Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Greatest Gift of All

(This was our Christmas Eve message at the American Church in London.)

John 1:1-5

Did you see the news this past week about a group of volunteers called The Kindness Offensive? They drove around London in an old Routemaster bus, and gave more than 4000 gifts away to people around town. Most of the people who got the gifts looked a little stunned. It was billed as the largest random act of kindness in London’s history. A TV reporter talked to a boy who received a gift. ‘What do you think about all of this?’ the reporter asked. The boy said: ‘It's good.’ Then he paused and said: ‘It’s quite mad, really.’ When asked why, he said: ‘Because they're giving things away for nothing.’

There is something heartwarming about this kind of charitable work. But there’s also something strange and unfamiliar about it. It’s ironic that to some, the Kindness Offensive ends up being, in a way, offensive. Our text this morning is a bit off the beaten path for Christmas messages: John 1:1-5

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

We’ve been talking over these past few weeks about God’s gifts to us at Christmas—what the coming of the Christ means for us. So far we’ve looked at God’s giving and nurturing of Faith. We described Joy as the deep, settled confidence in the character of Jesus Christ. Love, it turns out, is why God sent his Son in the first place. And last Sunday we talked about Hope as believing that God is who he says he is, and that he’ll do what he promised to do. Tonight we get to the big one—the point of God sending his son, the Messiah. Tonight we’re going to spend a few minutes thinking about God’s gift of Life.

We’ve heard part of our text in one of the Christmas hymns we sing. ‘Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.’

Over the Advent Season we hear the details of the strange events of that first Christmas. Angels making speeches and singing. Wise men and kings bringing gifts. King Herod and his crew trying to make sure the newborn Jesus doesn’t survive. Hotels with no vacancies. A baby born in a barn and laid in a trough to sleep. And then there’s the business about the star.

The Scriptures tell us that King Herod called the Magi together and asked them what the star was all about. When they left him, Matthew’s gospel tells us, ‘they went on their way and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

I’ve mentioned my grandparents a few times this holiday season. They are great examples of the immigrant story in America. They got married in 1922, and after the birth of their first child my grandfather came to the States to try to earn enough money to make a life for his family. He went back after 9 years or so, had another child, then went back to his job in the US. It was 1939 before the family lived permanently under the same roof. Amazing.

One of their most treasured possessions was something they wished they’d never received. Within just a few years of their arrival in America, their oldest son was drafted and sent to fight. He was killed at Anzio—fighting in the US Army…in Italy.

During WWII, households who had suffered the loss of a family member were given a gold star to hang in the window. It was a token—a sign to the neighbors and passersby that someone from that house had paid the price—given what Lincoln had called the last full measure of devotion.

On a bigger scale, in Washington DC you can visit the WWII Memorial. On one wall there are 4000 of those gold stars, each honoring the death of a hundred Americans in the war. On that wall there is one dramatic sentence of explanation: HERE WE MARK THE PRICE OF FREEDOM.

I suppose the point here is that in these places a star represented a death. Whether it was the star hanging in the window of a home, or one of the thousands of stars at the large memorial, the star meant death.

The good news of Christmas—the good news of great joy that we all get to share in is this: The star of Bethlehem—the one that guided those early visitors to the Christ Child—that star means life. Now we know on this side of Jesus’ ministry that the gift of life came at a cost, but in the end what we have offered is life—life that is more full and meaningful than we could ever ask or even imagine—life more abundant than we’ve come to expect—eternal life in the presence of God.

Those stars in Washington DC honor the price of freedom. The star of Bethlehem reminds us of the price Christ paid for our lives.

The good news for us this Christmas and every Christmas for the last 2000 years is this: While we were yet sinners, Christ came and showed us the way back to God. That gift of life isn’t a random act of kindness at all. It’s a part of God’s plan to show his creation how much he loves us and cares about us. That gift of life remains on offer for all of us, and it all began with a star.

My prayer for all of us tonight is that we’ll hear this story like we’re hearing it for the first time.

If you’ve been at this faith for a long time, I hope you can experience some new joy in the coming of the Messiah.

