Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon Dec. 22-23, 2012

Title: Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

Text: Luke 1:41-42

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

While crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner, F.B. Meyer was asked to address the first class passengers. At the captain's request he spoke on "Answered Prayer." An unbeliever who was present at the service was asked by his friends, "What did you think of Dr. Meyer's sermon?" He answered, "I didn't believe a word of it." That afternoon Meyer went to speak to the passengers with the lower class accommodations. Many of the listeners who had heard the morning sermon went along, including the unbeliever, who claimed he just wanted to hear "what the babbler had to say."

Before starting for the service, the unbeliever put two oranges in his pocket. On his way he passed an elderly woman sitting in her deck chair fast asleep. Her hands were open. In what he thought would be a bit of fun, the unbeliever put the two oranges in her outstretched palms. After the meeting, he saw the old lady happily eating one of the pieces of fruit. "You seem to be enjoying that orange," he remarked with a smile. She replied, "Oh, my Father is very good to me." "Your father … surely your father can't be still alive?" "Praise God," she replied, "He is very much alive." "What do you mean?" he asked. "Well Sir, I have been seasick for days. I was asking God somehow to send me an orange. I suppose I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had not only sent me one orange but two!"

Our Daily Bread

Oh yes, our Father is very good because:

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

In our study of the Book of Ruth during our adult mid-week Bible class this year, we learned that Bethlehem Ephrathah means “the house of bread.” It will play a special role in God’s plan as the prophet Micah records in our Old Testament reading for today:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This “house of bread”, Bethlehem, would become the place where the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior would come down to save His people from the power sin, death and the Devil’s working in their lives. From this tiny town the salvation of the world would emerge.

Mary, who just a little bit earlier in Luke’s gospel reading, would have a visitation from the Angel Gabriel, announcing that she would have a very special role as well to play in God’s plan for restoring the gulf that was fixed by sin between God and man and we also these past two weeks heard how John the Baptist would be used by God to prepare the way.

Today our Gospel reading moves back a bit in the story, some 30 plus years, to Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, another women used by God for a very important role. She would bear the prophet, John, who would be the greatest of all prophets as Jesus said in our Gospel reading from last week, 28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.

But this visit from Mary to Elizabeth was a bit different.

Mary with joyful energy and as the text says, “Arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,” and came to the house of Zachariah, where she greeted Elisabeth, just as you or I might great a relative or dear friend. But then God performed a miracle. By the working of the Holy Spirit this unborn son of Elisabeth, at hearing Mary’s voice, was filled with the Holy Spirit. And so too Elisabeth, by this same Spirit acting in a miraculous way, also filled her as she spoke:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord (by special gifting of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given the knowledge and trusting faith to know who this child Mary was carrying truly was) should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42b-44)

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

So what does the knowledge given you by the Spirit about Jesus bring you? Is it an unstoppable kind of joy that might even cause you to leap?  If you’re like me, I joy in Christ and that he has given me freedom from sin … but the Christmas season can be a drag. Having worked in sales for most of my adult life I have found it hard to get joyful working extra and being consumed with all that needs to be done.

Then add to all of that the fact that this child, this babe from Bethlehem, would become and is an offence to many. He is an offense in our world for sure so much so that Merry Christmas has become Happy Holidays for most of we who spend time in retail that the true meaning of Christmas has been neutered into just another sale. Sound familiar?

The message of who He is, who this child that we wait for this Advent season is, who caused the child in the womb of Elizabeth to jump for joy, this child Jesus Christ, came to conquer the power of evil and brokenness in the world, for you.

“Merry Christmas!” Try that greeting and see at times how you are received. “Jesus loves you,” another phrase that seems to bring anger in the hearts of those outside the faith.

There is a story I read this month from Hemant Mehta, who runs a blog called the Happy Atheist. In it he describes a situation of a Nativity scene placed outside of the Cottondale Elementary School in Florida.

(What’s that? Oh right, “Tradition.”) but not anymore. In order to avoid any lawsuits that they would lose in a heartbeat, the school has put the Baby Jesus in a closet:

The principal of the school told the television station that after a visit from the Department of Education:
“In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the principal said, “We decided that we would just not put the Nativity scene out on campus.”

