Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Response to Matt Walsh on Whether Christians Can Support Trump’s Immigration and Refugee Policies

Matt Walsh is a blogger who admits to being an extremist “if truth is extreme” according to his own words. In a recent blog he ripped at those who he calls Instalogians for quoting the Bible regarding the current administration’s recent immigration and refugee policies. The link is here: http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/matt-walsh-yes-of-course-christians-can-support-trumps-immigration-and-refugee-policies/

He writes well, uses energetic and powerful language, appeals to emotion and generalization, but speaks very little of the truth, either theologically or Biblically. In fact, if we were put his arguments through an x-ray, we would discover that they have no bones, no foundation, they are simply skin filled with hot air floated out into our midst with the hopes that we will believe they are reality.

Let’s look closer. Walsh says that leftists claim that the Bible is fairy tales, but have suddenly become Instalogians quoting the Bible to oppose immigration reform. Clearly Walsh is very limited in his experience of liberal Christians. Like many who simply haven't taken the time to get to know us, he thinks that liberals have left behind the Bible and Jesus, religion and tradition. But he is wrong. The fact is that many liberals love Jesus just as much as he does, we read the Bible just as much as he does, we cling to religion and values and tradition just as much as he does.

Conservativism does not equal faithful Christianity. I have known many conservatives who were quick to quote the Bible on male dominance in marriage, others who confidently stated that the Bible clearly speaks against abortion (both of which are faulty). Yet when pressed, those individuals wouldn’t be able to name the four gospels or express what it means to be saved by grace. Bad theology has nothing to do with residing on the right or on the left of the political spectrum. Bad theology has everything to do with being lazy in one’s search for God – being an Instalogian to use his term -- and there are people of all walks who are Instalogians.

What Walsh doesn’t realize (or doesn’t want to admit) is that the roots of liberal Christianity stretch deep into the soil of history right into the Biblical writers themselves. Perhaps he hasn’t read such theologians (and if he has heard of them, he compartmentalizes them into some non-Christian heresy) or what they say about the Bible, but they are there. It is lazy and irresponsible to ignore that these liberal Christian voices exist – in fact, it is bad theology.

As to his argument itself about immigration and refugee policies, Walsh’s greatest failure theologically is that he has bought into the relatively modern and pervasive lie of our society – that all that matters is the individual. If you want to help the poor, do it as an individual. If you want to help refugees, do it as an individual. He quotes lots of Bible passages that seem to suggest that this is the only Biblical mandate. Sadly, he is wrong, dangerously  wrong. The Biblical prophets are clear that a nation is judged on its treatment of the widow and orphan, cities are spared or fall based on how they as a community respond to God’s word. Sin is not only individual, but also societal. When an Israelite king and his court oppress the poor for their own gain, the prophets speak for governmental change. If you don’t believe me, look at Elijah, read the prophets – any of them, all of them – and then read about Jesus. You see, Jesus was no conservator of the powers that be; he criticized the status quo, and he proclaims the creation of a new Kingdom – it is one of his favorite words and concepts, this Kingdom. He even urges us to pray for this Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. This is language not of an individual but of a community and a world to be created, and that cannot be done by simply pretending it is all about the individuals and not the larger social structures.
I sit on a board that interviews prospective pastors who are applying to be ordained. When a person comes before us who is as one dimensional in theology as Walsh is, we have significant questions. The theology lacks depth, and it is quite likely that we would encourage the person to read more, to take more classes, and to mature in their faith before they be ordained. His theology is that hollow. 

On to the specifics of his argument. Walsh argues that strong borders and safety are necessary, that there is nothing inherently non-Christian about those desires. He says it is not oppression to pass laws and create travel restrictions so that a nation can protect its own people. Therefore, he concludes a Christian can support Trump’s policies on these matters. While that is true, a Christian can support such policies; the debate is not whether a Christian can, but whether a Christian should. Good theology says we should not.

There is a reason that United Methodist bishops, the Roman Catholic Pope, and Christian leaders of many denominations from around the United States are speaking up. It comes from the understanding that there are two types of sin, sins of commission and sins of omission. I am way oversimplifying here, but essentially sins of commission are when we do things to hurt others, and sins of omission are when we do not do the things that we should do to help others. When we could save the life of a person who is at risk from the evils of war, we should. When we do not, we have sinned. It is a sin of omission, and for that we are held responsible – as individuals and as a nation. When children are starving in camps and there is a safe and warm place here where they could be, we should reach out. When we do not, we have sinned, and for that we are held responsible – as individuals and as a nation.