If you’re new to the faith I hope the excitement you feel will never fade or wear out.

If you’re still not sure about what all this means, let me invite you to take a chance—to take a leap of faith—to follow that star to the place where you find Jesus, the Christ Child, the one who brings light and life to all of us. Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 22, 2008

O Little Town of London

(This message was a part of our Advent series titled, 'Christmas Gifts You Can Use.')

Luke 2:25-32

When I was young I played a lot of baseball. Now those of us who are from a certain era will remember that the best gloves and mitts felt like they were made out of wood when you first bought them. Cheap ones flopped around and felt good right away, but they never lasted. With the good ones you had to spend a lot of time breaking them in. Anyone remember that process? You’d put some oil in the palm of the glove and rub it in, then put some more on and rub it into the fingers and the back. You’d put a baseball in the pocket and tie it up and leave it over night, then do the same thing for a few days in a row. It took a lot of work, but in the end what you had was a glove that fit your hand perfectly. Along the way you’d keep the leather healthy by applying more oil every so often. If you didn’t, the leather would crack and the glove would be useless.

That connects with an old Scottish proverb I learned a long time ago: ‘Were it not for hope, the heart would break.’

We’ve been talking about God’s gifts to us at Christmas. So far we’ve looked at Faith, Joy and Love. Today we’re going to spend some time on the gift of Hope. Our text this morning is from Luke’s gospel, 2:25-32.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke’s gospel has the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus. It’s in Luke’s gospel that we find the extended story of John the Baptist, of the angels and the shepherds, and of there being no room in the inn. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth ends with two stories of people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. Simeon is the first of those two.

Being born into a good Jewish family meant that Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day after he was born. His parents took him to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord, which was the practice for all firstborns back then. While they were there, Simeon came up to them and told a very strange story.

He said that God had told him that he wouldn’t die before the ‘Lord’s Christ’—the Messiah was born. Then Simeon held the baby and sang a song of praise to God. For those of you who are from liturgical traditions, this is the origin of the Nunc Dimittis, which is still used in vespers and other traditional prayers.

Luke tells us that Simeon was waiting for ‘The consolation of Israel’. In the Bible that phrase can mean a range of things: comfort, encouragement, refreshment. What it shows us in this passage is that God’s promise of a Messiah was central to Simeon’s faith and practice. Simeon was waiting, hoping that God would deliver, where we pick up the story he’s praising God for making good on his promise.

Simeon shows us a lot of what a life of hope looks like. He’s righteous and devout, the text tells us, which means that the practice of his faith is important to him. His life, whatever else he did for a living, was built around study and prayer and service. Whatever his 9 to 5 job demanded of him, his reason for living was to wait and hope for the ‘consolation of Israel’.

Consolation is an interesting word. It doesn’t mean taking away all the problems or pain that a person might be going through—it’s more like coming alongside—being present with someone in their sufferings, and easing their pain. When it describes the coming of the Messiah, this consolation describes God reaching out to us—coming alongside us to be present with us in our lives.

What could happen that would bring some form of consolation to London?

To the world?

What is it that could possibly provide consolation for you this Christmas?

I’ve been hearing the great Christmas songs everywhere—it’s a part of the season. We heard all three of our choirs last week sing a whole range of Christmas songs. I told you that I’d heard ‘Joy to the World’ on a ringtone. In the shops and on television you can hear songs that describe the events and the theology of the birth of the Messiah.

In Angels We Have Heard on High we hear: ‘Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing.’

In We Three Kings we hear: ‘Glorious now behold him arise, King and God and Sacrifice.’

And in Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the Christmas hymn with the deepest theological understanding, we hear: ‘Veil’d in flesh the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.’

We could—and maybe we should do this—we could spend a year or so exploring what the Christmas hymns say about Christ—about the Messiah—about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a lifetime’s worth of understanding wrapped into these melodies we sing every year.

In O Little Town of Bethlehem we learn something about what the coming of Jesus meant and means for us.

The line that always gets me in this song is this one: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

Really? What does it mean to have our hopes and fears ‘met’ in the events of Christmas?

