Sermon - first sunday after christmas
Fur Elise - Fur-get-it
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
So I enjoy music, but I can’t do music. I can’t remember if I’ve shared this story with you, but Sharon and I met each other at a church youth gathering at the University of Maryland. I was the chaplain and Sharon’s college roommate was the chairperson of the event. A Christian rock band was hired to perform. That’s pretty upbeat, energetic music, and everyone was clapping along to the beat of the songs.
I can’t hear the beat of music, but I’m also out with Sharon on one of our first ever dates so I can’t let her see that I’m soooo uncool that I can’t even clap my hands right. Out of the corner of my eye, I have to watch when she claps to know when I’m supposed to clap to keep the beat.
But I still try at music. We have a piano at home and I’ll tinker a bit now and then. When my daughter Amanda was a lot younger and before school-sports stole her away from piano, she took lessons and played at recitals.
I remember practicing Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It’s melodic and rather simple. I thought I was playing it pretty well. Then I go to Amanda’s recital and some little kid, without any music even in front of him, plays it like he’s Beethoven himself. That was the end of me practicing Fur Elise. Fur Elise - forget it.
And this kid is nothing compared to the young prodigies I hear on the radio on Saturdays on a program called From the Top. They travel all over the place to give these young musicians a chance to share their talents. It’s just not fair how gifted these kids are and no amount of practicing on my part is ever going to help me be anywhere near as accomplished as they already are.
Today we hear again from the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the Evangelist who is very concerned with the theme of continuity. His Gospel begins in the Jerusalem Temple when Zechariah the priest is told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and that this son will share the spirit and power of Elijah, the great Jewish prophet.
When Jesus is eight days old, as Luke tells us, the Holy Family takes Him to the same Jerusalem Temple and there they perform the traditional Jewish religious rites for a first-born male child. Jesus is the continuation of God’s revelation among the Jewish people. The Holy Family is keeping the religious traditions of their people. Jesus is being raised intentionally Jewish.
Today’s Gospel begins with the description that “every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover,” and that now Jesus is twelve years old. This is the last year of Jesus’ childhood. At 13, a young Jewish boy is recognized as a man. In the eyes of the Temple teachers, Jesus is a child. And yet there He is listening to Jerusalem’s most distinguished religious leaders and teachers, and asking them questions.
He’s like those kids on From the Top. Jesus is a spiritually gifted child that not even the well-practiced leaders of the Temple could match no matter how much it must have infuriated them.
This is the only biblical story that we have of Jesus as a young person. We have a couple of Christmas stories, and except for this one story of Jesus at twelve, we don’t hear anything else of Jesus until He’s about ready to begin His public ministry.
And this story is told only by Luke because of his particular interest in continuity. How did Jesus move from being raised devoutly Jewish to next being seen out in the wilderness with that unorthodox, rabble-rouser John the Baptist who has turned away from a life as a Temple priest?
Well, it didn’t come about suddenly. It was a slow progression, and Jesus’ example is always an example for us. This is where that well-known aphorism, that four-word phrase comes from: What would Jesus do? Jesus, Luke tells us, was learned and Jesus was listening, but Jesus was also asking questions.
When we hear the later-in-life stories about Jesus, He has remained committed to His Jewish faith. He has been keeping His Jewish traditions and practices – but not blindly. Those questions of the 12-year-old boy led Jesus to delve deeper into His faith. They prodded Him forward.
They remained and led Him out into the wilderness seeking direction from John the Baptist. They then drove Him alone into the desert to search His soul. And when He re-emerges from those 40 days, Jesus has a new and intimate vision of a personal, approachable and compassionate God.
Jesus kept-up His openness to God’s continuing revelation. There’s the remarkable story of Jesus’ encounter with the foreign woman who Jesus dismisses at first as not His concern. Then her tenderness and sincerity awoke Jesus to a greater understanding of His ministry and life. He was sent to all people whomever they may be.
Even at the end of His life, questions remained. He struggled with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. He yelled to heaven from the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Questions were always there, but they weren’t asked in isolation. They were always asked from a position of relationship.
