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Christmas Remembrances: Home

Malachi 5:2-5
Psalm 80:1-7
Luke 1:39-55

1:39 “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:39-55, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of promise, you have given us a sign of your love through the gift of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who was promised from ages past.  We believe as Joseph did the message of your presence whispered by an angel, and offer our prayers for your world, confident of your care and mercy for all creation. Amen.

 

Music has always been important in the life of the church because it speaks to our hearts and it moves our souls, but music this time of year seems even more important.  Think about the Christmas carols we sing.  We know many of them by heart: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “O Come all ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World!” Just to name a few. Every one of us has our favorites and when we hear or sing those carols it makes Christmas for us.

 

It is not only sacred music and Christmas carols that touch our hearts and move our souls it is also popular music.  Apparently the number one song on the secular list of Christmas songs is “White Christmas.”  I learned this week that is the most popular song ever written; it has been recorded more, sung more, played more, listened to more than any other piece of music ever.   The most famous rendition of the song is Bing Crosby, singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…”  It is that line that gets us: just like the ones I used to know…”  It takes us back in time, to those special Christmases of our past.  The great American composer, Irving Berlin, who was actually Jewish, wrote the song in 1941.  It became very popular during the Second World War, when so many young men were off at war separated from their families and loved ones, far away from home.  “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…”

 

It is amazing the emotions and memories the song evokes, especially thoughts of home.  We remember Christmases past and what we did; decorating the tree, making cookies, cooking and eating a huge Christmas dinner, opening presents, visiting family, reading special books or watching “It’s a wonderful life.”  We all have memories.  You can close your eyes and still see certain people in certain places and remember what they did and what they said.  It is the power of memory.  The sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas, Christmas past, Christmas at Home.  “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…”

 

Think about the songs we sing about Christmas at home.  There is Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”  Perry Como’s “There is no place like home for the Holidays.”

 

No matter what our situation in life, we all experience homesickness. Homesickness is built into us.  Saint Augustine prayed so long ago, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until we find rest in thee.”  There is a deep longing in each of us for a place we belong, a place to call home.  Scripture tells us that we are all wanderers, exiles, all of us looking for a future home.  Walter Brueggeman writes in his Old Testament commentary that the basic theme of the Old Testament is the people of God longing to go home.

Here we are a few days before Christmas, some of you are preparing to travel home, wherever home happens to be, others of you will have your family come home to you, and some of us can’t go home.  No matter which group you are in, we all have a longing for home.  We all want to be “Home for Christmas, if only in our dreams…”   It is more than a nostalgic journey to return to the home of our childhood, or a highly romanticized Norman Rockwell idea of Christmas past.   As attractive as that is for us this time of year to go back and savor those memories of the past, I suggest that our texts and the angel Gabriel is inviting us to look forward. Our home is before us.

 

Christmas is about God who is for us.  Christmas is about gifts we did not earn or work for or deserve.  Christmas is about the love of God who came to dwell among us and assures us that we have a home.  Christmas is about the conviction that in this birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem, born of a women who was scared to death when she was told that she would have this child; who was amazed that God would work through her, such a lowly person; that God came among us to show us the power and the reality of His love, that God came to forgive us for all we have done that we think is unforgivable; that God came to provide us a place where we know we belong, God came to give us a home –with him.

 

A young couple, a man with a heavily pregnant fiancé, travel many miles to return home, and when they arrived, they made a home, a birthplace in a cow stall.  They transformed that manger into a home that you and I are invited to return.

 

Home is where Christ is.  That is the home we are invited to, regardless of where we are or what we are doing.  We are invited home. Home is there, that simple manger, it is where we know that we belong, where we know the strong, saving Grace of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, He is the One who loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten son born into the world; loves the world so much that He never gave up on the world; loves us so much that he will never give up on us; and he continues to work for the redemption, the reconciliation and the peace of the world in unexpected and surprising ways.

 

That is where we are invited this Christmas.  We are invited to find our way home where we know that we are loved, where we are claimed and welcomed by God.  Finding our way home to that place where we will never be forgotten.

 

My friends, my hope and prayer for each of us this Christmas is that you and I will find our way home to Christ, who is our dwelling place, now and forever. Amen.

