Archive for December, 2014

What is it About This Kid 12-28-14

This morning’s sermon is based on Luke 2:22-4o. This is the story of Simeon and Anna encountering the infant Jesus in the temple.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-it-about-this-kid-12-28-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever heard that old expression…you’ve got to see it to believe it…or perhaps a similar notion that in order to really understand something you’ve got to experience it for yourself? (pause)

When I was younger, I didn’t put much stock in that particular notion…and I find myself wondering if that’s the normal tendency for most children. (pause) Think about, kids typically take things pretty much at face value don’t they? You tell them a story or give them an answer to a question…and they pretty well accept it as truth…and that was certainly the case for me.

Thinking back, it didn’t really even need to be that great of a story for me to buy into it…depending on who it was that was telling me. In my youth, I idolized my brother…and I remember a time when probably about 11 or 12, he told me a story of about one of the other high schoolers making some random statement in what he thought to be a humorous fashion…and since my big brother thought it was funny…I thought it was hilarious…at least until I tried to tell some of my friends about it…and they just sorta looked at me. I guess they needed to experience it for themselves. (pause)

But then as I got older…I started to realize that there was certainly some truth in that whole notion. And perhaps the best example of this whole deal came about a few years back when we visited Washington DC. (pause) It shouldn’t have been at all shocking to me. I’d seen all the monuments on tv…I’d seen videos of the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier…but until I stood there…staring up at the Washington monument…or in front of the giant carving of Lincoln sitting in his chair…until I watched those highly trained men go through the ritual of guarding the tomb…I couldn’t possibly know just what it was all about…truly I had to see it for myself. (pause)

Today’s gospel lesson offers the same sort of notion today…the idea of truly having to see something with one’s own eyes. (pause) But certainly this goes far beyond anything that I can attempt to compare with…there was a man, living in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon…a man righteous and devout…a man that the Holy Spirit rested upon…and this man had been informed that he would…in fact…see the messiah for himself.

Now keep in mind the history behind this whole situation. The people of Israel had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries…literally centuries. In their minds, the Messiah would be a political leader that would reclaim the throne of David, throw out whatever ruling empire was in power at the time…and reestablish the nation of Israel. This was the expectation of the people…and they prayed day after day that this great deliverer would eventually arrive…and make no mistake…they truly believed that it would happen…they just didn’t know when.

But then there’s this guy…Simeon…and for what ever reason…God chooses him…and at some point in the past…lets him know that truly the Messiah is coming…and God promises Simeon…You will not die until you have seen him.

Certainly we’ve heard this sort of thing before…God making a promise to someone in their younger years…telling them that they can count on it…and then waiting years for it to actually happen.

Admittedly, we don’t know how long Simeon has been sitting on this knowledge…resting on the promise that God had made to him….but on this one special day…Simeon’s “Holy Spirit radar” goes off and he thinks to himself “I better get myself off to the temple today.”

And who should show up? Mary and Joseph and this newborn baby…not more than a few weeks old…brought to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord…and as they are all walking in…they cross paths with Simeon…now grown old…here by the urging of the Spirit…and Simeon sees the baby.

What would you think…if you were Mary and Joseph…and this random old guy that you’ve never seen before asks to hold your newborn? Do you let him do it? I think most of us would be pretty hesitant, but yet the story tells us that Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and immediately began praising God because he knew…truly…this was the long awaited Messiah…and obviously Simeon knew it by the words of the song that he sang in that moment. (pause)
And yet, I find myself wondering if this baby was who Simeon had really expected. Certainly you’d think when God chose to reveal his Messiah, it would be an adult…someone strong and ready to take on the mantle of leadership…certainly it couldn’t be this newborn…not even able to hold his head up…much less to take on the Roman empire.

But that being said…there MUST have been something about this baby…something about Jesus…because people responded to him…Just last Sunday, downstairs in the confirmation class, we talked about Jesus calling the first disciples…and for the most part we focused on the first 4…Peter, Andrew, James, and John…called by Jesus while they were fishing…and at his word…they left everything to follow him…and we also mentioned Matthew the tax collector…who was sitting at his booth one day when Jesus walked up and simply said “Follow me.” And that’s exactly what he did.

