Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

A Long Long Time Ago 12-24-19

In this sermon for Christmas Eve, based on the normal text of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the action of God in the birth of Jesus. We dive into divine mysteries of faith, and not understanding what God is up to, but being assured of the promise that it is for us…and there’s a healthy amount of Star Wars excitement.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

May the grace and peace of our Savior be yours tonight. Amen

When I was in high school and college, I went to a lot of movies. Rarely would a week go by that I didn’t take in at least one…and since I watched a lot of movies…I also watched A LOT…of previews.  And I enjoyed it…it was one of my favorite parts of the experience in those days…to see a small piece of an upcoming movie…and to get that sense of wonder and anticipation about something coming your way in the future.

Now there was one in particular that I can remember…showed up late 1996…it opened with an image of a small square boxy television set, placed in the middle of the large theater screen…and as images of a space battle played on that small tv screen, a voiceover told us “For a generation, THIS, has been the only way to watch Star Wars.”  And you see a X-wing fighter flying straight at the screen…and you hear “UNTIL NOW” and that X-wing comes through the tv screen…straight at you, filling the entire theater screen.

This was how they announced the Special Edition theater release of the original Star Wars trilogy…and I was ecstatic…All three of the original movies came out by the time I was 5 years old and so I was part of that generation who had only seen them on television…and so the excitement to be able to sit in a theater a few months later…and see that blue text…a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…followed by a second of silence before the giant STAR WARS emblem flashed across the screen at the same time as that amazing musical fan fare begins…it was thrilling.

A couple years later, beginning in 1999, it happened again…and this time, with the release of the prequel trilogy…I was able to sit in the theatre and have that same excitement and thrill…to know that I was seeing part of a larger and familiar story…and yet to experience an unknown chapter.

2015…it started again…with the release of episode 7, the Force Awakens…and that time I was able to sit next to my son for his FIRST experience of Star Wars in the theater…and finally, this past weekend…in what has been billed as the FINAL chapter in the Skywalker Saga…episode 9…and sure enough…as I sat there in that brief second of quiet and dark, and then felt the thrill of STAR WARS along with the music…and I don’t know if was nostalgia or excitement or anticipation…or maybe a mixture of all three, but I had a little grin on my face as we entered back into this familiar LARGER story…maybe for the last time…in order to experience it new. (pause)

It seems to me that through 42 years of Star Wars…the way that we continue to revisit that larger story…connecting with the familiar…sharing it with a new generation…and even those moments of anticipation for something new…that whole thing seems to have a great deal in common with the sense that we bring tonight.

Christmas…such a vitally important part of the church year…of the overarching story of what God is up to in our reality…a night in which we join together in the familiar to celebrate something that is worth remembering.

Some of us bring many years of experience to this night…a sense of tradition…memories of year’s past and in our minds “the perfect” Christmas conditions.  Some might be here for the very time…hearing this story, experiencing this worship with brand new eyes.

For some…events have happened in the past year that give you new perspective…you are bringing something different tonight…and because of that, whatever it is…good, bad, or otherwise…this night feels different…and you hear that same old story in a new way…and this is a truth that we all bring into our lives of faith…that OUR existence shapes our experience of the scriptures…and of worship and tradition…that our lives up to this point, shape how we experience the divine. (pause)

It seems to me that this is also the case for the individuals who are involved within the Christmas narrative…the story of the Nativity…the story of Jesus’ birth…so let’s think about the different people that we hear about.

First off, a couple of big-wigs in the historical and political realm. Ceasar Augustus…emperor of the Roman Empire…and Quirinius, the Syrian governor who overseas the area we know as the Holy Land.  Two important people…who beyond a name drop, and an order given for a Roman Census…we never hear from again. Logic would say that these two would play a bigger part in this reality altering moment…but beyond the census giving the Holy Family a reason to be Bethlehem…they play no other part…because apparently God doesn’t put a whole of stock in status and political power. (pause)
Who else do we hear about?  Well, we’ve got Mary and Joseph…who have followed the rules and headed off to be registered…and they’re in a tough spot aren’t they? As we hear, the time comes for Mary to have her baby…because those two political bigwigs don’t give a hoot about the biological situation of these commoners from backwater Palestine…and biology doesn’t care that they are in a strange city, surrounded by strangers in the dwelling of some random house in Bethlehem.

