Unto Us, a Child Is Born

Good news from North Haven

Luke 1:39-45 NRSV

It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and tomorrow is Christmas Eve. All of our waiting and expectation is almost over. We have gathered here this morning, and will gather here again tomorrow night to receive once again the long-expected baby Jesus.  Like Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, something inside of us is leaping for joy!

Our anticipation standsin sharp contrast to that first Christmas, when this baby was not received by everyone. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” in response to the good news. But not everyone thought of this birth as good news.

The shepherds were filled with fear. King Herod, despite all his soldiers guarding him at the Palace, was sore afraid as he saw this baby’s birth as a threat to his empire. Even Joseph, the man engaged to Mary, didn’t readily receive the baby. In the beginning he spent many a sleepless night questioning, “Who’s really the father of this baby?”

Jesus was conceived by a woman who was not married to anyone. We have given ugly names to such babies. Thankfully, I don’t here many children called the “b-word” anymore. It is such a sad name to describe a child, I find it inappropriate to say aloud from this pulpit. I do, however, hear the word, as I am certain Mary and Joseph heard the word, illegitimate, to describe such children.  And that, too, illegitimate, is a sad, ugly term for anybody, much less the very Son of God. Today, we also use other sad and ugly terms for children: “illegal,” “alien,” “abomination.”

In contrast to that very first Christmas where very few received this baby they called illegitimate, we will gather with the Church around the world to welcome and embrace this baby. With triumphant voices we will sing, “Come let us adore him!”

And there is a counter miracle occurring here. We are receiving the baby, but this baby is also receiving us. In the birth of Jesus, God came to us because we could not come to God. So, before we congratulate ourselves on our willing and eager reception of this baby, let us wonder at this baby’s reception of us.

Knowing that we cannot reach up to God, God reaches down to us.  God takes on our humanity so that we might assume some of God’s divinity. God came to show us that we are all children of God.  Think about that this morning.

You are a child of God. I am a child of God. We have divine value, sacred worth, a holy purpose.

We need to wonder at this reception, because we Christians have come to speak almost casually of this miracle when we say, “I am child of God.”

As someone who has been in the church for over fifty years now, and a minister for over thirty years, people often tell me that I should write a book.  A wonderful book of church stories filled with stories about you.

A Presbyterian minister from Northhaven, Minnesota did just that. In his book entitled, The Good News from Northhaven, Michael Lindval writes about his Presbyterian congregation.

It was his first Thanksgiving as pastor of the church. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving they were having an infant baptism. Dr. Angus McDonald II, (he sounds Presbyterian doesn’t he?) and his lovely wife, proudly presented their new son, Angus III, otherwise known as Skip, to be baptized.

When it was time for the baptism, Rev. Lindval turned to the congregation and asked what is traditionally asked in many churches that baptize infants. He addressed the congregation and asked: “Who stands with this child?”

Immediately, the grandparents, aunts and uncles and an assortment of relatives and friends, stood up and joined the parents at the front as they held the baby, presenting the baby for baptism.

When the service was over, after the congregation shook the minister’s hand upon exiting the church, Rev. Lindval, walked back through the sanctuary and noticed that one person had remained. He recognized her as someone who always sat on the back pew, closest to the back door. She was a social worker, he remembered. She seemed to be at a loss for words.

After an awkward silence, she commented on how lovely the baptism was, and then, fumbling for words, said to the pastor, “One of my clients, her name is Tina, has had a baby, and well, Tina would like to have the baby baptized.”

The pastor suggested that Tina should come to see him, along with her husband, and then they would discuss the possibility of baptism.

The woman looked up at the pastor and said, “Tina has no husband.  She is not a member of this church but attended the youth group some when she was in Junior High School. But then she got involved with this older boy.  And now she has this baby.  She is only 17.”

The pastor awkwardly mumbled that he would bring the request before the next meeting of Session, their church board meeting.

When the pastor presented the request before the Session, there was a lot of mumbling?  “Who was the father?”  The pastor said that he didn’t know.  “Does Tina have any other family?” “I don’t know,” the pastor said. Heads turned.

“How could they be sure that Tina would be faithful to the promises that she was making in the baptism?” was a concern brought by more than one elder.

The pastor only responded by shrugging his shoulders, but thought to himself, “How could they really be sure about anybody’s promise?”

With a lot of reservations, the Session reluctantly approved the baptism of Tina’s baby for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

When the Fourth Sunday of Advent came, the sanctuary was full as children were home from college and many of the members had invited guests. They went through the service singing the usual Advent hymns, “O Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and so forth. Then, it was time for the baptism.

The pastor announced, “And now would those to be presented for baptism come forward.”  An elder of the church stood up and read off the three-by-five card, indicating that he did not remember the woman or the child’s name, “Tina Corey presents her son, James, for baptism.”  The elder sat back down with an obvious grimace on his face.

Tina got up from where she was seated and came down to the front, holding two-month old James in her arms. A blue pacifier was stuck in his mouth. The scene was just as awkward as the pastor and the elders knew it would be.

Tina seemed so young, so poor, so alone.

But as she stood there holding that baby with poinsettias and a Chrismon tree shining brightly in the foreground, they could not help but to think of another poor mother with a baby, young, alone, long ago, in somewhat similar circumstances.  Yes, in another place and time, Tina and Mary seemed like sisters.

And then the pastor came to that appointed part of the service when he asked, “And who stands with this child?”  He looked out at the mother of Tina dressed in her meager way, and nodded toward her.  She, almost hesitantly, awkwardly stood and moved toward her daughter and her grandson.

The pastor’s eyes went back to his service book to proceed with the questions to be asked of the parents when he became aware of movement within the congregation.  A couple of elders of the church stood up.  And many, on the same row, stood up beside them. Then the Junior High Sunday School teacher stood up. Then a new young couple in the church stood up. And then, before the pastor’s astonished eyes, the whole church was standing, moving forward, clustered around the baby.

