Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's still Christmas despite the Gospel of John!

“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

I speak with you in the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Amen!

Good Morning. Once again is it a blessing to have you here this morning. Not only am I blessed that you are here to worship God on the Lord’s Day, but also I am blessed that you are here to help me think through something as well. I know. During sermon time you usually zone out and wait for the next part of the service where you have to stand up and say or sing something, but please indulge me this morning.

I would like you to think with me for bit about this opening of the Gospel of John that we heard proclaimed just moments ago. This is the Gospel of John’s version of the Nativity, the incarnation, the coming of God as man in the form of Jesus Christ. If we had heard the same story from the Gospels of Luke or Matthew we would call it the Christmas story, but this version does not sound much like Christmas to me. Where are the angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, a manger, and little baby Jesus? Where’s the drama in John, the dialog, is there even a plot line? No, there isn’t, not really. John simply says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” and later, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,”

Compared to the lavishness of the nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, John’s is a little stark. I mean imagine with me, if the Gospel of John was the only Gospel we knew, the only Gospel to make it into the bible. Could we even have a Christmas pageant with this reading? As we have noted already there aren’t any sheep or angels; so what would the little kids dress up as? There’s no Mary or Joseph; so no parts for older children either. So, I guess the pageant is out. But what about Christmas carols? There is no manger; so no “Away in a Manger”. This version is not set in Bethlehem; so no “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” nor angels; so “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is out too. So, no pageant, no carols, is this still Christmas?
According to the Calendar it still is. We are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. Culturally, retailers and most folks think of the Christmas season as lasting from the day after thanksgiving until Dec. 25th. That’s not the Christmas season. Its really advent, but we should probably just call that the shopping season. The Christmas season of the Church calendar, the calendar we follow in our life of faith, lasts from December 25th, the feast of the nativity, until Jan. 6th the feast of the Epiphany. So, according to the calendar it’s still Christmas. But is it still Christmas in our worship? We have taken down the mangers and removed the straw, we have placed the advent wreaths in storage, and our Christmas tree in the lobby is so dry it’s more appropriately called kindling then a tree at this point. In our lives, the gifts have been opened, the holiday meals served, and the guests are gone. We are pointed towards new years, and Christmas is fast becoming a memory. So, we have this Gospel from John with nothing more then God becoming Man and being among us.

Ahh, but that my friends and neighbors is the most important point: Christmas is about God becoming Man in the form of Christ. Christmas is about knowing Jesus of Nazareth as Emmanuel, God with us. Just as we are continually an Easter people, freed from the powers of this world by the Resurrection of Christ, we are also a Christmas people, sustained, comforted, and guided by God with us all the time.

Now, that sounds nice, and it even sounds easy, but it is in fact trickier than we might think. While God is with us, we are not always God. See, we really like the baby Jesus. He’s cute, and cuddly, and the song says “no crying he makes”. What could be easier to love than a baby that doesn’t cry? I am reminded of an atrocious movie that came out recently entitled, “Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” During one scene of this parody of NASCAR racers and culture, Ricky Bobby says the blessing before the family dinner. He prays, not to God, not to the Holy Spirit, nor to Jesus Christ in general. No, he prays to little baby Jesus in his crib. The humor of this scene comes from its truth. We like Christ in his manger; it’s the full grown Christ that gives us trouble. Jesus as an adult speaks the truth and that makes us uncomfortable. Jesus calls us to live not as individuals buts as a community that cares for its neighbors; while our society says we should be rugged individuals always looking out for number one. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us; while our society teaches pre-emptive attack to get “them” before they get you. Jesus calls us to be motivated by our love of God and not by our desires for material wealth; while society says that you are not of value unless take as much as you can as often as you can. All these things that we are called to by Christ, make us want to wrap Jesus up in swaddling clothes and put him back in the manger. But, here’s the skinny, to be a Christmas people, we must be with God as much as God is with us. To be a Christmas people each and every day we must not just be with Christ at the manger but also with Christ on his journey to minister, to die on the cross, and to be risen from the grave.

My brothers and sisters, on this day, where the symbols of Christmas are fading into memory, we are challenged to remain a Christmas people. On this day, when we hear the stark story of John’s version of the nativity, we are called to walk in the light of Christ every day of our lives. On this day, when we peak into the dawning of another year, we are challenged to share God’s Word, show Christ’s love and serve all people, more then ever. Let us begin answering Christ’s call today. Let us with out prayers gathered around God’s table, where each and every time we gather we are reminded in the simplest and most dramatic terms that God is with us. Then let us carry Christ in our hearts to all that we meet and in all that we do each and every day. My Bothers and Sisters, Emanuel, God is with us, and let us too be with God.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sermon for Advent II Pretentsiousness vs. Righteousness

“Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.”