Mary…is probably scared out of her mind…not only is she in unfamiliar surroundings…but she’s about to go through labor and birth for the first time…and remember she’s like 13 or 14. Granted, the angel of the Lord had shown up and relayed this whole deal to her 9 months earlier…but now she’s in the midst of it.  (pause) Joseph…he’s there too…and though we don’t hear much from him, I imagine he’s stressing out as well.  But in the end, the baby is born…they wrap him up and lay him a manger…which, despite any expectations you might have of a barn connected to a hotel…would have actually been a normal aspect of the structure of houses in those days…everyone had a corner where you’d keep your animals in the cold of winter…and so you also had a manger to feed your animals…and lacking any other available space…that’s where they laid the baby. (pause)

Now we have one other batch of people to consider…the shepherds…a ratty, stinky, batch of guys hanging around outside of town…pretty much the lowest of the low from a social standpoint…polar opposite of those first two individuals that we heard about in the emperor and governor…and yet these shifty characters are the ones with the dynamic, downright shocking part to play in this story.

It was nighttime…the sheep were bedded down…and while they were keeping watch, I imagine not much was really happening…I bet that guy was totally nodding off…when suddenly…out of nowhere…brightness and divine glory and booming angelic voices surround them. This was their Star Wars fanfare moment…and they are given the divine message. Born to you this day, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…and then a heavenly choir shows up…adding to the experience…but then just as quick as its begins, its over…the angels depart…the shepherd blink at each other for a moment before deciding…well, let’s go check it out.

And they do…and they find the baby laying there just like the angel said…and they share the divine news that was given to them…and then they haul off, still praising God and telling everyone they encounter…which is great…and Joseph’s over here doing who knows what…and Mary…she hears all this stuff…and sorta takes it all in…and then treasures it. (pause)

Different people…all of whom bring their own perspectives…their own experiences into this DIVINE moment in history…and that shapes HOW they experience this divine encounter…and same is true for us.  Consider what has happened…consider what we profess to be true…consider what we celebrate every year at this time.

The divine creator of EVERYTHING…God who is ultimately bigger…larger…grander…greater…the one who is completely and utterly MORE than we are…through the power of divine Holy Spirit…which is still the same God but is somehow also different…that Spirit of God SOMEHOW has begotten a baby into the womb of very young woman. A baby who is somehow both human and divine…who is the Son of God and yet IS GOD. (pause)

This truth which we profess…this concept of one God in three persons…it defies all logic…and when we bump into things like that…we default to calling it a divine mystery…and there’s nothing wrong with that…but its doesn’t explain things.

This is a concept that comes up in Confirmation Class all the time…and this year’s class has really grabbed onto that question.  “Wait…so Jesus is God?” “Yes.” “But Jesus prays to God right?” “Yes.” “And Jesus calls God, Father right?” “Yes.”  “So…Jesus is his own dad?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love it that our young people are thinking about this…that they are wrestling with it…because it doesn’t make sense does it…and yet…that the gospel…that we have a God who desires to be with us so much, that this DIVINE entity would become one of us and dwell among us…and not only that…but in order to somehow overcome every aspect of this broken reality that hinders our relationships with God and with one another…this same divine made flesh would grow up…spend 3 years embodying the freedom from what hinders as he heals, and teaches, and raises the dead, and constantly reaches across the margins to those pushed to the outside…and then when the powers of this world push back against this new thing that God is bringing into the world…his body is broken and his blood is poured out…and he PROMISES us that whatever is going on in THAT moment is FOR you…and we will remember that…we will celebrate THAT tonight as well…even though we don’t understand it…even though it is a mystery on how or why it works. (pause)

People of God…it is my great joy to stand up before you when we gather for worship…and especially in times like this one when we gather specifically for the purpose of remembering the action that God has taken in our reality…it is my joy to speak about the divine mysteries of our faith…the mysteries of things we cannot explain…but to be able to share the truth and the promise that whatever it is that God is up to…that it is for you…a promise spoken by the angel to the shepherds…that this good news of great joy IS for ALL people…even if we do not understand it.

