Tag Archives: Immanuel

The Candles of Advent—Love

 

“Do We Really Want This Baby?

Text:  Luke 1:26-38

            Do We Really Want this Baby??    Due to the invention of the birth control pill and the legalization of abortion, that is a question often asked in our country these days.   Our discussions about abortion often generate a lot more heat than they do light on the subject.   Listening to the arguments, that can be vicious on either side of the question, you would think that in the U.S. children are very important!!

            I’m not saying that children are not important.  I am saying that sometimes we have mixed emotions in the United States as well as the rest of the world about children.

            On the one hand, we have couples who spend thousands of dollars at fertility clinics trying to have a child.  On the other hand, we have couples who want to abort their prospective children if they are the wrong sex, have some physical disability, or if they think they are “not ready yet.”   So what do we really think about having children.    In truth, when we look at it statistically in the U.S., Germany, and Japan we see a we see a baby bust, not a baby boom.   People are having fewer and fewer babies.   In the U.S., the total birth rate has dropped from 3.2 children per woman in 1920 to 2.1 children today.   In Europe, the birth rate is even more changed—from 2.8 children to 1.5 over the period of 1970 to 2000.  WHY?  Lots of “experts” give lots of reasons that vary from:

The cost of children in the U.S.—that exceeds $200,000 per child, not including college.

The fact that we have good retirement insurance and don’t need children to take care of us in our old age.

The shift from an agricultural/non-industrial culture which needed lots of children to help do the work and keep the family alive, to a technical/industrial culture which needs less children.

A world dominated by terrorism threats causes parents to hesitate to bring children into such a world.

Whatever the reason might be, these statistics raise the question as to whether we as a nation are less welcoming to children, less willing to bring them into the world than we once were.   

“Do we really want this baby?”   the sermon title asks.   That is a question that Mary might well have asked as we look at our text this morning.  In that text we heard how the angel Gabriel visited a young peasant woman named Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter in her hometown of Nazareth.

            We often don’t realize how alarming what the angel said to Mary must have been to her!    “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

            That wasn’t necessarily good news to a young woman getting ready for her wedding night to find out that she was going to be pregnant although she had not yet been with her husband Joseph.  !    Her first question was:   “How can this be?”   It might well have been  “What am I supposed to tell Joseph?”

            In  first century Jewish culture what she had just learned would be seen by her religious neighbors as adultery and was grounds for stoning and not just grounds for divorce or breaking the engagement!   An engagement or betrothal was as binding as marriage.   Mary’s life was endangered by this news!

            Mary questioned the news saying:  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” and the angel answered her:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the son of God.”   WOW!!  And the angel told her that the child’s name would be “Jesus”—the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Joshua” that means “He will save” in the Hebrew.   WOW!!!

            Mary could have said:  “No way, Gabriel!   I’m not going to touch this baby thing with a 10 foot pole!   Way too much at risk here—my marriage, my very life is at risk.   Sorry—find someone else.  I don’t need this kind of a burden at this time of my life!

            What Mary said was“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!”  In other words:  “Yes, Gabriel, I want this baby if that is God’s will for me!”

The same question comes to us this Advent Season as we read the announcement of the angel Gabriel– The question is:  Do we really want this baby Jesus? Are we really ready to birth and cradle this Christ child in our own lives?   Are we really ready to welcome the adult Jesus that he will grow into as a part of our world today?    Are we??

            Or are we more inclined upon hearing the claims and risks involved with accepting this Jesus into our world to hit the road and get outta town?   Because when we birth and cradle this Christ Child in our lives we will find that this baby grew up and that the Christ will challenges us to be transformed as a member of God’s kingdom on earth that he came to proclaim.  He will challenge us to also reach out our arms to others who will need our love and and the God of love that Christ proclaimed  in their lives.  And that might be inconvenient!   That might be risky!   That might we dangerous!  That might make demands on us we don’t want to meet!

            You see, if we truly welcome this Christ into our lives, our lives are going to be changed in a significant and total way, just as Mary’s life was changed significantly and totally!  

