Archive for December, 2015

Jesus Gets Lost

This morning’s sermon is based on Luke 2:41-52. This story is the single story we have from Jesus’ childhood.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/jesus-gets-lost-12-27-15

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

Anyone ever gotten lost before? I’m going to go out on a limb and figure that at one time or another, just about every one of us has. But more specifically, how many of you ended up lost when you were a kid? (pause) And on the flip side, how many of you parents out there were on the other side of that coin? (pause) It’s a scary deal isn’t it…but of course depending on the situation itself and your particular role in it…the decree of scary-ness changes. (pause)

Now I’m sure it probably comes as no great shock as to why I’m bringing up the notion of getting lost considering today’s gospel lesson. And also as many of you here have gotten used to my particular style of preaching, I’m guessing that you are sitting there expecting me to open all this up by sharing a story of my own…and rest assured, I’m about to…but as I kept reading through this passage in preparation for today’s sermon, I found that I couldn’t limit it to just a single instance…but rather…I have 4 different times that I need to bring up. (pause)

The first one occurred when I was pretty young…probably about kindergarten or maybe even a little bit younger. Now I don’t remember very much about the situation, only that I was at the mall with my mom and siblings…and somehow, simply because I wasn’t paying attention, I wondered away and got separated in whatever store it was that we were in. At first, I didn’t even notice as I was a rambunxious little kid…but once I did notice that mom was out of eye shot, I got pretty scared…until such time as she found me. It probably wasn’t even that long…and maybe I wasn’t even lost…maybe she knew exactly where I was…but for me as little kid, it was scary. (pause)

Now fast forward to me being about 16…able to drive…and for whatever reason school let out early…and rather than just go home, I figured that I’ve give a buddy a ride home and hang out at his place for until such time as I would normally get home…This was all well and good until I actually got home and my dad ripped into me…having of course, heard on the radio that school was getting out…and then not knowing where I was for several hours. I wasn’t scared time around…but I think he was…and once he knew that I was okay…well then scared turned into angry on his part. (pause)

Fast forward again…I’m a parent, and actually already living here in Underwood. The kids are outside playing with some of the other neighborhood kids, and after a little while I step out of the house to see where they are…and I can’t find them…so I holler…and I don’t hear anything…so I walk around…and I start knocking on doors…and finally, after about 30 minutes…they all pop out…having been playing behind the big pine tree that used to stand right outside this sanctuary…they hadn’t been able to hear me calling for them…they weren’t scared at all…but I was…

And finally, not long after that…we were at a family reunion at a park over on the Omaha side, and my son Jack went down to the lake with one of his cousins to fish. We weren’t concerned, until such time as we started taking family pictures, and I went looking for the two boys…and couldn’t find them…and we tried calling a cell phone, but there was lousy reception…and pretty soon the whole family was looking…and everyone was in a panic…until pretty quick the two boys popped up from their fishing spot…ironically only about 100 yards away from where I’d been looking, but around a corner…once again…they weren’t scared…but the rest of us were… (pause)

Can you relate to any of those stories…have you ever been the one who was lost and scared…or the one who was lost to everyone else and you were fine…or the one who was searching for a child…and in a blind panic? (pause)

Isn’t it funny how a person will react when they are in those different situations…how the context of their particular situation in that moment, changes their reaction. I’ve run the gambit from being the terrified little kid, to being the irresponsible teen that didn’t check in, to being the parent growing more and more terrified at my own missing kid…and its only looking back now at those different instances that I recognize the transition that I have gone through in my own experience through my own reaction to these different situations. (pause)
Now I bring all of this up, for what is probably pretty apparent by now. Our gospel lesson is certainly unique today…Jesus get’s lost…an important story taken from Jesus’ adolescence…which is unique and important for several different reasons…This story is unique as it is the single instance that we see between the birth of Jesus and the transition into his ministry and adulthood at about the age of 30…and important as it stands as a transition from Jesus really being a passive side note character, to taking the forefront as the center of the narrative…We see different characters begin to fade out as he comes more into the main focus. (pause) And it all happens as Jesus ends up lost.

Just how the situation occurs, we don’t really know…other than Jesus has gone from his home in Nazareth to Jerusalem along with Mary and Joseph…and probably the rest of the town as well…in order to celebrate Passover, something they did each and every year…but this year…as Jesus is transitioning from boy to man…taking a little more responsibility for himself…and when the whole crowd bunches up to head back towards Nazareth…Jesus takes upon himself to remain…we don’t know why…we don’t know if he’s too engaged in something right in front of him and overlooks everyone leaving…or if he’s mad at his parents…or if something in the temple catches his attention so he stays put…but either way…Jesus remains…and everyone else leaves.

