Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

Committed to Each Other

Matthew 18:10-35

Parable of the lost sheep

10 “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one that wandered off?13 If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. 14 In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.

Sinning brother or sister

15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16  But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17  But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18  I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19  Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

Parable of the unforgiving servant

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

We have three core values as a congregation that define who we strive to be: centered in Christ, committed to each other, and called to serve the world. We repeat them each week in worship as a reminder and each year we take the time to talk about them in sermons so that they remain a core part of our DNA. The second core value, committed to each other, is perhaps best summed up in the scripture found in Matthew 18. While we omitted the first nine verses it was mostly to help us focus on a smaller portion of a text. The entire chapter is a great summary of the importance of remaining committed to each other as a core value, not just of our congregation, but of the Christian faith.

There are several parts to this sermon that Jesus is giving to the disciples. First, Jesus gives the parable of the lost sheep. He talks about how a good shepherd, when a single sheep is lost, will abandon the rest of the flock to go and find that sheep and make sure that it is returned safely home. The good shepherd does not think any one sheep is more or less important, but values all to such an extent that the shepherd will go and find the lost sheep. For Jesus, this is a great way to think about God, who loves all of us so much that when we are lost, God seeks us out and yearns for our safe return to the flock.

Jesus goes immediately from that to talking about what we are supposed to do when another person sins against us (or the community). We are given the instructions to take three steps. First, we talk to the person ourselves, then we bring back someone else to support us, and finally, if that does not work we are supposed to bring the entire community together in an attempt at restoration. Jesus recognizes however, that even this final drastic step, might not be enough and so he does say, if even that fails, we are to treat the person as a Gentile or a tax collector.

Perhaps seeking to better understand this message, Peter asks Jesus a question, “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?” To answer this question, we get the final teaching from Jesus during this chapter where he gives another parable. This time the story is of a ruler who has a servant who is greatly in debt. When confronted, the servant begs for mercy and the ruler grants it. The servant goes forth and encounters a person who owes him a much smaller debt. Immediately, he demands the money and when the person is unable to pay, has him thrown in jail. When the ruler learns of this treatment, he locks his servant in jail as well, because while he was shown grace by the ruler, the servant was unable to show it to others.

If you think about these passages you see the framework for how we are to be committed to each other. First, we need to anchor ourselves in the love of God. We need to hear the story of the lost sheep and we need to embrace it as our own. Who among us is really without sin? Whether it is the sin of pride (in thinking that we are perfect) or a few choice words that might have been said last Sunday when the Saints took the lead over the Vikings, we all fall short of who God wants us to be. We are all in need of God’s grace and God knows that. God loves us and even when we lose sight of God, God never gives up on us.

This is important, because just as we fail to be perfect for God, we fail to be in perfect community with others. Whether it is an hour, a day, or a week, after the wedding vows are said, both the bride and the groom are going to do something to disappoint the other person. It is often not even deliberate, but it is a reminder that even in what can seem like a perfect moment, even during the honeymoon, a period associated with grace, we fall short. Marriages are not the only places we make mistakes. We have all said or done something to our parents or children that we regret. We have all hurt and offended the people we love the most. I suspect we have also done so to people we care a whole lot less about. In our relationships with each, like with God, we are in need of grace.

Jesus gives a path towards redemption. He outlines how we are supposed to talk to the people who have hurt us and confront the problem. If that does not work, we bring someone else in to help. If it still does not work, we involve the whole community. The last action is to treat the person as a tax collector or Gentile. Here is the thing though, how does Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners? Even if we cannot get someone to repent and make amends and we are to treat them as being outside the community, we still do not get to stop loving them and we still are meant to desire their return.

The final parable reminds us that all of this is rooted in the grace of God. God, the ruler in the parable, has forgiven an almost incomprehensible debt, the labor of many lifetimes. God has shown this grace to all of us, not because we deserved it, but because God loves us. We are charged to do the same to others. We love, because God first loved us. We forgive, because God first forgave us. We are committed to each other because God is committed to us. God’s love for us never fails, never gives up, and never runs out on us. Our love for each other must also never fail, give up, or run out.