 

Let us pray:

Non- Superfluous Preparation

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm (Luke 1:68-79)
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

 

3:1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:1-6, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of timeless grace, you fill us with joyful expectation. Make us ready for the message that prepares the way, that with open hearts and accepting minds we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Those names are hard to pronounce.  They seem obscure and superfluous.  Those names at the beginning of our reading from Luke’s Gospel.  Couldn’t we just skip over them and get to the heart of the passage.  I didn’t know how to exactly pronounce each one and no one knows who some of them even are.  Why not just pick up after the names?

 

But, there is not much, if anything, that is superfluous and unnecessary about them.   Luke put those names in there for a reason.  Luke goes to great effort to place the earth changing birth of the Messiah into context.   Luke wants to anchor them in the larger political and historical scene of the world.  You see, these names, these people, are headline grabbers, the ones on the front page of every magazine at the check at the check-out counter.  They were people that everyone would know. It would be like saying:

In the fifteenth year of the twenty-first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States, and John Kasich was governor of Ohio, and John Cranley mayor of Cincinnati, and Daniel J. Feigelson mayor of the Village of Indian Hill, Michael Curry was presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Grady Parsons was the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA and the word of the Lord came to The Indian Hill Church!

 

It would be as if in the year 2015 when all of these important people had positions of power and influence, the Word of the Lord did not come to them, but it came to a no name and not even in a big city like Paris, New York or Hong Kong or Washington DC or a place of religious significance like the Vatican, no the Word of the Lord came in the wilderness, the middle of nowhere.

 

So, you see, the names are important.  They are important, because God did not come to them to get his message out.  God chose a wild person, a strange person, an unconventional person, a person of little power and influence, John the Baptist, to prepare the way for Jesus.  John the Baptist, this no name came to prepare for the Messiah who would be born to a no name-virgin-teenager and would be born away from the glitz of the big city.   Instead will be born in a barn in the middle of nowhere.  It is how God works.  David Lose, Lutheran preacher says this:

So Luke begins his story by making the outrageous claim that God is at work in the weak and small – babies and barren women and unwed teenage mothers and wild-eyed prophets and itinerant preachers and executed criminals – to change the world.  And, to be quite honest, God’s not done yet. God continues to work through unlikely characters today – unpopular teens and out-of-work adults and corporate executives and stay-at-home parents and underpaid secretaries and night-shift workers and police officers and volunteer basketball coaches and even preachers – to announce the news of God’s redemption.[1]

 

So what’s John doing among Luke’s veritable list of “who’s who” in ancient Palestine?  Well, according to Luke, John the Baptist, this itinerant preacher preaching repentance out in the wilderness – you know, the place nobody goes, at least not by choice.  John the Baptist – a “nobody” by all other historical accounts – just happens to be the one to whom the Word of the Lord came. John. Not the Emperor, or governor, not a rulers, or the high priests, but John – a no count, a no body.

 

Oh, and the place, the wilderness is just as important.  God did not choose the oval office or the red carpet at the Oscars or Wall Street or in a sanctuary in a big beautiful church to make the pronouncement of the coming of a savior.   God chose John the Baptist an itinerant preacher out in the wilderness.  There is something about the wilderness that does away with all the pretense of life and gets to what really matters.   There is a gift that comes from the wilderness—in learning how to trust – God when all else falls away.

 

In the wilderness we get down to the core of who we are and who God created us to be.  That is why Advent always starts in the wilderness.  We have to get back to basics, to the core, to the powerlessness of each of us, in order to see the Christ child.  If we stay in the places of power and control, then we don’t know that we need the Christ child.  But, if we go to the wilderness where we discard the fluff of life and of ourselves, then we know how dependent we are on God and God alone.  Perhaps the word of the Lord came to the wilderness, because it was the only place that would listen and hear it— the noise of the city— the places of power and prominence drown it out.

 

So our challenge this the second week of Advent is to allow ourselves to go into the wilderness.  Go wherever the wilderness is in your life, where the fluff and securities and difficulties and stresses fade away and you get to that quiet place where you can hear, really hear the still small voice of the prophet.

 

The Voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.

And the really great news about Advent and getting ready is that it is not all up to us.  Advent reminds us that we do need to do our part in getting ready, but that will never be enough.  God will arrive despite us and God will get us ready.

 

It is the year 2015 and just maybe the voice of the Lord will be heard crying out in the wilderness of our lives.  May we tune our ears and our hearts and our souls so that we might hear it, because you just never know who God might choose to deliver God’s message.

It just might be you.

Amen.

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. David Lose, Working Preacher, December 2012.