And before you come down on Mary and Joseph for dropping the ball…though admittedly they sorta did…a day goes by…Joseph walking with the men…Mary with the women and the children…and each assuming that 12 year old Jesus is with the other…until they discover that he isn’t…Joseph, Jesus was with you and the men right? No…he was with you and the women and children right? No (pause) Oh…Shoot. (pause)

Panic sets in…and its another day’s journey back to Jerusalem…and frantic searching…the panic and the terror for their missing child growing with every passing moment until finally after days of separation…they find him in the temple…sitting there listing to teachers and engaging with their questions…and everyone around is amazed at this kid.

Everyone except Mary and Joseph that is…and as one would expect…now that they’ve seen that Jesus is okay…the anger kicks in…and Jesus get dressed down. “Child…why have you treated us like this? We have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (pause) Mary’s words aren’t surprising are they? Their little boy, not quite so little any more has given them quite the fright…but Jesus…well his response comes across as both typical of a preteen young man…as well as pretty astonishing….because he wasn’t scared…he’s just been hanging out…engaged in what’s important to him…but that’s the kicker because what’s important to him seems to be learning about the faith of his true father…of God…and how better can he do that then by engaging with the very teachers who are surrounding him. (pause)
But Mary…and probably Joseph as well, though he’s kind of a background character here…fail to grasp just what’s going on, but Jesus comes with them…and they go home…and he continues to grow…and he gains wisdom and favor with the divine and with other people…and in the midst of all this…Mary treasures things in her heart.

Now if you were here Christmas Eve for the birth of Jesus…I talked about that same thing…Mary treasuring these things…pondering on them…trying to make head’s or tails of just what is going on with this boy of hers…as she continues to experience a multitude of divinely inspired moments in and around her son.

And you know what, we share a lot with Mary don’t we…perhaps we can relate to her as a parent…perhaps we can relate to her astonishment when she, as a young girl likely not much older than Jesus in today’s story, encounters an angel and ends of divinely pregnant…she was just a kid herself in those days…and yet experience after experience…encounter after encounter with different individuals who were inspired by God to witness to the newborn Messiah, Mary continued to experience that which is astonishing to her.

But today, we see the transition…for after this story…Mary becomes completely secondary…merely a fellow follower of Christ, who won’t pop up by name again in Luke’s account until the beginning of the book of Acts, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And today we see the transition of Jesus into the front and center…as the active character here in the story of what God is up to in the world. (pause)

But here’s the thing…this story also represents another important truth…and something that we should all ponder in our own hearts. Just a couple of days ago…we celebrated the birth of Jesus…a well known story…and after today…Jesus is all grown up…but what we often times seem to gloss over is the fact that God did…in fact…become human…something that we often fail to really comprehend. (pause)

Just a couple weeks back, the confirmation and adult forum class talked about the second article of the Apostles Creed, which of course focuses on Jesus…and in our discussion we talked about just how hard it is to consider Jesus to be both God and human…we just can’t wrap our heads around it…and so we tend to really think of him as one or the other…and I’m just as guilty of that as the next person…and in the midst of that, don’t we forget that being fully human doesn’t mean that Jesus just showed up one day fully grown…but he was born…and yes we know that…but he also had to go from that newborn baby to that fully grown man…God…who was born…as mindblowing as that is…and God, who would go on to die…as mindblowing as that is…God…had to grow up, just like each one of us.

God had to experience every aspect of life…with all of its ups and downs…with all of its joys and sorrows…and most importantly with every aspect of temptation staring him in the face so that one day, with his death and resurrection he could overcome the power of sin and death on our behalf…once again making relationship between God and humanity a possibility…and it is only because he was both God and human that he is able to bridge this gap.

And so today, we remember that…we recognize that God was born and grew up…and we can ask the question of what was he like as a kid…who was his teacher in the local synagogue…what games did he play? Who were his friends…did he ever have a girlfriend?

And you know what, we can’t answer those questions…but asking them helps us remember that Jesus Christ, God and Human was a real person…and he really grew up…and he had real experiences just as each and every one of us do…and eventually he became the man who would hang on a cross and die…and after three days of being unable to find him…humanity would see him again…and yes, that is all astonishing…and just as Mary pondered on all these things in her heart…we do the same…for once more God has entered into our reality in order to bring about a new transition…one in which God and humanity are in harmony once more…and even more astonishing, is that he invites each one us into this new reality, to live and grow just as Jesus did…and one day…one glorious out there in the unknown future, we will see him face to face. Amen.