Matthew 18 is often talked about as the Rule of Christ. It is a reminder that we will have differences and disagreements, but the solution must always be based in love and redemption. The Rule of Christ teaches us that we are meant to be committed to each other, and that commitment is not a passing thing, we do not just forgive once, or twice, or seven times, but instead seven times seventy. Over and over we are supposed to work to make amends with each other because over and over God makes amends with us.

If we are committed to each other, then we need to do the hard work that is needed to be in relationship. Going after the lost sheep takes work. Talking with people about our differences takes work. Being committed to each other does not just mean celebrating the highs with each other when someone shares a joy. It also does not mean just being there to share in grief when someone else is dealing with challenges. It means doing the work to love and forgive each other when we cause each other pain. It is one of our core values because it is hard, and if we do make it central to who we are, we will be ignoring what Christ is asking of us. How many times should I forgive someone in the church, seven times seventy, because that and more is how much God has forgiven us. Thanks be to God.

 

Questions to Ponder:

What does being committed to each other mean to you?

When is a time that you have struggled to forgive someone who caused you harm?

When is a time that someone has extended grace to you when you did not deserve it?

How can our acts towards each other reflect Christ’s love for us?

 

Prayer:

God, loving and caring for each other is hard. Just as we often ignore and turn away from you, we often cause harm to our fellow brother and sisters. Help us to remember this and to offer grace to those who wrong us. Help us also to admit our mistakes and ask forgiveness when we sin against you and when we sin against others. Help us always to remember that your grace and love for us knows no bounds and never fails. Amen

Centered in Christ

Mark 1:4-11

John’s preaching

4 John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus is baptized and tempted

9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

I was on a retreat this week with clergy of several different denominations and we started talking about baptism and who practiced infant baptism and who practiced believer baptism. Believer baptism is the idea that baptism is done in response to a belief in God, whereas infant baptism is done as a part of a commitment to help a child come to faith.

The United Methodist Church, along with the Catholic church and many other protestant churches, practices infant baptism. For that reason, I suspect it is safe to say that most of us here do not remember our baptism. Even my children, Bryce and Zoe, who were not baptized until they were both almost two, are unlikely to remember anything about their own baptisms. Every year, on the Sunday following Epiphany, we remember the baptism of Jesus. It is also a point that we often use to remember and reflect on our baptism. Even for those of us who have no real memories of the event can ponder again what that moment means to our faith.

I love infant baptism. It is a moment where a number of things occur. First, parents and sponsors are given a chance to profess their faith and recommitment themselves to Christ. Second, it is a chance to celebrate the prevenient grace of God that is at work in a child’s life long before they are aware of God. Finally, it is a chance for a community to pledge their support for a child and a reminder that it takes a whole village to raise a child. All of these are great, and yet when we baptize a child we can forget about one part of what baptism is meant to be a about, a celebration of a changed life. After all, what change can really occur in a 3 month old?

Our text today is the telling of Christ’s baptism from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest and sparsest of the four gospels. He says in a few words, often without dialogue, what the other gospel writers will expound upon at great length. Even Mark however, captures the tension that exists in the baptism of Jesus. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, divinity in human form, asking John, a simple man, to baptize him. John is preaching the importance of baptism as a part of transformed life and a sign of forgiveness. What sort transformation does Christ need? What sins has the young Jesus committed that he needs washed away? Most theologians would likely agree that the answer is that Jesus has no need of forgiveness. Instead, the moment of baptism marks a change in Jesus, the beginning of his public ministry. There is no clear record of what Jesus did before his baptism, but it is clear that after his baptism and the descending of the Holy Spirit upon him, he began to preach, teach, heal, and transform lives.

When we think about baptism, we often think in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Infant baptism started at a time when people were concerned that children might die still bearing their sins and would not be able to go to heaven. Baptism as a means of spiritual cleansing was paramount. What gets forgotten is that second part of the baptismal call that John gives in Mark: changing our hearts and lives. Since obviously a child is not really able to change their heart or life, this part of baptism has sometimes been forgotten.

The ripple effect of this, is that we often forget that the Christian life is a transformed life. It is meant to be a life of discomfort and challenge as we strive to live not according to the standards of the world, but instead according to the standards of God. When Jesus is baptized he goes from a quiet and assuming life to one where he speaks out and challenges the powers of the world. He immediately goes into the wilderness and faces temptation from the devil. Do we think of baptism as the beginning of something difficult and challenging or just a nice ritual, a reminder of God’s grace?

