Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Eve’

To You 12-24-18

Candlelight

In this Christmas Eve sermon, based on Luke 2:1-20, I explore the importance of stories. Our common stories create a sense of shared community with one another and reveal important things about us and about what God is up to in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/to-you-12-24-18

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

I recently read a book that took an in-depth look at the history of human species…the various topics that came up covered pretty much all the bases that you might expect to find in a book like this…but one point came up that caught my attention…throughout the history of humanity…there is one thing that brings about unity and community more than any other…stories. (pause)
When we stop and think about it…a good story accomplishes all kinds of different stuff…and I can’t help but think that this is something that is built into the very fabric of our being…the ability to tell stories…and the bond that is created as we do so.

My wife often jokes with me that when I get together either with my old friends, or with my extended family…the same thing tends to happen…we all sit around, often times sipping on something tasty…and we tell the same…old…stories.  She’s right too…we don’t often do anything new together, just sit around talking about the old times…but by golly we have a good time.

This idea of story-telling…of reliving old memories together…it’s a good thing to do…and it’s a tactic that I often bring into different ministry moments.  As a congregation we’ve shared stories of how we see God active in our lives during the season of Lent. When I’m working with a couple in pre-marital counseling I ask them to tell me the story of their lives, both as individuals as well as their shared life together…and when I’m working with a family in preparation for a funeral I ask them to tell me stories of the person that they remember.

Telling stories…hearing stories…it serves a variety of purposes…but if I’ve noticed one thing time and time again…its that stories work. As we share them…we find ourselves reliving the sense of that earlier time…the community that was present between individuals…the joy of moments…the laughter than ensues as you start seeing tears leaking out the corner of one another’s eyes because you are overcome with laughter. The shared pain and sorrow that finds its way to the surface when we share stories of defining moments of a person that we’ve lost.

We tell stories in many different ways…whether sitting around a table reliving old times…or hearing a common cultural fable…or watching a movie, or hearing a song…truly, as people we are defined by the stories that we share…and something I love about it is the fact that stories do take on so many forms…and that whether or not they are factual…whether or not they are something that actually happened in history or if they are just a story that illustrates a particular idea or emotion…stories work to reveal a truth to us.

That’s the tactic that I often utilize when I’m exploring the scriptures as well…the stories that we find in both Testaments…stories that have long been debated as to if they “really happened” or not…but rather than getting bogged down into those details I just wonder…what truth can we find here? What does it reveal about the nature of God…or the nature of humanity? What does it tell us about ourselves? Or what does it reveal about the way that God’s working throughout this crazy thing we call life?  I believe with every part of me that this is what the scriptures do…they tell us stories that reveal aspects of these truths to us…and that includes the well-known story that we share tonight on Christmas Eve.

In those days the emperor of Rome had an idea…let’s count everyone…not because I care about all those millions of people out there in the far reaches of the empire…but because I want to know how many taxes I can raise…

Shifting gears, I can only imagine how THAT news was received in the tiny backwater town of Nazareth where a young carpenter named Joseph scratched out his day to day existence…alongside his super-pregnant fiancé Mary…when the decree went out that everyone had to go to their ancestral homes he must have let out a big sigh…and went to find Mary and say “well I don’t know what to tell you…but we’ve got to head down to Bethlehem.” Mary probably wasn’t too keen to make this 100 mile journey, bouncing around on the back of a donkey when she’s 9 months pregnant…and yet…off they go.

And wouldn’t you know it…things are so crowded by the time they get to Bethlehem that they get stuck in a corner…only available spot in whatever dwelling they ended up in was the place the animals typically inhabited…and then…wouldn’t you know it…it time to push…no hospital room…no epidural…no doctor telling you its going to be okay…but that’s the breaks I guess.

And in the end, Mary gives birth to a boy…they wrap him up in clothes and since Joseph didn’t think ahead to bring the pack and play, they lay him in a feed trough…and Mary tries to get some shut-eye.  But that doesn’t really happen for her…because at the same time that’s going on…there’s a batch of shepherds outside town…its nighttime and they’re just hanging out, keeping their ears open for the sounds of predators that might try to sneak in and grab their sheep.

