Archive for December, 2016

Light 12-25-16

In this Christmas Day sermon, I explore John 1:1-14. God enters into our reality as Light shining in darkness, and as the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/light-12-25-16

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you here today have probably heard me talk about John’s gospel being my favorite, simply because it is so different than the other three gospels. Whenever I encounter it, my first inkling is to compare the differences…and that certainly applies today.

The thought in my mind here with the open verses of John is to compare how each gospel begins…and perhaps more specifically, to recognize just where the good news of Christ needs to begin. Mark starts with John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness to be prepared for the coming Messiah, though by that point Jesus was already around.

Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, going back as far as Abraham. This makes sense with Matthew’s intended Jewish audience, as Abraham represents the beginning of their culture, when he received the covenant from God…a promise that included Christ as a descendant of Abraham, and the way that the entire world would be blessed.  Luke also features a genealogy, but he takes it all the way back to Adam, showing us that the good news of Christ includes all of humanity.

But John, he goes all the way back…starting off with a direct reference to Genesis and the creation of the world. In the beginning. We hear John say that in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God…which mirrors our account of the start of our reality through God’s creation…that in the beginning was God.

So it would seem, that the gospel of Jesus Christ starts at the very instant our reality became reality. But its important that we think just a little bit deeper as well. This is, of course, Christmas Day, when we celebrate God entering the world as human…when God physically enters our reality…something that scholars like to call the Incarnation.

Now Matthew and Luke both feature the birth of Jesus…that moment when, as John puts it…the Word becomes flesh, dwelling among us. But some would argue, me included that the incarnation here in John’s gospel…the moment when God enters our reality occurs when the light shines in the darkness…that the light is the presence of God…and the connection between John and Genesis starts to make a little more sense.

When creation began, we hear that the world was formless and void. Now that doesn’t mean that the world was a big mess of stuff, nor does it mean that it was just empty space…rather, reality just wasn’t…but then God said a Word…there’s that Word with God thing…The first thing God said was let there be light…and there was.

The first thing in our reality as we know it, was light…the first step that God took in bringing order to chaos…was light…and if John’s gospel is to be believed, and that everything that has come into being is through this divine word of God, who is God…then the first step that God took towards the ultimate unity, the ultimate togetherness that we will one day experience…the first step was light.

Now here’s the thing about light shining in the darkness. When one occurs, the other doesn’t. Darkness is in essence the absence of light, so if light is there, darkness loses…it retreats. I discovered this first hand about a year and a half ago. We were in Colorado at family camp, and I woke up in the middle of the night…at it was utter darkness in our cabin…and for the first time ever, I experience claustrophobia…fear simply because I could not see. But then I grabbed my phone and turned on the screen for just a brief moment…and that gave enough light to drive that fear right out of me…it gave me hope…and the amazing thing is that even after I shut my phone off again, and I was still in the darkness…the hope that light gave me remained.

I’ve thought a lot about that notion in recent weeks…because I don’t know about you, but it really seems as if our community…both here at church, as well as here in town and the surrounding area…has had a really rough year. 2016 has been a tough one…a lot of death…a lot of broken relationships…a lot of hardships…and I know a lot of people are struggling…but it is in the midst of this very thing that we remember the promise, that the light of God shines in the darkness of this world, and though the darkness is not yet gone, it cannot overcome the light of God…the light of Christ which began at the first instant of creation in the beginning, and then literally…physically entered our world when the word became flesh and dwells among us.

I love that both of those statements include active verbs. The light SHINES…and the Word made flesh DWELLS…and this action is ongoing…still…right here right now…and I’ve seen it…I’ve seen the way that our community has gathered around one another…sharing joys and sorrows…being in community…in relationship with one another…in short…being the body of Christ right here right now.

But since we are one body together, its important that we share our collective experience. And so I’d like to give you the opportunity to share ways that you have seen light shining in the darkness…How do you see God in the here and now?

(Individuals shared various examples).

The Word became flesh and dwells among us…and we have seen his glory. Let us cling to the hope that we find in one another…as the face of God is reflected within your faces…and may that hope that we find in the light of God shining through one another give us strength to face the darkness still present in our world. Amen.