What is it about Jesus? I find myself wondering this from time to time…what was it about him that made people respond so favorably? We see it today as well with Simeon…but the truly astonishing thing about this story is that it seems to be only the appearance of the baby that sparks off Simeon’s understanding of just who the Messiah really was.

Jesus is a newborn…he can’t speak for himself…he can’t answer questions or give directions…and yet Simeon understands in an instant…just what the Messiah would be. And he praises God saying “I have seen your salvation…and it is prepared in this baby…for all people. He will be a light of revelation shining in the darkness…and people will see through him.

And truly, the first revelation must have been for Simeon himself…for how else would he know all this? (pause) And so I pose the question again…just what was it about this Jesus guy that made people respond? And unfortunately that’s not a question that we can answer…because we have not seen him for ourselves…but that being said…we do have something in common with Simeon…the Holy Spirit.

For the Holy Spirit rested upon Simeon…leading him…guiding him…and instructing him…and in our baptisms we too receive the gift of the same spirit…that same spirit which has been active within the world, even before Christ came on the scene…and this same spirit remains within the world today…as God continues to take an active part in the lives of all people…leading us…guiding us…helping us all to understand the same thing that Simeon clung to…that God has made promises…and we trust that God will do what God says he will do.

And those promises are made a reality in this baby…met so graciously that day all those years ago by Simeon…who praised God at the revealing of the Messiah saying now you are dismissing your servant in peace…

And what is this peace that Simeon experiences? (pause) It is the peace of mind and spirit in knowing that the promises of God are true…not only that they are true for all people…but more importantly that they are true for you. (pause)

Just what is it about this kid? This helpless baby who came into the world kicking and screaming like every other baby ever born? Well, he’s the savior of the world…he’s the fulfillment of God’s promises…and he’s here for you. Amen.

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Fear Not 12-24-14 Christmas Eve

This sermon for Christmas Eve is based on the birth narrative from Luke 2:1-20. In the sermon I explore the notion that heavenly beings always seem to open a conversation with “Fear Not.” And I wonder aloud just why that is.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/fear-not-12-24-14

You can also follow along with the text from the sermon here:

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father, our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well everyone…we can finally say it…Merry Christmas everyone…after another long season of planning…getting everything lined up…here we are…finally at the big day. And for most of you sitting out there tonight…I’m guessing there has been a great deal of prep work leading up to this moment hasn’t there?
Decorations of every kind to find and put up…lights, trees, wreathes…stocking hung by the chimney with care and all that. As I look around I see many of you in fancy new Christmas outfits…there have been travel plans to arrange…family visitors to accommodate, Christmas feasts to shop and prepare for.

Here in the church, we’ve done a fair amount of prep work as well. Getting the sanctuary decorated…prepping worship for this evening…lining up the special bulletins and the volunteers for different jobs…getting all the candles ready and prepping a special batch of communion for this evening…All around…people have been hustling and bustling to get ready for the big day.

But despite all the craziness of the season…which is admittedly, drastic…there are also those fun little things about the holiday season that make it special every year. There are a few different things that brighten up the season at my house…for instance, the ever growing ring of Christmas cards and letters that form up around our kitchen window as we get the yearly update from many different people. And one other one is the ever present stream of Christmas specials that play on tv…sometimes even on a continuous loop.

I always enjoy these specials…the new ones and the old reliable ones…but the one that sticks out in my memory the sharpest has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas…which first debuted in 1965 and has run every year since then.

I love this show…I think its great…it features everything from Charlie Brown attempting to direct all the kids in the Christmas Play…starring Lucy as the Christmas Queen of course…we have Snoopy going all out to win the Christmas decoration contest with his dog house…several instances of people getting called Blockhead…and a ratty little Christmas tree that somehow manages to gain or lose branches from scene to scene.