I speak with you today in the name of God the creator, Christ the righteous one, and the sustaining Holy Spirit. Amen!

I would like to talk a bit today about pretentiousness vs. righteousness. Pretentiousness is the characteristic of making exaggerate claims to power, status, or position. Where I come from we use to call it putting on airs. We see pretentiousness when someone puts on the behaviors or claims the privileges of a different status in life. It is related to pretending. Most commonly someone behaves more smug or condescending to those around them when they are pretentious, and there is usually a denial of humble origins behind that behavior. That is where we get the phrase “he/she has forgotten where he/she came from.”
There is rarely much value in being pretentious. As the character “Wheezah” says in that classic motion picture Steal Magnolias, “An Ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.” There is so little value in being pretentious because sooner or later someone will call us back to reality. Sooner or later someone gives us a swift kick of Christian love that reminds us of exactly who and what we are, a stroke that cuts through our illusions and delusions of our own self importance.

Looking at our Gospel for today, John the Baptizer is delivering one of those strokes. John perceived that the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to see him at the Jordan river were not there out of true repentance, not out of a desire to prepare the way of the Lord; rather they were there out of some sense of social obligation. They were religious leaders and there was a new prophet in town; so, they came out to see if they needed to align themselves with this wildly dressed herald in order to maintain their power base. And if they were wrong about him, no matter; they could always fall back on the fact that they were children of Abraham, the chosen ones of God. This attitude we realize was mere pretension. John confronts them and reminds them that God can raise up children of Abraham from the stones on the side of the road if God wants to. That is to say God can choose whomever and whatever God wishes. Indeed God does not have to choose at all. Being chosen by God is solely out of the graciousness of God not out of any obligation God has.

Now, there is a lesson for us in this, a stark reminder of our own position in God’s creation. If we are chosen it is not out of any merit of our own. It does not matter who our parents are, how much money we make, the color of our skin, the size of our vehicles, how fast we can run, the clothes we wear, the neighborhood we live in, or how many bells and whistles our cell phones have. The fact that we are chosen rises solely from God’s gracious desire to chose us, and it should in spire us to, as the Baptist says today, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That is to say was should live and act in response to the forgiveness and love that is so readily available to us that honors that forgiveness and love.

Now, I don’t normally go around quoting Don Imus. In fact, I do not think I have ever listened to his radio show. I was not even aware of it until his offensive and racist comments of last year. This past week an interview with him by Barbara Walters aired on TV. In it he said that he should never make a comment in the future that would cause the women of the Rutgers basketball team to be embarrassed that they forgave him. This is how John the Baptist is telling us to live in relation to God. God’s forgiveness is readily available. God passionately desires to choose us, but we should live in a way that does not embarrass God for choosing us. That is to say we should live righteously.

Now, here is a tricky thing. We commonly misunderstand righteousness, for indeed we are much better at being pretentious. We commonly think of righteousness as following rules—do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs, as the old song goes. However, we hear the phrase God’s Righteousness a lot especially in the Old Testament. Now to think of God as the ultimate rule follower is a bit well stupid. In the first place, when we follow rules someone else usually makes them, and who is going to make rules for almighty God to follow. We might have an inflated concept of our abilities, but I do not think we go that far. Second following rules is not what righteousness, or being righteous means. Righteousness, especially in reference to God, is the ability and will to give life. Now, creation in the case of God and procreation on our part is part of righteousness, but only a small part. It also means living in a way that allows others to have life. In the case of Christ as we read in John chapter 10 verse 10 and Christ’s followers, that means us by the way, it means living in a way that enables others to have life and have it more abundantly. See righteousness is tied to justice. We hear that in our reading from the Prophet Isaiah today:

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with Righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”

This day John the Baptist prepares the way of the lord. John prepares for the true light from true light to enter the darkness of the world. We are called not only to be in this light, but also to be this light for each other and all we meet in time of darkness. My brothers and sisters let us not assume that we are God’s chosen people because of accidents of birth and status in life. We are God’s by God’s choice alone, by grace alone. Let us not pretend to be righteous; rather let us be righteous. Let us live in ways that create life, physical life, economic life, healthy sustainable life, healthy mind, body, and spirit. And let us not be pretentious and selfish and do this for us alone; rather let us be righteous and live so that all may have life and have it more abundantly. Amen!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Music


Check out some of my music at my website:

God's Peace,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Video

A nice Advent meditation:

God's Peace,