A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Good News of Great Joy!Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018 December 28, 2018

This sermon was preached on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. and Dec. 24 and 7 pm. Both can be found on http://www.bethanylive.org

The text was Luke 2: 1-20

Children’s sermon: Bring the children forward and have a plain amazon box.

I’m sure you recognize this! It’s an Amazon box! We seemed to have many of these come to our door this week! And I’m sure you did too! Every time a box came to our home, it was a reminder that someone who lived far away in our family or from our friends was thinking of us! Now, the plain box itself is one thing, but then when we open it, the gifts inside are decorated with fun paper or bows, like this, on them. When we wrap gifts, we often think of how special that person is to us and we hope that the gift we send makes them happy. But it’s not really about the gifts. Maybe in the past you’ve received a toy that you really wanted, fun new pajamas, a new bike or gaming system and that made you happy. But toys break, we outgrow pajamas or bikes and technology will stop working. Does that mean that the person who gave you those things no longer loves you? NO! Those things made us happy, being loved never stops and that is what joy is all about. Joy is about being connected to love: people who love us: moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, and that we love all of those people too.

In our Christmas story tonight we heard an angel tell the shepherds good news of great joy for ALL people. What was that good news? Jesus was born!!! God loves us so much that God came to us as baby Jesus, to connect us to God’s love and to each other and this is great joy! Everyone, you, me, everyone here, everyone in the world, is connected to God and God’s love and are filled with Great Joy! God wanted the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and us to know that we are loved, and are God’s Great Joy. We are part of God forever. And God’s Great Joy can’t be put in a box or under our tree, It’s so big that it covers the whole world! And so as people who are God’s Great Joy-our job is to tell everyone we see that they are God’s Great Joy too! Just like we put bows on presents to remind the person that they are special, I have a bow for each of you tonight to remind you that you are special, connected to God and God’s Great Joy forever!

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone in our world today. Between long hours at work, everyday tasks at home, child care, caring for aging parents, and the list goes on and on, it’s difficult to find time to deeply connect with friends, family or even ourselves. Researchers have found that we are more isolated than ever in our modern times, despite technology that can connect us instantly. The greatest threat to the health of people over the age of 65 is loneliness. But loneliness isn’t only about geography, not being able to leave your home. Life situations can also make us feel lonely. Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room such as this one tonight? Things like divorce, job difficulties, money issues, health issues, depression, can all make us feel alone and can be isolating.  I remember the loneliness of being at home with very young children who didn’t speak in complete sentences and all I wanted most days was another adult to talk to about anything. I loved playgroups and my Mothers of Preschoolers group where I could actually hear sentences that consisted of more than three words about topics besides Cheerios. I loved being with my children, yet it’s hard to be a parent in the best of situations and I sometimes struggled. Going to MOPS connected me with other moms and they shared their struggles with me and we all felt less alone.

We are wired for connection as human beings. This is not an accident or a coincidence. As humans, each one of us, created in God’s own image, God embedded in our hearts, minds and bodies the need to be together in community. This is the heart of our Christmas story tonight. I can only imagine the loneliness of Mary and Joseph as just the two of them trudged along for miles with a donkey-only to arrive in a town where no one knew them or would welcome them in. The loneliness and fear of having a baby with no mother or mother-in-law, aunt or grandma to hold your hand as a family of two became three. Or the loneliness of the shepherds out in the middle of nowhere, outcast and looked down upon from society because of their vocation with smelly animals. Yes, perhaps two or three of them worked together, but it was still lonely work.

But then, it all changed. An angel appeared out of the dark and proclaimed that loneliness is dispelled, there is good news! God has come to be with you! You are not alone! God’s love, God’s great joy connects you to God and to all of God’s people, no matter what you do for a job, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you make, how much you do or don’t struggle, how large your family is, or where you live. Go and see that you are connected with God’s great love and joy! And the shepherds went to Bethlehem, to connect with Mary and Joseph, to let them know that they are not alone either, that God is connecting unlikely people, in unlikely ways, for great purpose of sharing God’s Great Joy with all the earth!

God’s Great Joy is good news for us all tonight. God’s Great Joy through Jesus connects us, to God and to each other. We matter, our neighbors near and far matter as we are all connected to God’s work of love in the world. This Great Joy is pure gift, it doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do, because like the angels came to the shepherds, this Great Joy finds us no matter where we are.

This Great Joy is so expansive that it can’t be contained to a manger, to a stable, to the shepherding fields, to the skies filled with angels, to a cross or an empty tomb. God’s Great Joy can’t be contained to you, me, this building, Denver or Colorado. God’s Great Joy blankets the earth and connects us all so that loneliness, darkness, despair and death are no more. Jesus, who is love, light and joy made flesh to be with humanity, is God’s promise that nothing disconnects us from God, or each other. This is grace. This is indeed Great Joy. This is for us all and it is for you.