Treasure This 12-24-15

This sermon, for Christmas Eve, comes from the normal Christmas text of Luke 2:1-20.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/treasure-this-12-24-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Just this past Sunday, we were blessed to have worship led by our young people, as the JR High students as well as the Sunday School students presented worship in a way to celebrate the Christmas season. It was wonderful with various songs and readings. But one of my favorite parts was during the puppet show, put on by the Jr Highers, when they sang a special song for the birth of Jesus…Happy birthday. (pause)
Now perhaps you’ve heard me talk about this before, but in my wife’s family, we have the tradition of singing happy birthday to Jesus when we are together to celebrate Christmas…I’ve also done this same thing during children’s sermons in the past…and it’s a wonderful tradition, because it reminds us of just what we are really celebrating on this day…the birth of Jesus Christ. (pause)
Now, this is of course, one of those rare times when our gospel lesson is the same each and every year…regardless of what year we fall on during the 3 year cycle, the gospel is the same…and because of this…it becomes familiar…so familiar in fact that we could probably all recite it.

In addition, in countless communities and congregations around the world, Christmas pageants happen…and we see all the familiar scenes…Mary and Joseph coming into town…getting turned away at the local Motel 6…ending up in the barn with fluffy sheep and cows and a donkey…an angel shows up…the shepherds arrive…closely followed up by the Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…and in the midst of it all…there’s Mary…treasuring it all in her heart. (pause)

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas story. I love watching these pageants as generation after generation of our children learn about the birth of Jesus…even if some of the parts are a little inaccurate, it’s still such a vital tradition. But that being said, this year as I started working on this sermon, I found myself thinking a lot about those extra details…those things that have found their way into our collective consciousness of this story…and since my own imagination and experience has the tendency to shove its way in…I got to wondering about just what might have been happening behind the scenes of this wonderful story of Jesus’ birthday. (pause)

I’m sure it comes as no great shock…but when I think about birth, it puts me in mind of the birth of my own kids…because that’s the personal experience that I can draw on…and while I remember a whole lot of details, which I am not going to bore you with…one thing I remember actually occurred about a day and half after my son was born.

We were still in the hospital…and I had actually gone back to work that day…and in the late afternoon, once work was finished, I headed back to the hospital to see my wife and newborn son…and as I walked into the room, I looked at Emily…and man did she look tired…I remember her asking me if I had any other visitors along with me and when I said no she got this look on her face that was a combination of relief and annoyance. I asked her what was wrong and she told me “I am exhausted.” (pause) Understandable right? She had a baby the day before…neither one of us slept well at all that first night, even in the hospital…and then while I was gone to work…visitor after visitor kept showing up so Emily had no chance to rest at all. (pause) It continued to…because I remember our first night at home, a day or two later…and every time Jack blinked I was awake…like any parents, we were frazzled for at least 6 solid months…but during those initial couple of days in the hospital, its fair to say that Emily was certainly the more frazzled of the two of us. (pause)

But what Mary and Joseph? How do you think they fared during this whole deal…Mary especially. Think about her whole situation. She’s a young girl…probably early teens…about the same age as some of our jr high or high school students. She’s engaged to be married…but then gets a visit from an angel who drops a bomb on her that she’s about to get pregnant via God. She’s facing ridicule from her community…she goes into hiding with her cousin for a few months…and now when she comes home and is getting close to having her baby…the government swoops in and demands that she tag along with Joseph to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south…all for the sole purpose of writing their names down…and get taxed for it.

And since they aren’t the ones doing it…when they final drag themselves into town…they find that every single spot to sleep is filled…and when they finally do get some, rather lousy shelter…low and behold its time for the baby…no diaper bag…no birthing suite…no doctor…no epidural…no crib…and after her labor is done and the baby is born…no simple feat mind you…they lay him in a feed trough.

Sounds wonderful right…but its not over yet…because in the middle of the night…after all of this has happened…a bunch of dirty, stinky shepherds come calling…talking about angels and heavenly proclamations…now…how do you think Mary was feeling at this point? (pause) I don’t know about you…but I can only imagine…she had to have been exhausted…and scared…and confused…the same as any first time mother…but throw all the other variables into the mix…and I would think that she was probably tired…and irritated…to put it mildly. And if it were me in that situation…I’d have told the shepherds to come back in the morning…leave me think heck alone…that’s what I would have done…

But here’s the thing…as I was working with this text…I heard an important reminder…don’t worry about what isn’t found in the scripture…rather…focus on what is there…and amazingly enough…we don’t hear about irritation on the part of Mary…rather…the scripture tells us that Mary hears the words of the shepherds and treasures all these things in her heart…and you know what…its not the only time something like this happens to Mary.

