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Zechariah’s Song: Even in the Silence

( a sermon for December 9, 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent; second in a series, based on Luke 1:5-25, 67-79)

If you’d have asked him about his life “before,” Zechariah would probably have answered that there was nothing even remotely remarkable about it; or about him, for that matter!

Zechariah, you see, was a temple priest, married to a Levite by the name of Elizabeth; and both, as scripture succinctly puts it, were “getting on in years.”  As Luke tells the story, Zechariah and Elizabeth had long prayed for a child, but this had never come to pass and now they were much too old; so Zechariah’s life pretty much revolved around serving God by taking care of the temple according to faith and tradition.  And there was great honor in that, to be sure; this was truly a sacred duty; and no more so than on this particular day, when he was given a literally once in a lifetime opportunity to enter the deepest part of the temple, which was named the “Holy of Holies,” to so make ready for the prayers of the people of God.  But even with this great honor before him, the truth was that after years and years, day in and day out, of doing this ritual even Zechariah might have confessed that there were times he was just going through the motions.

But then came the angel.

Right there in the midst of the sanctuary of the Lord: “…an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense;” and if that wasn’t unsettling enough, an angel who was calling him by name:  Zechariah!  And of course, Zechariah was terrified – because every temple priest understood that one could not expect to experience the glory of God in this fashion and live – and yet, this angel was not only bringing comfort in the midst of his fear, but also incredible news:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”

It’s a divine gift, not only to this couple but also to the world: a child who will not only “be a joy and a delight” to his parents, but one for whom “many will rejoice at his birth;” one who will grow to be a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit; a messenger to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord.  His name, the angel says to Zechariah, will be John, which means, “God has given grace;” the one we’ve come to know as… John the Baptist.

And how does Zechariah respond to all this?

Well, how do you expect he’d respond?  I mean, not only has the angel of the Lord appeared to him; not only is he told that he’s to have a son when such a thing could never happen; but also that this son is going to have a name, and a purpose, and a link to God’s sure and certain promises to a world that’s desperately aching for the Messiah.  This is news of monumental, cosmic importance; the hope of the whole world has just been announced to him in the temple of the Lord.  So what does Zechariah say?

He says, “No way.”  Can’t be… get out of town… yeah, right!

Mind you, that’s not exactly the biblical translation – as we heard it this morning it’s, “How will I know that this is so” – but make no mistake, it’s an answer dripping with utter and unrestrained disbelief!  The Message translation actually cuts to the heart of it: “Do you [really] expect me to believe this?”  No matter that this is “Gabriel, sentinel of God” speaking; Zechariah is not buying it!   And, honestly, most of us can understand why!  I mean, old people having babies, little kids growing up to be messengers heralding the coming of the Messiah, God coming to the world?  For that kind of thing to happen, it would have to be… a miracle!  And miracles just don’t happen every day, not for Zechariah anyway; and certainly not for you or me.

You know what happened next; Gabriel finally says, well, it’s all true, Zechariah, but since you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word about it – or anything else, for that matter – until the day of your son’s birth. Maybe this will remind you “that every word I’ve spoken to you will come true in time – God’s time!”  So now Zechariah can’t even share this experience with anyone, much less announce it to those praying for a Messiah outside the temple walls; all he can do now – ironically, much like the people of Israel had already been doing for hundreds of years – is to wait… to wait in the silence for God to work!

And we know what that’s like, don’t we?  I dare say that most of us here have had times in our lives when we’ve known what it’s like to “dwell in the silence;” or maybe more to the point, to dwell in what we perceive as God’s silence.  Maybe what you were looking for was a resolution to some major conflict of your life; perhaps you were seeking healing for yourself or someone you love; praying fervently for an end to the financial hardship you’ve been under; or for that matter, it could be your were quite literally crying out for the stress and mental strain of it all simply to ease up a bit!  But for all the prayers and petitions, it wasn’t getting any better and nothing seemed to be happening to change that; in fact, you were beginning to feel like God wasn’t even listening!

If any of that rings true for us at all, we can understand why Zechariah would be skeptical, to say the least, about what the angel was promising.  But the good news for Zechariah – and for you and me as well – is that such doubt is not the end of the story; and that despite whatever appearances to the contrary, God is ever and always at work… even in the silence!

