Posts Tagged ‘Nativity’

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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-005-a-long-long-time-ago-12-24-19

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.

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.