our salvific sacrifice, & guiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” [1 Corinthians 13:4,7]

Christmas Hymn by Steve Poole

Mary, Joseph traveled far

to reach the chosen place

Wise men followed a blazing star

With gifts for Christ to grace

Angels came from heaven on high

Proclaiming the newborn King

Shepherds came from fields nearby

Then left with songs to sing

Gifts of love we each can bring

Christ has come, now let us sing

Let your praises ever ring

Glory to the newborn King

Now we often travel home

Nearing Christmas Day

Yet, wise men share with those who roam

Of love and hope, I pray

For angels shout to hear them call

For help from all their strife

Christ lying in a manger stall

Was born to bring new life

Gifts of love we each can bring

Christ has come, now let us sing

Let your praises ever ring

Glory to the newborn King

Glorious day, rejoice and sing

Come to Christ, your praises bring

Let the Christmas carols ring

Glory to the newborn King

Candles, Characters, & Carols IV- Joy

An oft-forgotten character in the birth story is the faithful donkey. After reviewing Scripture, I do not explicitly see mention of a donkey escorting Mary & Joseph. [If I missed the reference, let me know!] However, this small detail seems to be an assumption & traditionally included. Let us assume that the traditional depiction of Mary riding the donkey is correct.

Donkeys are beasts of burden- intended to carry weight. How do we carry the weight we are given? There are many mentions of suffering & burden throughout the Bible. A few highlights:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. [Romans 8:18]

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. [2 Corinthians 1:4-5]

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” [Ecclesiastes 3:9-11]

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

These verses do not mean that we should deliberately seek out unpleasant things or that suffering is a direct requirement for salvation, growing spiritually, etc. If your life is anything like mine, unpleasant situations/people/etc. will find you. The difference is when [not if] they come, how to respond.

You & I are not beasts of burden, but burden comes anyway. Just as donkeys are beasts of burden- intended to carry weight, how do we carry the weight we are given? Perhaps you have a stressful home life or vocation. What do you do with it? Perhaps you have many children and/or relatives that depend on you. What do you do with it? Perhaps you have a health condition? What do you do with it?

There is a common theme in the verses above- hope. You may have heard it said that happiness is temporary & fleeting, but joy is sustained & eternal. How is joy sustained & eternal? Hope. Let us hope in joy & take joy in hope.

 

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Edmund Sears

It came upon the midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth,

To touch their harps of gold:

“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men

From heavens all gracious King!”

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

 

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow;

Look now, for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing;

Oh rest beside the weary road

And hear the angels sing.

 

Candles, Characters, & Carols III- Peace

Change is inevitable. The New Year is upon us & change will come, whether large or small, whether we kick & scream or not. The New Year will come. Change will come. How did Mary respond to change? The angel came to her [Luke 1:28-37] & told her that she was going to miraculously conceive a baby. She was unmarried & lowly. A baby is a lot of change when you are stable and married. On top of the regular baby changes & stress, Mary faced Joseph divorcing her & significant social shame. How did Mary respond to change? With acceptance & peace. May you & I do the same, with trust that God is present, Emmanuel. 

 

“Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her… Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.” [Luke 1:38, 46-50]

 

Mary Did You Know by Mark Lowry

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM.

 

Candles, Characters, & Carols II- Hope

The first candle of the Advent wreath represents hope. Spiritual hope is much more than wishful thinking. It is the “belief that God will accomplish what He has promised. Christian hope is based on the fact that God has always been faithful to do what He said He would do”. (The Student Bible Dictionary)

 

Think of a time you said ‘I hope’. Chances are you said this because the situation was out of your control. For example, I hope the Rockets make it to the playoffs. I am not able to jump in the game and win by my own skill. [ha!] I hope it rains tomorrow. My hope does not alter the weather patterns or probability of rain. I hope the newborn baby is healthy. I am not able to control for the millions of things that can go differently than expected. However, hoping can lead us to God by reminding us that we cannot control every outcome.