I can’t imagine these guys were too excitable…but then in an instant…NO warning…BOOM here’s this angel and the whole area is lit up around them with divine glory…and as these random shepherds are trying to get their suddenly skyrocketed heart rates to slow back down while simultaneously picking their jaws up off the floor the Angel starts talking…probably in a voice that sounded like the “lets get ready to rumble” guy “Fear not…I bring you words of great joy…for behold…born TO YOU on THIS DAY in the city of David is a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And maybe just maybe one the guys was like “What?” and then Gabriel said it again… “Ok…for those of you in the back…to you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord.” And as the shepherds just sat there blinking he went on “Here’s the sign, you’ll find a baby wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger.” And then as an exclamation point a whole slug of other angels show up (singing) Gloria!…not to mention peace to the people whom God favors.

And then just like that…all the angels disappear…seemingly just as randomly as they appeared in the first place…and the shepherds stare at each other for a minute before one of them is like “Well, should we go check it out?” and another one’s like “I suppose so” and they all hightail into town and somehow manage to stumble into the right place and wouldn’t you know it…there’s Mary and there’s Joseph and there’s the baby….and Mary was probably like “Dudes, you stink, but yah here’s my kid.” And Joseph…well who knows what he was thinking at this point.

But then the shepherds start telling everyone what happened…and everything the angel told them…and I mean everything…like every single word up to and including “Born to you this day in the city of David is a savior who is Christ the Lord…and that we’d come here and we’d see you and we’d see him and here he is so HOLY COW…MAYBE ITS TRUE!”

And everyone was amazed and then the shepherds just took off again and headed back out of town and Mary treasured everything…which admittedly I sort of questioned…can’t help but think she was a little annoyed but at least with the shepherds gone all she has to deal with is a cow or a sheep or something trying to eat straw out from under Jesus.

(pause)

Crazy story isn’t it? But…it’s a good story…one that reveals SO much to us…honestly way more than I could even hope to unpack for you here tonight…and even if I tried to…honestly, how do we even begin to make sense of the story of God…the creator of the entire universe…the being or the force or the entity or whatever we want to call it…the thing that is so ultimately larger or greater or bigger than we are…the one who exists outside of our concept of reality and time and everything else…That one decides to enter into it…and not only that…but that huge big ultimate being who is all powerful and can do anything…enters in as a helpless baby born to unwed parents from an oppressed culture that are from a tiny backwater town in the middle of nowhere…and not only that…but he’s born in among a bunch of animals and strangers and is laid in a trough where, if a cow just happens to turn wrong he might end up getting bathed in something that would be really disgusting.

WHAT? (pause)

But that…is…the story. And as I hear this amazing story, year after year…amazingly something new jumps at me…every single time…and I wonder if that’s the same for you…I’m guessing it is…because every single Christmas we are hearing this story in light a different experience. Things have changed since the last time you heard this story…maybe things have changed for the better…maybe they’ve gotten harder…but regardless of the circumstances…know this…this story reveals a change.

It begins “in those days.” A past event…but when the Angel reveals the good news of great joy its this…Today is born to you a savior…Today.

Here’s the crazy thing about what God is up to through the birth of Jesus…something that goes way past my ability to understand or comprehend…God is taking a past event and SOMEHOW making it happen NOW as we hear it.

That seems to be the message that the angel shares…this good news which WILL BE for all people.  To you…for you…to you is born…THIS DAY…a savior. (pause) The mind blowing thing about God…whether we want to talk about the creator or the son or the Holy Spirit…the amazing thing about this good news…is that whenever we hear it…whether a batch of shepherds 2000 years ago in Israel…or us 2000 years later on just another Christmas Eve…or in any other situation…when we HEAR that good news…and I mean really hear it…we are drawn into that story and that story is drawn into us in a way that makes it real…right here…right now.

And the wonderful part about it…it happens to you…and it happens for you. That’s the gospel…that this is on your account…and that you get to be a part of it.

As I think about those words “for you” I can’t help but think they sound like communion…and this is fitting as we will celebrate communion together in just a few moments…the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for you…in order to bring you in community with the one who loves you and claims you…and not only that but also to bring us all into community with one another through this same shared experience…and this same shared story.