Jesus wasn’t asking questions about the void from the void. He wasn’t unsatisfied because He felt isolated from God. He was driven by His passion to better know the God that always felt so near and so powerful in His life.
What drove Him to ask these questions was the deep and abiding presence of God within and around Him. Jesus wasn’t satisfied with the old answers, so He asked questions not as a sign of faithlessness, but as a passion to better understand the presence of God that surrounded Him.
And since Jesus’ life is an example for our lives, let’s try and make some spiritual New Year’s resolutions that help us to grow closer to God.
Questions are not the enemy of faith. Questions can be the doorway into a deeper faith. They can be calling us out to discover the hidden mystery that is Jesus’ life with and within us.
So let’s close with words that Linda read for us from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” May this be a part of our New Year’s resolutions, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
THE BELL TOWER NEWSLETTER | JAN 2019
It was 50 years ago today that Apollo 8 emerged from traversing the dark side of the moon. This was a first. The world waited anxiously as they went into a forced silence behind the moon, unable to communicate with earth.
They were completely separated. When they reemerged, there were shouts of relief, and then the astronauts took a first-ever picture of the earth rising over the moon's horizon.
Apollo 8 went from separation to sharing a profound photo of our shared identity and our shared home. For all of the differences that we insist separate us, the photo above reminds us of our essential identity.
Likewise, when God enters our world in the ordinariness of Jesus' birth, all creation is sanctified, all human life is revealed as cherished by God, and hopefully we can begin to better realize our shared communion.
May Christmas help us all to appreciate the blessing of creation and the blessing of each other. May Christmas renew our love of God who loves us as much as His willingness to leap from heaven and into the humble Bethlehem manger.
May peace and joy fill your hearts and homes this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and remain with you all long afterwards.
And of course, know that you are all welcome to join us this Christmas Eve at 7PM as we gather in Jesus' house to celebrate Jesus' birthday with song, Scripture and community.
A Blessed Christmas to You!
Christmas eve service
Sermon - Fourth Sunday of Advent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Today Advent is coming to a close and it closes with a message of joy. That joy is obvious. It comes across in a children’s Christmas pageant. It comes across in so much beautiful music. I don’t know of any other holiday that comes near the amount of music that Christmas inspires.
It comes across in generosity whether that be gift-giving to ones we love or charity to ones we may never know. It comes across in random acts of kindness. People are gentler at this time of the year.
I had to do a little grocery shopping this past Thursday. The supermarket was crowded. I was heading down one aisle and they were stocking the shelves. There was only enough room for one cart to get by. Me and this complete stranger were stuck there facing each other. Not because we wouldn’t budge and had to be first, but because we both kept insisting that the other person go first.
Christmas joy is found in our readiness to be credulous, to having a greater willingness to believe. At other times of the year we can be calculating, but at Christmas we want to believe in the good. It may not last long, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.
A friend once gave me a copy of a book about the World War I Christmas truce. That was a war where enemies were within shouting distance of each other. On Christmas Eve, as both sides heard the other singing Christmas carols, they laid aside their weapons and they celebrated together, in the no-man's land between them, if only for a while. Christmas can do stuff like that. It can make us believe in the better parts of our human nature. And that’s a sure source of joy.
So there are signs of Christmas joy all around us. It’s obvious. But for as obvious as that joy is, the reason is anything but obvious. Carol read for us from the prophet Micah. The Messiah is going to come from the weakest of the twelve tribes of Israel.
When Micah is preaching, everyone listening recognizes that Israel is not a powerful nation. Then on top of that fact, Micah prophesies that from the weakest of this weak nation, God will send a Saviour for the world. And as Micah says, “He shall be the one of peace.” In other words, don’t be surprised when God surprises. What seems all too obvious to us does not have to be so obvious to God.
Or think about Mary. Why does God call upon this particular woman to be Jesus’ mother? What stands out in the life of Mary that would make her the best choice for this unimaginable endeavour? Nothing jumps out as obvious, but yet Mary is chosen by God.