Yes, there is danger in acting in love. There is danger in following Christ. But I don’t recall anywhere where Jesus says, safety is more important than love. In fact, he suggests quite the opposite on the cross. If you and I, and all Christians welcomed these refugees in complete love, if we surrounded them in a community of compassion as we are required by Christ, if we overwhelmed them with just how wonderful we as a people are and our country is, not many of them would be even tempted in the slightest to do the things you worry about.

So yes, as a Christian you can support these recent policies, but should you? The voice of love seems to suggest, no. I would suggest that you listen to that voice before listening to the voice of a self-acknowledged extremist.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sermon: I'm Not a Fish

Matthew 4:12-23

Several years ago I was sitting at annual conference,

listening to one of our guest speakers preaching on this passage about Jesus calling his disciples. He or she, I don’t remember if it was a man or a woman, quite honestly it doesn’t matter. He or she spent quite a bit of time talking about how we as Christians need to spend more time doing what Jesus tells his disciples here that they will do, catch fish, that is, make disciples.

And my reaction was probably not what you would expect. My reaction was quite negative. Yes, even we pastors sit there from time to time and argue in our minds with what the preacher is saying. [animated at them] I know you do it! Well, on that day I sat there and wrote in my notebook, “I am not a fish.” Well, duh, Pastor Rob, no one said you were. You certainly aren’t an angel, although you might be a clown. Honestly, if you are going to call me a fish, I prefer the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, at least that way you have to work for your insult. Sorry let me get back on track.

I was sitting there thinking, “I am not a fish” because I perceive fishing as tricking the fish, getting it to do something that really isn’t for its benefit. You sit there with a lure. It might not even be real food, it could be a rubber worm, or a plastic frog. And you try to make it look appetizing for the fish. But, what’s in it for the fish? If it is lucky it gets a last meal followed by a hook in the face or a net around it. Then it ends up on you dinner plate. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fishing. I really do. But for whatever reason, I sat there that day arguing with the speaker, thinking that this is a bad comparison.

You see, I don’t want to be tricked into following Jesus, especially if it is bad for me. That sounds like a cult. Some bunch of crazy people whispering, “Drink the kool-aid.” Trying to deceive me with lies, false promises, and half-truths. So this comparison between fishing for fish and fishing for people leaves me uncomfortable.

I certainly can understand other people out there, who aren’t Christian, hearing this passage and thinking, “Wait a minute! All they want is to get more people. To grow their church. They want to trick us into coming and giving money, and making their leaders feel good because worship attendance is bigger. But what’s in it for me?” At least that is probably what I would think if I were a non-Christian and heard this story. I would be thinking, I am going to do everything in my power to avoid being caught by those people. They have no respect for who I am as a person. They don’t care about me.

You and I as we sit here we know that as Christians we do care.

And actually what Jesus was doing in this passage is brilliant. What Jesus is doing is speaking the language of Peter, Andrew, James and John, whose profession is fishing. He is talking to them on their level. They know fishing, they understand it. Rather than begin talking to them about religion or their need for salvation, he starts where they are, he talks about fishing. He invites them to, “Come follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” He isn’t trying to tell us to go out and trick people into following him. That isn’t his point at all. He is inviting them to join him on a journey, to be his disciples, and to make disciples using their language. If they had been farmers, he probably would have said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to plant, grow and harvest people.” He wouldn’t be talking about killing them, he’d be talking about making disciples, just as he is here with the fishermen.

And it is the phrase ‘make disciples’ that gets us in trouble. Too often in church, when we talk about disciples we use it as a word for church members. So when Jesus says go and make disciples, we often hear it as an instruction to make recruits. Get new people, put butts in the seats. But that’s not what Jesus meant. He meant: Go and make learners. Disciples meant learners.

William Loader takes it further, he says that the purpose of disciples is to be people who will join in learning what it means to be community and will carry on the learning – lifelong, to the end of the age, even after Jesus has died, risen and ascended to heaven. People who will then invite others into the community as new learners. This is not like taking prisoners or counting butts. What Jesus is really doing is calling these fisherman to be followers and learners with him, a small group of people who are seeking what it means to be human in relationship to each other and to God, who will then call others to be followers and learners, another small group of people who seek what it means and what it looks like to be human in relationship with each other and God.