More importantly, how do we maintain an attitude of hope, even when things around us appear to be, well, hopeless? In practical terms, we live hopeful lives when we follow the example of Simeon—when whatever else we have to do, we build our lives on prayer and study and service.

But still, how do we sustain hope in our lives?

First, hope calls us to trust that God is who he says he is, and that he’ll do what he promised to do.

Second, hope gives us eyes to look for the fulfillment of God’s promises in our lives—in the life of this church—and in the world. I know that can be hard sometimes, but it’s a part of being hopeful people…of keeping a posture of hope.

Finally, hope reminds us that the life God calls us to—the life we hope for—is a life of service and the sharing of God’s blessings. God’s salvation comes not just for our benefit, but so that we can be a light to the world and bring glory to God’s people. Enjoying God’s blessings in our lives always brings with it the call to share those blessings with others.

Brennan Manning, who I mentioned last week, talks about what life looks like when we allow our Christmas faith to color all of it. He says:

“If Christ really ruled in every part of me, that is, if my faith were deep, burning, powerful and passionate, my life would be very different. My self-esteem would cease to be based upon the worldly values of possessions, prestige, status, and privilege…With burning faith I would speak of Jesus not as some distant being, but as a close friend with whom I have a personal relationship. The invisible world would become more real than the visible, the world of what I believe more real than the world of what I see. Christmas would be more than a breathless finale to a frantic shopping season, more than sentimental music, a liturgical pageant, or boozy good will toward the world.”

The only thing I would add to that is this: If we lived as if we believed, even when we struggle, we could be shining examples of hope in a world that needs it badly, but has forgotten where to find it.

‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

‘Were it not for hope, the heart would break.’

My hope for all of us this Christmas season is that we’ll get a little taste of the promise we hear in that song. That in the celebration of the Christ Child we’ll experience just a touch of the consolation God promises through his son.

That’s what it means to live with Christian hope—the hope that keeps us from breaking under the weight of our lives. Like the oil that keeps a baseball glove alive over a long period of time, hope keeps us from cracking no matter what.

A few weeks ago Kate talked about ‘re-gifting’, when you take a gift you’ve received, wrap it again and give it to someone else. This Christmas, one of the best gifts you can give—or re-give—is your sense of hope in Christ—to show your friends and family what it means to live faithful, hope-filled lives, trusting that God, the one who came to us and for us, will complete his story in our stories—his life in our lives, in this church, and in this world.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas Feast

Well, it happened again.

Regular readers here will remember last year's report about the meal our staff had together at a local Italian restaurant. Fitzrovia is around the corner from the church, and I tend to eat there about once a week. The Palermo family own the place, and I've enjoyed getting to know them over the last almost two years. Last year our staff had our Christmas meal there, and yesterday we did the same thing. Here's how it went.

Gianni started us off with some steamed asparagus and slices of eggplant roasted with cheese and marinara sauce. He makes a garlic bread out of pizza dough, and we soaked up the extra, well, everything with that.

Next we each got a small portion of gnocchi with fresh pesto sauce, which was unbelievable.

The main course was duck breast in a blackcurrant glaze, along with spinach, broccoli and roasted potatoes. None of us probably would have ordered duck for our meal, but it was delicious and interesting and we ate every bit of it.

We finished with tiramisu and creme brulee, and then waddled back to the church.

There are two things I'd like to say publicly about our staff Christmas lunch. First, thanks to Gianni and his family for hosting us again. Having friends in the neighborhood makes working here so much better, and being able to celebrate with them is a special blessing.

Mostly, though, I want to say thank you to the great team we have at the American Church in London. We're on a good run right now: attendance is up, people are making commitments to give of their time, talent and treasure, and we're all growing in our faith in Christ and our sense of call in his name.

None of this would be happening without the gifts and hard work of the team at our church, and I want to say here how grateful I am for their support, their challenge and their commitment to this place.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Reason to Dance

(This message was a part of our Advent series titled, 'Christmas Gifts You Can Use.')