Mary travels to visit Elizabeth and this occasion gives rise to a hymn that has been known for centuries as the Magnificat, which comes from Mary’s first words of “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
Why does she exult, what’s the reason for her profound joy? It’s anything but obvious. She's pregnant and unmarried at a time when this can be dangerous. She rejoices in the promise that God: “.. has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
She sees how revolutionary this birth is. It’s anything but obvious, and she bursts out in song praising God with unmitigated joy because everything is going to change. The obvious ways of the world are going to be reversed in this unexpected birth.
The ones who don’t matter, are going to count. The ones who are ignored, will be heard. The ones pushed aside, are welcomed back. The ones who have nothing, will not fear for themselves and their loved ones. Mary belonged to this damaged group, and she saw change coming, and she rejoiced.
None of this was expected. And it still isn’t. And yet the joy is still with us. Do you remember the Grinch standing way up on top of his mountain with all of his stolen decorations and presents? He was so excited with the anticipation of hearing the crying and the wailing of all those Whos down in Whoville when they awoke to find not a single Christmas light, not a single Christmas present.
But with sunrise all of them down at the bottom of the mountain began to sing. They gathered around nothing and they sang so loudly and joyfully that their voices were heard by the Grinch: “Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp.”
And then the Grinch began to wonder how Christmas came without all of the obvious trappings of the season, and that’s when the Grinch realized that it came nonetheless. The gift-giving and the decorating and the celebrations were all the obvious signs of Christmas joy, but the reason for the joy was completely unexpected.
Do you remember the star rising from out of the middle of that circle of Whos holding hands? That’s the same message as the prophet Micah of the Saviour coming for all people because He would come from the weakest of the weak. No one would be unable to connect with and share in His joy. It wasn’t meant only for the rich, the powerful, the healthy, the happy. The Saviour brought joy to everyone.
That’s the same message that sent Mary to sing God’s praises.
These next couple of days are going to be busy and full of celebration. But with all of this obvious joy that we should embrace, let’s also make time to remember the less than obvious reason for all of this joy, that strange birthday story of a child born among us and as us.
That’s today’s message of Advent joy and that’s the last step of preparation so that now we are ready for Christmas.
In Jesus’ name we pray that the joy of this season may fill our hearts and our homes and remain with us as long as we can possibly hold on to its glorious promise.
Hatfield's Luminarium is this Sunday. We meet at the Town Hall at 6PM and then our church presents the Luminarium concert at 7PM. I've heard from people at rehearsals that it's going to be beautiful. The first event of Hatfield's Luminarium, however, begins in the afternoon at the Hatfield Historical Museum located in the Hatfield Public Library. The flier is below. Kathie Gow, curator, even let me know that there's a picture of our church from 1899 when it was lit be kerosene lamps. Hope to see you around town.
Advent wreath - Candle of love
Confirmation Class Assists at Worship
This past Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, our Confirmation class served as greeters and then lit the three candles of the Advent Wreath.
The first photo is Jonathan and Morgan ready to greet people as they came into church.
The second photo is Maddie and Pari also serving as greeters at the door.
The third photo is Maddie lighting the rose candle, the candle of love.
The fourth photo is Morgan reading the prayer and Scripture citation for the candle lighting ceremony.
Many thanks to the class for their participation, and thanks to Carol for the pictures.
Stuff our stockings collection
Our congregation's "Stuff our Stockings” collection continues through the end of the month. We are asking those coming to church to bring in new men’s and women’s socks for the Hampshire County Interfaith Cot Shelter in Northampton. That's the board you see in the picture with all of the Christmas stockings. If you come to church to bring in your sock donation, you also get to hear our Music Director Anthony as we get to hear and share in some of the glorious music of the Advent and Christmas Seasons.
Sermon - Third Sunday of Advent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
Preparing for Christmas can get confusing. It can get confusing because a lot of people can think of it mostly in terms of presents and decorating. Sharon and I still haven’t decorated our house for Christmas. We’ve got a wreath on the front door facing the road so we’re hoping that if we keep the blinds drawn really tight that no one will notice that we’re not yet prepared.