If we fast forward 12 years…we also hear the one story of Jesus during his childhood…when the kids gets lost during Passover and it takes Mary and Joseph days to find him again…and when they do…he’s sitting in the temple having theological discussion with the teachers and priests…and once again…despite the anxiety that we do hear about in that story…once again…Mary treasures these things. (pause)

Now I don’t about you…but Mary seems pretty incredible to be able to put up with all this stuff and not only does she not get upset…but she treasures it…and so I find myself wondering just what is it about this whole deal that is so wonderful…and not only to Mary, though she’s the best example…but to everyone else…to the shepherds who receive the angelic proclamation…and to Joseph as well as everyone else in the house who heard it…and not only that…but to the countless people who have heard this story throughout the past 2000 years and have received it with wonder.

And so I’ll ask once more…just what was it that went on? Well, if we pay really close attention…in one tiny, almost throw away comment we hear that Mary’s son is born.

All speculation and details aside…this baby is born…and so we ask what might the more important question of just what is the big deal about this one birth…one of countless that must have happened on that same day…one of literally billions of births that have occurred within the human race over the ages…what is it about this one that is so important…so earth shattering…what is it that is so different this time around.

These are important questions to ask when we consider the birth of Jesus…and to answer them…we need to take a closer look at the proclamation itself…that good news of great joy that is to all people…Born to you this day…A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Three names…all of which would have been familiar to those who heard it all those years ago.

But those three words would have meant something drastically different back then. Keep in mind the Jewish culture…now, when they think about a savior…a deliverer within their scripture…well that would have been Moses…the great deliver who led God’s chosen people out of bondage in Egypt…and no one else in their history has been regarded with such high esteem.

And now let’s add the next layer…The Messiah…or the Christ as we also know him…same word, different translation…but the messiah within their culture, was one who was anointed to be a leader…the great kings of the past…Saul, and David, and Solomon…they were all anointed…chosen by God to lead the people…so now we’ve got a new deliverer…a new savior who would be anointed to lead God’s people out of oppression, and trust me, these people knew oppression having been conquered by empire after empire…even to the point of the current exploitation Mary and Joseph were experiencing that brought them here to Bethlehem in the first place. Certainly this proclamation has vital importance…for this baby would be the one to retake the throne of Israel, anointed to deliver God’s people from oppression.

(pause)
Earth shattering right? This is what they’ve hoped and prayed for, over countless generations…literally centuries of history…but…there’s….more. For this anointed deliverer…this Savior, this Messiah…is the LORD.

And that’s where this one simple birth…this amazing story…changes everything…because this is not some simple baby…this is God entering into our reality…and choses the lowest possible way to do it…the most powerful being in all of existence, who’s very presence goes beyond our ability to comprehend enters into our reality, born in the dirt, laid in the feed trough…to a virgin ostracized by her culture for breaking the law…announced to shepherds who were the lowest of the low lives. And not only did God become human, but he was born…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent…God’s ultimate power, entering our reality in order to exert that limitless power over that which we are powerless against…the power of sin and death…God’s ultimate power was expressed in and through that which is utterly powerless. (pause)

And I believe that this good news…that God’s power is found within our powerlessness…within our weakness…within our inabilities…that is so earth shatteringly amazing that it overshadows all the darkness that’s going on. For the shepherds, this announcement comes in the middle of the night…God’s light shines in the darkness…for us…here at Christmas…when the days are as short as they can be and the night’s are as long as they can be…we receive this news…and God’s light shines in that darkness.

And for each of us as individuals, facing a hard reality…a reality where there is pain…and there is suffering…and there is loss…and there are those things in our lives and in the world that make no sense and cannot be explained and can only be experienced as darkness…God’s light shines…and so tonight…on this most special of nights may we cling to the promise that in this tiny baby, God enters the world to lead and to save us from that which we are powerless against…I’d say that’s something worth treasuring…wouldn’t you? Amen.