John 3:16

I’m an awful dancer. It’s true—there’s no false modesty in that statement at all. I’m a painfully awful dancer. If there were a 12-step group for bad dancers, I’d have my 25 year chip at least. I’m clumsy, self-conscious, and almost supernaturally aware that I’m literally never moving attractively or even well. If I want to get a belly laugh out of Julie or Ian, five seconds of dancing will do the trick.

It’s not that I’m not musical. Most of you know that I love music. I use my iPod daily, and I generally have something playing on the stereo during dinner. On the nights when I do the washing up after dinner I crank the music loud enough to drive Julie and Ian into other rooms. Sometimes I get my guitar out and have a mini-concert in the living room at the manse. We are proud—or at least I’m proud—to be the loudest resident that our church-owned home has ever housed.

So it’s not a problem with music. But it also doesn’t change the fact that dancing isn’t my preferred way to express anything other than total humility…or maybe self-loathing.

I do remember enjoying one evening of dancing, though. It was at our daughter’s wedding a few years ago. I performed the service, then sat down to a meal with people I loved and loved to be with. We laughed and ate and told stories. We looked at childhood pictures of the bride and groom. It was a great night. When the music started, it felt natural to get up and dance a little. I danced with Julie, and also with our daughter Ericka. As cheesy as it may sound, there was so much love in that place—so much good, honest love among the people who were at the wedding—that there wasn’t time to think about what we looked like on the dance floor.

I know people who dance to express all kinds of emotions with grace and beauty. People who dance with a sort of creative recklessness that tells you more than they ever could with words. For a brief moment I could see how that might be the case. I actually enjoyed the dancing that night—I’m not sure why it worked out so well. Maybe I’d just been waiting for a good enough reason.

In the Bible, King David also had a good reason to dance. He was so caught up in God’s love for him—and in his love for God—that he forgot to put all his clothes on before dancing down the street. His wife scolded him…but David told her that nothing was going to get in the way of his celebrating before the Lord.

Our text this morning is a celebration in a single verse—John 3:16—one of the best-known texts in the entire Bible. It’s also one of the best reasons to dance that ever was. Hear the great news for us this morning.

For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I hope that passage of Scripture never gets old for you. “For God so loved the world…” I know that’s not a traditional Christmas passage, but it has the whole story there, all wrapped up in one flowing sentence. God sends his only son to his creation to break the power of sin and death and despair—“to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.”

And why did he do it? Because he loved us so much. If you ever took a journalism class you know that you’re never supposed to bury the lead of your story. Well John the Evangelist knew this 2000 years ago. Before he gets to telling the story about what happened because God sent his son, he tells us why he did it in the first place.

“For God so loved the world…” Because God loved the world so much.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the presents and other commercial pressures of Christmas. It’s easy to worry about meals and family relationships and whether or not someone’s feelings are going to get hurt by something you do. Those are important, up to a point, but none of them are the reason we’re all here today.

We celebrate Christmas—Virgin birth, baby in a manger, big star in Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, kings, gold, frankincense and myrrh—our enjoyment of this holy day stems from one single amazing truth:

“For God so loved the world.” Because God loved the world so much.

At the end of a very difficult year, with another one right on its heels, isn’t that good news? Even if we’re having a hard time feeling it or believing it, isn’t it an encouragement to be reminded that the God we struggle to follow loves us?

Brennan Manning wrote a book one of the best titles ever. It was called Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. In that book he wrote this about the gift of love in Jesus Christ:

For those who claim his name, Christmas heralds this one luminous truth: the God of Jesus Christ is our absolute future. Such is the deeply hopeful character of this sacred season. By God’s free doing in Bethlehem, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Light, Life and Love are on our side.

We started out by talking about dancing, but this day and this service have really been about the music—the songs of Christmas and how they tell the story in ways that we can hear and sing and remember. It’s an important reminder of something we don’t really ever forget: good songs can communicate important things.

A Christian singer I used to listen to wrote a song called ‘Madness Dancing’. In it he describes the feeling of coming to God in prayer and being so overjoyed in the presence of the Almighty that he can only muster up one response. He sings:

In the middle of this madness I am dancing,
Though I’m not sure why just now.
I tried to be sober—tried to be logical,
But I could not stop my feet.