            It is significant that Mary said “yes” to the angel and to God and was willing to risk her reputation, her marriage, her very life, in order for the Son of God to enter the world.   She didn’t worry about her engagement, her social standing, her health, or her long-term financial security.   She didn’t spend a minute thinking about retirement benefits or whether she could use a child to take care of her in her old age.   Instead she said “yes” to a baby who would grow up to be called Jesus of Nazareth, and be called the Son of God who would proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom and rule had entered the world and who would reveal God to us in a new and wonderful way as a God of love.   Are we receptive to this rule of God in our lives?   Are we hearing the call of God through Jesus to be transformed?   Are we willing to embrace the Christ Child and the man, Jesus of Nazareth and allow his proclamation and his teachings and his example to make a difference in our lives?

            If we say “yes” to these questions,  we’ll find ourselves changed.   If our lives are not changed by saying “yes” then we really haven’t said it with honesty.   Because if we say “yes” then we will become a person who has Christ at the very center of who we are, just as Mary received the life of Jesus into the deepest and most intimate part of herself.   We’ll turn into a person who can say along with Mary:   “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will!!   Are we willing to say that?

What we are talking about in this sermon is the word that we don’t find in the Bible but that the church invented to describe the mystery of Jesus’ birth—-INCARNATION.    John’s gospel tries to describe it as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the word as “Immanuel”—God with us.”     The incarnation means that our God, who stands outside of time—who is infinite (without ending)—-becomes finite (ending).   The God who is all powerful becomes all-vulnerable.   The God who brought the world into being now is born of Mary’s womb to bear the good news of God’s love for the world.  

This is the gift of Christmas—the gift of God’s love for the world that came as a flesh and blood baby—Jesus.    This Jesus was not some glow-in-the-dark-Christ- Child        Jesus, the very God incarnate, was a real, live, ordinary, crying, cooing, sleeping, eating, wetting baby.   And just as with all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms, touched by human hands, soothed by human words of love and reassurance.              

He in turn, as we was brought up with love by Joseph and Mary, would reach out in love and show us that God was a God of love.   That God cares for us.   That God is with us at all times.   And that challenges us, because as God seeks us through the incarnation, God’s love demands that we answer this question:   DO WE WANT THIS JESUS IN OUR LIVES?

            If we do, we will be forever changed, just as Mary was forever changed—-and we, in turn, will reach out to others,   not just in this season of advent, but in all seasons, saying:   “HERE WE ARE, SERVANTS OF THE LORD.   LET IT BE ACCORDING TO YOUR WILL!    ARE WE WILLING TO DO THAT?

            Let me close with a story that took place during World War II:   

            A soldier was concluding sentry duty on Christmas morning outside London.  It had been his custom in other years to attend worship in his home church on Christmas Day, but here in the outlying areas of London it was not possible.   And so, with some of his buddies, the soldier walked down the road that led into the city just as dawn was breaking.    Soon the soldiers came upon an old greystone building over whose entrance was carved the words:   “Queen Anne’s Orphanage.”   They decided to check and see what kind of celebration was taking place inside.   In response to their knock, a matron came and explained that the children were war orphans whose parents had been killed in the London bombings.

            The soldiers went inside just as the children were tumbling out of their beds.   There was no Christmas Tree in the corner and no presents.   The soldiers moved around the room, wishing the children a Merry Christmas and giving as gifts whatever they had in their pockets; a stick of gum, a Life Saver, a nickel or a dime, a pencil, a knife, a good luck charm.   The soldier noticed a little fellow standing alone in the corner.   He looked a lot like his own nephew back home, so he approached and asked,  And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?   The boy replied,  “Will you hold me?”   The soldier, with tears in his eyes, picked up the boy, nestled him in his arms and held him close.” 

That’s what Emmanuel, God with us, means.   .  That’s what Jesus taught us:  God does not keep us at arms length, but reaches out lovingly to us and hold us as the soldier held the little boy.  

            IF CHRIST IS BORN IN US THIS CHRISTMAS, WE TOO WILL REACH OUT WITH OPEN AND LOVING ARMS TO THOSE IN NEED—WE TOO WILL HAVE A HANDS-ON LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH ALL AROUND US.   WE WILL SHOW BY OUR CHANGED LIVES THAT WE REALLY DO WANT THIS BABY JESUS!   Amen.

          Today we light the 4th Candle of Advent—the Candle of Love. And the birth of Jesus tells us:    IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE!!    God so loved the world that he sent his only Son!    Jesus—that Son, told us that all the law and commandments and the prophets were summed up in this simple yet profound statement—-“You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—-and your neighbor as yourself!”   