 

What Are We Really Preparing For 12-13-15

In this sermon, based on Luke 3:7-18, I explore the theme of Advent, preparing for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist plays a central role in this part of Jesus’ story, yet his message is quite blunt. I contrast the old with the new that comes with Christ.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-we-really-preparing-for-12-13-15

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’m going to start things off with a little bit of an advertisement today. Tuesdays at 7pm…our ongoing study of The Story…a Bible study in which we are discussing the overarching narrative of the Bible from start to finish. Lively discussion ensues…and you’re all invited.

One of the main points that we’ve been discussing in this study since beginning last summer as been the ongoing activity of God behind the scenes…asking the question of how the particular chapter highlights God’s greater work in the grand scheme of things…now sometimes its pretty obvious…chapter 1 for instance…the story of creation from the first couple chapters of Genesis…what’s God up to there? Well, making…everything…kind of a no brainer.

But on the flip side…sometimes we have to work a little harder to try and figure out just what God is up to…because its not nearly as obvious as the first chapter…and this week, was one of those times. (pause) This week we studied the story of Esther…a young Jewish girl living life within the great Persian empire…and she’s picked from obscurity…wins the favor of the king and becomes the new queen…and along the way she manages to foil a plot to annihilate the Jewish people…it’s a wonderful story…and our discussion was great…but one interesting fact came up. Nowhere within the Old Testament book of Esther…not even once…do we hear about God…which admittedly seems a little strange when we consider that the Bible as a whole is the word of God, and is aimed at revealing truth of what God is up to in the world to us…but its true…the book of Esther is silent when it comes to God. (pause)
Now I bring this up because there’s a similar theme in today’s gospel lesson…the gospel’s, naturally, are New Testament books…and the gospels more than any other books, are certainly aimed at Jesus…the son of God…God in human form…walking and dwelling among us. (pause)

But…in today’s lesson…we see one of the very few times when Jesus is neither present…nor is he named…The closest we get to hearing about Jesus is a few comments regarding the coming Messiah. (pause) Now how often does that actually happen? That we have a gospel lesson that fails to feature Jesus? Its pretty rare…but the main reason behind it today is the season that we find ourselves in…Advent.

Now, you’ve heard me talk about this before….but Advent is considered the season of preparation…as the world awaits the coming Messiah…something that we’ll celebrate together in just a couple weeks’ time at Christmas as Jesus enters into our reality, yet again…as a helpless baby. (pause) But we aren’t there yet are we?

And so, here at the half way point of this 4 week season of preparation, we find a gospel lesson that doesn’t feature Jesus…but rather…another familiar figure…John the Baptist. (pause) Now John is an interesting individual…and he shares in a pretty rare distinction…being one of the few individuals that actually shows up in all 4 gospels…he’s not one of course, but there aren’t many…and because of this distinction, we recognize just how important of a figure he really was…and I think most of us do. We know that he’s the precursor to Christ…we know that he was the voice crying in the wilderness…his name is synonymous with the idea of baptism…

Maybe, if you’re like me, you hear the name John that Baptist and you picture some hairy wildman with a huge bush beard and afro splashing around in a river and yelling at everyone…that’s the image that’s in my head anytime I hear about him…and for the most part, that’s a pretty accurate image to hold…because John’s part of the overarching gospel of Jesus Christ is pretty brief…mostly limited to this one story right here towards the beginning…with only a few brief references that pop up here and there throughout the rest of the gospels.

But as we think about our normal notions of John…not to mention listening to his rather blunt message for those who have come out to listen to him…doesn’t it seem to be kind of one note? (pause) Think about it…I say John the Baptist and ask you what his message it…and I’m guessing most of you think “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!!!! WHO WARNED YOU ABOUT THE WRATH TO COME?” (pause) Sound about right?

I thought a lot about that this week…and kind of chuckled to myself as I realized that this one passage culminates in the single sermon that I get to preach this year during Advent…we have this one passage to help us get ready for the coming Messiah…and when we hear John’s words…it sort of resonates as the same old same old. (pause)

Think about everything you know about John…because it seems…at first glance anyway…that’s he’s really not broadcasting much that’s new. (pause) First off…he’s a prophet…the first one that’s popped up in the Holy Land for about 4 centuries…so the word of God has been pretty quiet for awhile…but the first thing this wilderness prophet rattles off…is a call to repentance…because wrath is coming…and if we’ve learned one thing trekking through the Old Testament in our Bible Study its that the word of the Lord tends to call the people to repent or face God’s wrath quite a bit.