Tina was crying.  Her mother was gripping the altar rail as if she were clutching the railing of a tossing ship, “which in a way she was”—a ship in a great wind.  Moving forward this day so much closer to her ultimate destination. And little James, as the water, touched his forehead, grew peaceful and calm, as if he could feel the warm embrace of the entire congregation. Every person in the room stood as if this was their child, as if they were all family.

The scripture reading was, as it often is during this time before Christmas, 1 John 3:1, “See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

Tomorrow night, a baby will be born into our family. But it is by this baby we have been made family.

Maybe you came to this service this morning and plan to come tomorrow night all by yourself.  Maybe you do not have much family, maybe you lost the family you had, or perhaps your family is far away.

But on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, here, right now, do you hear that rustling in the pews? Listen. That’s the sound of your family, the whole human family, taking shape around the manger. And in a few moments, as you gather around this table and prepare to break the bread and drink from the cup, strangers become sisters and brothers.

Christmas means the Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us.

And what is that word?

“See what love the Father has given to us so we should be called children of God. And so we are” (1 John 3:1).

For unto us a child is born.

So no child born should ever be called “illegitimate,” “illegal,” “alien,” or an “abomination.”

For unto us a child is born.

So we will stand up to stand with all God’s children.

For unto us a child is born.

So every child will be welcomed, loved and affirmed; every child will know their divine value, their sacred worth, and holy purpose.

For unto us a child is born.

So all children will receive the hospitality of a cold cup of water, a hot meal, and warm shelter.

For unto us a child is born.

So every child will have access to equitable education, a fair living wage, affordable healthcare, equal protection under the law—everything they need for a future full of promise, potential and peace.

For unto us a child is born.

So every child will know freedom, justice and salvation.

For unto us a child is born

So every child will experience life: abundant and eternal.

For unto us a child is born,

So blessed is the fruit of every womb.

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I Smell Smoke

Pentecost fire

Luke 3:15-17 NRSV

Let’s be honest. Church, even as Christmas approaches, can be a pretty boring experience. Each Sunday we sit in the same pew, follow the same order of service, look at the back of the same ol’ heads, sing the same hymns, say the same prayers, and hear a sermon that we’ve already heard before.

I remember as a child doing all kinds of things to do to pass the time. I remember counting the number of times the preacher would wipe the sweat off his forehead with his handkerchief. I also remember holding mama’s hand and playing with her jewelry, turning the rings on her fingers, messing with her bracelets. And when she would get tired of all of that, I would just sit there and twiddle my thumbs, while secretly hoping and praying, begging for something, anything to happen.

Lord, if you love me, why don’t you send mouse running down the aisle, or through the choir loft? And Lord, if you really love me, maybe a cat chasing the mouse! How about bird swooshing through the front door!  Please, Lord, let something happen, something, anything!

I’ll never forget that Sunday my prayers were answered. In the middle of the typical, predictable service, while we were singing the offertory hymn, we began to smell this smell. It was hard to tell what it was, a burnt, smoky kind of smell. Then came the whispering. The hymn became more mumbling than singing. I heard Daddy whisper, “I think I smell smoke.”  Mama whispered back, “Gene, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Then, in the middle of the half-hearted singing and murmuring, someone in the congregation, shouted: “Fire!”

We then did what most folks do when someone yells, “fire,” in a crowded building. We got out.

We evacuated the sanctuary, but only to discover, there wasn’t really a fire. The furnace had simply over heated or something.

It was one of the best worship services that I’d ever attended!

As a pastor, there have been many a Sunday I’ve thought about that exciting day in church and secretly wished that it would somehow be repeated. In the middle of the service, oftentimes in the middle of my sermon, I have thought, what we need is somebody, anybody to stand up in this place and yell “fire” to just to create a little bit of excitement.

Well, this week, we’re in luck, because somebody is coming that is going to do just that! In the middle of our order of service that hasn’t changed in decades, comes this shocking introduction by John the Baptist:

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

I believe we really need to hear these words, because of how these words cut across the grain of why most of us, especially us grown-ups come to this predictable place to worship Sunday after Sunday. Children may still pray for something exciting to happen at church, but we adults, we know better. We know that nothing ever really happens here. Nothing ever changes. If we’ve never done it that way before, then we’re not going to be doing it anytime soon. And you know something? We like it that way.

We come here seeking a place of comfort and quiet consolation. Because after all, our lives are always on fast-forward, a real-rat race, always moving, constantly changing. So, each Sunday we gather here, to sit down, to stop, to center ourselves, to get grounded, to touch base with that which is stable and dependable, even if it issometimes boring.

In our fast-paced world where we have grown accustomed to burning the candles at both ends, especially during these weeks before Christmas, we like to come to this place Sunday after Sunday to slow down, cool down, quiet down and settle down. In a world ablaze with constant change and ceaseless activity, we need a place, if just for an hour, to just chill out. So here we are. The problem is: here comes someone who does something as audacious as yelling “fire” crowded building!

When we least expect it and perhaps least desire it, John the Baptist stands up and says, “Someone who is more powerful than me is coming, and he is coming with fire!”

Moses had just killed a man in Egypt. He’s a fugitive, a sinful human being floundering in the middle of nowhere without a purpose. Then, out of nowhere, comes, you guessed it, fire!  A bush bursts into flames. Then comes a voice that lights a fire under Moses. “I’m sending you Moses to stand up to the Pharaoh, to the powers that be, to give liberty to the oppressed!”

And John says that Jesus is coming to those of us today who just want to unwind and relax, “I’m consumed with that “burning-bush” blaze and I intend to light a fire under you. I intend for you to rise up, speak up and speak out on the behalf of refugees and migrants, to proclaim with your words and actions liberty and justice for all.

