The best Christmas sermon I ever heard was from the preacher who stood up on Christmas Eve and simply said to his congregation. “Tonight, I have some breaking news.” Then he leaned into the microphone for good effect and said, “Good news. Tonight, the invasion has begun. We’re about to be liberated. God’s come for us.” He sat down and we sang Christmas carols like our lives depended upon it, which of course, they do. Sorry if you thought God was a projection of your fondest wishes and deepest desires, a technique for getting peace or justice or happiness or joy or whatever it is you think you just must have more than God. One comes to us; one whom we did not expect. Your world is about to be rocked. Don’t be surprised that you are surprised.
I remember being abruptly awakened at 2:00 a.m. on a bitterly cold night. It was my wife. She said, “Wake up! It’s time!” Her water had broken. Our first child was on the way. How I’d longed across the pregnancy to know who this child would be. What color hair? What gender? Would they look more like their mother, or more like me? And when they were old enough to cry after a bad dream, who would they cry out for first – mom or me? My imagination about this long-awaited child was about to become real life. But when that wakeup call came, I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t terror stricken. I was elated. I was filled with adrenaline and joyful anticipation, as though someone had plugged me into a power grid and thrown the throttle-sized breaker from OFF to ON, and this great coming fulfillment of love made me “all flame.”
This Sunday ends one liturgical year. We prepare to turn the page on a new church year. Cue up Advent, and let’s start the journey towards Christmas! I love Christmas Eve worship services. There’s nothing like a crowded sanctuary with lights turned off and candles lit while singing “Silent Night.” When we read the Christmas story in that setting, we are tempted to think the world stood still that first Christmas, and everyone showed up for the birth of Jesus. We can forget that God sent some angels to rouse a few shepherds to go worship the king. Later, some guys from the East show up in Jerusalem looking for the newborn king, and nobody knows anything about this birth. More people missed his presence that Christmas than those who showed up.
Until we finally reject our false projections about who God is and how God loves, that harsh master will always rule our lives, and we will spend every moment hustling for divine approval. Our moneybags might even be filled to overflowing in the process, but our hearts will be empty... ...Is the *Parable of the Talents* a window or a mirror? In the end, I suppose each of us gets to decide. But either way, wouldn’t it be lovely to look upon it and see the face of God gazing back at us in love and smiling?
The good news is that Jesus doesn’t expect us to have blind luck on our side. Jesus doesn’t want us to have a flask of oil, or 5 bobby pins, or an ironing board, and a pack of gum. We’re not called to be prepared. We’re called to be awake. There will be situations and people that we will never be able to predict or to prepare for. But as long as we are awake to the world around us, God can do something wonderful through us.
But not only do I think this moment presents an opportunity to refocus. I suspect that this moment in which the trappings of the church have disappeared like the emperor’s new clothes in the old fairy tale, I suspect this moment in which our extra wide prayer bands have been removed and our assumption of respectability discarded, I suspect this moment presents an opportunity for Christian people to more effectively reach out to those who have felt that the church makes no difference in their lives or in the world, an opportunity to have us be the kind of people Jesus would have us to be.
On All Saints Day, Dr. Carolyn Sharp tells us, it is our joy to sit at Jesus’s feet as he speaks of the kingdom of heaven, and in the Sermon on the Mount we find a foundational teaching in which Jesus shows his disciples the radical good news of blessing for all who struggle.
It happens. We just don’t talk about it much—about how grateful we are for the people-not-like-us who crossed over a line to help us and how they don’t seem like the enemy to us—because when we’re with our own crowd that can come across as… I don’t know… traitorous, unprincipled, weak. Are you soft in the head? You know what they’re like when you’re not around, right? Are you changing sides? Talk like that is what turns us all into exiles—from each other—and there’s a lot of it going on right now.
Sometimes people will complain to their pastors, “Don’t give us a bunch of big ideas and fancy theology in your sermons. Make them practical. Come down out of the clouds and give us something in a sermon we can hold onto and take home with us from church!” Well, in today’s Bible story that’s exactly what a man named Aaron did. He gave the people something they could hold onto and take home from church all right— an idol, a golden calf. What that story has to say to us today may challenge us, even upset us, but it is a word we need to hear.
Whether it’s the multinationals gobbling up family farms or even our own tendency to wall ourselves off from our neighbors, this is just not sustainable. Isaiah warns that the land will become unproductive and hard. In God’s economy, there is a direct relationship in how social intimacy leads to interrelationship and cooperation which in turn results in productivity.
In our time and place, the three areas that Ezekiel highlights are probably worth reflecting on. These three topics of economics, of sexuality, and of religion are the ones that we make the greatest efforts to avoid in any polite conversation...
"God does not promise that all will be fair, according to whatever structure of fairness that we have in mind." —The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler
Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick says, "When the familiar story is changed – we are changed too. And that may be the best story of them all."
Bishop Ken Carter says, when we are generous, we are not closed off from each other; this is for our good. When we are orthodox, we are in a right relationship with God; this is our salvation. And this is the church's mission that is spacious, adventurous, and unafraid.
In Joanna Adams's sermon on Jeremiah 15, she says, here's a good question prophets can help us answer: What is breaking hearts today? Prophets know and they would tell us what needs to be fixed if we would only listen.
Anna Carter Florence says Acts 10 shows us that no matter how hard and fast the rules, God likes to change things up at a moment's notice. God likes to do a new thing, just to keep things lively and the people hopping, while amazing grace pours down.
Winnie Varghese asks, what if we put our resources to work for those possessed by demons today - the demons of sickness, of violence, of working children, of hunger...?
In his sermon, Dr. Charley Reeb asks what a Christian looks like. "Could it be that a real follower of Jesus is one who, well, looks like Jesus? Could it be when faced with a moment of truth, a follower of Jesus will listen to his voice and be obedient, even if it costs them?"
Quincy Brown says when we like Jacob get stuck at a crossing, wrestling with what used to be, it isn’t easy to see what might be. We’re stuck in the dirt and mud of our Jabbok, desperately holding on to any hope of a blessing or relief to our struggle. But a new day is dawning, and there is a blessing for you.