As they walk with Jesus, they will watch Jesus

help people to see their God given value, he will bring healing and wholeness to peoples’ lives, the disciples will learn to be all that God has made them to be as they discover their spiritual gifts and grow in their leadership abilities, and they will learn to do that together as a new kind of community. They will be challenged not just to love each other, but to love their enemies. They will be challenged to forgive not just once or twice but 70 times 7 times. They will discover that sin and evil are more than just what you do, that your thoughts and your attitude affect your spirit and soul as deeply as your actions. Ultimately they will learn that being a disciple is about living life abundantly, so abundantly that death itself is defeated.

That’s being a disciple, then and now. So for the fish in this strange saying of Jesus, there is everything to be gained. There is something in it for us, beyond just a last meal in heaven – what we offer is a place to learn together what the kingdom of God means lived out on earth, and then the opportunity to continue to live that out after this life is over.

Unfortunately, when we think about making disciples simply as how many people we have converted, or how many people we have gotten to come to Jesus, we fall short in our task. In fact, we do more harm than good when we do that because people eventually realize that you were just baiting them, that you never really had anything to offer, that all you really wanted were numbers.

That type of discipleship is meaningless. All we have done is caught a fish, we haven’t invited them into the life-giving, life-changing, life-long relationship of learning from Christ to be community.

We need to stop thinking of spreading the gospel as how many people we have caught, and remind ourselves that the gospel is about finding people who want to walk the journey of faith with us, all their life long. And that I can buy into. I am willing to look around the world, at the people I meet, and say, “Would you like to join us in learning what faith and spirituality mean? Are you interested in a lifelong search for God, and what God wants from us? Are you looking for a community with which to live out that faith journey?”

That sounds far less like a fish being tricked into an escape-proof net, and more like a fish being invited to swim in the ocean, with a school of fish, who have a purpose together. Rather than trapping people, and being trapped ourselves, we are inviting people to the freedom of discovery and adventure that comes with learning from Christ.

When Jesus walked beside the lake on that day,

Jesus said, Change your hearts and lives, here comes the kingdom of heaven! Yes, that is what it is about – seeking the realm of God throughout our lives, seeing how it changes our hearts and lives. I am not willing to be a fish trapped in Jesus’ net, but I am willing to walk with him and learn from him. And when you explain it to me like that, I can see what is in it for me! Let’s make sure that when we are inviting people into the life of Christ, that we are doing it with sincerity and depth and that we are inviting them into the lifelong adventure of walking together to seek God. Don’t treat them like a fish, but rather like a friend on the journey. Make the invitation mean something. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sermon: Our Baptism, Our Call

John 1:29-42, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

In the movie Dr. Strange, without giving away any spoilers,

Life throws him a huge curveball. Everything that he valued about himself is lost, and all he can think about it how to get it back. His friend, Christine Palmer says to him, “This isn’t the end. There are other things that can give your life meaning.” She is trying to help him see that he needs to change his focus. Unfortunately, he has a very hard time seeing that.

Most of us understand what Dr. Stephen Strange is going through because to an extent I think all of us struggle at times with finding our calling. It could be because life has changed. Or we may have a job, we may have hobbies and volunteer work, but something is still lacking, because it doesn’t fulfill us the way we think it should. We may have even had that passion and that meaning once, but over time it has slipped away and we find ourselves searching again for that true calling, that source of meaning in our lives where we feel like we are making a difference.

As Christians, the sense of calling has particular importance.

We can look at bible story after bible story and see how God literally recruits people to do important work in critical times. We read about how immediately after Jesus is baptized, he begins calling his disciples. And they follow him because they are searching for meaning, for understanding, for the Messiah. One of the important reminders of this passage is that Christ calls everyone who follows him. There is also a deep connection between our baptism and our call into ministry. It isn’t just pastors who are called into ministry, but everyone who has been baptized. The calls may be different, but they are equally calls to ministry. Pastors in their ordination are specifically called to preach the word, to organize and keep the church in order, to provide the sacraments, and to be examples of servanthood. But all who are baptized are called. But to what?

Many religious leaders over the years have contributed to that

Dialogue. What is the main calling of the Christian? Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran church who lived 500 years ago taught that “your calling was to do whatever your station in life dictated. If you grew up in a cobbler shop, your calling was to devote yourself to making shoes. And doing so, you participated in the work of God by covering the feet of [God’s] children. Luther believed that virtually any type of work could be a calling, so long as it rendered service to [humankind].’