In October, we started something in this church called the Red Shoe Challenge. It was a challenge to try and raise $40,000 by the end of the month (we later extended it to the end of the year). The idea behind the challenge was that someone had given almost $40,000 to our church because they believed in what we were doing and we wanted to show that the rest of us believed in the church as well. If we were able to raise the money, I promised to wear red shoes in church and do a dance to celebrate. The red shoes were meant to be a symbol of the challenges of stepping out in faith. Wearing heels is not comfortable and neither is a life of faith. Wearing heels as a man comes with some social stigma, and so does a life of faith. The point of the Red Shoe challenge is not just to raise money through a cute gimmick, but also to serve as a reminder that our faith comes with costs and discomforts.

Today we are remembering the baptism of Jesus and how it was a transforming point in his ministry. It was the beginning of a life of discomfort as he moved from town to town, sometimes under threat of death, calling on people to repent and believe and follow God again. It was the beginning of a journey that would lead to the cross and his own death. Even knowing where it would end, Jesus enters the waters and lets the river and the Holy Spirit wash over him.

One of our core values is that we are centered in Christ. This means we place Christ at the center of our hearts and lives and we seek to follow him. We know that it will come with costs and it will come with discomfort. We make Christ the center of life because of what he means to us and what God has done for us.

When we were baptized or confirmed, we took several vows. We promised to renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of our sins. We confessed Jesus Christ as our savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promised to serve him as our Lord. We accepted the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. These vows were said for us as infants, and parroted by us at our confirmations and yet they are not meant to be taken glibly. They are not easy nor are they comfortable.

Being centered in Christ means doing that which is hard. It means standing up to injustice and oppression, whether it is through the #metoo movement, resisting institutional sexism and racism, or challenging the systems that leave too many of our brothers and sisters in poverty. It means resisting evil whether it comes in the form of international terrorism and war or bullying on the playground. It means rejecting the evil powers of this world that care more about fame, beauty, and money, then they do about humanity.

Are we ready to take on that challenge? Are we ready to walk the uncomfortable path of faith? Are we ready to claim once again the promises of our baptism and let our lives be centered in Christ? Will we step out in faith, come forward and once again touch the waters that are filled with God’s grace and love, but are also blessed with the transforming power of the Spirit. Will we change our hearts and lives and follow Christ?

 

Questions to Ponder:

What is a baptism that you remember?

What does baptism mean to you?

What is a way that being a Christian transforms your life?

How are you being called into a new life with Christ this year?

 

Prayer:

God, help us all to remain centered in Christ. Remind us of the love and grace that we find in the waters of baptism. Give us the courage and strength to let that water wash over us and transform us for a life of faith. Help us to remember that to be a Christian comes with great responsibilities. May we embrace the challenges that are put before us as we faithfully follow Christ. Amen

Offer Them Christ

Matthew 2:1-12

Coming of the magi

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

In the Christian calendar, January 6th is known as Epiphany. It is the twelfth day of Christmas and the traditional day to celebrate the arrival of the wise men to the house where Joseph and Mary are with the baby Jesus. The origin of the world comes from the Greek verb “to reveal,” and its meaning is now associated both with the idea of a revelation: “after being hit by an apple, Newton had an epiphany about gravity” and the religious concept, that an epiphany is a moment that gives us an insight into the divine, in this case the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.

So what sort of epiphany did the wise men have? The wise men had been searching for this new king that was born so that they could honor him. They had been looking for a while and asking for help. They also brought gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh to present to him. Their epiphany experience is less that a king had been born, but rather the nature of who that king was. When they finally found the child, they had a profound experience of the divine. After all, why else would people looking for a king, been willing to believe that this humble child, born to simple parents, could be someone special if they did not sense that this child was holy. They came looking for a king and they found God.

While the Bible makes no specific mention of what the three wise men might have been expecting when they searched for the new king, song writers and theologians have since pondered as to what they were looking for. The song “We Three Kings,” gives a particular meaning to each of the gifts given. Gold is meant to celebrate the kingship of Christ who is meant to reign over us. Frankincense is given as a reminder of his divine nature because it was often used in religious rites. Myrrh, which is used for embalming, is given to foreshadow Christ’s death and resurrection. Together these gifts capture our different hopes for Christ, earthly king, divine presence, and redeemer of us all. They reveal to us all the ways that Christ offers us hope.