 

I seriously doubt The Wisemen knew what they were getting in to when they put hope in the star and followed it toward young Jesus, but they were faithful to the task. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” [Matthew 2:9-11]

 

Herod tried to gain control of the situation by taking matters into his own hands. “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”” [Matthew 2:7-8] ‘So that I too may go and worship him’ is apparently code for go and kill the threat, the ‘King of Israel’. Herod’s hope was in his own ability.

 

True hope is in God, an external yet internal source. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that God’s presence, through the Holy Spirit, is in me as a spiritual connection. However, God in totality is much much bigger than that which is within me, what I have experienced, or that I can understand. God is larger than life and even bigger than Texas. True hope is in God by trusting that more is needed in situations needing hope than my own willpower, skills, intelligence, abilities, or connections. There is more.

 

Herod’s mistake was that he put hope in his own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Wisemen put hope in the North Star, a provision of God Creator, to guide them.

 

Advent is a time of searching. Searching for the identity of Christ and the meaning of Jesus Christ in our own life. Where do you search? How do you search? Where is your hope?

 

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8]

 

“O Come All Ye Faithful

Joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.

Come and behold Him,

Born the King of Angels;

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.”

-O Come, All Ye Faithful

 

Candles, Characters, & Carols I

Subscribe here with your email address to receive future posts in your inbox —->

Advent is the time of year when Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas. Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving and climaxes to Christmas Day, December 25. Advent is similar to Lent, 40 days leading to Easter, in that a significant Christian holiday approaches. In order to fully experience the joy of Christmas [or Easter], spiritual preparation and reflection makes the difference between the holiday whizzing past in a tizzy or savoring the depth of remembering such important events.

The purpose of this blog series will be to reflect on the meaning behind the advent wreath candles- hope, peace, joy, love, & Christ, as well as looking at some characters in the Scriptural [Bible] Christmas narrative. Finally, each post will include a related, probably familiar, carol/poem for reflection. I hope you will trek with me on this journey to Bethlehem, to Jesus Christ.

A disclaimer- it is a tradition in my church for each family to gather in order to make an Advent wreath and receive a packet of devotional/family activities written by gifted church members. There is fantastic commentary and ideas in this material and I will pull from it regularly. Contact me if you would like more information on this.

This time last year, my family & I experienced our own private Advent. My nephew, the first grandchild of our immediate family, was due in December. I notified my professors that I may need to leave at a moment’s notice to join the birth & arrival of Baby Jacob, made a ‘to pack’ list for an overnight bag, and strategically had my phone on me at all times. I was ready. I anticipated the birth of our sweet boy. Ready or not here he comes, but I was ready. What are you doing to be ‘ready’ for Christmas? I don’t mean shopping, baking, party planning, travel plans, etc., though these can be important details. What are you currently doing each day & week to spiritually, mentally, physically, anticipate the annual celebration of the arrival of the Sweet Boy?

I have come across 2 accessible & helpful resources:

1)     Following the Star- [http://www.d365.org/followingthestar] sign up for a free daily ecumenical devotional during Advent here including Scripture, a devotional thought, & written prayer.

2)     The Upper Room- [http://www.upperroom.org/] is a daily devotional style magazine produced by the United Methodist Church. I have found it to be just the right length at night. Perhaps your local UMC congregation might have an extra printed copy or you can order online. There is an email subscription option, also: [http://devotional.upperroom.org/emaildevotional]

Let us be like the Innkeeper, in reality pressed & full, but still making room for Jesus. Christmastime is quite possibly the ‘busiest’ time of the year for most people, but let us be focused on the ‘reason for the season’- Jesus Christ.

Let us be like the Advent Wreath- with its evergreen branches in a circle representing the unending love of God for His people, the candles representing the light of Jesus Christ in the world, & the different colors coming together to make something beautiful.

“Jesus, devoted redeemer of all nations, has shone forth,

Let the whole family of the faithful celebrate the stories

The shining star, gleaming in the heavens,

makes him known at his birth and, going before,

has led the Magi to his cradle

Falling down, they adore the tiny baby hidden in rags,

as they bear witness to the true God by bringing a mystical gift”

– St. Hilary of Poitiers

“Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”

A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!”” [Isaiah 40:3-9]