Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is wonderful!

Christmas Eve service was complete with candles, smiles, hugs, family and was great to celebrate Emmanuel - God with us - in the midst of our own anxieties and wonders about the future.

Here's the sermon from last night...blessings to all in this Christmas season.  

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2010

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 
Can you think back to the perfect Christmas? 
That may be more challenging than you think.  I’m sure we all have memories of those perfect moments, those perfect gatherings…the year of the perfect tree, or presents or meal….but I think, looking back, we see what we want to see. 
We put together the moments and the memories…and sometimes they become their own entity.  Our mind plays tricks on us, albeit in a good way, to flood our hearts and minds with good feeling memories.  

But that may not truly be the way all the former years were…we have a tendency to remember the good times, especially at Christmastime.
But throughout our individual and collective pasts, we have each had Christmases with hiccups, pitfalls, struggles and challenges. 
As I was sharing the news with my mom that I had accepted a call to a congregation in Pennsylvania, she said, well that’s gonna make for a pretty ‘yucky’ Christmas.  (My mom used something stronger than yucky…but you get the idea.)  And I thought to myself…yeah, it will be rough, but so have the past few.  

Our first Christmas together, with me serving as your pastor at St. John’s, I was facing the beginnings of a broken marriage.  My mind and heart were struggling with God, relationships, marriage and why all of it would come to light at a time when we are all to be happy and joyous. 
I needed the Christmas message of God coming down and into a broken world…because mine seemed far from whole.  There was a glimpse and of hope and comfort knowing that God came into a broken world…not to take away the hurt and brokenness, but to be with us in the midst of it. 
Our second Christmas together, was a different story.  Just last year…there was a tension, a new level of anxiety as this congregation faced challenging conversations thinking, praying and responding to decisions made at our Churchwide gathering in August of 2009.  There were people who didn’t worship here last year, because the tension was too much…there are people who were here last Christmas who have since stopped worshipping here. 
The tension was felt and the hope and promise of the Christ child was there in the midst of the angst, struggles and questions about who we are called to be as church.

 In this past year we have changed...while the faces around us may have changed, we continue to be an active part of God’s mission in the world around us. 

And that brings us to this Christmas: the last Christmas we will celebrate together as a congregation and its pastor.  No doubt, there are questions about the future of this place, what happens next?  Underlying that good news of our savior born on this day is the reality of what the future will bring through God in this congregation. 

Can you think of another Christmas, where the future was uncertain? 
Where those hearing the message for the first time may have wondered what the future was going to bring?   

That first Christmas, Joseph and Mary huddled together in a stable…trusting God that this was a part of the plan.  Sure there was comfort in the eyes of a newborn child, but the questions about what this would mean for both Mary and Joseph and for their baby boy, Jesus surely permeated that holy night. 
 They walked and lived in the hope and faith that God would bring peace to the earth through their newborn son.   

The story they lived that first night…was just the beginning.  We know the whole story, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   

What we know now…that story that we hear tonight, shapes our faith, strengthens our lives, and empowers us to service…that story…gives us the strength to go through that first Christmas when our family looked different, whether a loved one is gone because of death or divorce…we know that Jesus came into this world, to walk with us through whatever we face.  

God with us, Emmanuel, means God is with us, here and now…in the midst of all that we face…death, loss, broken homes, losing a job, a change in what our church looks like, who fills these pews, and who is still longing to hear this message of God come down  - to us – where we are…to be with us…to love us, save us, claim us and send us forth in God’s service.   

The joy of this night, is knowing that we are not alone…that God came into this world, came into our world, on a night, just like this.  To a community and a world that wasn’t perfect…to a community and world that needed a message of unconditional love and forgiveness, just like us, here and now. 
The joy and warmth, we feel in this place, through the Word of God and as we share the peace of God…and as we all are welcomed to this table, to this meal.  This meal…is Jesus presence with us right now.  We eat of this bread…and we taste Jesus presence in our lives…we drink of this wine…and sip from the cup of salvation. 
We know that through this meal, Jesus, God, is with us.  That, my friends is good news of great joy for all people!  God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it, to save us, to save all of God’s creation!  Think about how awesome that is!  Right? 

Tonight we celebrate that first night, a night, where God came into the world, not in a special, sanitized beautiful maternity ward….but in the muck of an animal’s stable, and he was placed in a manger…in the place where food for the animals would be placed. 

But Jesus came into the world, was placed in the manger…and has become the food, the bread and wine for you and for me, but we are not the only ones who are hungry…this meal is here for all who hunger and thirst. 
Jesus is the bread of life…come down to earth to teach us, love us, save us and feed us for the journey that lies ahead. 
So come, you who hunger.
Come, you who thirst, there is plenty to eat…and plenty to share with those around us. 
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, amen. 

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