“There are people in the community that are threatening to sue the school board (over separation of church and state issues), and it costs a tremendous amount of money to defend something you know you will lose,” she said.

It is after all the law. But, is it really just a church and state issue? In a funny turn to the story, a business across the street put the schools Nativity on their property so those of the community could still enjoy it. Needless to say our happy Atheist was none to happy … “They’re acting like they’re beating the system by doing it … but they’re not. They’re perfectly within their rights to do this and no one will tell them to remove it.”

via Atheist Lutheran

Is this really just about church and state? No if you look into any of these situations, it’s always about those who are unbelievers … who are offended, not wanting this unbelievably offensive, Christ child, in their face. And while they seem to be fine with the nativity across the street from the school, they’re not, because they believe that the school thinks that they’re beating the system and if they could make it illegal to have a nativity everywhere … they would.

Why, because it’s not about a character, who leaves presents under trees or where they believe that the date of Christmas is said to be taken from a pagan holiday and then Christianized. I posted an article on the churches Facebook page entitled:

How December 25 Became Christmas
By Andrew McGowan where he writes:

“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d”

You can read the rest of the article on our Facebook link if you want to. It is quite fascinating.
So the truth may be a bit simpler than just picking a pagan holiday and it may also be quite a bit older than the world wants to admit. We celebrate on March 25: The Annunciation of the Lord when the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Christ child and then we simply have 9 months between the date of the Annunciation and the date of Christmas and celebrate Dec. 25th in the liturgical year for the birth of Jesus.

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

For John in the womb and Elizabeth, the joy that is the Christ child came in a miraculous and unexpected way through Mary’s visit. We too receive the joy that is Jesus Christ our Lord when He calls us to gather together in His name; where we receive his word and his sacraments giving us both faith and joy in this Christ child who came to free sinners, like you and me, from the enemy of our sin, from the death that it has brought to all who are conceived in sin and brought fourth in iniquity, (Psalm 51.5) and finally to join us to Him who is God in the flesh for all eternity!

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

Finally, the true joy of Christmas and the Christ child can come for some in the lights of a police car in the rear view mirror of a man who was pulled over for an expired registration.

Hayden Carlo who was pulled over by a Plano, Texas, cop for driving his car with an expired registration, said he told the officer the truth:

"I said there's no explanation for why I haven't done it, except I don't have the money. It was either feed my kids or get this registration done," the 25-year-old told CBS news.

The cop handed Carlo a blank ticket, along with something extra, "I opened it up and there's a $100 bill," said Carlo. "I broke down in my car, what else could I do?"

The mystery police officer chose not to be identified.

Still, the department plans to honor him anyway. A Police Department spokesman told CBS, "As he told me, this man needed it more than him, and it was the right thing to do."

Carlo said. "He helped me out when I needed it. I appreciate that, I'll never forget that man," "It definitely restored my faith in God."

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need and then He gives the joy of sharing that same love with others!

Joy in the Christ child that we await. He came for you and by the power of the Holy Spirit gives you faith to leap for joy from the womb of death that you are born into, and by that same Spirit He lifts you into his loving arms never to let sin, death or the Devil pull you from the eternal life he gives.

Christ is the fruit that satisfies your need!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon Dec. 15-16, 2012

Title: Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

Text: Luke 7:20 & 22

20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

As a little boy, I use to get presents from relatives in Pennsylvania. As the presents came in they would get arranged according to whom they were for and then … a certain little boy … I’m not saying who, would start counting the presents! If one of his brothers or sister had more presents, it could take the joy of the Christmas season and make it joyless.

Today many of us are wrestling with the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday. For many their Christmas has become joyless or nonexistent. But as we look at the Advent banner for today we can Rejoice in the one to come, who will take all our pain away and has given us joy in His Gospel message that:

Christ – the promised one - is the one to come and we can rejoice in this Good News!

The work of John the Baptist was talked about this past weekend. He was the one who would prepare the way, for another, but who?