The children of Israel were freed by Moses from Egyptian slavery.  But shortly thereafter, in the wilderness, they began complaining, “You know, at least as Pharaoh’s slaves, we had three meals a day. At least the status quo gave us some stability, some sense of security. But now, here in the dangerous wilderness, we don’t know where we are going or what we are doing.”

Do you remember the response of God?

God said, “You poor, poor babies. I’m so sorry. Let me slow things down a bit and let you build a comfy and cozy sanctuary from the wilderness. Let me give you some nice padded pew cushions, so you can sit down and take a load off. I’ll send you a good preacher to sooth your spirits, ease your minds.”

No, God said, “I’ll give you fire, a pillar of fire leading you out into the darkness, driving you towards your purpose, pulling you into my future. I’m giving you fire to lead you to be the people I am calling you to be out in the wilderness.

And here comes John, saying to those of us today who just want to sit back and lay back, “Jesus is coming and he is kindling that same Exodus fire. And he’s going to light you up and show you gifts you never even knew you had, reveal opportunities your never dreamed possible, and take you to places you’ve never been!”

When the prophet Daniel describes the throne of God, he doesn’t describe a reign that is stationary and static, immovable and immobile. No, the prophet says that God sits on a throne with wheels, active, on the move, going places. And they are not just any wheels. Daniel says that they are wheels of blazing fire.

And here comes John saying to all of us who prefer to be set in our ways, secure in our beliefs, Jesus is coming on a chariot with those same wheels of fire to change your ways, challenge your assumptions and move you to take action.

The disciples were gathered together after Jesus had left their presence. They were just following the order of worship, going through the motions. The ushers were making sure everyone had a bulletin, everyone’s comfortable and seated, doors shut, typical boring service, then, at some point, perhaps in the middle of the offertory hymn, the building began to rumble, the windows started rattling, the doors swung open, and somebody shouted, “fire!”

We call that day the day Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit showed up as fire. William Willimon says that on that day, “the church was born in the crucible, in the furnace of God’s fire.

[And here comes Jesus, saying to those of us today who have come to this place to check out and chill out], My Spirit is ablaze with that same Pentecostal fire and I’m looking for a few good men and women here who are combustible!’”

The truth is, when our church becomes nothing but a safe, static sanctuary, a place of secure stability where nothing ever changes, where we can cool off, cool down and just for sixty-minutes a week, chill out, we are not fulfilling our purpose as the children of a dynamic, moving God. We are not the incendiary force that Jesus ignites us to be. And we are one boring sight—to God as well as to the world.

Yet, when we be become ignited, fired up, disrupted, when we allow ourselves to be engaged by the Christ, when we truly decide to not just worship Jesus in here but to follow Jesus out there, to not just go to church but to be the church, when we move our church out of the sanctuary into the world, each of us using the gifts we have been given by the fiery Holy Spirit to serve him, to truly love all people as we love ourselves, to meet the needs of our community; when we lose ourselves and become caught up in the movement of God, we become a purifying and warming blaze, and it is, I promise you, a glorious site to behold, to God, as well as to the world.

The question today is: Will First Christian Church accept a baptism of unquenchable fire? I believe I know the answer to this question. For today, here in this place, the good news is:

I smell smoke.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

its the end of the world as we know it

Luke 21:25-36 NRSV

December is here. The Advent Season has arrived. As Luke says, it’s time to “be on guard.” “It’s time to be alert.” “The Son of Man is coming!” It’s time to get ready! It’s time to make some preparations! It’s time to get our homes, this church and this city looking more like Christmas!

In just a few weeks, wherever we are, standing in line at Wal-Mart, sitting in the office or sitting in church, people will start asking us the question, “Are you ready?” “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Of course, what they mean is: “Have you finished all of your Christmas shopping? Have you purchased all of our groceries? Have your wrapped all of your presents? Is your house decorated?”

But the question that we probably should be asking, and especially be asking here in church is: “Are we ready for Jesus?” “Are we really ready for the Advent of the Messiah? Are we really ready for the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ?”

“The gospel”—that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?

The problem is that it is this word, “gospel,” is one of those words that we have heard and used so much as Christians, that it’s meaning has been distorted, diluted and even lost.

For some the word “gospel” only means some kind of individual, private relationship. It means the forgiveness of personal sins. It’s an individual’s ticket to heaven. It means that a personal transaction can be made with Jesus to avoid going to hell.

For others, the word “gospel” means the “right thinking about the Christian faith.” When some say “gospel,” they mean the body of doctrine that a person is expected to believe to be a true Christian. It’s a list of things we are supposed to be against as Christians, and most of it is individual, personal things.

However, the truth is that if we take the Greek word, evangelion, the word we translate “gospel,” many theologians agree that the word would best be translated as “revolution.”

In Jesus’ day, it meant “good news.”  But evangelionwas not just any good news. And it was never understood as individual, personal good news. But was good news that had political and social significance.

When one nation was at war with another, fighting for its civic freedom, evangelionor “gospel” was what was the report that was brought to the General. “Good news, the battle has been won!”

Or when a son was born to the king, ensuring the political stability of the kingdom, evangelion or “gospel” was what they announced to the public.  “Good news! A child has been born to the king. Our reign is secure.”

Mary’s gospel song at the news of Jesus’ birth is an example of such good news proclamation. “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” The good news, the evangelion continues: kings are being cast down from their thrones, the hungry are taking over, and the rich are being sent away empty.”

Her song is nothing less than a battle cry!

The song of her kinsman Zechariah at the birth of his and Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, is a similar gospel song: “as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…”

And when that baby grew up, when John began his own preaching in the wilderness, Luke literally described it as “gospeling.”  And what was the nature of his gospel or` good news? “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire.”