I don’t know how it all works…but I’m thankful that it does. Amen.

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A Story Within A Story 12-24-17 Christmas Eve

Tonight’s Christmas Eve sermon, based on Luke 2:1-20. There a story that repeats throughout history…but in the midst of that cycle, a new story happened when God changed everything.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-story-within-a-story-12-24-17

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

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

As a movie buff…one of my favorite parts of the movie going experience has always been watching the previews for upcoming features. Now, in my 38 years I’ve seen this go from 1 or 2 brief snippets to what is now anywhere from 20-30 minutes worth of time before the actual movie that you are there to see begins.

Recently, I’ve seen a preview for an upcoming movie called Early Man…an odd style of animation in this movie that will focus in on a group of cave men as they encounter the next stage in human achievement through the Bronze Age. Granted, I don’t really know anything more about the movie beyond that, but there is one part that makes me chuckle…the leader of this Bronze age civilization apparently wants to wipe out the cave men and we hear him say (French Accent) “Ze age of stone is over.” I don’t know why he’s French but that’s beside the point. (pause)

The interesting thing about this odd little preview…and specifically this one throwaway line is that it actually tells a very old…very common story. Pretty much as far back as we can find…as far back as various records go…pretty much every civilization, or people group, or tribe…they’ve all told pretty much the same story.

The story goes like this….Our tribe is the best. Our god is the best. Our WAY is the best…So come…join us…or we’ll kill you.[1] (pause) I wish we could say that society has outgrown that old story…but honestly we haven’t have we? We’ve just found much more sophisticated ways of establishing dominance over one another over the course of the past few thousand years…but the story remains the same.

And truly…this is evidence of the human condition…the human desire and quest for power. A quest, or a story that we have seen repeated time after time after time as we look back through history. (pause) Now…picture with me…the Middle East about 3500 years ago. And that same old story is running rampant. Kingdoms, if you want to use that word, were not overly huge…because a person could only control as much area as they were strong enough to protect…and sooner or later someone bigger and stronger was gonna come in and wipe you out.

Low and behold…this batch of nomads consisting of about dozen different tribes who sometimes get along and sometimes bicker like crazy move into the area along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea that we would call Israel. Gradually they beat everyone else and establish themselves…and then after a few hundred years…they get their act together and make a king…and he rules for 40 years…until some upstart former shepherd who’s good with a harp, not to mention a sling and a stone…undermines him and takes over…know who I’m talking about? This guy named David? Seems pretty popular in religious history.  Well David expands this kingdom, becoming one of the true superpowers of the day…and we’re talking about 1000BC here. Things go good for a while…but this AMAZING…SUPER…STUPENDOUS king dies…and within about 2 more generations this kingdom, this super power starts to fall apart. (pause) Cue the same old story. Beginning round about 750 BC, we see empire after empire after empire rise up, conquer…enslave…only to erode, and eventually be replaced by the next one in line. (pause)

This goes on for centuries…and so…round about the time that the calendar shifts from BC to AD…if we are to look in on this culture in Israel, who at one time had been super power…we find them now utterly under the boot of the Roman Empire…subject to the whim of Caesar, also known as Augustus…and they were part of the regional control of Syria and a guy named Quirinius. (Pause) Those names sound familiar? (Pause) Do you see where I’m going with this?

As Luke begins this account…this story…this gospel, he places us into a specific point in history…and he zero’s in on this one culture who are utterly caught up in the same old story repeated time after time after time…a culture who at one time were on the top of the heap…but now a millennia and a half later, are scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

This is a culture who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people…even after centuries of oppression…and if we look back through their scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, we see this pattern emerge and the repeated teachings that no matter what happens, God…the Lord…Yahwah, whatever name you want to use…their God would not leave them abandoned. Funny huh? (pause)
But wait…this is Christmas Eve right? Well, this isn’t the right story to focus on…so now, in the midst of all this…let’s look at a story that exists within the old story. And we center in on a couple of teenagers. A young Palestinian girl…probably about the same age as one of our 8th graders…she’s engaged to marry a young guy…MAYBE a freshman in college…and low and behold they find out she’s pregnant…but don’t give Joseph the side eye just yet because she’s been told by an angel that this is the power of God at work…doing the impossible in her being pregnant because she’s still a virgin.