The birth of Christ…which we celebrate tonight…it may have happened A long long time ago…somewhere far far away…but it is for you…and just like the shepherds…you are invited to go forth from this place…from this experience…glorifying God and telling all who you encounter…about this mysterious thing that God has done.

This is the promise of the Gospel…that it is for you…and this is the challenge of the Gospel…that now YOU…are empowered by that same Spirit…to carry the good news out into this world that is so desperate for it…a world SO desperate for news of joy and love.

I gotta reference Star Wars one more time…not the brand new one because that would be spoilers and that’s not cool…but episode 8 that came out 2 years ago. There’s a line in THAT film that embodies the mystery of what God is up to in our reality…the mystery of Divine love for this world.  “This is how we win…not by fighting what we hate…by saving what we love.”

I don’t know how it works…but I profess to you…THIS…is what Jesus…has done. Amen.

The Big Reveal 1-4-15

This morning’s sermon is based on John 1:1-18. This is the assigned reading for the second Sunday of Christmas every year. Within the sermon I explore the notion that in Christ, God is revealed and comes into relationship with humanity. Likewise, we are revealed to him…scary as that might be.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

One of the big trends that has emerged in the past few years is something called either the big reveal…or the big ask. (pause) The mentality behind this new trend is a big surprise when asking an important question.

This idea has been around in terms of wedding proposals for a long time…but in the past few years it has also become the norm for asking your date to the prom, or for a bride to ask her prospective bridesmaids to stand up for her on her wedding day.

In a slightly different direction…the big reveal is also popular. Now this trend tends to happen on reality shows…often times the big make over shows…whether the Biggest Loser finale…or Extreme Makeover Home Edition…or one my wife is particularly fond of…Restaurant Impossible. At the end of the episode, we see the subject, whether a person or a house or whatever, as it used to be, and then suddenly a giant tarp drops and everyone sees the dramatic change…cue the inspirational music…and grab the Kleenex…its almost always a tear jerker.

But that’s the point of the big reveal…to be dramatic…and to introduce the change…out with the old…and in with the new…and then as the cameras cut away…its time for everyone to get used to the new big thing.

Whenever I sit and watch any of these shows, I find myself wondering just what happens when the cameras shut off…when the individuals involved really sit down and attempt to get on with their regular lives in the midst of the change…in the midst of the big reveal…in the midst of everything that is different now. And its this sense of wondering just how the change effects real life that leads me into today’s gospel lesson.

Because we’re sort of at that point right now aren’t we? That time of transition…we’re in a new year…but we’re also at the end of the season. Today’s the second Sunday of Christmas…and most of the celebrations are pretty well wrapped up…after today all the decorations will come down and the sanctuary will get back to the normal look.

And scripturally speaking it’s the same sort of thing. Jesus has been born…we’ve been joyfully celebrating that for a couple week now…but as the season wraps up, even our lessons are rapidly moving away from the manger and back into real life.

Today’s lesson is, of course, the prologue to John’s gospel, which includes John’s version of the incarnation…but this time around there are no mangers…no shepherds…no angels…none of the regular stuff that we tend to expect at Christmas…rather we simply hear that the word became flesh…the light shined in the darkness…and that God…entered our reality. God…made the big reveal. (pause)

And just how did God make this revelation? Well…the word became flesh and dwelled among us…or as Eugene Petersen wrote in the Message…the word became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood.