Have you ever gotten a Christmas present that was more amazing than you could have imagined? Last Christmas, my in-laws got me a Bose headset with a noise-cancelling feature. When I opened them, I knew they were a nice set of headphones, but I was not too impressed. I don’t listen to that much music and I was not sure how often I would use them. Boy, was I wrong. These things are amazing. Not only are they Bluetooth enabled, so I don’t have to worry about cords when I use them, their noise cancelling feature is incredible. It is great when I travel because it gets rid of the background noise of other passengers and the unending roar of the plane, so I can relax and listen to what I want, or just go to sleep. They are also great at home to tune out my kids, but I would never use them for that. They were way better than I would have thought when I first opened them.

It is my belief that for the wise men, finally reaching Jesus was a similar experience, just on a much greater scale. They knew they were looking for a new king, so they came with some lofty expectations, but when they found Jesus they were just blown away. Jesus was beyond anything they could have expected. In Christ they found, not just a king, but the saver of the world, not just a child, but the Son of God.

2017 was a turbulent year. Beyond the political drama in our nation, there have been hurricanes, floods and drought. We have seen a rising stock market but also rising health costs. As a nation we are as divided as ever around social issues and faced with continued threats both external, like ISIS and North Korea, but also internally from shooters who even threaten our most sacred spaces. In our church we have dealt with potential leaks to our roof and very real plumbing issues in our basement. We have held hard conversations about our future and what God is calling us to do. As we enter 2018 it can be hard to be hopeful about what the next year will bring. I saw a cartoon recently that capture this sentiment. One character is asking the other how they can be so optimistic about the coming year. The other one says that they think it will bring flowers. When asked why they simple state, “Because I am planting flowers.”

Flowers are not the solution to the problems of the world, the challenges in our church, or the struggles in each of our own lives. They certainly don’t hurt though either. The reality is that we also do not have to base our optimism on flowers, because we have a better reason for hope: Jesus. Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but I think Jesus really is the answer to the problems we are facing right now.

When I toured the Capital building in Washington, I got to go inside the chapel there. While I know the space gets used, I wonder if it gets used enough. How many of the disputes would be solved if Republicans and Democrats spent more time in prayer with each other and for each other? Just think of the difference that might make in how they spoke about each other and how they might start working together. Certainly, Christ has a lot to say about praying for our enemies and finding ways to love even those we do not agree with.

What is more, I have heard the stories over and over about how people’s lives were changed when they began to follow Christ. I know that Jesus does not just offer us hope on the big problems, but can also have a real effect in each of our lives. I think we know it and I think we believe it. What are we going to do about it?

In 1784, following the end of the Revolutionary War, Anglican priests were returning to England. After trying to persuade the Bishop of London to send more priests to the colonies, John Wesley consecrated Thomas Coke as a Superintendent and sent him to the United States with order to also consecrate Francis Asbury to the same role. It is said that Wesley’s final instruction to Coke before he left on the voyage was this, “Offer them Christ.” Coke would consecrate Asbury at the Christmas Conference of 1784 and the Methodist Church was officially formed. In spite of the momentous task before them, Wesley knew that what they really needed to do was to offer people Christ. Wesley knew that Christ was enough for them and enough for us.

We can get overwhelmed with the challenges in our lives. The negative events of the world can seem insurmountable. It is easy to feel like there is no reason to be optimistic. Yet, we have a gift to offer the world. We have glad tidings of great joy for all people. We have seen the king of kings, the savior of the world, the Son of God. Our challenge is to go and tell the good news. Our task is to reach out to those who are struggling and those who are hurting and to offer them Christ. We need to reveal to others that the Son of God has been born and is offering us all new life and new hope for the coming year.

 

 

Questions to Ponder:

What are you most worried about in 2018 and how can Christ help?

When was a time where God was revealed to you?

Who is someone you know who needs to learn more about Christ?

Prayer:

God, we give you thanks for the miracle of Christ’s birth and the good news that you are at work in the world. Help us to find ways to offer hope to those in need and Christ to a world in darkness. Give us the wisdom to see your presence in our lives and the courage to go and tell others about it. Amen

What Child is This?