“John Calvin elaborated on Luther’s ideas in a way that may make them seem a little more applicable to us today. For Calvin, it wasn’t our position in the social structure that determined God’s calling for us. Rather, he argued that God endows each of us with particular talents and gifts, and that it is our calling to discover those gifts and to seek out ways to use them in the service of [others].”[1]

We can even see that in the scripture lesson as John the Baptist testifies to what he has seen, “That Jesus is God’s son”, the disciples immediately recruit others, and so forth. They are using their abilities to share the good news, to use their spiritual gifts for the building of God’s realm, and for the service of God’s people.

The Apostle Paul actually comes out and explains that such

Witness is part of our calling in his opening to his first letter to the Corinthians:

To God’s church that is in Corinth:

To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God’s people.

Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—he’s their Lord and ours!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our calling is to live lives that are a testimony to Jesus Christ, and that means using our gifts in the service of God and others. He reminds us that we are called to partnership with Jesus Christ, just like the first disciples. That is one of my favorite phrases in this passage. We are partners with Christ. We work with him even as we follow him. We aren’t passive absorbers of his wisdom, but partners in his work. I think that is vital to understanding our calling in life.

My other favorite phrase in this passage is when Paul explains

that we aren’t missing any spiritual gift. Perhaps the people in Corinth were questioning their gifts, and that is why Paul had to remind them. You might also be questioning your gifts. Heck, there are days I question my gifts. There are a whole boat-load of them I think I am missing. But what the gift of baptism tells us is that each of us have a place in serving. You have a ministry. Whether it is teaching children, or helping with finances, or showing hospitality to those around you, or testifying to what God has done in your life – you have a call to be in partnership with Jesus Christ.

You have the gifts you need for your ministry today. You may look at people who are further along the journey, who have gifts you think you want and need, and you may ask, like Dr. Stephen Strange, “How do I get from here to there?” To which the Ancient One replies, “How did you become a doctor?” Almost immediately he answers, “Study and practice. Years of it.” The implication is that if there are gifts we want, if there is a place we know that we need to be we need to study and practice to get there. But for today, God tells us, you have all the gifts you need for ministry. Don’t wait to serve just because you aren’t ready for tomorrow’s ministry – do what God has called you to today – even as you prepare for tomorrow.

When we do this,

As a community of faith, when we heed the call of God, when we recognize the gifts that each of us bring, and when we use them in partnership with Christ, we find the meaning in life that we are seeking. When I see us doing that I echo the words of Paul, “I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus.” You are God’s people: from your baptism to your call. We are God’s people, not lacking any spiritual gift, but facing the world before us, testifying to the grace and love of God.

[1] Jeffery Thompson, http://fye.byu.edu/content/what-your-calling-life

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sermon: Deeply Loved

Matthew 3:13-17

Quick bible quiz. Get out a piece of lined paper and put your books away. Sorry couldn’t resist. Actually I am going to have you talk with the people around you and see if you can come up with the answers together. You know that there are four gospels in the bible that tell about the life and work of Jesus. Question 1. How many of those four gospels feature a story of his birth? Discuss with your neighbors. [pause] Question 2. How many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’ baptism? Discuss with your neighbors. [pause]

Okay, let’s see how you did. Question 1. How many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’ birth? The answer is 2. Matthew and Luke and they tell us different parts of the story. Luke tells us about the shepherds and the angels, and Jesus being laid in a manger.  Matthew tells us about Joseph’s struggle whether to stay with Mary or not, and the wise men following the star.  In the other two gospels: Mark actually mentions nothing of Jesus’ childhood, and John has a discussion of Jesus being the word of God who was from the beginning, but doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ actual birth.

Question 2. How many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’ baptism? The answer is 4, all of them. What this suggests is that Jesus’ baptism is more critical to his ministry than any of the Christmas stories. There is something central to this moment at the beginning of his ministry that we need to know. Even more interesting, and revealing is that the four gospels all tell us pretty much the same story. Let me read you what it says in Matthew 3:13-17

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”

Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”

So John agreed to baptize Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”

All four of the gospels contain a story that is more or less like that.

Jesus comes to John, is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon Christ, then the voice of God speaks and reveals that Jesus is the Son of God. Quite honestly as you listen to those common parts of the story, you can see why it is so central.