But what else…what about the notion of Baptism…because John was doing that too…obviously right, just look at his name…but don’t be fooled. Even though we tend to think of Baptism as a fairly new innovation…something that came along with the rise of Christianity, its actually a lot older than that…Jewish people practice baptism…particularly when a foreigner would join the Jewish culture…and they would be baptized to cleanse themselves of all that which is ungodly…and so…this baptism that John practiced…was nothing new either.

So then, what about his interactions with the people…those who ask him “What should we do?” The crowds, and tax collectors, and the soldiers…at this point John gets into some life application that seems like kind of no-brainer…if you’ve got more than you need…share it with someone who doesn’t. Treat one another fairly…don’t lie…and be satisfied with what you earn…sounds pretty “golden rule-ish” doesn’t it…and it reflects the expected culture of the Jewish people…who’s lives centered around hospitality and the expectation of treating one another fairly….truly the message of John seems like nothing new does it?

And yet as we hear it…and we hear John screaming out at the brood of vipers who are only there to save their own skin…and his predictions that one is coming who is going to sort everything out…separating the good from the bad…the grain from the chaff…doesn’t it all sound…so…judgmental…so accusatory…so downright negative? (pause)

And yet…this seems to be exactly the message that the people expect…so much so, that they start to ask if John might just be the long awaited Messiah…the one who would usher in God’s blessed kingdom and throw out all that which oppresses God’s people. (pause) Crazy huh? That this, was their expectation…that the messiah would bring the same old judgmental, divisive story? (pause)

But here’s the thing…if John could make only one point, its this…he knows who he is…and he knows who he…isn’t…and he is very direct in pointing out the difference between himself and the coming Messiah. (pause)
I baptize with water…he will baptize with the holy spirit and fire…I am a lowly servant…not even worthy to untie his sandals…but HE…is more powerful that I am… (pause) Now we hear all this and instantly start thinking about Jesus don’t we…as well we should…but I think what we tend to miss about all this is just what John’s talking about when he references the power of the coming Messiah.

We hear John’s words of wrath and repentance…of separation and judgement of gathering the grain and burning the chaff…and if you’re anything like me you hear…DIVISION…that the coming Messiah will one day separate the evil people from the good people.

But here’s the thing…have you ever really known a person who was completely evil…or on the flip side someone who was completely good? (pause) Sure we’ve had some pretty decent examples on both sides of the coin…but I’m pretty sure even the worst of the worst probably had good intentions…and even the most saintly still harbored dark thoughts in their minds.

And that’s all because of the presence of sin and darkness in our lives…it has permeated us so deeply…into the very depths of our existence…and that’s why each and every one of us feels the effects of sin in our lives…and just being a person who professes faith in Christ…or a person who claims the promises of our baptism…it isn’t enough to eliminate the darkness that still resides within each of us.

We can’t separate the good from the bad and maybe just maybe, when we hear these words from John they seem so confrontational…so judgmental because when we are honest with ourselves we the darkness within us and can’t help but expect to be the evil chaff that gets thrown into the fire…and news flash…if you happen to take a look and only see the good stuff and fully expect to be gathered into the barn…well guess what…pride my friend…you just earned yourself the fire…that’s how deep this goes and there is NOTHING we can do about it.

But as John tells us…there is one who is coming…one who is MORE powerful…MORE able than any of us…Because God is coming…and God, who exists in ways far beyond our ability to understand or comprehend IS ABLE, to somehow, someway separate that which evil from that which God claims as good, from within each of us as individuals.

We are each made in the image of God, something that God called VERY GOOD…but likewise the power of sin has settled within each of us…but what if…maybe, just maybe, what John is talking about here…is the possibility that we have a God who lived this life…who came into this reality…then died and rose again to overcome the power of sin and death and somehow, someway, holds the power to separate them out from within the individual.

Isn’t that good news? That the savior of the world…who will enter into our reality at Christmas…just a couple weeks from now…did so in order to take away that from within YOU…that separate you from God…so that the aspect of YOU that God calls VERY GOOD…will remain to be with him forever. Isn’t that the best news in the world? (pause)

Now what if I told you that there are some out there who have never heard it? That there are some out there who think of the gospel and only hear the old judgmental accusation without understanding the love that God holds for us…that Christ came not to divide the good people from the bad people…but to redeem that which is good within each of us…and that this gift…this promise is for them too. (pause)

Soon…very soon, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…the messiah who is coming into the world…and as we do each and every Christmas we will sing the familiar hymn to Go Tell It On The Mountain…so that one day…all may know the Good News….and that my friends…here during the season of Advent…that, it what we are really preparing for. Amen