Jesus  didn’t say just at Christmas time!    He didn’t put any limits on how much or how often!   And when he said “love”  he said  “love as I have loved you!”    Amen.

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The Candles of Advent—Peace

 

Text:    Philippians 4;4-7

Theme:  Only when we are “anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in much” does the “peace of God” settle over our hearts and minds.

            A lot of people like to wander through antique and collectible stores.  My wife loved to do that and therefore I spent a lot of time in antique stores.  There was a certain feeling of nostalgia, I’ll admit,  as I saw things that I remembered when I was young and recognized  them as familiar.    It sort of made me long for the “good old days” when life seemed simpler and better.   One of the things I often saw was an old kerosene lantern.  It made me think of the days when my Dad and I would light the lantern early in the morning and follow its glow to the barn, hang it on a post in the barn, and get to work on milking the cows.    It made me long for those days!   I treasured those times with my Dad.  Many people look back on their lives with longing, feeling that something precious has been lost or taken from them.   They want a missing treasure restored!  

            But what I lost cannot be restored by a visit to an antique store or by the purchase of an old lantern, can it?     As we struggle through our daily lives, we often stumble and fall, hurt ourselves and others, crash into obstacles and leave a trail of debris behind us.   We long many times for a lantern that will light our path, a beacon to guide us and lead us home.    And so we light a candle—an advent candle.   This is done on the first Sunday of the Advent season, and again on the second, third and fourth Sunday.  

            Each Sunday we light another candle and say,  “Restore us, O God”.   Restore our hope.   Restore our peace.   Restore our joy.   Restore your love.

            Last week we focused on the restoration of hope that we find in a relationship with God.   Today we will focus on the restoration of Peace. 

            When I say “Peace” I am not talking about peace as the absence of conflict.   During Jesus time on earth the word “peace” was often linked to Rome.   The time is referred to by historians as the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace.   This was a peace that was kept by the power of the sword of the Roman Army.   While there was an absence of conflict it was because of the overwhelming force of the Roman armies scattered throughout the world to keep the peace by the sword.

            The “Peace” I am referring to is the “Pax Christos”—the peace of Christ.   It is the Peace that comes not by the power of the sword but by the power of Love. 

            It is the “Peace” is reflected in the Hebrew word for “Peace” which is “Shalom”.    English translations often translate “shalom” as “peace”, but in reality the meaning of the word is much more complex.   As Sharon Watkins says in her book  Whole: A Call to unity in a Fractured World ,  Shalom “comes from a root word that means “whole”, as in “complete” or “safe”, either personally or within society.   Shalom does not indicate a passive harmony or mere absence of conflict, as the word “peace” sometimes does.   Shalom evokes a situation that is actively good, where the circumstances offer opportunities for inidividuals and communities to flourish….A good translation for “shalom” is “wholeness”.   (p. 48)            

            Many people in our world long for this kind of shalom peace and wholeness in their lives.   They feel an emptiness that remains deep within them.    Only God can fill this emptiness.   Long ago Augustine of Hippo, one of the great leaders of the early church, expressed it this way in his writing called “The Confessions”:   “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you!”  

            And so God’s peace will escape us until our restless hearts begin to rest in God.   This peace will come as a gift from God,  who  is the source of shalom or wholeness that we seek!    Paul writes of this shalom Peace in his letter to the church he founded at Philippi.    And he gives a way that we can to seek that peace.  Listen to what he writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.   Let your gentleness be known to everyone.   The Lord is near.   Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.   And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

A more literal translation of this that gets right to the point is:  “Be anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in anything…then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”   

            Let’s look more closely at this way of attaining God’s peace in our lives.  

First,  Be Anxious in Nothing:

            Frances Willard, the great temperance movement leader, once remarked that “anxiety is atheistic”!    What she was saying is that to be constantly anxious suggests that somehow we don’t trust God. 

            Some of us may remember our teenagers coming in just seconds before they were due home and finding us up and waiting for them.   They’d ask:  “What’s wrong, don’t you trust me?”

            What we don’t trust, what makes us anxious, whether it be our teenager’s curfew, our spouse’s health, or our own career—is when we feel we no longer have complete control over the situations we are facing.   No matter how many precautions we might take, or how well we think we have fortified ourselves against sneak attacks, down deep in our hearts we know that the much of the influences on our lives are out of our control.   Kids grow upillnesses attack without warningcompanies down-scale and lay off workers, an economy goes sourLife happens and we can’t control it!