Which brings us to another of “The First Songs of Christmas” found in Luke’s gospel, which is the song of Old Zechariah, also known as the “Benedictus,” from the Latin meaning “Blessed be the Lord God.”  And if it’s true that timing is everything, then it should be said that this particular song was sung at the perfect time!  It’s actually months after his encounter with the angel of the Lord (roughly nine months to be specific!), little John the Baptist has just been born, and immediately Zechariah’s “mouth [is] opened and his tongue freed, and he begins to speak!”  And now at last – finally (!) – the first and best thing that Zechariah can do is to sing… to sing in full throated, wholehearted praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord; truly, it was as if he was making up for lost time!

It’s an amazing song with every verse proclaiming God’s presence and power not only in that singular and miraculous moment of a child being born, but also in and through all of history!  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David… he has shown the mercy promised by our ancestors.”  I love what Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament scholar from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, says about this song: he says it’s more than simply a psalm and even more than a prophetic song; it is, in fact, a song of the Holy Spirit!  It’s a proclamation of a “spirit-event, a moment of God’s Holy Spirit breaking into the ordinary, mundane world.  And bringing with it God’s preferred and promised future.”  And that, concludes Jacobson, this “Spirit-breaking-in reality is what the entirety of the whole Jesus event was about.”

Zechariah could sing because he knew, once and for all, that God’s promises are true and, in God’s good time, the silences of our lives will be redeemed.  Something good for us to remember as well, especially in those dark and silent moments in our lives when it feels like God has all but abandoned us: that “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and then “showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” [The Message]. God is at work, beloved, even in the silence; that is for certain, just it is sure and certain that in God’s time, we will be redeemed.

It’s fitting that we think about all this on this second Sunday of Advent; a time, to quote theologian Elizabeth Webb, in which in our waiting and watching we do indeed “see the faint light on the horizon, [even as we] await the full, dazzling light of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.”  In this season, we do affirm and rejoice that Christ has been born into the world and into our hearts; but we also know that in due season Christ will come again! But in the larger sense, Webb goes on to say, as Christians “that moment of already and not-yet is where we find ourselves all the time. To live the life of a disciple of Christ is to live always in Advent time, knowing that the light has come and awaiting the light that has yet to shine in its fullest measure. Advent time is anticipatory time, and yet it [can also be] frustrating, sometimes discouraging. [But the] dawning of the light must sustain us as we continue on, in our waiting and in our living, [even if] sometimes the wait for the rays of Jesus’ light upon our faces seems awfully long.”

Friends, it’s crucial in these Advent days and most especially in the times of uncertainty and doubt in which we live, that we step back even amidst our at times overwhelming feelings of fear and hopelessness, so that we might behold just for a moment the grander view of how God is working in our world, in our lives, in our very hearts.  Because, beloved, when we do so we discover that God is still speaking and that all things are moving by God’s intent toward the ultimate good.  The only question is what we’ll be doing about it in the meantime.

May our response to that promise be the same as that of the little baby who grew up to be John the Baptist, the fiery preacher who was “clothed with camel’s hair” (Mark 1:3) and had a curious appetite for locusts and wild honey (!), but who was ever and always about preparing the way of our hearts for God’s work to be done and embracing the true miracle to come in a Savior who is Christ the Lord!  When we do that, when we prepare the way of the Lord; then to quote Walter Wangerin, “[Our] joy, [our] present beauty, [our] complete sense of assurance and belonging – these shall be signs of the Lord’s trustworthiness and of our trust, signs of his love until he comes in glory.”

This year for Thanksgiving, Lisa and I opted to rise very early in the morning to make our way from New Hampshire to northern Maine, and so it was still dark when we started our journey.  You’ll remember that it had snowed the night before, and so we were noticing lots of heavy white snow on the ground and clinging to branches as we drove “over the river and through the wood;” but the truth is that it wasn’t until the sun rose that we got a sense of just how beautiful it all was.  It was amazing; at one point, we went through this little grove of evergreens growing on either side of the highway, and the sunlight shone a brilliant gold across the sparkling snow.  And all we could do is just take it all in, grateful that we had that opportunity to experience the wonder of God’s creation in such a glorious fashion.  But, you see, we weren’t able to see all of that at first; it only happened when the light of day finally and most certainly shone forth.

Beloved, the good news God is at work in the world, the advent of his Son Jesus is nigh, and light is most certainly coming into the world; so even now let us live expectantly unto his tender mercies until that blessed dawn shines forth, with lives of of faith and joy and walking on the paths of peace.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Advent, Faith, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Mary’s Song: Present Perfect

(a sermon for December 2, 2018, the First Sunday of Advent; first in a series, based on Luke 1:39-56)

Of this time of the year, at least one thing can be said for certain: ‘tis the season for singing!