In the midst of the turmoil that this would cause for them within their community…word comes out that the emperor is demanding a census…which not only means recording their name but also major taxation…and to top it all off they’ve got to go to their ancestral town to do it.  Remember that David guy from 1000 years prior…turns out Joseph is related to him…so Joseph, along with his UBER pregnant fiancé have to skedaddle from Nazareth in the north all the way to Bethlehem in the south…either on the back of a donkey, or in a cart, or maybe even on foot…over the course of about 100 miles…only to find that the town is so full that they get shoehorned into the only spot available…and sure enough…its baby time…no epidural…no quiet sterile birthing suite. Just a dark corner with nowhere else to place the brand new baby than in the feed trough. Think Mary and Joseph were aware of their standings in the grand scheme of things?

A baby boy, born in a backwater suburb of the capital, in a country ruled by multiple levels of military and political might…about as far from their home and the comfort of the familiar…far away from family. Zero fan-fair…at least until a bunch of stinky shepherds show up talking about angels and messages and messiahs asking “Hey can we see your kid?” (pause)
I can’t help but think that this story is UTTERLY devoid of anything that even remotely resembles something worth celebrating. By rights there is nothing about this story that makes it memorable…and yet…2000 years later…here we are to celebrate it. (pause)

The birth of Jesus of Nazareth…one of countless births that day…one of literally billions of births that have happened within the human race…shouldn’t matter…and yet it does. So what is it about this story…what is it about this baby…what is it about this man that we call Jesus that is so significant that we would celebrate it year after year after year?

The only answer that I can give for that question is that Jesus…the one we call Christ…is God’s answer to that same old story.  That in this story found in middle of all that other stuff…this story within a story…God is doing something new.

Think about this for a moment. The God that we profess as God…which is the same God that the Jewish culture professed as the one true God…the creator of the entirety of existence…looks at his creation which includes humanity mind you…and this God loves it SO MUCH…flawed though it is…That this God chose to break the same old cycle…This God chose to do something in order to show us that might does not make right…that true power is not found in the size of your army or the territory you control or how big your bank account is.

Because in this story…God is showing us that true power can only be found in weakness. The savior of the universe…the one who will save us from sins…the one who will endure the cross does so because God himself has taken flesh to show us that there is another way. That we have been called to love one another, just as God has first loved us…and that the kingdoms of this world…those symbols of power that humanity is REALLY good at putting our stock in are destined to fall.

History shows us this time and again…because history plays the long game…and you know what…so does God. (pause) God willingly chose to enter into our reality in the most humble and helpless way possible…born in backwater town to unmarried parents who were kids themselves…far from home because of the political tyrants of the day. (long pause)

Now maybe you’re asking yourself “So what?” And if you are, then consider the message of the angel. Behold I bring you good news of great joy. (Pause) There’s a word for that…bringing good news…its called being Evangelical…and in its true form…in its basic meaning…it means proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven…a kingdom which has come forth with this humble baby…a kingdom that doesn’t work like all those other kingdoms…a kingdom that isn’t subject to that same old story…a kingdom based not in power…but in love. A kingdom where we are called to love our enemies and pray for them…a kingdom where we are called to share the resources that we have with those who don’t have enough…a kingdom with a God who delights in us…and desires so much that we can be together in relationship that he willingly became one us to make it happen. (pause)

This is pretty radical stuff…and admittedly, it goes against everything that basic human nature tells us should be right or powerful or mighty. But I’ll ask it again…how’s that same old story really working for us? How’s it working for you? Because its probably not a stretch for me to assume that things aren’t all hunky-dory in our world are they? Not if we’re honest with ourselves…because all too often all the junk in this world…all that stuff that we’re really good at heaping on ourselves…and all the rest of the stuff that the world is good at piling on too…all of that stuff probably just leaves us feeling stuck.