“And the crowds asked him, ‘what then should we do?’  In reply he said to them, ‘whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food, must do likewise.’”

In his very first sermon, Jesus proclaimed, in terms almost identical to John’s, that “the kingdom of heaven is near,” and then more precisely, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And by the way, this year of the Lord’s favor, this acceptable year, is what is called in Leviticus “the year of Jubilee.”

According to Leviticus, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.

It would involve turning the world upside down, the redistribution of wealth and power.

Do you detect a pattern to this good news?  When God comes into the world, when God moves against the present order, it is always good news for the poor and the oppressed, and bad news for the proud and the powerful—it’s political, economic, social good news, much more than individual, personal good news.

Evangelion means the end of the world as we know it.  Evangelion is what is described in our scripture lesson this morning: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations.” Our Savior is the one who saves the world by disrupting the old order of things and bringing a brand new order. And his reign, his dominion, is going to be so adversarial toward dominion of the powers-that-be, that his work among us is nothing less than a revolution.

No wonder that there were many in Judea that thought that good news really didn’t sound that good news at all.

No wonder John the Baptist ended up dead shortly after his sermon.

No wonder Jesus himself found himself hanging on a cross between two thieves just three years after first announcing this good news.

This is the good news of the gospel. This is the good news that John and Jesus, Mary and Zechariah proclaimed. It is not individual, personal good news that changes our hearts saves our souls. It is revolutionary good news that changes everything and saves the world!

Which begs the questions: Is this our idea of good news?

I suppose that the main difference between good newsand bad newsis where you happen to be standing when you get the news.

Here I stand. My life, my world is not too shabby. It’s a pretty good world, a pretty good life. I’m benefiting fairly well from the present order. I am pretty well-fixed, fairly secure, quite cozy. I have warm clothes, a warm home, a warm car, and warm food to eat and drink. I have never felt oppressed, hated, or discriminated against. I don’t need a revolution. And I don’t really want a revolution, especially if that revolution will come cause me to sacrifice something in my life, if it is going to mean the end of my world as I know it.

No wonder the meaning of the word gospel has been changed over the years from revolutionary good news to merely individual, personal good news.

“Good news!  The Messiah’s coming and he’s going to finally set right what’s wrong with this world!  He’s going to do justice where injustice has been done!” “He is going to change everything! He’s turning this world upside down. “It’s the end of the world as we know it!”

“Well, please forgive me for not rushing over to Bethlehem for the party!”

When Jesus was born, according to Luke, people like me missed the whole thing. The angels’ heavenly message of evangelion came to none of them. Rather, the heavens split open, songs filled the air, and an angelic army appeared to who?  To lowly, poor shepherds out in the fields working the night shift.

And the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those with whom God is well pleased.” Did you know that this phrase is almost a direct quote from the decrees of Caesar Augustus, one of the world’s most powerful and ruthless dictators?

When Augustus made some imperial decree to support Roman occupation of the Near East, the following were the words which opened the decree: “Glory to the most august Caesar (who was otherwise known as God in the Highest), and peace on earth to those with whom the god Augustus is well pleased.”

Do you see what’s going on here? Christmas angels now sing the Emperor Augustus’ imperialist words. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a royal decree: “Glory to God in the highest. There’s a new king on the throne, and Jesus Christ is King!” Therefore, Augustus is not.

Love is King. Selfishness is not.

Generosity is King. Greed is not.

Humility is King. Pride is not.

Social justice is King. Inequality is not.

Mercy is King. Putting yourself first is not.

Grace is King. Judgment is not.

Selflessness, sacrifice and self-expenditure is King. Self-protection and self-preservation is not.

Being a church that is about feeding the hungry is King, coming to church to get fed ourselves is not.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s good news.  I guess.

Let us pray together.

Come Lord Jesus. Expectantly, eagerly, we await your advent among us.  And when you come, give us the courage to receive you, to open our doors to you, and to open our hearts.  Give us the grace to receive you as you are, not as we would imagine you to be.  Give us the strength to step up, to let go, to move out, and to become citizens of your reign.  Amen.

Ten Things to Keep in Christmas

keep christ in christmas2014

Every year, we hear it: “Put Christ back in Christmas!” “Keep Christ in Christmas!”  Well, if truth is to be told, there are many things Christians need to put back in Christmas. Here’s a list of ten things:

  1. Put the infant Jesus back in Christmas.

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31).

The good news of Christmas is that for our weakness, God became weak. For our vulnerability, God became vulnerable. For our salvation, God became an infant.

God became a new-born baby dependent on humans to teach humans to become dependent on God.

As a church, let’s keep the infant Jesus in Christmas by always depending on God as infants depend on their parents. When we gather for communion each Sunday, we come not because we’re strong; but because we’re weak. We come, not because we have a lot faith, but because we have some doubt. We come, not because we are saints in need of affirmation, but because we are sinners in need of grace. We come, not because we are invincible and immortal, but because we are vulnerable and mortal.

  1. Put Quirinius, the governor of Syria, back in Christmas.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2).

When God chose to to reveal God’s love for the world, God chose to enter into a part of the world that has been demonized by Islamophobic Christians. I have heard people say that 9-11 taught them all they need to know about Middle Eastern people. The story of Christmas teaches me all I need to know. The people living in this part of the world are created in the image of God. When Jesus said, “For God so loved the world,” the was talking specifically about their world. They are God’s beloved children.

As a church, let’s keep the governor of Syria in Christmas by never dehumanizing or denigrating any person based on race, religion, or ethnicity and by courageously correcting people who do. Islamic extremists who run over and kill people in Central Park do not speak for all Muslims or all Middle Eastern people anymore than Christian extremists who run over and kill people in Charlottesville speak for all Christians or all Americans.

  1. Put Mary back in Christmas.

All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child (Luke 2:3-5).