The disciples of John had been reporting all these things to him. Of Jesus’ healing the Centurion’s servant … you remember the story … from earlier in Luke chapter 7:

“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; … 9 When Jesus heard these things, … and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:7-9)

Or, the funeral procession of the widow’s son from the town of Nain that Jesus came upon. And he said a little further in Luke 7:

“Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched, the man and he said, “Young man … I say to you, arise.” And he gave him back to his mother.(Luke 7:14-15)

This is the question that John wanted his disciples to answer …

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John knew that his own calling was to prepare the way … to be the one crying out in the wilderness … to point his followers to the messiah, the Christ, the one who was to come. The question that they asked of Jesus, “Is it you? Are you the one? What should we tell John?”

Jesus, answering them said:

22 … “Go … tell John what you have seen and what you've heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

I had a nice sermon prepared but when I came here to run through it on Friday, the events of the day in Connecticut overwhelmed my preparation.

How do you deal with tragedy of this magnitude? How do you deal with loss of life, especially when it involves children between 6-7 years of age?

On Friday I was driving to an elementary school in Pontiac in the afternoon to play my banjo with a co-worker for a program for mentally challenged students. Many of these students are between the ages of 18-26 and are being prepared for living outside the home. As I drove to the John F. Kennedy Elementary school on Baldwin Rd. in Pontiac, I felt a connection to the school and the teachers in Connecticut, confronted and dealing with an event of unspeakable magnitude. When I drive I like to listen to Sports Talk Radio and as I was driving the radio host comes on and says, “I want someone of faith to call and explain this to me!”

What he was really saying, was … where was God? Why would a loving God allow this type of tragedy and suffering?

Well, I turned into the parking lot and entered the school and met the teachers and students, carrying my big banjo case and having no problem getting in or finding my friend, the teacher that invited us, and where we were to go. Many of these students have debilitating physical illness, some appear normal but have mental problems and others that are dealing with all of the above. We all had a joy filled time and both my friend Paul and I were blessed to play for them and to see these dedicated teachers and workers who love and care deeply for these special children of God.

Pastor Merrell and I attended our circuit meeting this past Tuesday and Pastor Tom Fisher did a sermon on God interrupting lives through the preaching of John the Baptist. Well, there was a terrible interruption this past Friday and Tom’s message said, "We must always be prepared for being interrupted by God". This interrupting opens us all up to God’s will and is one of the core objectives of Advent's message; … prepare ye the way of the Lord!"

My life, like yours, was interrupted Friday both by tragedy but for me, also joy. As I wrestled with the sad loss of life in Connecticut one minute, I was blessed by the faces of God’s special need children being cared for and loved by these teachers and workers, many like Paul's friend Deb who are Christian and who bring through their vocation, God’s caring hands to His special children in need.

… rejoice in this Good News!

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus asks and wants to know a very important thing from these disciples who were following Him.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.

Is there no one greater than John? This prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord? When you think of some of the prophets; Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and on and on and John … is the greatest of all of these …

Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Christ is the one to come, for you, who are least in the Kingdom of God. Rejoice in this Good News!

You, who are the least in the Kingdom, are greater than John! Think about that! Christ has lifted you up. He has redeemed you. He has made you His own. He has called you to be his child. He has washed you clean in the blood of the Lamb. He will feed you on His very body and blood given and shed for you.

You who deserve death have been given new life in Him. Rejoice in Him!

Martin Luther who was not only a great theologian and defender of the faith but quite a good hymn writer as well wrote this little hymn that it a great comfort for all who live this Christian life of faith:

“Feelings come and feelings go, And feelings are deceiving;

My warrant is the Word of God--Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned, For want of some sweet token,

There is One greater than my heart, Whose Word cannot be broken.

I'll trust in God's unchanging Word, Till soul and body sever,

For, though all things shall pass away ... HIS WORD SHALL STAND FOREVER!”

― Martin Luther

Christ is the one to come, rejoice in this Good News!

This Advent as we watch and wait, know that there is one who knows you and has known you from the foundation of the world and has called you to be His own and has forgiven you your sin so that the righteousness that you had before sin came into the world could be restored to you in Christ, by faith.

You who are least in the kingdom of God:

Christ is the one who came for you. Rejoice in this Good News!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.