But in what is probably my favorite portion of the whole show…Charlie Brown is freaking out at the dress rehearsal of the Christmas play when no one is cooperating with his direction…in normal fashion he throws his head back and screams “DOESN’T ANYONE KNOW WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?” (pause)

And Linus…brilliant as always…with his strong moral compass…and his blanket in tow says…Sure Charlie Brown…I know what Christmas is all about…He walks out center stage…asks for the lights to come down around him…and then Linus rattles off a perfect King James version of the shepherds story from tonight’s gospel.

And there was in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night…and LO…the angel of the Lord came upon them…the glory of the Lord shone around them…and they were sore afraid…and the angel said unto them…Fear not… (pause)

Linus finishes the rest of the story in a calm monotone…walks off stage, back to Charlie Brown to say…that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. (pause) I’ve always loved that scene…even when I was a kid…who knows…maybe it was a preconceived notion of my eventual day job…but I have always appreciated how Charlie Brown, in a mainstream special, still gets the point across. (pause)

Now all of that being said…I do chuckle at the King Jamesy version that Linus presents…particularly the notion that the shepherds were sore afraid. (pause) Sore afraid…just what does that really mean anyway? The language is, interesting to say the least. I mean, I know what afraid means…that’s obvious…and I know what sore means…I’m a runner after all…I’m familiar with soreness…and so we’ve got these two familiar terms…and I wonder if it’s a good idea to put them together…kind of like taking tacos and pizza…two wonderful foods that combine into a monstrocity…I think it’s the same deal here. Sore afraid.

I guess if we take it literally it would mean that the shepherds were so terrified, that it made them physically hurt. (pause) Have you ever been that scared? Has something ever frightened you so much that it physically effected you?

I had an instance just a few weeks back…driving up north to visit some family when the roads were a little dicey…and during that drive, particularly the last 10 miles, I was on glare ice…and I was hunched over the steering wheel…tense beyond belief…afraid that one wrong move would shoot us off into the ditch…and when that drive was finally over, my shoulders and neck physically hurt…what do you think…is that a good example of being “Sore afraid?” (pause) Somehow, I don’t quite think that cuts it.

But just what is it? What does it mean to be sore afraid…very likely, we can best describe it as scared to death…almost literally…and the interesting thing about this whole deal is what causes it.

Here’s the shepherds…just hanging out in the fields at night…trying their best to stay awake and keep watch…likely engaging in some sort of conversation as they didn’t have smart phones to keep them occupied…and who knows what they were talking about…perhaps the census that the Emperor had commanded…when all of the sudden…out of nowhere…an angel came upon them surrounded by the glory of the Lord.

This is what terrified them…the very presence of the angel…even before the angel starts talking…its just…there…and you know what…we’ve seen this sort of thing before. All throughout the Old Testament…anytime an individual encounters the angel of the Lord…they freak out…terrified even to the point of death…which sorta raises the question of just what these angels really look like…Something tells me it isn’t just the nice handsome guy in a white robe with wings and a halo shining over his head.

Each and everytime an angel of the Lord shows up…we hear the same greeting. Fear not…Don’t be afraid…Don’t fear. Across the board it happens…and not just in the Old Testament…but we hear the same sort of thing over and over again in the New Testament.

Our gospel story for tonight comes from Luke chapter 2, as it does every Christmas…and as we know it features the birth of Christ…but you know what…Luke Chapter 1 features two more stories of the angel of the Lord appearing to someone. First, we hear that the angel appears to Zechariah…a priest best known as the father of John the Baptist…then we hear that the angel appears to Mary…both of these individuals learn that they are going to the parent of an important figure…one who will shape history…but before either one of them get the message…the very first thing they hear is “Fear not.”

It doesn’t end there either…this baby…this Jesus…born this day grows up…and in his ministry we see this very same theme. When Jesus called the first disciples…Peter, James, John, and Andrew…some of his first words spoken to them, even before he names them disciples…even before he tells them that they will become fishers of men…Jesus tells them…Fear not.