The Old and the New 12-24-16

Merry Christmas. In this sermon for Christmas Eve, taken from the normal Christmas reading of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the way that the birth of Christ has become so familiar that it can seem mundane. Yet God meets us in the midst of the mundane to invite us into something amazing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-old-and-the-new-12-24-16

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

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Traditions are an important thing…but they’re also a funny thing. I often times find myself wondering just where different traditions come from…and I also find myself chuckling at some of the traditions that I’ve become a part of.

If I were to list an example of what I’m talking about…it would be something that happens each and every year…several times over, as my wife’s family participates in Christmas gift opening. At least one time every year…and probably more like a dozen times during this process, the following will happen…an individual opens a gift…looks at it for a brief moment as their mind begins to comprehend just what they are looking at…and someone else…almost always the person who gave them the gift says “If you don’t like it you can take it back.” (pause)

For several years, upon hearing this phrase, I would just inwardly grimace…of course you can take it back…that’s how the notion of return and exchanges work…but we don’t need to say it to each other…and we certainly don’t need to say it over and over again.

Finally we made a little switch about 2 or 3 years back by agreeing…all together…that we weren’t going to say it anymore…but…of course, it still happens. (pause) However…this year…that phrase took on a little bit of new meaning, as our Christmas decorating and preparation took an odd turn.

We’ve gotten real Christmas Trees in my family for as long as my wife and I have been married…sometimes you get a great one, sometimes you get one that’s not so great. There have been times when we’ve found nice ones really reasonably priced…and there’s been times when it has cost an arm and a leg. But without exception, each and every year, the tree we’ve brought home has lasted through the holiday season until such time as we were ready to take it down. (pause) Until this year. (pause) This year we brought home a tree…and after about a week we started noticing the needles falling off…A LOT. As in, we’d sit in the living room and it sounded like a light rain falling as the needles continued dropping off onto the floor.

It got so bad that my wife ended up calling the store to complain about it…and they told us that if we wanted to, we could bring it back and exchange it for a new one…and so…for the first time ever…I found myself returning a Christmas Tree. (pause) If you’re wondering, our second tree of this year is faring much better. (pause) But all that being said, I find it almost laughable that this year, that old phrase that we know so well came into play with our tree.

But that’s how traditions work don’t they? And we all have them at this time of year…things that we do each and every year that help to shape the season…that help it all feel real…but isn’t it true that sometimes… those traditions might start to feel a little stale? (pause)
Now admittedly…there have been times when I’ve started to feel that way about the story of the Nativity that we’ve shared tonight.  In my 37 years, I’ve heard this story many times…as we all have. Its “tradition” to hear the story on Christmas Eve…and most of us can probably recite it…but if not, we can certainly list off the details of what goes on.

The Roman emperor decides he needs to check up on everyone, so he orders a census. Everyone needs to register in the town of their ancestors, so we’ve got Jewish people traveling all over the place…including a young couple…a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiancé, who just happens to be pregnant…a situation that was quite scandalous of course…they make their way south to Bethlehem as he’s a descendent of the great king David.

Low and behold…there’s not a lot of room for them in town, so they find themselves crammed in around the animals as the baby is born…and he ends up sleeping in the feed trough. But of course, this is no ordinary baby…and pretty quick a batch of nearby shepherds get the surprise of a lifetime when an angel shows up spouting off something about a new savior being born, who’s also the Messiah, and not only that, he’s the Lord too.  As quick as they get the message, a whole slug of extra angels show up singing…and as the shepherds get over the initial shock and fear that comes with this angelic territory…they decide to head on into town to see if this message and story they’ve heard is true. Sure enough it is, and they share the amazing angel experience with Mary and Joseph and anyone else they run into…and then once its over they head back out into the fields…probably singing the popular song Go Tell it on the Mountain for the very first time. (pause)
That’s the story right? We’ve heard it more times than we can count…and I fear…that maybe its become routine…plain…mundane even….perhaps even to the point where you find youself saying “okay, we’ve gotta hear the story…then pastor’s gonna talk for a few minutes…and we’ve got to get through this so we can light the candles and sing silent night.”

Sound about right? That’s the real tradition here this evening isn’t it? If we’re honest with ourselves…we find this joyous event…something that’s been relived every year for the last 2 millenia…dulled down through simple familiarity to the point of being ho-hum. (pause)
But…its…not. The story of Jesus’ birth was…is…and forever will be…a very…big…deal. There’s all kinds of amazing stuff going on…all kinds of incredible points that I could focus on.

