Category: christmas

Sermon: Drop the Blanket!

Luke 2:1-20
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2015
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

peanuts4On December 9, 1965 something special happened.

On that day 50 years ago, CBS first broadcast The Charlie Brown Christmas Special.  I’ve done some reading on the special and it was unique for a lot of reason.  First off, is the soundtrack. Instead of some music more fitting of a cartoon, we get the smooth jazz sounds of Vince Girauldi.  Also did you know that it caused the end of aluminum Christmas trees?  When a remark is made panning the trees, sales dipped.  By 1967, aluminum trees were no longer sold.

But the thing that is the most memorable part of the special is when Linus VanPelt recites part of the birth story of Jesus.  It was unusual for such an open display of faith to be seen on television.

But recently, I learned something about Linus or I should maybe Charles Schulz that takes place during that memorable speech.

Linus is known for being the younger brother of Lucy VanPelt and for being rather smart.  But he is known for something else ever moreso: his security blanket.  Linus carries his blanket everywhere, he is never without it.  

But if we remember Linus on stage sharing the story of the shepherds, we weren’t watching his blanket.  Because if we were, we would notice midway through his speech, he let’s go of this blanket.  To be exact, he lets go of the blanket when he comes to the words, “Fear not.”

To Linus that blanket is what keeps him safe in the world.  And yet, at this crucial moment he gives it up.  

The shepherds in Luke’s telling of the Nativity had every reason to be scared.  Here they are, out on this evening to take care of their sheep.  It’s an evening like any other evening they have had to work.  And then out of nowhere, this man appears to them.  And we learn this angel tells the shepherds to “fear not.”

Those had to be the most silliest words ever uttered in Scripture.  What are you supposed to do when someone just shows up out of thin air!

There is something interesting about the Christmas Stories.  We like to think they are filled with joy, but they are actually filled with fear.  Notice the many times angel had to say fear not.  Gabriel said this to Mary and Zechariah as they were being told the good news of children.  The shepherds were afraid.  Even in the story of the Three Kings, we see that Herod is afraid of a 2 year old who was considered a king.

Fear is something that is sewed into the human heart.  We deal daily with fear.  This past year has seen a number of experiences that have made us scared.  The terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernedino made us wonder if something could happen to us.  It also made us suspicous of refugees from Syria, worried that there could be terrorists among them.  While there is some need for caution, many people over-reacted with some governors turning away families escaping war.  Others, stoked by certain people, have become fearful of Muslims and that fear has produce horrible acts such as the torching of a coffee shop owned by a Somaili refugee in Grand Forks.  We are fearful of those who happen to think differently than us. Democrats are afraid of Republicans and Republicans are afraid of Democrats.  

Some fears are not fears based on people, but on situations.  Some fear if they can pay the rent this month or put food on the table. Some fear losing their jobs.  

So it isn’t odd that the angel said “fear not.”  It is all around us.  It has us all in its grip.

The coming of Jesus is a reminder that God came in human form to defeat death and fear.  By rising from the dead, Jesus conquered the fear of death.  Jesus dying for others, deals with our fear of being insignificant. Jesus living his life, not having a place to lay his head is the one that said the God that knows the numbers of hair on your head cares for you.

I will end with a story I recently ready.  On Sunday June 18,1944 D. Martyn Lloyd Jones ascended the pulpit like he did every Sunday in London.  But this was in the middle of World War II where the German Luftwaffe rained down hell from the sky.  On that Sunday, Lloyd-Jones began to pray even though you could hear the whine of planes ahead.  He continued to pray the pastoral prayer.   He only paused when the whine of the planes were too loud.  

That was when a bomb hit the church.  Debris rained down on the congregation.  There was a an air of panic among them.  What would the pastor do?

With the sirens blaring, Lloyd-Jones continued to pray.  When he was done, he told the congregation if they would like to move to the gallery for safety, they were welcome to do so.  A deacon dusted off the pulpit and then sat down.  The good pastor then went into his sermon.

In the face of death, where fear would make sense, he stood.  He might have been scared, but I believe he knew there was a power that would care for him not matter what happened.

I like to think that Linus dropped his blanket because at the moment, he had no fear. The question for us is can we? Can we drop the blankets of fear that we carry with us or use to protect us from life?  Jesus is born.  We will feel fear, of course, but because of the birth of a baby centuries ago, we need not fear for God is with us.  
Drop the blanket. Thanks be to God. Merry Christmas.

Gabriel’s Message

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is one I didn’t know until a pop star sang it in the mid-80s.  Gabriel’s Message is an old Basque folk carol that is found in several hymnbooks.  I came to know this song when Sting sang it around 1987.  Below is the video made for the song.

Merry Christmas.