It is ninety hilly miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. New Testament and biblical archaeology professor, James Strange, notes: “It was a fairly grueling trip…most traveled 20 miles a day.”

He continues: “Mary, as pregnant as she was, would have endured freezing temperatures, the constant threat of outlaws on the trade route, and harsh terrain. [And] when Mary finally reached Bethlehem, she and Joseph were turned away.”

As a church, we need to keep Mary in Christmas by always keeping risk in Christmas, by keeping adventure, sacrifice and selflessness in Christmas. Because the truth is, when the church becomes nothing more than a snug, safe, and static sanctuary, it ceases being the church.

  1. Put the manger back in Christmas.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).

In our minds, the Nativity is majestic. It is glorious. There is no crying, no fussing, no restlessness, no dirty diapers, no spit up, no anxiety, no fear. Our Nativity is a serene, sweet, sanitized scene. But that was not the reality of Christmas. The reality of Christmas was not beautiful, and it was far from perfect.

We don’t sing AWAY in a Manger for nothing, as Jesus was born far, far away from home among animals in a cattle stall and placed in a feeding troth with the stench of wet straw and animal waste in the air.

So, as a church, let’s keep the manger in Christmas by always being authentic, real people living in the real world, concentrating on real problems, comforting real pain, confronting real evil. The last thing this fragmented world needs are more fake, sanctimonious, pretentious Christians.

  1. Put the shepherds back in Christmas.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:8).

Like the Nativity, there is a tendency to romanticize the shepherds. After all, we have been raised in the church with our innocent children depicting shepherds wearing bathrobes in adorable Christmas plays. However, the reality is that shepherding was a despised occupation. New Testament Scholar Alan Culpepper writes: “In the first century, shepherds were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people who grazed their flocks on others’ lands.” They were considered to be among the outcasts of society.

Fred Craddock wrote that the shepherds belong to the Christmas story “not only because they serve to tie Jesus to the shepherd king, David, but because they belong on Luke’s guest list for the kingdom of God: the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame.”

As a church, let’s keep the shepherds in Christmas by always standing on the side of all those those that society marginalizes.

  1. Put Joseph back in Christmas.

“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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

Because he was a righteous man, Joseph promised: “I will not harm her, ridicule her, expose her, shame her, or do or say anything that will demean her dignity, worth or personhood. I will protect her.”

Fred Craddock once said, “If the Bible causes you to hate anyone, you are reading it wrong.”

If your righteousness, your theology, your faith, causes you to shame, degrade or harm anyone, you are doing it wrong.

As a church, let’s keep Joseph in Christmas by always doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

  1. Put King Herod back in Christmas.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3).

King Herod was not frightened because a child was born to help people get through a trying week at home, school or work.

Herod wasn’t frightened because a child was born to help people have healthier relationships, healthier bank accounts, or even healthier spiritual lives.

Herod wasn’t frightened because a child was born to make a way for people to go to heaven when they died.

The king was frightened because the birth of that child meant that a political and social revolution was coming! And no amount of lying, deceit and collusion was going to stop it.

As a church, let’s keep King Herod in Christmas by understanding that following the way of Jesus always has political implications. Let us keep fighting systems of injustice and any policy or legislation that does not protect the liberty and justice of all.

  1. Put the gold, frankincense and myrrh back in Christmas.

On 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 (Matthew 2:11). 

This part of the Christmas story has always bothered me. I could never figure how that little baby was going to be able to play with his Christmas presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh!

As a church, let’s keep these foreign Wise Men and their gifts in Christmas by always being receptive of new gifts, new ideas, new ways of doing things, even if they come from folks who did not grow up around here. Always remember the seven last words of a dying church are “We’ve never done it that way before.” 

  1. Put the refugees back in Christmas.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:13b-15).

This part of the Christmas story bothers many of us, but we need to remember that Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus fled for their lives into Egypt where they lived in exile for years. Who knows what it must have been like for them to be forced out of their home under the threat of death and travel across nations through unwelcome terrain? Who knows how they must have felt to be so unwanted and threatened and unprotected? Who knows?

800,000 DACA recipients know.

A friend of mine moved to a new church during the Syrian refugee crises a couple of years ago when many state governors were giving executive orders denying sanctuary for Syrian refugees. During a sermon, he shared some statistics and pointed out that if every church in America would adopt just one Syrian refugee, there would be no refugee crisis. The next day, he said that “a contingent” showed up in his office.

“Pastor,” the contingent said, “we are here to tell you that your sermon yesterday about the refugees was out of bounds!”

A contingent. Every church has them. There are positive contingents, and there are negative contingents. The problem is that the negative ones are often more vocal.

As a church, let’s keep the refugees in Christmas by regularly sending a different kind of contingent into your pastor’s study to encourage him or her saying:

“Pastor, we want you to keep boldly preaching the good news of Jesus, and we want you to preach it without boundaries! Because if you ever start watering down the gospel because of a few negative contingents, if you give in and start preaching a love with restrictions, a hope with constraints, and a grace with limitations, you will no longer be preaching the good news!”

  1. Put the angels back in Christmas.

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:10-11). 

New Testament scholar Culpepper writes: “The familiarity of these words should not prevent us from hearing that, first and foremost, the birth of Jesus was a sign of God’s abundant grace.” The birth of Jesus is a sign that God is on the side of ALL people—even the most despised, the most lowly, the most immoral, the most outcast.

As a church, let’s keep the angels in Christmas by always being a community of grace heralding good news of great joy for all the people, and all means all.

Let us pray together.

O God, thank you for Christmas. Now help us share Christmas by being Christmas, all of Christmas, for all of the world.

Invitation to Communion

Today we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ, God who came to us in human flesh, as a helpless baby. Those first invited to witness this event were a group of poor shepherds. They were not highly educated. They had no gifts to bring. They did not have fancy clothes. But an angel proclaimed to them, “A Savior has been born to YOU.” Today we come, as unworthy as those shepherds, to witness and receive God’s amazing grace and love.