We hear it again when Jesus is sleeping in the boat with all 12 disciples…and the wind and waves terrify them to the point of death…Jesus stops the storm with a word and asks them…Why are you afraid? (pause)

It seems…each and every time the notion of fear comes up around a divine being…whether God himself…or an angel…or Jesus here on earth…we hear the phrase Fear Not. And it typically happens along with some sort of faith based situation. Zechariah…your son, born to you and your wife in old age will be a forerunner of Messiah…but don’t be afraid. (pause) Mary, you who are a virgin, will give birth to a son, who will be the Son of God…but don’t be afraid. (pause) You Shepherds…you will be witnesses…you will testify to the birth of the messiah…so go and see…and Do Not…Be…Afraid. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk about repetition before. That when something is repeated in the Bible, it usually means it’s pretty important…and if in fact that is the case then maybe, just maybe we are all supposed to get this same message. Fear Not.

And if that is the case…then tonight I pose the question to you…what is it that you fear? (pause) In each and every case we’ve talked about tonight, God was asking something of the individual. Asking for them to trust…asking them to step out in faith and believe the promises that God was making for them.

We’re called to the very same thing…and sometimes…sometimes…that can be terrifying…a life of faith…a life of trusting in the promises that God has made is not always easy…a life of faith does not come fully equipped with all the answers and every contingency mapped out for us…yet God still comes to us asking that we trust him…asking that we believe in the promises that he has made…and reassuring us that we do not need to be afraid.

Tonight we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving the birth of the savior…which the angel told the shepherds is good news of great joy which is to ALL people…ALL people and that my friends…includes each and every one of you.

Born today in the city of David is a savior who is Christ the Lord. And in recognizing that to be true we ask the question of just what he saves us from…and the answer to that will be discovered a few months from now, when we gather together and recognize that God himself entered into this world as a helpless baby in order to one day take the cross and beat back death…and he does it for each and every one of us so that in the end…we no longer fear death…but recognize that through his life we are reconciled to God. (pause)

The baby born this day…lying in the manger…has been born in order to die…and shocking as that might be…we don’t need to fear that either…because this is the work of God…the work that God is doing in our reality…in order to bring us back into relationship with him.

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping…this is the child who was born to die for all mankind…he brings the kingdom of heaven with him…he brings peace and joy…he brings healing and salvation…and even more importantly…in his life, death, and resurrection, he will bring an end to death. (pause)
And that, Charlie Brown…is what Christmas…is all about. Amen.

Its About to Get Lighter 12-21-14

This sermon is based on Luke 1:26-38; which is the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce her pending pregnancy. This sermon is a little shorter than normal as the Sunday School children presented their Christmas program in worship today.  Within the sermon, I explore the notion that God chooses insignificant people to do amazing things, and that includes us as well.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-about-to-get-lighter-12-21-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have a confession to make. Today is one of my least favorite days of the entire year. (pause) Despite all the great things going on today…the joy of gathering together in fellowship…the blessing of Jesus’ resurrection that we celebrate every Sunday…and especially the joy we find when our Sunday School children share their Christmas message through song…despite all these wonderful things, I…don’t like today.

December 21st…the winter solstice…the shortest day of the year…the longest night of the year…As a self-professed solar powered individual, these short days are just plain hard. (pause) Sometimes in order to battle my negative thoughts towards the solstice, I start thinking about how the whole cycle works…the scientific basis behind the rotation of the Earth, and angle of our planet compared to the sun, the movements of various celestial bodies…all that stuff that figures in to why some days are literally longer than others. Sometimes, I think I’ve got a pretty handle on all that…I understand it pretty well…but then at other times, I’m completely lost as to just why it all happens. But regardless of my lack of understanding, it still happens does it, whether we’re paying attention or not. (pause)

Today’s gospel features a similar sort of situation. Here we are, the final week of advent, and today’s story features the biggest news that any single individual in all of human history has ever received…Mary…blessed one…you will bear the Son of the Most high…you…will have a son.

And as we hear…Mary…is confused. She’s confused by the greeting of the angel…and she’s certainly confused by the news that she receives…and to her credit, she poses the question that any of us would likely experience given her situation. (pause) How…Can…This…Be?