And when that happened…everything changed…whether we realized it or not…and now as we wrap up the season of Christmas…I think we’re in the same sort of situation that the shepherds found themselves in on Christmas Eve…after they found the baby lying in the manger…and they just headed back out to the fields and their flocks…changed…but still in the midst of their day to day lives. (pause)

And so that’s what we do…we go back into our regular lives…our students head back to school…those of us who took some vacation time at the end of the year head back to work. Here at the church education starts up again, and we get back into the normal week to week routine…

And as much as we tend to get stuck in that normal grind…things just aren’t quite the same as they used to be are they? Because there’s someone new in the neighborhood. (pause) Have you ever had new neighbors move in…maybe across the street or even right next door? And occasionally you catch a glimpse of one another…maybe driving down the street, or when we’re out mowing the lawn…or sitting on the back deck…and the interactions begin…and slowly as time goes on we get to know one another…and whether we realize it or not…we have formed a relationship with one another.

And this is why Jesus came to earth in the first place…that’s why the word became flesh…that’s why the light started shining in the darkness…because God took a look at humanity…each and every one of us…God’s own beloved creation…loved greatly…but flawed…and God wanted that relationship…but we were all so busy stumbling around…blinded by the darkness that permeates our lives that we just couldn’t notice God.

And rather than just sit off somewhere in the clouds…shrugging his shoulders and saying “Oh well,” God did something new. God broke into that crazy cycle that humanity has been stuck in ever since the beginning…and by doing it…by taking on flesh…by becoming one of us…by entering our reality…God himself was revealed through the Son…and that’s what the Gospel of John is all about.

Many of you have heard me talk about these first 17 verses of John before…the prologue…how they set up the entirety of just what John’s Gospel is all about…and how they sort of serve as a table of contents because you can read through these verses and have a decent idea of the overarching argument that John is going to make about the action of God in the world…the action taken on by his only begotten Son…a man, born of the Holy Spirit through a Virgin…the action which led directly to the cross where He would not only take on the sin of the entire world…but he would die for it…atoning for it…and then three days later he would raise again to show each and every one of us that the darkness of sin was no match for God…that when God sets his mind to fix something you can rest assured that it will happen…and that when God decides to fix the problem that was hindering the relationship between God and every single member of the human race that God will…in fact…be revealed through the very Son himself. (pause)

That’s what this prologue is all about…that’s what John tells us in these 17 verses…that God…the word…the light…the one that first created the world…has now entered it and in doing so God…full of grace and truth is revealed.

And you know what…that’s just a little bit scary…Don’t get me wrong…its wonderful at the same time…and it gives me great joy and it gives me great hope to know that the creator of the entire universe loves me enough to take on flesh with all of its issues…and all of its faults…and all its emotions and problems…and God was willing to do this just so I could get to know him.

But the really scary thing about all this…its not so much that through the Son…through God made flesh, I could get to know God…but it’s the flip side…that when God is revealed to me in the relationship made possible through Christ…at the very same time…I am revealed to God…and God gets me WAY better than I get him. (pause)

That’s what relationship is all about…together we get to know each other…but the difference here is that my understanding of God…which is possible through Christ…is still limited by my humanness. That are limits to what I can comprehend…to what I can understand…and God goes FAR beyond those limits…and that is why God became human…God became tangible…God became something that I can wrap my feable human brain around.

But…while I’m doing that…within the relationship made possible by Christ, God knows me intimately…and while God may take great delight in those good aspects of my life and character…I often times find myself quaking in my boots to think that God also knows the dark side of Scott Dalen. He knows my thoughts before I think them…he knows my negative emotions before I experience them…he knows the hurt that I carry and cause before I do. (Pause) Because God and I have been revealed to one another in Jesus Christ…I have no secrets that I can keep from God…whether I want to or not…

And this truth…this scary realization…is true not only for me…but for you as well…whether we know it or not. (pause) John tells us that Christ came to his own…and his own did not know him…and there’s a lot of debate about just who “his own” refers to…but at this point, when he came into the world…he was human…God was human…and therefore I believe that “his own” means humanity…it means us…it means that he is here for each and every one of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

In your relationship with God…made possible through Christ…revealed through Christ in whatever way it has taken shape within your life…you are intimately known…you are intimately revealed…to God…the good and the bad…

And if that notion scares you just a little bit…its okay…because in all honesty…when we take good hard look at ourselves…illuminated by the perfect light of Christ shining upon us…we see the dirt too…and if we see…then God does too.