Like the shepherds, we can’t hold this Great Joy inside, and so we go to glorify and praise God with our whole lives. We share this Great Joy when we offer a smile to a stranger, write a note to someone who needs affirmation, collect food for a those in need, say a prayer for those who suffer, take time to listen to an opinion different from our own, lift our voice for those who are voiceless in our world, or simply say “You are loved” to someone who needs to be reminded.

Good news of Great Joy: God came to us, to connect with us and to connect us to each other. Great Joy is from God and overflows and for all people. You are part of God’s Great Joy, now and forever. Glory to God in the highest.

 

This Day! Luke 2:1-20 Christmas Eve 2015 Year C December 26, 2015

“In those days.” We hear those words and it conjures up the beginning of a story from the past. Many of our personal and family stories could begin that way. In those days, grandma and grandpa were still here and grandma always made us special cookies. In those days, we were so poor that we got fruit one year in our stockings. In those days, we had energy and could go to a Christmas party a night and not tire. In those days, we didn’t worry about aging, global warming, terrorism, church decline or any of the other modern chaos. In those days, we didn’t have the medical technology that would have kept grandma healthier longer. In those days, we didn’t have nearly all of the luxuries that we do today. In those days, the economy was bad, or in those days the economy was good. In those days, we had less fear. In those days we had less anxiety. In those days, those were the days.

We can get stuck in the past. We can hang on to the nostalgia of what used to be and compare it to how it is this day. This day never seems quite as shiny or satisfying as “in those days.” It seems that this day has only has fear, uncertainty and anxiety. In those days, we knew what was what. We could count on social security, family, health, or wherever we found our certainty. In those days.

Our story of the birth of Jesus begins with the words, “in those days” and we can let those words lead us to believe that this story is about what happened a long time ago and life was different, life was simpler, life was predictable. In those days, when that decree went out from Emperor Augustus and we had to go to Bethlehem even though I was 9 months pregnant? Remember how we traveled? Remember those days? It’s easy to romanticize this story of Jesus’ birth in a particular place and time and it’s easy to chalk it up to something that happened two thousand years ago but doesn’t have any relevance for us today. It’s nice story for us to hear about a new baby, young parents and peaceful, silent night. It is a story about an event that happened “in those days,” but it also so much more.

The story that opens with “in those days,” quickly moves to what is happening on “this day.” On “this day” the angel said, a savior is born. The long awaited messiah has arrived. This is the day! Whatever happened “in those days” is now transformed because of this day! This day God has come to us. This day God walks among us. This day your salvation has come. This day, this story, this baby, is not about the past at all but the present and the future. This day, God’s promises for forgiveness, grace and hope are real among us. God promises to break into the world in unlikely places each and every day-not just one time in the past, “in those days,” but today-right here right now where we are least looking!

The first to hear this good news were shepherds, lowly stinky shepherds, who were out in their fields with the sheep because they didn’t even rank high enough to be counted in the census. No one cared if they were included in kingdom or not. But to God, they counted. On this day, God proclaimed that no one is too lowly or unimportant for God’s kingdom. On this day, all people and all creation counts in God’s kingdom. On this day, God revealed where love had entered into the world. This day God gave a sign that “in those days” were gone and there is only “this day” of love, grace and hope from “this day” forward.

The shepherds were the first to discover that this is a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom. Instead of a palace, a barn. Instead of a throne or fancy bassinet, a manger where animals ate. Instead of a parade or a coronation, angels with music to a few outsiders. Instead of family with useful gifts, the shepherds who only brought with them their story of what God was doing in the world. This new kingdom that arrived on this day, proclaimed that what the world knew of power, authority and community was being made new. Power now looked like a new baby, authority now looked like love, and community now looked like all people-shepherds, teenage mothers, carpenters, refugees, innkeepers, you and me.

This king came to serve, love and gather all to the source of not just this day, but all of our days. This day a savior has been born, and this day points us to the cross and the empty tomb with the promise of God declaring power over death. This day Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine to declare God’s promise to over and over offer grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope to all people.

This day two thousand years ago, transforms this day, here and now. God takes all of in those days, and proclaims “Don’t miss what I am doing this day! Don’t get stuck in the past!” This day we don’t have to fear because God is with us. This day we know that God walks with us in our grief and sorrow. This day we know that God rejoices with us. This day we celebrate that no matter what we say or do this day, God promises to transform our hearts, minds and souls for tomorrow so that when “this day” arrives again, we get another day of living and sharing in the love and peace of Jesus Christ. With the angels and the shepherds we tell the whole world what we have heard, the good news of what God is doing this day to all who can hear, for this day, and every day now and forever, God lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, and brings peace, love and hope through Jesus Christ. This day is the day that the whole world is waiting to hear: a savior is born. Amen.