Not only is Mary a virigin, therefore making pregnancy, pretty much impossible…she also knows her situation. She’s a no name girl, in a no name town, in a backwater region. She’s a nobody…why on earth would God ever chose her for this? (pause)

Perhaps this is a question that we all face from time to time…particularly in terms of matters of faith. Who am I Lord, that you would notice me? Who am I, that you love me enough for all this? Who am I, that you would choose me for this task? (pause) And just as Mary recognized the apparent impossibility of what the angel was telling her, we too face the seemingly impossible nature of all that God is doing in our reality.

Yet despite our lack of understanding…we hear these words…for nothing will be impossible with God. (pause) We have a God who will not be contained. We cannot place God inside a box. God will not be hindered…not by our lack of understanding…not by our limitations, not by our faults…and God will not be hindered by what we deem to be impossible.

My friends, when God chooses to work for change, nothing is off limits, whether we get it or not…whether we like it or not…and in a few short days, God is going to prove it once more…by entering into our reality as a helpless baby…born to simple girl…with nothing special about her…and God will do this…simply because he chooses to…because he loves us enough, despite our brokenness…despite our flawed reality…he loves us enough to do something about it…and in the birth of Jesus Christ, God proves that this blessed gift…this reality altering work is for everyone…not just the rich and famous…not just for royalty…not just for the haves at the expense of the have nots…but by choosing this simple girl from a simple town in a backwater region…God reminds us that salvation is offered to all of us…we are all blessed, just like Mary, long before we say yes to what God asks of us.

This is the remarkable nature of the gospel…that it is offered to each and every one of us…and it is happening…whether we understand it or not. (pause)

Today may be the shortest day of the year…and the longest night of the year…and if that is the case then that means today is the darkest that we will experience…but remember that when Jesus enters into this world…the light shines in the darkness. (pause) Today may be dark…but its about to get a whole lot lighter. Amen

I Am Not 12-14-14

This sermon is based on John 1:6-8, 19-28. This is the account of John the Baptist, and explores his role with the 4th Gospel.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-am-not-12-14-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The idea of greatness is not one that we ever achieve on our own…Never once have I heard a story of any single individual accomplishing something truly great by themselves…it involves a sense of togetherness…even in those times when one individual emerges as the public face…there is typically someone in the background…behind the scenes…

Perhaps you’ve heard that old saying “behind every great man there is a woman.” (pause) While I like the sentiment behind that phrase…it is, admittedly, a little outdated…and so in order to bring things forward into the 21st century, I did a quick google search for some more appropriate versions.

Behind every great kid…is a great parent…who’s pretty sure they’re messing it up. (pause) Behind every great dog…is a cat telling him what to do. (pause) Behind every great student…is an exhausted teacher. (pause) And perhaps the best one I could find…and certainly the case in my house…behind every great man…is a woman rolling her eyes. (pause)

All kidding aside, each of these statements shares a common theme…that the prominent figure or visual or subject…whatever you want to say…is supported by another…they’re bolstered by another…they rely on another. And so perhaps this is fitting here in the season of Advent, as we move quickly towards Christmas…now just 10 days away…when the Savior of the world will take on flesh and dwell among us. (pause)

But before that can happen, we take this time every year to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ…we prepare our hearts and minds…just as we hope that world itself is getting ready to once again welcome our Lord. And in the midst of this time of preparation…this short season that bolsters us up for the joyful highpoint of Christmas…it seems to serve a little bit like that quiet person standing in the background…out of the spotlight…just offering support.

And in today’s lesson, we hear about an individual that also fit that role…though perhaps this notion will strike some of you as a little odd (pause) If I was to take a pole of the most famous New Testament characters…the most well known…asking you to write down your top 10…I’m guessing that the vast majority of everyone’s lists would include none other than John the Baptist. (pause)

And rightly so…he’s one of the few characters that pops up in all 4 Gospels…his personality is quite distinct…with his long crazy hair and beard…camel skin clothes and his weird diet of locusts and honey…not to mention his famous line “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!”