First of all, we have the son of God allowing a human prophet baptize him. In Matthew we even get a discussion of that moment as John objects, “You should be baptizing me!” When you think of it, it is kind of weird. Why is the Holy One, the Sinless One, being baptized by someone who is sinful? What is going on here?

One very early Christian writer, says that Jesus only came to John the Baptist to appease his mother and brothers. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is one of the gospels that failed to be included in the New Testament says, “Behold the mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, “John the Baptist baptizes for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. “But he said to them, “What sin have I committed, that I should go and be baptized by him? Except perhaps this very thing that I have said is ignorance.”[1]

Our only real clue to why this is happening is Jesus’ answer to John. What Jesus says, is that this is necessary now to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, it is the right thing to do in the eyes of God. Which is sort of like a parent saying, “Because I said so.”

But still there is a reason why God is saying so. I think the most compelling explanation is that Jesus is starting his ministry in much the same way that he will end it. He is submitting to human authority as a way of doing God’s will – just like he will do on the cross. And that submission will bring righteousness for all people. There is something critical to God’s plan that the savior acts humbly and allows us as human beings to take control. Throughout the bible we see God reversing expectations, with the weak being strong and the strong being weak. And this moment is no different.

Charles Hoffacker says this:

“There is a vital connection between baptism and mission. Another way to put it is that there is a vital connection between going down and going out. We do not play our part in the world's redemption when we climb ladders so much as when we are pulled downward. It is out of our pain that we heal. It is out of our poverty that we make others rich. It is from our ignorance that we enlighten others. It is by our brokenness that others become whole. It is from our dying that others come to life. We must follow Jesus in his descent, we must accept his downward mobility and our own if we are to be his true disciples, if we are to allow resurrection in our lives.’

“In this terrible demand that we go down with Jesus in downward mobility, that we go down with him in the murky waters of the river and the dark waters of death in this terrible demand there is good news for us.”[2]

And there is the connection, baptism is in many ways a submission to death. The connection has long been understood that entering the waters is like entering the tomb, we are dead because of sin, we are subject to the hold of death; but when we rise from the waters we are freed from sin and freed from the power of death by resurrection power. So it seems that what Jesus is doing is helping us see that connection between the beginning of his ministry and the end. That in both his submission to human authority leads to death, but his reliance on the power and love of God leads to resurrection.

The second critical element of the story as told by the gospels is

that in this moment, the Holy Spirit comes upon Christ. We are told it looks like a dove (thus the picture). The Holy Spirit is a reminder that baptism isn’t just about the water and being cleansed from sin. While that is often the simple way we explain what is happening, baptism is always by water and the Spirit. There is always the coming of the presence of God into the life of the person baptized. And when God comes into your life, God brings power.

You see before this point in Jesus’ life, he was rather ordinary in how he lived, but now he will begin to do miracles, to call followers, to change the world. Baptism isn’t just about what is taken away, but it is also about what is added to us, given to us, so that we can do miracles, call others to the work of God, and to change the world.

Finally, in all accounts, the baptism story closes with God

revealing who Jesus is, and how deeply God approves of and loves his servant. It is God making sure that Jesus knows this, it is God making sure that John knows it, it is God making sure that we know it. So that as Jesus teaches, as he does his ministry, we understand where his authority and power come from. He is not just another prophet, in fact, he is not just the promised one, or the messiah, but he is God’s own Son. And in coming among us, and walking with us, this divine presence tells us just how deeply loved we are by a good and gracious God.

So those are why the baptism of Jesus is in every gospel.

Jesus’ submission to human authority connects his baptism with his death, the Holy Spirit coming upon him brings God’s power into full view, and the voice that speaks reminds us how much God loves and approves of Jesus. As we see those things: what we discover about ourselves and our baptism, is that we too go down into the waters of death with him, but we are raised to new life, we too are baptized in the Holy Spirit and not only are we cleansed of sin, but we are gifted with life-changing and world-changing power. And finally, we hear the wonderful message through the grace of God, that we too are the beloved of God, a delight to our creator, children of the Heavenly One. Pretty important messages, I would say!