This table is Christ’s table. It is not my table or the table of this congregation. It is the table of Jesus. And all who wish to know and love him are welcome here. Whether your faith is strong or wavering, whether you come to church often or have never been before, you are welcome here. It is Christmas and a Savior is born for YOU, and that same Savior welcomes you to this sacred meal.

 

Commissioning and Benediction

Go now and keep being the church and sharing the good news of Christmas in this community and in our world.

Go now into the world and keep humbly depending on God as infants depend on their parents.

Go into the world and keep keeping it real.

Go and keep preaching that all human beings are created in the image of God.

Go and keep doing justice on the behalf of the poor and marginalized.

Go and keep taking risks, serving others selflessly and sacrificially.

Go and keep doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Go and keep accepting gifts from others, even from outsiders.

Go and keep speaking truth to power, even if it gets you into trouble.

Go and keep preaching a love without restrictions, even if a contingent says you are out of bounds.

Go and keep heralding the good news of great joy for all the people. All the people. And all means all.

 

And always go in the name of the Savior who was born in the City of David who is Christ the Lord.

Christmas Shoes

sandals2

John 1:6-8, 19-28 NRSV

Regarding the gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s enfleshed self to the world, John said, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It was written in Jewish law that “pupils should do everything that is commanded by their teacher with the exception of unlacing the teacher’s shoes.”  The subservient task of kneeling to the ground and unlacing another’s shoe was something only a slave should perform.[i]

This means that John not only regarded himself unworthy to be a disciple of Jesus, he believed he was unworthy to even be a slave of Jesus. When he compared himself to the one wearing the shoes of Christmas, John regarded himself as lower than the lowliest lowly.

And who could blame him? John was talking about God, the Holy Creator of all that is, the Divine One who has come down to earth wearing shoes. John was talking about the great sovereign of the universe from on high, miraculously and lovingly stooping  low enough to the earth to kneel down to the ground,  put on, lace up and wear shoes. John was talking about heavenly feet accustomed to walking on celestial streets where angels trod that have put on earthly shoes in order to walk the same roads each one of us walk.

Although it was John’s plan to make our windy and rocky roads straight and smooth for these holy shoes, the purpose of these shoes was to walk every crooked path, experience every twist and turn, identify with every bump, every dip, every rut. The Lord of Hosts stooped down, knelt down, and laced up shoes to walk down snaky roads; travel down uncertain roads; journey down long, lonely, and desolate roads.

God knelt down and put shoes on feet that would grow weary and sore from those roads. God laced up shoes that would cause great suffering when Jesus’ feet would swell, blister and bleed.

Those shoes ran down fearful, foreign roads to escape Herod’s sword. Those shoes would journey down dark, dangerous wilderness roads that try the soul. Those shoes would travel down desperate roads to bring good news to the poor. Those shoes would travel down neglected roads to give dignity to those marginalized by a religion that had been hijacked by evil. Those shoes would walk roads lined with the hypocritical and judgmental to defend and forgive the sinner. Those shoes would move down roads paved with suffering to heal and restore the sick. They would go down tear-soaked roads to comfort mourners and raise the dead.

And near the end of his road on this earth, those holy shoes, worn, frayed and tattered by life, would lead him to a table with his friends. After supper, he would get up from that table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. He would then pour water into a basin. And like his humble beginning in a lowly manger, he would once again stoop down, kneel to the ground, and lovingly, empathetically and subserviently untie the shoes of each one at that table, even the shoes of the one who would betray him and of the one who would deny ever knowing him.

Now, in the historical and cultural context of the day, the disciples’ shoes would be removed long before they reclined at the table. However, figuratively and theologically speaking, Jesus untied their laces and removed their shoes.[ii]

Relief, respite and release overcame them as they realized that none of their unworthiness prevents their Lord from graciously taking their feet into his hands and washing away all of the dirt and grime from every road they had ever traveled. None of their filth is too offensive. There are no stains too deep. The fresh water from the basin that restores, refreshes and relaxes their wearied feet is miraculously transformed into living water that saves their wearied souls.

The good news of Christmas is that the Holy One, whose laces we are unworthy to untie, comes to us, stoops down, kneels before us, and unlaces our shoes, freeing us in the places we have been too tightly bound.  He empathetically takes our feet into his hands and washes our dirty, sore and weary feet, and makes us ready for the road again.

That is the good news of Christmas. Now, listen to the good irony of Christmas.

John believed he was unworthy to untie the shoes of Christmas. However, because of those Christmas shoes, John is not only worthy to untie and remove those shoes, John is actually worthy to put on and wear those shoes.

Through the gift of Christmas, through the gift of the God who has walked where we walk, through the gift of the Divine who stoops down, unties and removes our shoes, washing our feet and our souls, we are made worthy to not only untie the shoes of Christmas, but to wear the shoes of Christmas. We are worthy to put on Christmas shoes to go where he went, to do as he did, to include as he included, to forgive as he forgave, to love as he loved, to bend ourselves to the ground to touch the places in people that most need touching.

It is believed that fourteenth century saint Teresa of Avila once said:

Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

The Apostle Paul has written:

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news (Romans 10:15).

Don’t worry. It is perfectly natural to feel unworthy to untie those laces, wear those shoes, to be the feet, the body of Christ.  And if you believe you are unworthy you are in very good company.

Abraham and Sarah did not believe they were young enough to be worthy (Genesis 17:17). Jacob was not truthful enough to be worthy (Genesis 27). Moses was not articulate enough (Exodus 4:10). David was not faithful enough. (2 Samuel 11:2-4). Rahab was not pure enough (Joshua 2:1). Jeremiah was not mature enough (Jeremiah 1:6). Mary was not rich or powerful or old enough (Luke 1).

