Advent – Christmas Day

December 25, 2021
 

John 1: 1-14

1In 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.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas! Today we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord. The incarnation. Emanuel, God with us. The traditional way we celebrate is the giving and receiving of gifts. We do that because of the story of the Magi and the three gifts they gave Jesus on his birthday. We all have many other traditions as well. Some are cultural. Some are traditional. Some are familial. One religious tradition is a bit surprising. If you look at the liturgical calendar, you will notice that Christmas Day is a day when we traditionally are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Why would that be? We are celebrating Jesus’ birth, why would we commemorate his death, right? I am not sure, but I think it might be that if we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s birthday, we can then celebrate the entirety of Jesus’ life and purpose all in the same day. We see that in the scripture today.

Jesus was the incarnate God.

He was introduced by John.

He was born into a world that did not recognize him.

He was not accepted.

But those who believe in him are saved.

And those who receive him see God.

When we understand what John is saying, we see that God was the first gift giver, not the Magi. God gave us Godself, lived with us, suffered with us, died for us and grants us citizenship in the Kingdom of God. That is the great gift of God. That is Emanuel. That is worth celebrating! Thanks be to God. Amen and amen.



Advent Day 23

 

 

December 24, 2021

 

Mark 1: 1-11

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

My daughter has a dog named Oakley. Oakley is a rescue. She got him from the Humane Society when he was about 11 months old. She never saw him as a puppy. Oakley came to her full grown, at least in size. It did not matter that she did not know Oakley’s origins. It only mattered that Oakley became her dog, her companion, a source of joy. Oakley rescued her from her then solitary life. 

The Gospel of Mark has no origin story for Jesus. I don’t know why. But what Mark does say is that Jesus was the one who would bring the divinity of God to humanity. Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. A cleansing that would not need to be repeated. A purification that would allow us to be reconciled with God. Mark looks at Jesus baptism as the culmination of the incarnation. Proof of who Jesus was and is. Jesus is God’s son, the beloved and God is well pleased. To Mark, Jesus’ origin was not important. Jesus importance was that he was here to rescue us. This is the good news of Christmas. Emanuel. God with us. God with you.



Advent Day 22

December 23, 2021
 

Luke 2: 39-40

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

When my kids were born, I was told by their grandmother that I should pay attention to every moment or their lives because in a “blink of an eye” they would be grown and gone. This was good advice because my eye blinked and my kids are grown and gone. But I do remember their lives. The years when they went form children to adolescents to adults. These are good memories. The problem with the Gospels is that they do not recount any of Jesus’ early years. Sure, we have the story of Jesus in the Temple when he was left behind by Joseph and Mary. But that’s about it. All we get is today’s text. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and became strong, wise and favored by God. We see him in the Temple at 12 then at his baptism at 30. Not much of a biography. What was Jesus doing on those years? No doubt learning what it’s like to be human. Learning the lessons we all learn as we grow up. The lessons that gave Jesus empathy toward us. The lessons that allowed him to understand our brokenness. The lessons that allowed him to forgive us, die for us and defeat death for us. It sounds like Mary and Joseph blinked, and Jesus because the savior of all creation.



Advent Day 21

December 22, 2021
 

Luke 2: 25-32

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

When my kids were little, and when I was little for that matter, Christmas morning was a magical time. We knew Christmas was coming and counted down the days. But the waiting was often more than unbearable. Then, when it was time, usually much earlier than I, or my parents for that matter, wanted. Down the steps we came to see the promised cornucopia of joy. 

I get the impression that is what Simeon was experiencing in his life. He was aware that he would see the Messiah before he died. But Simeon was getting old. He might have been counting the days. The wait might have seemed unbreakable. More unbearable than Christmas because Simeon did not know when the Messiah would come. But then he saw Jesus. Brought to the Temple for a ritual ceremony common for newborns. Simeon saw Jesus and knew his wait was over. This was the Messiah. Maybe he did a little dance. Kind of like my kids, and me for that matter, on Christmas morning. Jesus – the cornucopia of joy.



Advent Day 20

December 21, 2021
 

Matthew 2: 1-11

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  

6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” 

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

 

The Three Wise Men. We all know the story. They come from the east following a star. A star that leads them to a baby in a manger. They kneel in adoration and give expensive gifts. What is this all about?

They were likely astronomers of their day. They searched the sky for signs and omens. Searching for something new. Then they saw it. A new heavenly body. Such things were said to mean something big. Really big. Something world changing. The birth of a king, perhaps! So, they decided to go check it out. They are told Bethlehem was where a particular prophecy located the birth of the “Messiah”. And so, they went to Bethlehem where they found Jesus. Presumably they were told the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and knew he was more than just a king. They knelt before Jesus and gave him gifts. And they knew everything was different. And it probably gave them peace. 

Have you ever been in search of something? A sense of meaning? Something that will change your life, and give you peace? While we might not be “searching” in Advent (unless it’s that toy everyone, including your kid, wants this year), we are waiting. Waiting for something. Something meaningful. Something important. Something that changes everything. And we find it in this story. What the Wise Men found. More than a king. Emanuel. God with us.



Advent Day 19

December 20, 2021
 

Luke 2: 8-16

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

Why would shepherds get the angelic birth announcement over say … Caesar Augustus? 