[1] The Daily Study Bible Series, The Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay.
[2] ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Downward Mobility, by Charles Hoffacker

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sermon: Four Places Jesus Wasn't Born

Luke 2:1-20

As we gather today, it should be clear to us that Christmas is

about the birth of God’s son into the world. Now when a new baby is born to someone in our church family, there are a few pieces of information I always have to make sure that I get, because I know that people will ask me! I have to know that mom and baby are doing well, the baby’s name, and how big the baby is. How long and how much did the baby weigh. Important information. Oh, and I often hear women talking about how long the labor lasted, and if it was back labor. None of that is in the bible, so you can tell Luke, the writer is a man, because he has left out the important details.

Despite leaving all of that out, he gives us a lot of details about where Jesus is born. Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem to be counted for the Roman census, and because there was no room for them in the inn, Jesus ends up being born in a stable. Luke feels that we absolutely need to know this. Why? What is so important about where Jesus is born?

I think Luke tells us that because first, it is unexpected for the savior to be born here, and second, it says something about what kind of man, and what kind of savior, Jesus is going to be. Let me explain. Jesus was the Messiah, he was the promised one, the one who would be the true king and restore Israel. To be that, there are many places Jesus could have been born, but he wasn’t. In fact there are a lot of places Jesus would have been expected to be born, people would have looked for him there, but a stable was certainly not one of them.

So for example, Jesus could have been born in a military

Compound of to a military family. For those in the Zionist movement at the time that was what they expected. They expected the messiah to be a military leader. Such a birth would have prepared us for a man of force and violence. He would have led the people in a revolution, with weapons and bloodshed. The Israelites might have been set free from Rome, and the independence of their nation restored at the cost of many lives. Of course, there had been leaders like that before, people who tried the military freedom option, but it never worked out. Israel just wasn’t strong enough even with military leaders to achieve their salvation that way. So Jesus wasn’t born there.

Or Jesus could have been born in a palace or governors house.

Such a birth would have prepared us for a man of political influence and power. He might have used manipulation and double dealing to gain prestige and move up in the world and lived off his ego while others suffered at his hand. Unlike the military leader, he probably wouldn’t risk a direct revolution, it would have been a dangerous affront to Rome, and losing a war means losing your head, so he probably would have chosen the status quo and the power he had, while looking for every political opportunity to gain more. And yes, every generation had these leaders too. Those who ultimately became part of the very system that people were hoping to be saved from. So Jesus wasn’t born there either.

Or Jesus could have been born in the home of a wealthy family.

Such a birth would have prepared us for a gentleman of privilege, who knew nothing of the hungry and homeless. He might have used money to buy himself into leadership, bribed his way to the top, and exploited the poor to further his gains. As a leader, he would have brought economic freedom for the rich, and better trade with Rome, but little else. Because no matter how wealthy he got, he would not be able to buy off Rome. And every generation had those leaders too, but they never turned out to be the messiah of the nation. So Jesus wasn’t born there either.

And in case you think I am being political, let me add that

Jesus could have been born in the temple to the family of a priest. As the son of God that religious upbringing might make sense. But then such a birth would have prepared us for a person from the religious establishment, who saw religion the way it always had been, and was a fervent protector of tradition. He might have used his religious influence to strengthen ties with the other religious groups reinforcing the ideas of religious elitism. If he succeeded in creating a revolution, it would have been a religious conservatism enacted into national law. And there were leaders like that in every generation too. They were trying to be messiahs, they had every intention of saving people, but something just wasn’t right. And so Jesus wasn’t born there either.

No, Jesus was born in a stable.

And we know what that means. It means humble beginnings, and being told there isn’t room for you here. It means understanding what it means to be among the least, the persecuted, the poor. It means struggling for everything he had. He was born with angels watching over him singing songs of peace and goodwill, denying the need for a military solution and implying religious change. The early companions to his birth are shepherds and sheep, a reminder that he would be like a shepherd to his people. That he would guide and protect, even as he cared for the littlest of lambs. He was born running from the political leaders, as a refugee. A reminder that there would always be those who were afraid of him, threatened by him, because he saw the truth behind their actions.

And because of all of that he is exactly what people needed, even if it wasn’t what they expected. He doesn’t lead an army, he doesn’t lead the government, he doesn’t lead business, he doesn’t even take leadership in the temple. Instead he brings the kingdom of God, which changes everything and challenges everything. His revolution is one of grace, of acceptance, of forgiveness, and of self-sacrifice. The salvation he brings sets people free from all that binds them, whether it is military or political, or economic or even religious. He sets people free from the sins of all those areas, the death that all those areas can bring.