Many of you have heard me tell this story recently…but I’m gonna tell it again because its fitting.  A man is walking down the street and he falls in a hole…and the hole is deep and the walls are so steep he can’t get out…he tries and he tries and he tries but no matter what he does he can’t get himself out.  Pretty soon a doctor walks by…and the man hollers up Hey Doc can you give me a hand. The doctor looks down in the hole…writes a prescription and drops it in and walks away. Then pretty soon an architect comes by…and he says the same thing. Hey man can you help me out…and the architect looks down in the hole…draws a schematic and drops in…and he walks away.

But then the guys friend walks by…and he hollers Hey man its me…can you help me. And the friend jumps down in the hole next to him. He says What are you doing? Now we’re stuck in here together. But the friend says I know…but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.  (pause)

The world tells us a story…that power is on display through might…but history shows us that eventually, someone bigger or stronger is going come along and knock you down in a hole…but tonight we hear a story from within that story telling us that we have a God who sees us in that hole…and comes among us as one who calls us Friend…and shows us that true power…His power…is found in the midst of weakness.  And the basis for this great power is the fact that he loves you, just as you are.

Tonight God tells a new story…one that sounds like Good News to me. Amen.

[1] Credit to Rob Bell “Everything is Spiritual” Video on Youtube.com for this microstory

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.

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.

 

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.

What’s So Significant 12-24-13

This is my sermon from Christmas Eve. It focuses on the typical birth narrative found in Luke 2:1-20. You can listen to the sermon here.

http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/whats-so-significant-12-24-13