Yet, God makes the unworthy worthy to be God’s enfleshed presence in this world, to be God’s body, hands, eyes, and feet in this world. As the Apostle Paul reminds each of us:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

William Willimon tells a wonderful story about a visit to a fraternity house one night while he was the campus minister at Duke University. The reputations of the fraternity houses at Duke were getting so bad that the University Dean required each fraternity to have a certain number of religious programs each year to give them at least some semblance of respectability.

One of the fraternities invited Willimon to lead one of the programs. He was to come to the frat-house and give a lecture on “Morality and Character on Campus.”

On the appointed evening, Willimon went to fraternity and knocked on the door. When the door opened, he was greeted by a young boy who appeared to be nine or ten years old.  He thought, “What in the world is a little boy like this doing in a frat house at this time of night?”

“They are waiting for you in the common room,” the little boy said politely. Willimon followed the boy back to the common room where all the young men were gathered, glumly waiting for the preacher’s presentation.

Willimon says for about an hour he talked about morality, responsibility, character and faith and how the frat houses on campus gave little evidence of any of those things. When he finished his talk he asked if there were any questions. Of course they were none. So he thanked them for inviting him and headed out.

One young man got up and walked him to the door. Before they got to the door, Willimon overhead him say to the little boy, “Hey buddy, you go and get ready for bed. I’ll come up, tuck you in and read you a story in a few minutes.”

When they got outside, the fraternity boy lit a cigarette, took a long drag on it, and thanked the pastor for coming out.

Willimon turned and asked, “Who is that kid in there, and what is he doing here?”

“Oh, that’s Donny,” said the young man. “Our fraternity is part of the Big Brother program in Durham. We met Donny that way. His mom is addicted to drugs and is having a tough time. Sometimes it gets so bad that she can’t care for him. So we told Donny to call us if he ever needs us. We go over, pick him up, and he stays with us until it is okay to go back home. We take him to school, buy his clothes, books, and stuff like that.”

Willimon stood there dumbfounded. He said, “That’s amazing. You know, I take back everything I said in there about you guys being immoral and irresponsible.”

“I tell you what’s amazing,” said the college boy as he took another drag on his cigarette, “what’s amazing is that God would pick a guy like me to do something this good for somebody else.”[iii]

In other words: “What’s amazing is that God, the Holy Creator of all that is, would make an unworthy guy like me worthy to not only untie, but to wear the shoes of Christmas.

Let us pray together.

God, continue to remind us that you have made each of worthy to untie and wear Christmas shoes to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.

 

INVITATION TO THE TABLE

The angel announced to the shepherds that they were bringing good news of great joy for all people. All people.

Thus, all people, those who belong to this church, those who belong to other churches, and those who belong to no church, are invited to gather around this table and receive holy communion. All people.

This means people of great faith and people of great doubt. All people.

May all prepare for communion as we remain seated and sing together.

 

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION

Go now into the world as the enfleshed presence of God, the body of Christ wearing Christmas shoes on your feet.

Go remembering that Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

And may the love of Christmas, the grace of Christmas and the communion of Christmas be with us all. Amen.


[i] Alan Culpepper, Smyth and Helwys Commentary: Mark, 2007, p. 47.

[ii] From a sermon by J. Will Ormond entitled Advent on a Shoestring preached during Advent in 1987 at the Columbia Theological Seminary.

[iii] From a sermon by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, January 2006, p. 19.

We Need a Little Christmas Right this Very Minute

john the baptist

Living in a nation where greed, racism and bigotry make Christians blind to all kinds evil, even overlooking accusations of child molestation, I cannot help but to think that what we need more than anything else is a little Christmas, right this very minute!

The gospels tell us that in order to get a little Christmas, we first need to get a little John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness telling people the God’s honest truth.

They tell us that “multitudes” went to hear the truth, even though they knew that sometimes the truth hurts. However, they instinctively knew that it was the truth that was going to set them free.

John preached something like: “You are not right. Some part of you needs to be cut off; something inside of you needs to be burned away.”

From his prolific sermon illustrations, “the fire, the ax, and chaff,” John was preaching that before something can be born anew, something rotten has to die. Before healing can take place, something sick has to be removed. As the “Me Too” movement has taught us in recent weeks, before something can be restored, someone needs to resign.

And as John preached with brutal honesty, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the first thing they saw was a little Christmas.

As we prepare this place of worship for Christmas, making a way for Christ, may we search our souls, asking what we must we do to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

As we decorate this place with poinsettias, remembering the star that signaled love being born in a town called Bethlehem, may all indifference perish, may silence in the face of evil pass away, may all complacency be banished, as we stand up and speak out for the inclusive love of Christ to be born in right here in our town.

As we decorate this place with wreaths signifying the never-ending reign of Christ, may all despair and resignation die, as we resist to fight hate and persist to do justice in our world knowing that the love of God never ends.

As we decorate this place with mistletoe known throughout the world as the plant of peace, may the fear that divides us be removed, as we do what we can, where we can, however we can, to work for peace on earth.

As we decorate this place with holly and ivy, may all self-righteousness and spiritual pride and any feelings of superiority be cut off, as we cling to divine strength.

As we decorate this place with the fire of candles, may all prejudice be burnt away, as we light up our world with grace.

May our lights shine honestly, pointing out all of our failures and flaws, yet giving us the mercy to be better and do better.

May our lights shine so brightly that the eyes of all people are able to see a little Christmas.

Room for Christmas

hope

Isaiah 64:1-9 NRSV

It was a dark time in a dark world. The prophet Isaiah prays a desperate prayer asking God to rip open the heavens and come down and heal the nation, to bring peace on earth and joy to the people; a prayer asking God to establish a new order that will override the destructiveness of those in power. It’s a prayer of hope that God will come in the same liberating way as God had come in the past.