I am on the Board of Directors for the Baptist Homes Society which operates residential facilities for senior citizens. One of the covenants we make with people who become our residents is that if they run out of money, we will not make them leave. The cost of their continued residence will be covered by donations made to the Baptist Homes Foundation. We have several such people who are in that program. I have had the chance to sit and talk with such folks over the years and a common theme is that they are beyond grateful. They don’t know how it is they deserve it. Yet it is their return of thanks that is enough. Just because they are on the bottom of the economic ladder, they deserve the dignity we give them.

This came to mind when I read this passage this week. It is a question people have been asking for 2000 years. Why was the angelic birth announcement addressed to shepherds? Maybe there is a lesson there. The shepherds were the true outcasts of society. If there was a caste system in place, the shepherds would have been at the bottom. (Please note that this is not a universally accepted view of shepherds in Jesus’ day but is the view of many.) That the angel tells them of the birth demonstrates that this newborn savior is, in fact, for all the people. This is an announcement that goes from the bottom up. Shepherds to Wisemen to Herod to the High Priest to Pilate … you get the picture. Jesus turns thing upside down to show us all that God does not recognize distinctions between God’s people. I, for one, being neither real low not real high, am glad of it.



Advent Day 18

December 18, 2021
 

Matthew 1: 18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

A couple days ago I talked about Mary’s visit to Elisabeth. It was an effort by Mary to seek confirmation and affirmation about her angelic visit and pregnancy. My message was that God sends folks to us to tell us things we need to hear if we are discerning and pay attention. God can speak to us in many other ways. Many of us can speak to experiences that are hard to explain. I often describe it as “having a thought that is not theirs”. I’m not talking about “hearing voices”. I’m talking about a thought from nowhere that seems to resolve a problem or provide insight into a circumstance. I have been told about such things recently. It comforts me, because I have experienced them, too.

So, what does this have to do with Joseph and his dream? While Mary gets a personal angelic visit, Joseph only gets a dream.  A dream that resolves a problem and provides insight into a circumstance that Joseph is facing. Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant. The child is not his, but there is little doubt Mary has told him how her pregnancy came to be. Joseph initially does not buy it and is ready to follow the law. Send her away. Not a bad thing in those days. He could have asked that she be stoned. But then Joseph has a dream. A dream of an angel who shows Joseph the error of his ways. And Joseph is changed. He has a new mindset. And accepts his role in the coming event. 

My suspicion is that none of us have been visited by any angels, but we have had unexpected encounters in other ways that confirm what we celebrate this week: the birth of Emmanuel – God with us. It might be a good thing to take a moment and think about those moments that changed us and transformed out mindsets. The moments that brought us to our lives following Jesus.



Advent Day 17

December 17, 2021
 

Luke 1: 67-80

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: 

68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, 

   for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 

69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us 

   in the house of his servant David, 

70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  

71   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  

72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, 

   and has remembered his holy covenant, 

73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, 

   to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, 

might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness 

   before him all our days. 

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; 

   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people 

   by the forgiveness of their sins. 

78 By the tender mercy of our God, 

   the dawn from on high will break upon us, 

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 

   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. 

Since I became the pastor at John McMillan Presbyterian Church, I have baptized many babies (and the occasional adult). I love baptisms. Some call me the “baby whisperer” because so few cry when I splash on the water. When I baptize a baby, I do something that is a bit hard to explain. I speak to the child. “Child of the covenant, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And may you feel God’s presence before you, behind you, beside you, below you and above you all the days of your life.” What makes this hard to explain is that the baby clearly does not understand a word of it. Yet I say it. Why? It is a blessing. And a blessing need not be understood or even known about to be effective. 

That is what is happening on our scripture reading today. Zechariah is holding his son John (who leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the approach of Mary). Zechariah is explaining to his baby boy what God has done, and will do, and John’s place in it all. That John does not comprehend a word of it is not important. It is the reality of John’s destiny and the salvation he will play a part in that is important. It is a blessing Zechariah gives to his son. 

What do we learn from this? That God is our God and has saved us even though we do not understand how or why. In that sense we are John. But we are also Zechariah. We baptize children. Babies who do not comprehend what is happening or what has happened. It is a blessing. It is how we pass the good news on. Baptize and bless, baptize and bless, baptize and bless … 



Advent Day 16

December 16, 2021
 

Luke 1: 46-56

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 

47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. 

   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, 

   and holy is his name. 

50 His mercy is for those who fear him 

   from generation to generation. 

51 He has shown strength with his arm; 

   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 

   and lifted up the lowly; 

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, 

   and sent the rich away empty. 

54 He has helped his servant Israel, 

   in remembrance of his mercy, 

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 

   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

Today’s scripture is the Magnificat. Mary’s song proclaiming the endless goodness of the God who chose her to bear God’s son. But when we read those words, many of us cringe. Mary’s song speaks of the leveling of society. The proud are scattered. The powerful dethroned. The rich are sent away empty. For those of us who fall into those categories, this might be troubling. I remember a conversation I had with Pastor Tracy Keenan about preaching this passage. “How do we make this sound like good news?” My response was flippant, but true. “If people don’t read this as Good News, that’s … well … not good.” Is it good news even to the proud, powerful and rich? It should be.

Mary is describing the one who would mercifully step into the gap between the broken world to reconcile them to God, and maybe to each other. The one who would offer endless grace. That is what we celebrate during Advent. The act of one who makes us smile and realize that God is at work to reconcile. To bring grace and peace. Because Jesus came, things have been different between us and our God. We should sing, ‘Our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servants. 

Us.