But it is for this very purpose that the perfect light of Christ shines upon us…not to make us feel dirty or exposed…but to help us realize that we need a savior…and that very savior is the source of the light in the first place.

God entered this world to help us see just how much we needed God to enter this world….and this work is ongoing. Because the light shined in the darkness…and while the darkness has not overcome it…the darkness is also not gone yet. And so the work of God continues and through the only begotten Son, He continues to be revealed to us…just as we continue to be revealed to him. And for those of us who have experienced this…everything is different now.

And so I pose the question to you today…as we kick off a new year…one full of all kinds of unknown opportunities…one full of joys and sorrows yet to be revealed…will you take the joy of Christ with you? I hope so…so that maybe…just maybe…the light of Christ will reflect through your life…and someone else will experience God’s big reveal in theirs. Amen.


Same Old Same Old 1-5-14

This week’s sermon came from John 1:1-18. This week represents the end of the Christmas Season as we transition into the Season of Epiphany. In this sermon I discuss how God comes to us in Jesus, and shows us that He was never that far away from humanity to start with.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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
How close are you to getting back to normal? We’re pretty much all at some point in that transition aren’t we? The holidays are over…Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s is past…school break is coming to a close. Most of us have started back to work after some time off. (pause) Life out there…is getting back to the same old same old isn’t it?
Here in the church, we’re making the same sort of transition. Today marks the end of the Christmas season…not just that today is the second Sunday of Christmas, which it is, but today is also the 12th day of Christmas…so after today…even here in the church…Christmas is over.
And you know what, maybe that’s not a bad thing.  Sure Christmas is a wonderful experience. Candle light worship…singing those well know carols…hearing about the manger scene in scripture…its great. (pause)
But…after a couple of weeks of it…even Christmas starts to feel repetitive…even Christmas starts to feel like the same old thing…and that same old thing…can get a little long in the tooth.
We’re singing carols again today in worship…but come on, be honest now…it feels a little weird to be singing Hark the Herald Angels sing knowing that Christmas was almost 2 weeks ago…and its now January 5th…but we’re singing it today…although it might be a little bit grudgingly when we get to it at the end of the service.
As we look around, we still see the Christmas tree…the Advent wreath is still sitting there…all 5 candles burning for the third time in a row. The Decorations are still up out in the Narthex…we see evergreen wreaths in the window sills.
Maybe it’s a good thing that the season of Christmas is coming to a close…I think its time for something new…after all, we’re in a new year…2014…here we are, 5 days into it…a new year with all of its new hopes and dreams…all of those expectations…all those new resolutions to eat better, work out more, find a new job, be less stressed…yah…how’s all that going for you? (pause)
Are you the kind of person that makes goals for themselves every year and actually sticks with them…or are you like many people who have great intentions going in, but quickly find themselves back to the normal grind…back to the same old story.
You know…speaking of the same old story…has anyone else noticed that the scripture lessons are starting to get a little repetitive too? The Sunday before Christmas we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth…told from the perspective of Joseph.  Christmas Eve we heard from Luke…and the well-known birth narrative…Last week we had a little reprieve as we heard about Herod and his fury at the birth of a new king…and now today, we hear from John…the opening chapter…the introduction to the Gospel…and yet another example of Jesus coming into the world. (pause) Same story…different angle. (pause) And it is really starting to feel like the same old same old.
Of course…I guess it could just be me think this…particularly in terms of today’s Gospel lesson from John 1. I thought about it this week and realized that in my history of preaching, reaching back about 5 or 6 years now…this passage has occurred the most…as most of my preaching has followed the lectionary, most passages only come up once every 3 years…so the chance for hitting the same one has been pretty slim. It’s happened occasionally, but not often…But John 1? Well, I’ve preached on this one at least 4 times before in various situations.  And perhaps, when I read it a moment ago, you thought it sounded familiar…and not just because it’s the third story of Jesus entering the world that we’ve heard in the past 3 weeks, but because I preached on this very passage back at the end of October in the face of some difficult things happening in the world.