            But if we let our anxieties over these uncontrollable factors in our lives rule us, we will never experience the “peace” of God.   If we can’t trust God to be in control of our lives regardless of what happens, then we will always be anxious.   That’s why we need to trust God and be anxious in nothing because God is God:  today, tomorrow, and always.  God will be there for us, no matter what happens.   We must trust in that to have “Shalom Peace”

 

Secondly, “Be Prayerful in Everything”  Paul advises.   

            The reason we can “be anxious in nothing”  and rejoice in God, is that God is powerfully present for us in prayer, always.    Paul recognizes that a good percentage of our prayers are more correctly “supplications” and “requests”.   Sometimes when we are spiritually strong our souls turn toward God and seek nothing but God’s presence—-but most of the time we approach God on our knees  (if not literally, figuratively) and come to God as supplicants who are admitting our own inadequacies and recognizing God as the source of our wholeness and strength.   Often our specific requests must seem childish and simple to God—-like the cartoon of two little boys who in early September donned all their mittens, coats and hats, perched themselves on their sled on the top of a hill and requested of God, “We’re ready….let ‘er rip!”    But other times our supplications and requests are deeply serious as we cry out…  “Help me!”   “Heal her!”   “Hear me!”   “Please, God, help me get through this!”

            Jesus told us that God wants our prayers and supplications and requests.  God wants to be vitally present in our lives and prayer is the way God can do that!    No wonder Paul advised his churches to “Pray without ceasing!”

 

Third, Be Thankful in All Things!

            Being thankful for all things does not mean putting on an “act” of being cheery come what may!   But being thankful in anything does mean believing that the guiding hand of God is constantly present in our lives.   It means our awareness that we are never “abandoned children” and that the love of God through Christ remains steadfastly by our side no matter what we face.  

            That is the reason we can be thankful in anything.   Our thankfulness is not a matter of “surface smiles” but is based in the confidence that whatever comes our way, God is there for us and will give us strength and wisdom to cope with our lives. 

If we truly practice the above three admonitions, then the “peace of God which passes understanding” that Paul writes of is ours.   God will guard our hearts and our minds and will give us Joy in Living.   And we’ll talk about that “Joy” next week as “Joy” is the Third Candle of Advent.

Let me close with a story that touched my heart when I read it and revealed how we find peace with God:

This story dates back to 1994—that was the year my wife and I visited our daughter Lisa and son-in-law Brian in Novisibursk, Siberia, in Russia.   They were there at the invitation of the Russian Department of Education to teach teachers how to teach morals and ethics to their students.   Another team in a different place for the same purpose told this story about a visit to a Russian orphanage: 

At the orphanage the team told the traditional story of Christmas to the children who had been abandoned, abused, and left in care of the government-run program at the orphanage.  It was the first time the children, and many of the staff had heard the Christmas story and they sat in amazement at hearing it told.

            The writers wrote:  “We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, and finding no room in the inn they went to a stable where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.   Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger.   Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.   No colored papers was available in the city.   Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw.   Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket.   A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. 

            The orphans were busily assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.   All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project.   As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger!

            Quickly I called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger.   Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the Christmas story very seriously.   For such a young boy, who had heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings very accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.Then Misha started to ad lib.   He made up his own ending to the story as he said:  “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay.   Then Jesus told me I could stay with him.   But I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.   But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much that I thought and thought and decided that maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.   So I asked Jesus,  “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?”  And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.”   So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always!”

            As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears.   The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—for always. 

We call Jesus by the name “IMMANUEL”, which means “GOD WITH US”.   In this Advent season we need to discover, like the orphan Misha, that the God who came in Jesus Christ will never abandon or abuse us, but will stay with us—for always

God will be with us:

When the cancer biopsy comes back positive, instead of negative.

 When the final exam is marked with an “F” rather than an “A”.

When the spouse of 15 years stomps out the door and doesn’t return.

When the dream of success in business is once again downsized and diminished.

When the late-night long-distance call communicates a death, not a birth.

When the longing for family harmony is shattered by a shouting match.

When the desire for companionship is drained by another lonely holiday season.

 

And we will have the “Shalom” Peace that we seek.  It is ours, a free gift from a loving God as we:

Are anxious in nothing!

Are prayerful in everything!

Are thankful for all things!

 

Amen!!!