Is there anything about this season that makes you want to dance? In all the planning and work and worry that goes into the Christmas season, can you leave a little space for the Christ child to stir you up a little bit and make you want to move?

“For God so loved the world.” Because God loved the world so much.

If you’ve been in this faith for a while, take this message with you and make it a part of your Christmas celebration. As you look at lights and banners and nativity scenes, remember that the foundation for Christmas is God’s immeasurable love for us, love that gave up so much for our benefit.

If you’re here today and you’re not sure about what all this means, let me invite you to take a chance today. This life of faith that we talk about here is messy and hard and confusing and frustrating sometimes, but it’s the life God meant for us to live, full of meaning and challenge and service.

Don’t leave today without talking with someone. In the music and prayers and readings of this Christmas season, hear these words in each one: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

There is no better reason to dance.


(The choir followed this with Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Best News Ever

(This message is a part of our Advent Series titled, Christmas Gifts You Can Use.

Luke 2:8-15

‘Joy to the World, Joy to the World!’ People keep singing that. I hear it in shops and in the background during TV commercials. On the bus last week I heard it as someone’s ringtone on their mobile phone. ‘Joy to the World, Joy to the World!’

It’s one of the great songs of this season—we’re going to sing it at the end of this service. It’s one of the great Christmas songs, but have you seen the newspapers lately?

Hard times of all kinds seem to be hitting people all over the world. Financial meltdown, natural disasters, the threat of violent attack.

Joy to the World?

I decided this past week to read up on the topic of joy, and found something interesting. You know what it was? I don’t have a single book on joy—not one. I checked the index in Calvin’s two-volume theology and found just one single reference to the word ‘joy’. When I looked it up it turned out to be a footnote alerting me to the fact that the word had been incorrectly translated, and doesn’t mean joy at all.

I have books on worship and missions and community and history and peacemaking. I have commentaries and novels and collections of poetry. I have important works of philosophy and theology—including a classic by Soren Kierkegaard with this title: The Concept of Dread. Isn’t that priceless? Out of 1200 or so books in my office, I have one on dread, but not a single title on joy.

What in the world is up with that?

Our text this morning is from Luke’s gospel, in the middle of the Christmas story. Luke 2:8-15.

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

There are some important things to notice in this story. First, well, it’s a pretty dramatic story. There are angels and heavenly choirs and a message from on high. This is not your run-of-the-mill, ‘a couple of guys walking down a road having a chat’ story—this is big.

Second, notice that at the end the shepherds didn’t just go back to what they were doing. Did you catch that as soon as they heard the angels they dropped everything and went to see if it was true? There’s a sermon crawling around in that part of the story, too.

Most importantly, as we read this story we should be aware that the angels appeared to shepherds who were probably in a pretty lousy mood. Not much holiday spirit for shepherds back then. They’re at the low end of the economic food chain—out in the middle of the night, watching someone else’s sheep—in a country occupied and controlled by the most powerful army the world had ever seen.

And to top it off they were religious people—you can tell because it meant something to them to hear the angels announce the coming of the Messiah—they were religious people, struggling to believe that God would keep his promises to somehow make their lives mean something—that God would send the one who would show them that their prayers were answered.

There wasn’t much joy in the shepherds’ world before the angels came and told their story.

When I was in seminary I lived with 4 other guys who were training to be therapists. A lot of my friends felt sorry for me—they asked if I was always being analyzed or if my housemates used me as a counseling dummy. You know, like a tackling dummy, only instead of hitting me they would always ask me how I was feeling.

The fact is that I loved it. One of those therapists-in-training married another seminary friend, and that was the first wedding I ever performed. The groom in that wedding ended up being the best man in our wedding, so I don’t think having therapists as housemates was much of a problem.

What I loved was learning some of their subject matter, and picking up some of their skills. I learned a lot from them, and one of the important things I learned was how difficult the Christmas season could be for some people. At some level I think we all know that—the holiday blues can strike anyone at any time—we know this season can be hard for any number of reasons.