Christmas Sunday Sermons: Phoning It In

Alan Bevere is really indignant about the attitude some pastors have about Christmas this year since it falls on a Sunday:

I have had conversations with a few pastors in the past few weeks who basically admitted that since worship attendance on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day will likely be sparse, they are simply going to recycle old sermons and preach them.
Seriously? Do they have so little regard for their calling that they are going to use reduced numbers for worship as an excuse to be lazy? Do they have so little regard for the faithful who will show up on Christmas Day and New Year’s Sunday that they have decided that these folks are not worthy to hear a fresh word from the Lord, but must listen instead to a stale sermon?

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Christmas Sunday Sermons: Phoning It In

Alan Bevere is really indignant about the attitude some pastors have about Christmas this year since it falls on a Sunday:

I have had conversations with a few pastors in the past few weeks who basically admitted that since worship attendance on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day will likely be sparse, they are simply going to recycle old sermons and preach them.
Seriously? Do they have so little regard for their calling that they are going to use reduced numbers for worship as an excuse to be lazy? Do they have so little regard for the faithful who will show up on Christmas Day and New Year’s Sunday that they have decided that these folks are not worthy to hear a fresh word from the Lord, but must listen instead to a stale sermon?
He has a point.  There is a temptation among pastors to look at Christmas Day after the big events on Christmas Eve, as nothing more than a day to “phone it in.”  We don’t expect a lot of people to show up (and granted a lot of church folks will sleep in on that Sunday), so we just go through the motions if we have a church service at all.
But even if a few folks show up on that Sunday, there are people who are hungry to hear God’s word.  Just because they show up Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve doesn’t mean that we pastors should be lazy.
After the busyness of Christmas Eve,  I can understand the temptation.  I can understand wanting to take the Sunday off.  But the folks who come into church on that Sunday morning, need to hear the good news of Christ even if only three people show up.
So, maybe we need to be a bit more willing to treat this coming Christmas Sunday with a bit more care.

Where’s Jesus?

This past Saturday was the day that the members of First decorate the place.  The hallways are decked out in wreaths and garlands, Christmas trees are found in the lounge and in the sanctuary.  This year’s decorations will be memorable because this is the last Christmas at our current location.  In a few weeks, we will take buses and start worshipping at SpringHouse.

One of the things that are always interesting are the manger scenes.  Like most folks, people tend to decorate the mangers with all the central characters; the wise men (even though they weren’t at the manger), the shepherds, Joseph, Mary and yes, Jesus.  One my favorite mangers at church is one that is basically made for kids.  The characters are all dolls and you can imagine a kid picking it up and squeezing it.

That manger scene is a bit different.  One of the young mothers set it up in front of the communion table.  Mary and Joseph are there at the stable, but you have the shepherd on the steps leading down from the chancel and the wise men are all the way in the back of the church near the narthex.  What missing is Jesus.  There’s no baby Jesus to be found.  The young mother explained to me that it’s not Christmas yet, so the characters in the birth story are still aways off.  As Christmas draws closer, they will move in closer and closer.

What I was fixated on was the fact that there was no Jesus.  She did a good job of hiding Jesus, because I could not find the baby Jesus any where in the sanctuary.

Where’s Jesus?

Where indeed. Advent is about waiting and expectation, but I wonder if sometimes it’s also about this scary feeling that hope will never come, that things will never change.

Recently, I found out that a friend of mine lost their job.  This person and his partner are facing an uncertain holiday season, not to mention and uncertain future.  I am reminded of my own struggles of being fired from a job several years ago near Christmas.  That season was not one for the recordbooks.  It’s in those dark times that people feel that hope is not present and that Jesus is nowhere to be found.  We might pray and pray and for whatever reason, it feels like the phone line is dead.

Where’s Jesus?

Isaiah 61 tells the returning Israelites that hope is on the way.  The holy city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed decades earlier, would be rebuilt better than ever.  It’s a great story and would be even better if it just stopped there.  But we learned that some of the background reveals that Jerusalem was never rebuilt in the way the writer of Isaiah 61 said it would-at least not in their lifetime.

And yet, this passage is still one of hope.  Actually it’s not just about hope, but also about faith.  We have faith that hope will prevail even if we can’t see it.

As I said earlier, one of the Christmas trees is located in the lounge.  It’s decorated with lights and an angel at the top…and socks.

We’re collecting socks to donate to the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, to help newcomers have warm feet in the winter, since most of them are coming from tropical countries to chilly Minnesota.

I think that in Advent we learn that Jesus can take the form of…well, socks.  It’s hard when you are in pain or suffering to see Jesus anywhere, but maybe we can have hope that Jesus is the giving of socks to the stranger, or in the kind word we give to someone grieving or simply standing by a friend as they battle cancer.  Maybe it’s in these small acts that we have hope and faith that God is here with us…and maybe it’s where Jesus is found.