I don’t think I have to tell you that one of the things I like best about the Christmas season is the music.  All of it, both the sacred and secular; from Handel’s Messiah to Gene Autry singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and just about everything in-between from every musical genre you can name, this quite literally is the soundtrack of my life from about the first of November (that’s right, I admit it!) to New Year’s Eve.  Part of it is nostalgia, I suppose; so much of the music of this season has a way of bringing forth fond memories of Christmases past and of the loved ones who shared those times with us.  Moreover, not only can these songs lift our spirits in the midst of difficult times, they can also be very cathartic at times in bringing forth some much needed tears!  And let me just add here that as far as this pastor is concerned some of the most beautiful, familiar and faith-stirring hymns we have in the Christian tradition are the ones we’re going to be singing over the next few weeks in celebration of Christ’s birth; so get ready, friends, for lots of carol singing!

I know; there are some songs of the season that can become kind of grating upon hearing them over and over and over again all through the month of December (my nomination for that, by the way, would be the ubiquitous “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day you gave it away,” which as I point out to my family on a regular basis actually has nothing to do with Christmas at all, but I digress!); and yes, maybe a few of these songs with all their sentimentality end up reflecting more of how we imagine Christmas should be, as opposed to how it really is in this chaotic and conflicted world in which we live.  But I still love the music; for me every “jingle bell,” “fa la la la la” and “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” we sing not only speaks to the best part of our selves as God’s people, but also points directly to how the world ought to be and will be all because of God’s wondrous gift to us of a Savior in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And that alone is ample reason for us to be out there singing Christmas music, and also cause for rejoicing at this most wonderful time of the year!

Actually, when you think about it, so much of this particular season of the church year – that is, the season of Advent, because it’s not Christmas yet – is built upon this very dichotomy of what is and what will be.  On the one hand, these Advent weeks of waiting, watching and preparing all lead up to our joyous celebration of an event that has in fact already taken place: the birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.  And yet, as Christians, just as we believe that he died and rose again, we also know that Jesus will come again, bringing with him the fullness of the kingdom of God.  And so, for us in the church Advent is also about preparing ourselves for his promised return, by prayer, penitence and self-examination. That’s why over the centuries the church has often referred to the season of Advent as “a little lent,” and why purple, which is the color of penitence, adorns our altar and the neck of your preacher; because preparing our hearts for the fulfillment of our Lord’s promises both present and future does call for some humility on our parts and at least a modicum of spiritual reproach.  But that said, Advent is also about acknowledging that while our world – and us in it – does not yet match up to that promised vision of God’s kingdom here on earth, by God’s grace and infinite love made manifest in Jesus our Emmanuel, it will be… soon and very soon, it will be; and that, dear friends, is cause for true rejoicing!

… which brings us to the first of our “First Songs of Christmas” from Luke’s gospel, which is Mary’s Song of Praise; also known as the Magnificat.

As we pick up the story in our text for this morning, we’re actually in that time in between the angel Gabriel’s having given Mary the news of her bearing this child “who will be called the Son of the Most High,” (Luke 1:32) and that silent, holy night months later in Bethlehem when the baby would finally be born; and as anyone who has in any fashion awaited the time for a child to be born will attest, this most certainly was a time of great expectation and all manner of preparation; not to mention time for “pondering” what the reality of having a baby who was the Son of God was going to mean for her and for the world around her.  Luke tells us that soon after Gabriel’s announcement, “Mary set out and went with haste” to a town in the hill country of Judea to visit with family in those first months of pregnancy; and there, in the words of Shawnthea Monroe, was “an intimate encounter between two extraordinary women.”  I love how Monroe describes that encounter; she says, “There is the elderly, once-barren Elizabeth and her newly expectant young cousin Mary.  As Luke tells it,” Monroe continues, “God is at work through the lives of both women and their words express nothing but joy.”