This time of year brings back memories of past Christmases that might have been sad or marked by conflict or loss somehow. I still miss my grandparents, every Christmas, and wish I could have another holiday with them. Those of us who have come to London from other places might miss being with our families and old friends—as glad we are to experience Christmas in a new place, we’re missing our home and traditions this Christmastime.

What I learned from my therapist friends is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to see all the new clients who come for help during the holiday season. This time of year can be so hard.

Joy to the World? What does that mean? What does that mean when we’re feeling anything but joyful?

At one level we know that ‘joy’ is synonymous with happiness, right? Even the newspapers talk about happiness. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Reuters all ran stories last week about the importance of happiness in our lives, and how interconnected we all are in the way we share that happiness with others.

Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host in the US, wrote a book a few years ago called Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual. In the book he talked about cultivating a philosophy of life that focused on the really important things: integrity, having a purpose in life, doing good, and nurturing deep friendships. Happiness, Prager wrote, is the by-product of focusing on other, more important things. We’re going to spend some time on that idea after the first of the year.

But there’s more to joy than simply being happy, right?

Wes Harty was a Bible teacher in Southern California, and he used to come and teach at our church once a year. Back when I was still in high school he came and taught a series on Joy, and his definition has stuck with me for all these years. He said: ‘Joy is the deep, settled confidence in the character of Jesus Christ.’ That sounds like something completely different from just feeling happy.

One of my early childhood memories is really a sensory memory—something that gets recalled by a sound or smell or a touch. Here’s the thing I remember: I would be drifting off to sleep, and then I’d hear a sound that made me feel safe and loved and protected. It was the sound of my Dad checking the doors and windows every night before going to bed. Now we didn’t live in a dangerous area or anything, but it was still comforting to know that we were secure as we slept.

In this deeper sense, joy is partly about the present, and partly about the future. Joy describes our response to Christ’s presence in our lives right now, in this place, in our hearts and in our actions. It’s about feeling safe and loved and protected no matter what is happening in our lives. Joy is about the here and now—right now—it’s about Immanuel, God with us—it’s about Christmas.

But joy is about the future, too. It’s about believing that the promises of Jesus are just that: Promises of Jesus—promises made to us by the Messiah himself—secure promises made to us by God.

Joy describes the deep, settled confidence we have in the character of Jesus Christ, even when we struggle to believe. Even when the teachings of the faith seem so far from our own experience. Even when we doubt they’re true at all. Joy steps in—when we let it—and replaces the fear and the dread we carry about our lives and problems and histories.

Joy is what happens when we trust that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and that he’ll do what he said he would do.

That’s what the angel in our text was telling the shepherds.

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.
He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord.

Then more angels came and praised God right then and there, saying ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all people.’ The promise there isn’t that life will somehow magically become easy or painless or problem-free. The promise is that no matter what happens, in the midst of that struggle we can have peace with God and each other through the ministry of the Messiah.

However bad the news can get, it can’t overshadow the good news of great joy we find in Jesus Christ. But like any promise, it has to be received and accepted if it’s ever going to be fully enjoyed. It’s like an engagement between two people: if it’s ever going to grow from a promise into a marriage, you’re going to have to set a wedding date.

If this is your struggle. If you find yourself this year waiting for a promise to turn into something more substantial, then take a moment to hear the words of the angels one more time:

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.
He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord.

If that’s something you want to talk about this Christmas season, don’t let it go by. Find someone to talk to after the service, or slip me a note, or send an email or text. Don’t let it go by.

As we come to the Table this morning we come as the church, the community of the struggling faithful, and ultimately as the Bride of Christ.

In Communion we celebrate the past, present and future of our lives as disciples of Jesus. We come to celebrate our joy—our deep, settled confidence in the character of Jesus Christ. In Communion we get a glimpse of what ‘Joy to the World’ really means.


Friday, December 05, 2008


I tried to think of something to post this week, but I have a lousy cold. Check back for something new on Sunday or Monday.