And John…well known as he might be to us some 2000 odd years after the fact…was even more prominent back in the day. He came on the scene before Jesus…he was active in and around the Jordan river…preaching and baptizing while Jesus was still hanging around Nazareth building tables with Joseph. We hear that large crowds of people from Jerusalem and all over Judea came out to see him…priests and teachers, soldiers and sinners…he attracted quite a crowd…we even here that he had his own batch of disciples that followed him. (pause)

But interestingly enough…here…in the 4th Gospel…none of that really seems to come up….Here in the 4th gospel…John is pretty toned down. (pause) There was a man…sent from God…He came as a witness to the light…the light which shined in the darkness…the word which became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood…John came as a witness, even before the light came into the world. (pause)

Now I don’t think any of us would argue that John’s purpose…his task…his job was not important…certainly it was…but interestingly enough…he himself downplayed everything…and simply went about…out there in the wilderness…sharing his testimony…sharing what he had seen for himself.

But in the midst of his testimony…in the midst of the ministry that he was performing…preparing the way of the Lord…the big wigs started getting a little uneasy. Here’s John…attracting a crowd…getting a lot of attention…and he’s changing things up from what we’re used to…we better get to the bottom of this…and the religious elite send people out to give him the 9th degree. (pause)

You’re baptizing…tell us honestly…Who are you? Are you the long awaited Messiah? I AM NOT. Well are you Elijah…or the great prophet? I AM NOT. (pause) I AM NOT.

Its interesting…throughout all of this testimony John never does say who he is…other than some off handed comment from Isaiah…John never gives his name or his credentials…the only thing he says…is what he isn’t…I AM NOT. (pause)
Now if you’ve ever heard me talk about the gospel of John, there’s two main themes that I tend to stick to…I’ll admit it, I’m a one trick pony in that regard…but the gospel of John tends to be about the light of God shining in the world…which incidentally we hear about here….or its about pointing out that Jesus…is God…and we hear that throughout the Gospel because Jesus continues to use the phrase. I AM. I AM the way the truth and the life…I AM the vine…I AM.

Ever heard that phrase before? Maybe when a random shepherd was hanging out talking to a burning bush? I AM…the name uttered by God to give to the people…claimed by Jesus repeatedly in this gospel in order to let everyone know just who he really was.

But let’s come back around to John again…Are you the Messiah? I AM NOT. (pause) I think its safe to say that John was pretty self-aware at this point. I’m not God…I’m not the great I AM…but there’s one among you…one that you do not know…and HE IS…and I am not worthy to untie his sandal.

John sets us quite the important example here…recognizing that he is not God…he is not in charge…that he is simply following the direction that the Lord has given him. (pause) Throughout the course of his ministry, John pointed towards another…towards Christ…his whole role was to testify about the light which came into the world…and we are called to do the same thing. To testify about what has been revealed to us…through our own experience.

Now you may be thinking that you lack the ability to do this…but John’s example defies that notion as well. In the beginning…John didn’t know who the Messiah was…all he knew is that eventually he would see the Holy Spirit descend and rest upon the Messiah….and low and behold…one day, it happened…and John realized in that moment that he was in the presence of the light…of the messiah…and with that John shared his testimony…he shared that which he had witnessed…that which he had experienced…in short…he shared his testimony of the relationship that he now had with the living Lord…and this is the very thing that we are called to do…to share that which we have experienced when we live our lives with Christ…and when we recognize that God, has chosen to live his life among us.

Now interestingly enough…this realization of just who the Messiah was happened for John in the context of a baptism…when the Holy Spirit rested upon the newly baptized…and we believe that in our own baptism…that same spirit comes upon us…and we share in the same baptism as our Lord…and in just a moment we’ll all witness this same thing together as Mieren Minshall comes to this font…when she too is washed in the water…and she too is named as a Beloved Child of God. (pause)

If you noticed…John never did give his name when his opponents were grilling him about things…Are you the Messiah? No, I am not. But he was claimed by God and he did have a name…so too does each one of us…Named and claimed by our Lord in the waters of our own baptism, marked with the cross of Christ and sealed in the love of God forever.