It really is quite the reunion, with Elizabeth “[singing] out exuberantly, ‘You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed!” [The Message] and the child in Elizabeth’s womb quite literally leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice (More about that next week)!  It was, in fact, a sign for both women that everything that was happening was in fulfillment of the Lord’s plan.  And to this, Mary responds with a song; those familiar words of praise and nearly inexpressible joy that have been set to countless pieces of music over the centuries: “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.  Surely, from now on all generations shall call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Beautiful, powerful, and utterly surprising words; yet not as surprising as you might think.  It’s interesting to note here that in Mary’s song we hear echoes of other faithful women through the ages, most especially in the “Song of Hannah” from 1 Samuel, which was sung nearly 1,000 years beforehand and which in fact began in a very similar fashion as Mary’s song:  “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.” (2:1) What this tells us is that at least in some fashion Mary understood that there was more to this than simply the fact of a baby being born, however unprecedented and miraculous this was to be; no, Mary was finding herself in the midst of long tradition of God’s work of restoration and redemption that was now was coming to full fruition in this child in her womb who would be named Jesus, and so, of course, her spirit would rejoice!

And this is what makes what Mary sings next even more amazing and joyous.  She goes on to tell of all the great and glorious things that God has done:  “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  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.”  Incredible; this is no less than a proclamation of the whole world and its idea of power being turned upside and inside out!  But did you notice something there?  Mary’s actually singing in the present tense!  She’s not praising God for what God will do, but proclaiming what God has done; which is kind of odd, given that this child who is supposed to bring about all of this change hasn’t even been born yet!

Moreover, even a casual survey of Israel’s current situation (not to mention Mary’s!) would reveal that this vision of a just and peaceful world had no basis in reality.  I mean, here’s this young, impoverished, insignificant girl – probably 13 or 14 years old at best – hailing from some backwater village in the hills of Galilee, and unmarried and with child; moreover, her people are oppressed and living under the thumb of the Roman Empire.  One thing is for certain: at that moment in time the proud were not scattered, the hungry were not fed, and the powerful were very comfortably ensconced on their thrones!  Mary’s words didn’t even sound like a word of prophecy in the sense of what God was about to do in the world; and yet, given all that she’s still singing as though it’s already happened!

I looked it up, friends; and in English grammar there’s a word for that:  it’s called present perfect.  Technically speaking, present perfect is used to describe an action that has already begun, may not be finished yet but will continue; and so it is as if it’s already done.  In other words, for Mary to sing this song in present perfect is the ultimate expression of HOPE; more than simply proclaiming the Lord’s promises of a just and peaceful world she’s claiming those promises as a present reality.  To quote David Lose here, “When Mary sang, she didn’t just name those promises but she entered into them.”  Mary knew that because of this tiny child just beginning to grow inside of her, she’d already been drawn into this sacred rel ationship with the God of Israel, the same God “who had been siding with the oppressed since the days of Egypt and keeping promises since the time of Abraham.”  It’s not, you see, that everything that Mary sings about has been accomplished but that that those promises are so sure and so certain that it is as if it were already a reality in the world.  For Mary – and for us, beloved – “the world has begun to turn and [we] feel ourselves invited into the turning.”

And that is, as I said before, most certainly cause for rejoicing!

You know, as I said before, I love all the songs of this season; but I think the songs I love the most (truly, in these days the songs I need the most) are the carols and hymns that boldly proclaim those sure and certain promises of God coming to pass in the birth of the Christ Child.  And the reason I love them so much is because I know that they’re true.  Not that it’s a present reality in the world as we know it; but by God’s grace and infinite love it will be and for now, as we watch and wait for signs of Christ’s coming, that is enough.  Alan Brehm writes that “In Advent we sing because we look forward to something better than the violence and suffering and injustice all around us.  We look forward to the kindness and generosity and compassion of our God being fulfilled for all the peoples of the world.  We sing because we look forward to ‘peace on earth, and mercy mild.’  This is the heart and soul of our faith, friends; the HOPE that is ours in Jesus the Christ who comes into this world and into our hearts definitively to set everything right and to make all things new.”

The good news, beloved, is that despite all the uncertainties that continually seem to surround us, God is at work in the world, and his advent is nigh. So as our advent waiting begins for another year for the coming of the Christ Child and his return in glory, let us truly watch for signs of his coming; and even here and now let our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Advent, Joy, Music, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Round About the Manger: The Ones Who Said Yes

(a sermon for December 24, 2017, the 4th Sunday of Advent; third in a series, based on  Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25)

In almost every nativity scene you’ll ever see they always look, well… perfect: Mary, all calm and bright, with nary a hair out of place and Joseph, looking properly prayerful and stalwart; dutifully, if quietly, about the business of being an earthly father. And then, of course, there’s the baby, all clean and white and bathed in the glow of a warm light that fairly well seems to shine from his bed of hay in the manger; all this as angels in bright raiment hover overhead, while shepherds and wise men come to call with farm animals quietly milling about.