But how do you prepare? The Season of Advent represents the long years during which the people of God waited for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour.
That expectation was still being preached by John the Baptist, and people were crowding around him, amazed at his message and his freedom. John feared no one, not even the king. He spoke with the assurance of God’s voice.
People, we hear in today’s Gospel, were filled with expectation. They were hoping that John may be the long-awaited Messiah.
They heard his thunderous pronouncements against the enemies of God. They heard that all who dared to stand in the way of God would be destroyed. John preached: “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
He warned the people gathered around him in the desert that the world was going to be changed. He spoke of those who would not repent, who would not come out into the desert wilderness, as the chaff that God would burn with unquenchable fire.
These were the expectations of the coming of God that filled people’s heart and minds with excitement. They wanted God to intervene and right every wrong, and punish everyone who would not listen. The coming of the Messiah was a fearful day for others, but one filled with justice for God’s chosen ones.
And this message was being preached right up until the time of Jesus. This is what the coming of the Saviour was supposed to mean. This is how people thought you prepared for Christmas. You waited for an angry God.
But the Saviour came to us in a surprising package. He came to us in a humble, homeless child born in an animal’s stable to parents who were seeking to register as citizens of a foreign country.
He came to us with the lights of the Advent Wreath that are now burning. The lights of hope and peace, and today, of love. Even amidst all of these wondrous promises, love stands out. Love is what most defines the coming of Christ.
We prepare for Christmas by trying to ever better understand and practice this unexpected message of love.
I was reading a book the other day ofa year worth of sermons by Rev. Peter Gomes. He was the chaplain of Harvard University’s Memorial Chapel. And during one of his Advent sermons, he complained about Advent ideas turning into Advent ideals.
Ideals are perfect, and for Gomes that was the problem. Christmas revealed a Saviour who didn’t come to impose the perfect on us, like John the Baptist was expecting and people were filled with expectation that he was the Messiah. Christmas reveals a Saviour who brings wondrous ideas to us that we must choose to embrace and practice.
Remember that John the Baptist right up until the revelation of Jesus was preaching the dramatic intervention of an angry God. Then Jesus comes as God’s perfect revelation and He does not force God upon any person. Jesus offers God as the better alternative. Jesus speaks of God’s love and asks us to love in turn.
He died rather than turn away from this message. That was Jesus’ unexpected revelation and it was about ideas. It’s about us accepting those ideas and trying to live them and to change the world by them.
The problem with turning ideas into ideals is that we too quickly pass over the work we need to do.
Think about the fact that Advent not only reminds us about the coming of Christmas. It talks about Jesus coming again at the end-time with power and glory, and that Jesus will force the world to accept the ways of God or else.
That’s the same message of John the Baptist. All we did is postpone it from the coming of Jesus at Christmas to the coming of Jesus at some point in the future. That jumps right over the ideas of hope and peace and love, the three Advent candles already burning, and makes them into ideals that can only be forced upon us by God.
This is the opposite of what Jesus’ humble birth and peaceful life and loving message reveal. It’s the opposite of Jesus inspiring us with the ideas of His gospel so that we work to make Christian love a reality, if even only in our own lives.
Christmas is but a short few days away. This is a time to celebrate. But let’s not replace the reality of Christmas’ revelation of better ideas with the notion that God will do it all for us.
Paul told his church in the old Greek city of Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
The Lord is near. That’s the wonder of Advent. And may His nearness inspire us to live the ideas that Jesus lived perfectly, and even among those ideas of gentleness, hope and peace, love stands alone. Love summarizes everything about Jesus.
On this Advent Sunday of Christian love, may this idea inspire us to work at giving it a real chance in our lives and in our world. This is the revelation of God’s nearness that the Bethlehem birth reminds us of each year.
May the fact that the Lord is near guide our preparations for Christmas as we strive to be a people of Christian love, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent
Faith, love and chitchat.
Children Sunday School 9:30-10:30am
Nursery care available during worship
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