And so…if anyone ever happens to ask you if you’re God…you can let them know. I Am not…but I do hang out with him…now let’s talk about that…Amen

Where Do We Go From Here

I haven’t actually sat down and written a blog in a long time…too long. I can’t even tell you the last time that I did any writing that wasn’t a sermon or a board report or a newsletter article.

But life has afforded me a moment to stop and catch my breath in the midst of a lot of craziness. And when I find these moments…which is admittedly often though typically quite fleeting…my mind starts going. Lately there’s been a lot to think about.

This is a crazy time of year. People and activities are buzzing all around us. Christmas shopping, holiday planning, school concerts, seasonal changes…the list goes on and on. Additionally, the wide spread buzz has been…well…buzzing with a lot of controversial things as of late. Arguments have erupted around different issues like gun violence/control, grand jury decisions regarding tragic deaths, racial based tensions, immigration…and the list goes on and on.

Here at home things have been crazy as well. Following a week’s vacation over Thanksgiving, I came into a week that I was expecting to be low key…thanks to the Adult Choir at church performing their Christmas Program this Sunday and letting me off the hook for preaching. But yet in the midst of a casual week, I’ve kept busy. Conversations with other area pastors my first day back filled an afternoon with discussions, sometimes heated, about the difficulties we face within our own small niches. Due to this, my normal monthly visits to members in nursing homes was postponed. A congregational family experienced a death, and in the midst of offering them support my wife’s family experienced their own loss of a beloved aunt.

Its one of those situations that sort of leaves you with your head spinning.

Where do we go with all this stuff…there’s too much. Too much violence…too much hate…too much death…ITS TOO MUCH LORD!!!! WHERE ARE YOU ON THIS STUFF…There’s more darkness in the world than I know how to handle.

And when I get in that mode mentally, my mood goes south in a really big hurry…and I kind of walk around in a bit of a dark funk…every bit as dark as my perception of the world around me. That was my situation as of about 24 hours ago…but I put on my big-boy pants…as well as a brave face…and I went on the nursing home visits that had gotten postponed a couple days earlier.

One of the visits found me sitting at a table with 4 or 5 ladies…a couple of which I knew…and a couple that I was just meeting for the first time.  I can’t quite account for this, but what I perceive to be the combination of extreme hearing loss as well as an “I’m old enough that I’ll say whatever I want to” attitude led one of the new ladies to lean over and “whisper” to her neighbor.

“He’s a pastor? Oh he can’t be a pastor, he’s too good looking.”

And then…

“He look’s like a hunk to me.”

Cue laughter…a lot of laughter from everyone at the table…myself included.

Here in the midst of the dark funk that I’ve been feeling lately…powerless to do anything about it, comes a glimmer of light…a spark of joy.

And in that moment I found myself reminded of the season. We’re in Advent, coming right up on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ in the world…the Incarnation as its known in the church world…and when I realized that, I immediately thought of my favorite Gospel…sorry Matthew, Mark, and Luke…you guys are great but it isn’t you…and I thought of the Incarnation in John’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 5…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus is the light…he is the light of the world…and at Christmas he comes into the world…and in the midst of all that darkness…all this death and tension and fear and anger that so many of us are feeling these days…that darkness doesn’t win. God says so…because the darkness doesn’t get the last word…God does…and while I believe with every atom of my being that God is mourning the current state of our reality, I also believe that God is doing something about it, whether we realize it or not.

And that moment of extreme belly laughter, brought on by one elderly lady building up my ego, reminded me that God’s not hindered by our darkness…he’s not stymied by the difficulties that we face…and God IS…up to something. The darkness cannot and will not win…because the LIGHT has come into the world.

Don’t believe me…think I’m just another religious nut? Think I’m crazy to hold on some fantasy? That’s okay, but I’ll get scientific with you too. Darkness is the absence of light…period…darkness is not even its own thing…it can only be when something else is not…and that is the light…the instant light comes on the scene, darkness retreats. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

So in the midst of a dark time, let’s hold onto the hope that Light is, once again, coming into the world…and the darkness CANNOT over come it.