Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesus, the Light of the World, as we celebrate your birth . . . . may we begin to see the world in the light of the understanding you give us. As you chose the lowly, the outcasts, and the poor to receive the greatest news the world had ever known, so may we worship you in meekness of heart. May we also remember our brothers and sisters less fortunate than ourselves in this season of giving. Amen.

Let us think about the Christmas spirit, about taking the birth of the messiah to our hearts…

It was Christmas Eve at New York’s famed Riverside Church. The Christmas pageant was on and had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary pregnant with Jesus.

The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest and faithful member of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to memorize, and he had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.

So there was Tim standing at the altar, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines, and waited for his reply.

“There’s no room at the inn,” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” Mary and Joseph turned back, startled. “You can stay at my house,” Tim called.

Thinking quickly, the minister went to the pulpit and said, “Amen!”

The congregation repeated the Amen – and both the pageant and the planned sermon came to an unexpected but perfect completion with the singing of Joy to the World. [From Short Sermons on the Run by Walter J. Burghardt.]

Tim’s “twist” to the Christmas pageant underscored the true miracle of Christmas: in the Child of Bethlehem, God makes his dwelling here and now, in our homes and in our hearts.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is challenged by God to accept the child under the most difficult of circumstances and, responding out of his sense of compassion and faith, says yes.

God challenges our hearts “to prepare him room,” to make a place for the Child of Bethlehem to transform our hearts and homes in his peace and hope.

God with us…

Now this is not a Christmas story per say but I think it is full of the Christmas spirit…

A North Carolina judge sentenced a Green Beret veteran to spend a night in jail. Judge Lou Olivera, a Gulf War veteran, is a district court judge over the Veterans Treatment Court in Cumberland County, North Carolina. He had to sentence Green Beret Joe Serna to one night in jail for a probation violation.

Serna, a recipient of three Purple Hearts, is retired from the military and is having a hard time adjusting back to life after experiencing the battle of war in Afghanistan. Through his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, he turned to alcohol to help him deal with the issues he was having mentally.

But as Serna entered the jail cell, the painful memories of losing companions began to flood his mind and he felt this would be the longest night of his life. Anxiety gripped him and flashbacks began to play in his mind as the door closed behind him.

His scariest moment was when he was riding with three other soldiers along a creek when the road gave way, and the vehicle plunged into the water. The truck started filling with water and “all hope was lost.”

Serna was trapped and unable to move, the water rose all the way up to his chin where it finally stopped. He was the only one saved that day. “I was the sole survivor,” he recalled with tears in his eyes.

Without telling Serna what he planned to do, Judge Olivera drove him to the jail and asked the jail administrator if he could spend the night with Serna. The administrator had never heard of such a thing. But when he remembered his own story and all he had gone through, he couldn’t just let him spend the night alone.

As Serna’s mind began to go to the dark place of being trapped in the vehicle and losing his buddies, the jail cell door opened and he saw the judge’s smiling face. “When he came in, I knew everything was going to be okay,” recalled Serna.

They spent the night talking about their families, lives, and service. The judge knew Serna needed to face the consequence for his actions, but he also knew he didn’t want him to go it alone. [Liftable]

Go it alone. No. God is with us.

Indeed God is with us when we embody his love… for as Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, put in “Now the Work of Christmas Begins”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas! Amen.

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