Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Friday, December 24, 2010

no room in the inn (12.24.10)

First Reading Isaiah 9:2-7
2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined…. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Gospel Luke 2:1-14
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

            If there’s anyone here who doesn’t know this story, I’m really glad that you’re here tonight. I hope you’ll leave your name and contact information on one of the visitor cards in the pew rack in front of you. I would love to hear your first impressions of this amazing story. If you’re new to the story of Jesus you have a unique contribution to make to the way we hear the story, because for many of us, it is so familiar it has lost some of its fire. Still, as familiar as this story is, God keeps opening our eyes to see different parts of it in a new way.

            Last year in November I read all the Advent passages in a row to think about the big picture of Advent and Christmas. I remember coming to this passage and reading for the hundredth or thousandth time, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

            There I was, sitting on the carpeted floor of my office at home, when my voice broke and tears ran down my face. A pregnant woman travelling with her new husband was about to give birth, and there was no room for them in the inn. Christ the Lord came from heaven to save us, and there was no room for him in the inn.

            I wept, but I certainly can’t judge, since I don’t always make room for Jesus either. How often do we lock Jesus out of our homes, out of our decisions, out of our hearts? How often are we the innkeeper who sees the young mother in need and decides not to make room? How often do we hear Christ knocking at the doors of our life and pretend we are not home? Why don’t we make room for Jesus? Why wasn’t there room for Christ at the inn?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Emmanuel: God is with us (12.19.10)

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
            Raise your hand if you can basically tell this story from memory.

            This is a very familiar part of a very familiar story for many of us. It’s so familiar that we can slide right over how incredible it is. This whole Christmas story can easily slide into sentimentality and hallmark card sweetness if we’re not careful. There’s a baby and animals and a young couple facing the world together; it’s so tempting to make this a cute image. The classic Christmas carols tell the story, but sometimes we’ve heard them so many times in Target and the supermarket by this time of year that even those words loose their power and become a fuzzy cloud of good feelings.

            God, the Lord of heaven and earth, became a human being for our sake. God didn’t even become a strong, powerful man like Hercules or Samson. God became a vulnerable, weak, speechless baby. God became a baby in a small town during tax season. God chose to be born in a stable because there wasn’t a place for him at the inn. God took on a body so weak, in a situation so powerless that he couldn’t even get a motel room.
            It’s a scandal really. It doesn’t make any sense in the world we know, and it didn’t make any sense in the world Christ entered as a baby. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s sometimes how God does things.

            I’m getting a bit ahead of the story by talking about the birth of Jesus. Our chunk of the story for this morning starts back a little further but it still doesn’t make any sense. Our chunk of the story starts when Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant.

            We don’t know much about Joseph. We know that he was a carpenter engaged to a woman named Mary. We know he was a righteous man, which means he took his faith seriously and tried to follow the commandments of God. For the rest of the story we have to use our imagination.

Monday, December 13, 2010

messengers of the good news

Isaiah 35:1-10
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:47-55
47"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Matthew 11:2-11
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
            Advent and Christmas stand apart from the normal flow of time. Memories of Christmases past flow into the present in ways that add depth and richness to the season. We remember time gone by, and the lines between years blur.

I remember riding a new tricycle in my grandparents’ basement one Christmas when I was two or three. I remember the walls and the doorway at the end of the hall; I feel the plastic of the seat and wheels; I hear the rattling, rumbling of that big spinning wheel muffled by the carpet.

I remember Christmas pageants at my elementary school. I remember children’s voices reading Luke in the King James Version from the towering pulpit in the huge sanctuary. I remember bells in the choir loft and the thrilling vibration of the organ. I remember Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger on top of the white marble dais. I remember clip on ties and cheering parents.

I can’t sort out those memories: one year runs into the other. Was I an angel or a shepherd? Did I read scripture from that pulpit when I was 8 or 6? Maybe my tricycle memories have blended into other memories because I remember what the house looked like. Maybe I really rode that tricycle at my other grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving or in the summer time.

Memory is a funny thing and these holy days are especially prone to blending together and running into each other. Each year brings celebration and family and friends. Some years bring loneliness or grief or sorrow. Christmas carols and childhood expectation color our memories one way while grown-up rushing around and holiday stress add a darker shade to the picture.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prepare the way of the Lord

Isaiah 11:1-10
1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Matthew 3:1-12
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" 4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax 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.

11"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Advent is about expectation. It’s about expecting God’s kingdom and preparing for that kingdom. This morning we hear the voices of two prophets to help us prepare, to focus our expectation. We hear two prophets speaking about the future, about the amazing things God is doing.

Isaiah talks about a shoot from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David’s father, so Isaiah is really talking about a shoot of new life from the cut down family tree of David. God promised David that his descendants would always rule Israel if they were faithful to God. Unfortunately, the history of the kings of Israel is a history of turning away from God and seeking power like other rulers. That turning away led to the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah and finally led to the defeat and exile of the people as David’s line faded into obscurity.

Looking with eyes filled with God’s Spirit, Isaiah sees the day when new life will grow from that stump. He sees a day when God will call the people of Israel back to God under the rule of a faithful king. That king won’t just be a king for Israel, he won’t just lead the original people of God. Instead, as Isaiah says, “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him...” On that day the king of Israel will lead all the people of the world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

An opportunity to testify (November 14)

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

8And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Raise your hand if you’ve been to New York City. Do you remember your impression when you first arrived? What did you feel as you looked around for the first time?

I think a lot of those feelings are what the disciples felt when they arrived in Jerusalem, especially when they first saw the temple. They were men from small villages in the distant countryside. Maybe for some of them this was their first trip to Jerusalem, the first trip to the big city.

They have arrived in the historic capital of the nation of Judah and the spiritual capital of Judaism. Going to Jerusalem, especially around Passover, meant connecting with Israel’s history. It meant remembering the miracle of God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It meant remembering the arrival in the Promised Land. It meant remembering the days when David was king and Israel was strong, independent and faithful to God.

Imagine these country men suddenly in the big city. Imagine these proud Jews coming to the center of their religious and national life. Imagine this group following the man they knew was the Messiah, God’s chosen king, coming to the city of David, God’s most famous chosen king of the past.

Religious reform, God’s power in a king, the royal city. All these things come together as Jesus’ disciples look at the beauty and majesty of the temple. They talk to each other about how amazing God’s house is; they also must be hoping that Jesus will step into his role as king and deliver a renewed and free Israel.

Jesus looks at the temple and sees another side. He sees the coming judgment of God and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is God’s chosen king, but the deliverance of Israel and the world isn’t going to be as simple as the disciples hope it will be. It isn’t a matter of simply crowning Jesus as king and renewing David’s rule. Our king goes to the cross first, and the Royal City will be destroyed before the New Jerusalem comes in glory from heaven.

All the human building and power and pride in the world will be humbled in the face of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom doesn’t come through human building and political power. The church’s ministry isn’t about big buildings or fancy robes; it’s about ministry in the midst of chaos and love poured out simply in service.