So perhaps you heard me read this passage, and then you saw the children’s sermon a moment later when I told the kiddo’s about how the light of Christ shines and spreads, and you think…here we go again…Pastor Scott’s talking about how God came into our dark world and changed it…admittedly that’s a common theme for me, I even wrote about it in this month’s newsletter…and if you’re thinking that, then you’re probably also thinking that this sermon is going to be the same old story. (pause)
But what if I said that God was already in the world…long before Christ showed up. John 1 starts off with one heck of an Old Testament reference…In the beginning…Sound familiar?  Sounds a lot like Genesis 1 if you ask me…
In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was with God…and the Word WAS God…and as we think about Genesis we ask the question of just what God and Word up to “in the beginning?” Well, remember what the first step was when God created the heavens and earth? (pause) As I recall, God said…Let…there…be…light.
Hmmm…let there be light…you mean, like a light that shines in the darkness? A light that’s never really left the world? Because God has never left this world.
Sure there have been times when it seems like God has washed his hands of the this whole deal…but it just isn’t true. God has been there since the beginning…and God is still there…and the Word…well, it’s been here the whole time too…because the Word is God himself…and that’s the point that John wants to make in his Gospel.
This passage, its just the introduction…but it might as well be a table of contents because it outlines pretty much the entire Gospel. And it starts off by telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is God himself…the same God that created the world…yah, Jesus helped with that…John says so.  The same God that watched over and led the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years…camping out with them…living in the tabernacle as a pillar of smoke…same God, yep, Jesus was there too…John says that too…and the same God that the Jewish people believed hung out in the temple…behind the curtain…you guessed it…Jesus was there too…and we know that because John tells us that he was in the world.
But if Jesus is God…and was always with God…then just why did God feel the need to take on flesh and start walking around? If Jesus really existed as the Word or the Will of God, why make this switch? Why change it up? Same old God, but a new story. (pause)
Just what was God trying to prove here?  Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it?  Now I could give the normal answer and say that God did it…that Jesus chose to take on flesh and walk around as one of us to experience the same life that we do…the same temptations that we do…and he did it all to over come those things…and that’s all true…
But I also think that God chose to take on flesh and walk around as one of us to remind us that He was never really that far away to begin with. Sure, no one had ever seen God face to face…but that’s because God exists in a way that is not limited to a body…who knows…maybe God doesn’t even have a face to look at…but think back to Genesis again…when God and the Word said “let us make mankind in our image.”  And when God had made Adam and Eve and breathed life into them…he saw that it was very good. (pause) Look around people…look into the faces of those around you…think about the faces of those you see each and every day…because when you look at their faces, you are looking at one that is made in the image of God…all it took was for God to put on flesh and walk around so that we could be reminded that the God that we worship…the God that offers us grace and truth through his Son…has been here the whole time. (pause) He just looks like something now…that’s all.
And when we realize that…when we realize that Jesus Christ is truly God…then we know he has given each of us the power to become Children of God…heirs to the promise of eternal life…and nothing can change that. (pause)
It’s a new year…full of promise and possibility…and the God that created the world…who is the same God that has been present throughout the ages…and who is the same God that put on flesh…has made his dwelling among us…God’s still here…and he’s not going anywhere…quite the contrary…but he is taking this reality somewhere and he has invited us to come along with him.
And so, in this new year, I want each of you to remember that you are beloved Child of God, made in the image of God…and that God has given you grace and truth through Christ. And as you remember that, be sure to remind yourself of that…and so I pose a new resolution for you here in 2014…every morning, when you look yourself in the mirror, tell yourself…out loud “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.” (pause)
Do that, and the first aspect of that world change might just be your own…and then maybe, just maybe…God will use you to change the world of someone else. Amen