God becomes human…the Messiah, who is the anointed leader of God’s people is born…and he’s a savior…an even bigger deal than Moses in the Old Testament…this baby will lead all of God’s people…which by the way includes all of us…out of bondage and into something new…into a new reality…that in itself is amazing.

And the circumstances…not only does the Lord enter into our reality…it happens as a helpless baby…born in the MOST humble of means…and announced to shepherds…a bunch of shifty low-lifes who weren’t exactly the movers and shakers of society….his parents faced impossible odds…risking ridicule and even being cast out of their community because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy…and all of this happened without any human fanfare.  The savior of the world was born…and hardly anyone noticed…at least not at first.

But after a few years…the celebration of Jesus’ birth was celebrated…and as the body of Christ grew through the following generations…his birth became one of the most important events in our church year…one that, like tonight…we celebrate yearly…we remember yearly…we keep coming back to it. (pause)
And it is worth remembering…it is worthy of celebration…because it is a very big deal…Had God not chosen to take on flesh…had the Lord not entered into our existence in the same way we do…then this broken reality, twisted by the power of sin and death would continue in the same way that it has ever since the beginning. (pause)
But the fact of the matter is…that it did happen. There are few little hints within the story that remind of this. Luke starts off the whole thing by telling us who the emperor is…and who the governor is…and so right away we find that this story is rooted in a specific point in history…and then another thing happens…this time with the angel and the shepherds…something that I almost find laughable.

The angel shows up…calms the shepherds down and tells them…unto you a child is born…he is a savior, the Messiah, the Lord. And then to reassure them, the angels offers a sign.  You will find a baby, wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger…which by that point had already happened in Bethlehem.

Did you catch that…the proof…the sign for the shepherds that the Messiah had been born…is that the messiah had been born. Its weird right but that’s the proof…and when they go to see…that’s exactly what they find.

And so when we look back and this amazing story…this story that we’ve heard year after year…time after time…and perhaps have grown tired of…we are reminded that the evidence that God entered our reality was found that day…this is something that has already happened…its not just some feel good story…its not just some myth…but this is something that has already happened. (pause)

Now I bring all this up because of the way that its fits into the amazing overarching story of what God is up to in our reality. And that’s the story that’s found in the narrative of the Bible…going all the way back to the beginning. Time after time…instance after instance…we hear of ways that God has invited humanity forward…into something new. A new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of being in relationship with God and with one another. (pause)
The invitation of God is always into something new…always moving reality forward…and so tonight I pose a question…as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…God’s only son our Lord and Savior…as we revisit this wonderful event that has already happened…what might God be inviting us into tonight? (pause)

This is always the big question…even in times when we revisit something from the past…because each and every time our experiences have changed…we have changed…and our lives have changed.

Tonight we hear the same old story…but everyone here is different than they were last year.  Some are experiencing a new life together. Others are experiencing the holiday for the first time without someone they love. I look around this room tonight and I know some of the changes that have occurred in your lives…and I also know that there are changes that I’m not aware of…and only you can reflect on how your life is different tonight, as opposed to the last time you heard the story of Christ’s birth.

But rest assured…however your life is different on this night…that same old story still holds vital importance…for God…the maker of the universe and all that is in it…from that which is so large that we cannot begin to fathom it, to that which is so small that we can’t begin to see or experience it….that same God chose to enter into our broken reality…and not only that but into our own brokenness in order to do something new.  We have a God who creates new life out of death…who creates a sense of unity where there was only division…and God has done all of this simply in order to get your attention…and once that happens…then God invites each of us into something glorious…a reality where sin and death and pain don’t get the last word…a reality that in many ways we can only imagine…but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real…and we gather tonight around this story…and we share a meal offered freely to each of us…and in doing so we realize that God has done all of this intentionally…with a specific purpose…and a specific goal in mind…to show you that there is no length that God will not to in order to show you just how much you are loved…and that this perfect love of God, expressed physically in our realty through Jesus Christ…invites you into something new…into a reality where your brokenness does not hinder you…but that you are loved and accepted just as you are.

That’s what this old story means…and so tonight we experience the old and familiar…and we look forward with anticipation to the new reality that God has invited us into. Amen.