Now tell the truth; isn’t that the image that always comes to mind when we’re telling this story? It’s a beautiful scene of utter simplicity and serenity; a uniquely holy birth amidst what can only be described as joy expressed in deep and resounding quiet, with a peace – heavenly peace – that could not possibly be contained within the stable, but simply had to overflow out into the dark, shining streets of Bethlehem and outward to all of the world.

At least that’s how I like to think of it!

Actually, I’ve always loved how Barbara Robinson, in her marvelous children’s story of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, describes a Mary who is “just right” in our imagination: she’s “all pink and white and pure-looking, as if she never washed the dishes or cooked supper or did anything else except have Jesus on Christmas Eve.”  Any and all gender stereotypes aside (!), that does kind of express how we’ve come to view what happens “round about the manger,” as we gaze intently at this truly “Holy Family” – Mary and Joseph and their precious newborn – kneeling in the wonder, the splendor and the hay!

Of course, anyone who’s ever been involved in or present at the process of giving birth knows that most times it’s not like that at all!  Now, there’s no doubt that having a child is a beautiful and natural thing; but often it’s also a painful and exhausting thing; and hard work, most especially for the mother, but also in very real ways for the father and everybody else involved in the delivery (as the saying goes, they don’t call it labor for nothing!).  What’s more, childbirth is an experience that cannot help but create change in the persons involved in a variety of ways: physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. And the thing is that even though there are weeks and months of anticipation and preparation that lead up to the event, inevitably there comes this moment when the actual arrival of the child creates this new and utterly bewildering reality of life!   I remember this well with all three of our kids, but especially on the night that Jake, our firstborn, came into the world.  I’m holding him in my arms, I’m so full of joy and love and I’m feeling all this wonder in my heart; but all the while there’s this fleeting voice in the back of my head that’s asking, “OK, big shot, now what do you do?”

So can you imagine, then, what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph?  This sweet, romantic, bucolic image we have of them to the contrary, the truth is that here were two people who had a great deal working against them: to begin with, they were young (so very young; Mary was no more than 14 or 15 years old and Joseph only a year or two older than that); they were dirt poor and under the thumb of an oppressive Roman government; and not only that, they were engaged but unmarried and expecting, and thus facing the scandal that such a thing would create.  And add to all this that now, thanks to a government edict of taxation, they were both far from their home and trying in vain to find a place to stay in Bethlehem where Mary could have the baby in safety and perhaps some comfort, only to end up having it all happen in the squalor of a stable surrounded by farm animals.

Doesn’t sound quite so sweet or romantic when you think of it that way, does it?

But this was, in fact, the scene of his birth, the “little Lord Jesus” of whom we sing: a tiny, helpless child who was the very light of the universe all wrapped in human skin; ever surrounded by two altogether ordinary people (actually, from the world’s point of view, maybe less  than ordinary people!), two people in whom and through whom God was doing something extraordinary, even as they themselves must have wondered why they were there in the first place!

Max Lucado addresses this beautifully in his book In the Grip of Grace: “He whom angels worship nestled himself in the placenta of a peasant, was birthed into the cold night, and then slept on cow’s hay,” Lucado writes.  “Mary didn’t know whether to give him milk or give him praise, but she gave him both since he was, as near as she could figure, hungry and holy.  Joseph didn’t know whether to call him Junior or Father.  But in the end he called him Jesus, since that’s what the angel had said and since he didn’t have the faintest idea what to name a God he could cradle in his arms.”

“Don’t you think,” Lucado goes on to ask, “[that] their heads tilted and their minds wondered, ‘what in the world are you doing, God?’ Or better phrased, ‘God, what are you doing in the world?’”

Think of it, friends, as that same utterly bewildering reality of life that hits at every new parent sooner or later; but this time it’s hitting on a divine scale… which, when you think about it, pretty much what Christmas is!

For you see, within and beyond the beautiful and peaceful scene depicted at the crèche is this incredible story of God doing something that thoroughly confounds our human sensibilities; which was for the divine to come to us, and to be born and live among us just as any child would do… with everything that entails!    How incredibly wonderful and strange all at the same time that God would become a real, living and breathing, laughing and crying person; knowing every one of the joys we experience in life, but also willing to take on the hurt and the pain as well. What an amazing and yet bewildering thought that the almighty would even deem it suitable to step into the harsh realities of our lives and living, but in fact does it again and again, today, tomorrow and all through our lives, so to understand who we are and how it is that we feel!