However, the mood of the prayer changes. Hopeful expectation turns into dreadful despair as the sins and transgressions of the people are considered.

The term “unclean” means “ritually unacceptable.” It is not believed that Israel is a community where God’s presence is willing to come. Like a “filthy cloth,” the nation is so impure and contaminated that no one would dare touch it.

Like “a faded leaf,” it’s in danger of rotting away. Because the people have called on false gods, there seems to be no room for the God of truth. Because they have turned their backs on social justice, there seems to be no place for the God of mercy. Because the people have chosen a way of violence, there seems to be no way for the God of peace. There seems to be no hope.

But then, the mood changes once more with one of the most hopeful words in the scriptures: “YET!”

YET, you are our Parent. YET, you are our potter. YET, we are all the work of your hand. YET, we are your people.

Isaiah hopefully asserts: YET, you made us, you own us, you are responsible for us, we belong to you. Thus, we trust that you will indeed come again to love us, to save us, just as you have come in the past.

Advent is a time of celebrating this hopeful: “YET!”

It was a dark time in a dark world. The sick and injured were passed by on the other side by prominent men claiming to be religious. The poor were unfairly taxed. Foreigners, scapegoated. Women, objectified. Victims of abuse, stigmatized. Anyone different, marginalized. The entire nation, demoralized.

YET, a peasant girl named Mary carries hope in her womb and a song in her heart:

 ‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…

..he has scattered the proud…
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is the hope of Advent! The world seems dark, YET, the Light of the World is coming!

Later, the parents-to-be were on the road to pay taxes to a puppet king of an occupied land. The road was long, and being with child made the road especially difficult. And to make things more difficult, when it was time for the baby to be born, they discovered that there was no room in the inn.

There was no room. Sounds like the desperate prayer of Isaiah.

There was no room. There was no place. There was no way. There was no hope.

YET, as God had proved over and over throughout history, from the covenant of Abraham to the great Exodus, there is nothing in all of creation that can separate the world from God’s love. For God, would once again come! In spite of every demonic power that tried to thwart God’s coming, God came.

And the good news of this Advent season is that we know that God still comes. And there is nothing in all of creation, nor things above nor below, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor life nor death that can stop God from coming.

A church once presented a Christmas play. You know the kind. I used to be in one every year when I was growing up. Three boys playing shepherds are carrying long sticks wearing bath robes with towels wrapped around their heads. And three more boys playing wise men wearing cardboard Burger-King crowns wrapped in Reynolds Wrap are carrying boxes decorated with left-over Christmas garland. They all walk up on the chancel, greet Mary and Joseph, and bow down before the baby Jesus.

Well, during one particular play, after the wise men and shepherds came and bowed before Jesus, a spokesperson for the wise men made the announcement: “We three kings have traveled from the East to bring the baby Jesus gifts of gold, circumstance and mud.” Of course, laughter filled the sanctuary.

But you know what they say: “out of the mouths of babes.”

In the circumstance of being told there is no room for you, there is no place for you, there is no way for you, and there is no hope for you, through Christ, God came to Mary and Joseph and God comes to us and says: “YET!”

The good news of Advent is that God comes to us in all of our circumstances and offers us the assurance that there is no circumstance on earth or in heaven that is beyond God’s amazing grace.

And coming as a human being, coming into the world as a fleshly body, a body made up of dust and water, God comes and joins us in our mud.

Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of pain and sickness and offers comfort and healing.

Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of loneliness and fear and shares divine presence and a peace beyond understanding.

The world says there is no room; things are not going to get any better. The world says there is no way; the good old days are long gone. The world says there is no place; evil will get the best of you. The world says there is no hope; peace on earth and good will shall never happen.

YET, a young woman named Mary goes into labor as God says: “I am working all things together for the good!”

YET, a baby is born in the darkness as God says: “The best days of life are always before you.”

YET, a child cries in the night as God says: “Although you cannot go back to the good old days, good new days are coming!

The world says: “There is no room. You will never amount to anything.”

The world says: “There is no way. Sin will always get the best of you.”

The world says: “There is no place for you. Nobody really cares about you.”

The world says: “For you, there is no room, no way, no place, no hope.”

YET, a baby is wrapped in bands of cloth born to underserving, unwed teenagers in an occupied land, as God says: “I love you just as you are, and I come to wrap you in my mercy, clothe you with my grace. I know your sins and I forgive you. I will always be with you and never away from you. I will always be for you and never against you. I will always stay by your side fighting for you, even if it means dying for you.”

The world says: “Racism will never end. Bigotry will not cease. Misogyny isn’t going away. There is no way this country will ever come together. There is no room for diversity. There is no place for equality. There is no hope for unity.”

YET, a brown-skinned baby’s birth to a Hebrew woman is announced by angels: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people. For you, ALL of you, a baby is born who is Christ the Lord, and through him there is no longer Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one!”

The good news of Advent is while the world often seems dark, YET the light of God will not be diminished.

Fake news seems to divide us, YET the good news that unites us will not suppressed.

The poor always seem to get the raw end of the deal, YET the justice of God will not be defeated.

The sound of gun violence is deafening, YET the Word of God will not be silenced.

Our leaders rule with fear-mongering, YET the Prince of Peace will not be conquered.

The powerful lie to push their agendas, YET truth cannot be hidden.

Hate seems to have its way, YET love will not lose.

Sin seems to get the best of us, YET grace will not fail.

Despair seems to overwhelm, YET hope will not die.

The nation feels like a faded leaf that’s about to rot away, YET the kingdom of God will reign forever and ever.

It’s Advent, and our world grows darker; YET, it’s Advent, and the Light of the World is coming!

And the darkness will not overcome it.

It’s Advent. God is acting. The Spirit is moving. Christ is coming. Hallelujah.