Luke 2:22-38

22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Simeon’s response to Jesus

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of the ways that I get into the Christmas spirit is by listening to music on Pandora, an Internet-based service that provides you with music based on your preferences. While you have some control over the content you never get to pick individual songs. While listening this Christmas season I encountered a song I really did not like. The song was “It’s About the Cross” by Go Fish. While it used Christmas language it felt so un-Christmas that I just could not listen to it.

Here is what bothered me about the song. Its thesis is that Christmas is all about the cross, and the redemption of our sins that comes with Christ’s death and resurrection. Now, I don’t have a problem theologically with the saving work of the cross and how through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection we are also offered new life. I am just not sure I feel that the point of Christmas is the cross. In my mind, the reason for the incarnation, the birth of Christ, is not the atonement of our sins, but instead about a new relationship between God and humanity. Is the cross the inevitable result of our turning from God, probably, but it is not the point of Christmas. The point of Christmas is that God has come to earth to save us by offering us a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the incarnate deity as Charles Wesley says in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

By contrast, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know.” I love it, not only for the soul-searing potential it has when sung by a good singer, but also for the wonderful meaning contained in the lyrics. The question of how much Mary knew, or understood about her son is a good one. Certainly, she had some awareness from her response to the angel Gabriel in what we now think of as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Even so, it is hard to imagine that anyone could really understand what it means to give birth to the son of God.

Certainly, if Mary was still wondering what it would mean to be the parent of Jesus, she was in for another surprise when they visited the temple as we see in our scripture today. What was meant to be a customary visit, as all parents would do with their first-born sons, became something more when Jesus is heralded not once but twice as the savior of the world. Just as with his birth, his presentation at the temple becomes a moment where strangers gather and give praise to Jesus. Once again, the refrain is about the work he is going to do to save or redeem the world.

To me, the saving work of Christ goes far beyond the cross. We hear it in the words of Simeon when he talks about “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.” We hear it in the words of “Mary Did You Know” when the song talks about Christ giving sight to a blind man. Are we saved through Christ’s death and resurrection? Yes! That however is not the sum total of what Christ does when he comes to earth. The incarnation is an opportunity for so much more.

In Christ, we have a chance to see how God acts in the world. We have a chance to experience the divine, infinite, and unfathomable being of God yet wrapped in a human body, a breathing, crying, sighing, dying, human body. In Jesus, we see God not in holy majesty, but instead in a humble and imperfect form. We see God as one of us. It is impossible in my mind to totally understand the power of having such a way to relate to God. We need concrete things we can relate to, and in Jesus, we get a way to comprehend the incomprehensibleness of God.

Not only, does his birth give us a better way to relate to Jesus, it also gives him a chance to work in people’s lives. They were changed, not just by his death on the cross, they were changed by the things that he did. He healed the lame so that they could walk. He helped the blind to see and the deaf to hear. His transformative work is not just for the next world, it is for this world. We are made new, not just in the promise of the resurrection. We can be made new in this life through the power of God.

What child is this? This, this is Christ the king! Jesus offers us salvation, he offers us redemption. He pierces our innermost thoughts and being. In this baby, in this child, in this man, we experience the divine. I am not sure we can ever really know what it all means, but it is a chance for us to be closer to God.

We are about to enter a new year. It is also the chance for us to enter a new relationship with God. We can choose to go into this year alone and face it by ourselves or we can choose to walk with Christ into the new year. It is my hope that in the life of Christ we will find comfort and inspiration just as we find salvation in his death. Let us celebrate the birth of the Christ and the hope it offers us of a better relationship with God and a better year ahead.

 

 

Questions to Ponder:

Who is someone you know who has been transformed by their relationship to Christ?

What can you do in the New Year to have a better relationship to God?

What are the ways that Jesus helps us to better understand God?

When is a time when you have needed to touch, or see, or hear something to better understand it?

Prayer:

May Christ be born again into our hearts and lives this Christmas season. As we enter into 2018, help us to walk with Christ in our lives. When we turn from you or are filled with doubts, help us to remember the lessons we can learn from the time when you walked among us. Help us to know the salvation that is offered to us all in Jesus. Amen