But such is this divine love that comes to earth in the midst of a Bethlehem’s manger.  Incredible, isn’t it?  Incredible that out of the harsh reality of his birth a new reality in the world was created; incredible that this was the family that God chose to bring forth this child of love into the world and then to raise him up to be the man he would become; incredible that this one who was called “son of God and son of man” saving the world from its sin would be brought into the world by two young, impoverished and ultimately powerless people who literally had nothing else to give except to simply say, “Yes.”

But the good news is that that was more than enough.  Mary and Joseph said yes… yes to God!

Every year as I return to this nativity story, I’m newly amazed that even though at the very beginning she was no doubt confused and scared at what the angel is saying to her, and that she even dares to ask this heavenly visitor, “How can this be,” still Mary identifies herself as “the servant of the Lord,” saying “let it be with me according to your word!”  And not only that, what’s just about the next thing she does? She sings!  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”  Mary sings with joy to overflowing for the blessings in her life and in her womb and in her world by the grace of God almighty!

And then there’s Joseph, who legally and socially had every right to turn away from Mary in this unexpected and life-changing situation, but who was not only, as scripture tells us, “a righteous man,” but also loving and compassionate, a “man of incredible faith” who paid attention to dreams and angels and did what needed to be done for the sake of Mary, the child and ultimately, the world.

We might well wonder as we look upon the nativity scene why it was that God chose this family to bring his only son into the world; what the criteria must have been for becoming the most significant foster parents in human history… well it seems to me that with Mary and Joseph, first and foremost it was that they said yes!

That’s important for us to know; especially now as on this Christmas Eve Day we draw ever close to the manger and the miracle of the holy birth; for you see, it turns out some of the most important lessons of this season come from those who were the first to say “yes” to that birth in the first place.

Friends, above and beyond everything else we bring to this time of the year, the whole point of Christmas is that God comes.   “To you is born this day… a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”   That’s the promise of Christmas, a gift of God’s power and love that’s in fact every gift we will ever need to fulfill every longing we may ever have.  It’s the gift of forgiveness, and healing, and restoration and eternal life all wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ.  As Jack Hayford has put it, “It will take a lifetime to unwrap the essentials [of this gift] for our present, and an eternity to unfold the glories for our future.”   But it starts now… by first saying an emphatic yes to the gift itself, letting our hearts embrace the Christ Child for today and letting him grow with us into the year ahead; accepting God’s presence in Jesus be the solid reality of our lives, and that place where all our hopes for tomorrow are placed and secured!

Think for a moment of the Christmas gift that goes unopened.  Think of the disappointment and sadness the refusal of that gift creates in the giver, and how much less the recipients are for not having had experienced the joy and the wonder that comes with the gift.  But think also of how much deeper the relationship between the giver and those who receive becomes when that gift is received with a whole heart and with great joy and thanksgiving; indeed, in the giving and the receiving there’s a relationship that cannot help but grow and deepen, and life – and the world – changes because of it!

Well, such is the gift of Christmas that’s now offered to us in Emmanuel, God With Us.   When that gift is not received by an open heart, then Christmas remains just another holiday, another opportunity for revelry and gift-giving that’s comes and goes with the 25th of December.  But… when we say “yes” to God’s gift to us of a Savior and Christ is born again in our hearts, then Christmas – true Christmas – becomes the centerpiece of each new day; a way of life and living that is forged in an ever deepening relationship with the Lord girded in love, and joy, and peace, and unending hope.

I hope and pray on this day before Christmas that in the same way that those two who first knelt before the manger bed, you also will say yes to God’s gift.  It’s still a gift, as much now as it was two millennia ago; and it’s still good news, as fresh and as real as the here and now in which we live.  For unto you is born this day is a Savior; one who comes to us so that he might lift the burden from off of our shoulders; one who comes to wipe the tears from our eyes; one who comes to assure us once and for all that we are not alone in this world, and that there is truly hope and joy unending.

And the beauty part?  All we have to do is say yes!!  So say it… Say yes!!   Let our souls this day magnify the Lord!  Let our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for truly God has looked with favor upon us and has sent us a Savior!

Yes… Yes!   YES!

Merry Christmas, dear friends, Thanks be to God, and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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