Being born in the stable means that Jesus comes to people like us! To save us from our very real and everyday problems. That is why Luke wants to make sure that we know, so that we know the kind of man Jesus is going to be. He is the kind that turns worlds upside-down. Luke is saying, Prepare yourself to witness the power of God’s love as it becomes incarnate, in the flesh – watch what Jesus will do for you, for all humanity. Miracles are on the way that will change your life. Get ready, because the Messiah wasn’t born where you expect, so he is going to do some unexpected things.

Even now, so many years after it happened, it still seems surprising that God would do it this way, and so that is why it is important that every year we remind ourselves again – this is the kind of man Jesus was – even though I know some of you would still like to know if he weighed 7 pounds 4 ounces or 6 pound 2 ounces. 

Sermon: Love Revealed

Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98

Did you notice what the major theme of the Psalm that we read

together was? It was about the joy that we feel over all that God has done: from the beauty and power of creation, to the love that God showers upon us. So, since we are talking about joy, I want to share a fun Christmas story with you.

A certain father declared that Christmas was going to be different this year. The father called a family conference and challenged his family to be more disciplined in the management of their time during the busy Christmas season. They had to curtail excessive spending on gifts. He talked about better relations between visiting relatives and a more congenial atmosphere around their home. He brought his speech to a crescendo with his final rally cry, "Let's make this the BEST Christmas EVER!” His little second grade son countered the big motivational speech by noting, "But dad, I don't see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas."[1]

True that. Right? I mean, as wonderful as it is for all of us to be sitting here in worship in church, where it is warm, and we are in the presence of friends and family. Just think what it would have been like worship Jesus himself. It would truly make you want break out in song with the angels. Of course, we should still want to break forth in song, even today. That was what the psalm was all about.

When love comes into the world, songs of joy break forth from our lips. And Christ is an ultimate expression of love, so the coming of Christ into our world is cause for celebration at the highest level – yes there is quiet reflection, yes there is time to absorb the inner peace he brings, but there is also the time to shout out loud, to sing with all of our heart and voice and say “Praise God!”

Lots of Bible passages react like that. Isaiah 52:7-10 says:

How beautiful upon the mountains

    are the feet of a messenger

    who proclaims peace,

    who brings good news,

    who proclaims salvation,

    who says to Zion, “Your God rules!”

Listen! Your lookouts lift their voice;

    they sing out together!

    Right before their eyes they see the Lord returning to Zion.

Break into song together, you ruins of Jerusalem!

The Lord has comforted his people and has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord has bared his holy arm in view of all the nations;

    all the ends of the earth have seen our God’s victory.

Years ago Christ was born into the world, and people saw it as good news, it gave them hope. For through him God brings peace, salvation, victory, and justice. They saw in him a new era where God would rule, people would be comforted, and their nation restored and set free.

Today we also stand in need of hope,

There is too much hopelessness, too much war, too much loss, too much injustice, too much mourning. People want a messenger that brings us such good news that everyone bursts into song. The funny thing is, we claim to already have it. As Christians, we say that we have the good news. That is what the word ‘gospel’ means – good news. So we say that we have the hope that the world needs. The words of O Holy Night, on the screen remind us that in the night of our dear savior’s birth, there is a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. We have good news. That’s our claim.

So I ask you, what good news do we have to offer in this Christmas season? What is it about Jesus that is still good news to us today? [open it up for discussion]

Another way of asking that question is to ask ourselves: Where is love being born still today? Because Jesus is God’s love, so where do we see God at work? Where is that love of God evident – where can you see it? [more discussion]

You see, when loves comes into the world,

songs of joy break out upon our lips! And we need joy. Not just happiness – but joy. Joy which “has depth that sees one through the deepest, most somber days” (Seasons of the Spirit, 2016) You can be joyful even when sad, you can be joyful even when broken, because you know that there is something greater than the sadness, something bigger than your brokenness. And it is hard to be quiet when you realize this joy, you want to sing about it, you want to shout about it, you want to decorate trees, and string up bright lights that will shine in the darkest nights, you want to share that love with others through giving gifts – all of this is what Christmas should be.

As the angel said: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” He will establish justice in the world rightly, he will establish justice among all people fairly. He has come. He has been born. Love has broken into the world.

[1] ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Humor from ChristianGlobe