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Christmas is upon us! Unless your name is Ebenezer Scrooge, this is probably a joyful thing. Many people love Christmas right? It is truly a wonderful time of year. Many people celebrate in different ways, sticking with their own traditions. As I am getting to know you, I’ve started to hear about some of those traditions…and I certainly have a few of my own that happen year after year.
One that really comes to mind is a tradition that I married into. Christmas morning at my wife’s parents house. Before we start opening presents, we say a prayer and we sing happy birthday to Jesus. Now apparently traditions must make an impact because about a few years ago, my son Jack made a comment based on this tradition, and that comment has stuck with me. We’d been talking about Jesus living in our heart and while sitting at the kitchen table, the whole family got started talking about His birthday coming up. Jack stopped eating, looked down at his chest and said “Did you hear that Jesus…on your birthday, you’re gonna get cake.” Kids certainly say the strangest things don’t they? But it is not without a certain truth. After all Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn’t it?
The birth of a person, is really pretty important when you stop and think about it isn’t it? After all, if a person isn’t born, they don’t have a life do they? Without a birth, they simply cease to be…or more accurately, they never were…but that being said, how often do we really place importance on someone’s birth?
Think about it for a minute. How many “births” do you really remember or care about?  I can think of two. One of them occurred on January 15th, 2004. The second one on July 26th, 2006.  Can anyone guess who was born on those two days?  (wait for answers).  Yep…my kids, Jack and Ava.
Now, I could go into a long story, recounting every detail of those two days. I remember them well, but if I did, two things would likely happen. One, Emily would roll her eyes at me and probably slug me after the service, and two, many of you would probably also roll your eyes and promptly forget nearly every single detail within about 3 minutes.
Have you ever had someone drone on and on about the birth of their kids? Be honest? Its one of those conversations that you wish you didn’t have to experience isn’t it? Because do you care? Honestly? Probably not.
As I think about the birth of my son and daughter, there are probably about 3 groups of people that really care and really want the details. Emily and I as their parents. Our parents, because I’m told that becoming a grandparent is the greatest thing on earth…and the last one…the doctor, because he got paid for it right?
Its true isn’t it? There are very few births outside of our own family that we really care about.
Considering the apparent lack of enthusiasm that we have regarding the details about someone’s birth, we have to ask the question of just why Luke chose to include it. Look at the other gospels. Mark doesn’t talk about it at all. John simply tells us that the word became flesh. Matthew goes a little farther along, but even he only mentions it in passing…but Luke…he really goes into detail, doesn’t he?
Luke gives us a reference for the time period, telling us that Augustus was the emperor of Rome and Quirinius was governor of Syria. There was a census happening. We see a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the part of Joseph and Mary. Jesus is born in a barn because the entire town was full. Nearby shepherds get an eyeful of angels and then come running into town to check it out. Honestly, Luke really heaps on the details.
But why? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus? Why start the story here. Not much else seemed to happen before Jesus was 30. Why not gloss over the whole thing like Mark does and start with the important stuff? Does he expect anyone to really remember this humble birth…one of countless babies born that same day. From a historical perspective, people are much more likely to remember Caesar and or the governor.
Additionally, if we look at the importance of the people involved, the information that we receive from Luke in the previous chapter indicates that John the Baptist probably should have been more important. His birth was foretold within the temple and he was born to a priest. Jesus, on the other hand, is foretold only to his mother, a simple girl, engaged to a carpenter. No one of significance.
His birth itself…again, very humble…born in a barn. Now, you may picture in your heads a cozy manger scene. Brightly lit with soft gleaming straw lining the floor…but my friends, I’ve seen a barn in the middle of a winter night…filled with a bunch of animals that have slept there. Its loud…its humid…and it smells like…well…let’s just say it smells pretty bad. (pause) Its nothing special…in fact, its probably about as humble as you can get.
But perhaps this is exactly why Luke chose to include it. God is choosing what seems to be the lowliest circumstances to enter into humanity. This is no simple prophet being born. It is no ordinary person. This is God himself, becoming human…becoming like us to experience life as we do. This is…a very big deal.
We all know who Jesus becomes don’t we? The savior of all mankind. The angel even tells us this. “Born to you this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah.” Certainly, this is significant enough that it needs to be proclaimed to the entire world right? Well yes but…not quite yet.
So who gets the message? Who hears this angelic proclamation? A bunch of shepherds.  A batch of guys, just out doing what they do. Hanging out with their sheep. And they are the first ones to hear about the greatest birth in the history of mankind? Why?  Why them? What was so significant about the shepherds?
Why not send the angels to proclaim this heavenly message in the temple or among the streets of Jerusalem. Certainly the center of the Jewish culture, only 6 miles away from Bethlehem, would have been a better place with better witnesses right? Announce it to the priests, or the Pharisees. Surely it would make more sense for them to witness the Christ child. More people would believe their message. Because they have credibility.
You see, in the Jewish culture, a person’s occupation went a long way in establishing their credibility as a witness. As shepherds, these men would were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. They were considered riff-raff…shady at best. If they were called into court to testify, very few would count their testimony as valid.
But despite that, it’s THESE men that get the message. THESE men…are chosen to hear the good news in a divine fashion. Luke tells us that they are terrified, but yet they go and see. They follow the calling and witness firsthand the newborn messiah.
And then, what do they do? (pause) Luke tells us that they left the manger and made known what they had seen and heard.  They testified. They told the good news of the messiah born in Bethlehem…and all who heard it were amazed.
Right here…in this simple act, we are given an important lesson. The shepherds…simple men…insignificant men were given a call…they answered it, scary as it was for them…they went and saw…they experienced Jesus Christ…God here on Earth…and then they went out and testified about it…telling everyone that they encountered.
So today…consider yourself a shepherd. Here today…you have received the heavenly message. God has entered into humanity…He has taken on flesh and he has done it for you because he loves you. We cannot hear this wonderful message…I mean really hear it…without being changed. As scary as it is…we are called to be a witness to what we have seen and heard.
Regardless of who we are, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior…when the Holy Spirit nestles right down within us and gives us that saving faith in Christ…at that moment…we are called to testify to that good news.  The shepherds were simply the first people to do it…and regardless of their insignificance…they followed their calling…Will you?
In a moment we will sing a well-known Christmas song that I believe is very fitting. (sing) Go tell it on the mountain, over the fields and everywhere…Go tell it on the mountain…that Jesus Christ is born…
People of God, this is our calling…it is universal. The good news of Jesus Christ begins again today. It begins with many insignificant details…An insignificant girl…an insignificant birthplace…insignificant witnesses…yet utterly significant results.
Go Tell It On The Mountain…That Jesus Christ Is Born…Amen