Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve Homily: Emergency!

John 1-5, 14

This time of year always makes me think about the way we celebrated Christmas when was a kid, and some of the gifts my parents gave me.

In the early 70s my favorite television show was called Emergency!. Those of us of a particular vintage will know this one as an action show where the main characters were two paramedics who rushed around Los Angeles saving people’s lives and looking heroic as they did it. I can still remember their names—Gage and DeSoto—and even the number of their rescue vehicle: Squad 51. One of the doctors in the show was played by Bobby Troup—he’s the guy who wrote the song, ‘Route 66.’ You can’t get this kind of detail just anywhere.

The whole concept of paramedics was new back then. Before these specially trained professionals became a regular part of local services, ambulances simply responded to calls, threw the injured person in the back of a station wagon, and took them to a hospital. The paramedics changed all that, along with the advent of the 911 or 999 emergency phone numbers.

Anytime you see ‘para’ in front of a word, it means ‘beside’ or ‘beyond’ or ‘alongside’. Paramedics worked beyond the reach of a hospital, alongside the care someone would get once they could be stabilized in the field. Countless lives have been saved by these men and women who go out to the injured or sick, and give life-saving treatment right where people need it most.

When I was 10, though, I didn’t know anything about the details. I just loved watching the TV show—for Christmas that year my parents gave me an Emergency lunchbox with a matching thermos. Somehow that lunchbox connected me to these guys swooping in and rescuing people in need.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Where Matthew and Luke explain the details of Jesus’ birth story, John explains the meaning behind Jesus’ birth and ministry. In John’s gospel there are no wise men, no shepherds, no baby in a manger. In John’s gospel you see why all of this happened.

John starts his gospel story by talking about The Word, the Logos, the ultimate truth about everyone and everything. He starts his gospel by teaching us that the Word—the one we know as Jesus Messiah—the Word has been there all along—he was the source of all things seen and unseen.

And then he throws in the kicker. In verse 14 John adds the part of the story that lets us know this isn’t like any other story.

Not everyone got it at first, but then again, not everyone recognizes greatness, even when it’s right in from of them.

Last week the Times of London ran a story on the first reaction by the BBC to some rock bands who went on to greatness.

‘Unconvincing derivative distortion’ was how they described Led Zeppelin when they auditioned to play for the BBC. That was roughly my mom’s reaction, too. But unless I’m wrong they went on to make some pretty good records.

When one young man tried out to perform they dismissed him as ‘a singer devoid of personality.’ That was David Bowie. Can you imagine a singer with a more unique series of personalities than Bowie? Maybe he hadn’t settled into Ziggy Stardust just yet.

Even the Rolling Stones didn’t make it through the audition stage the first time. Hard to imagine.

People have been responding to Jesus the same way since the very beginning, misunderstanding who he was—missing the point about what he offered.

So what’s the point of the Christmas story?

The coming of the Messiah as God’s answer to our 911/999 call. Like the emergency services we count on to save our lives and homes and to protect us from dangers, God comes to us. He offers us what we need to live and thrive and serve in his name.

The whole idea of God coming in human form has always tested my ability to get it at first—to understand what it means when the Scriptures teach us that:

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’

How often do we stop to think about what that means?

Alan and Blyden met almost 50 years ago in grade school in my hometown, Burbank, California. They were close friends all through high school, but didn’t have a lot of contact after that. Two years ago Alan was diagnosed with kidney disease, and got the news that he would die without a transplant.

Blyden, who lived in Utah with his family, heard about it through a friend, and after he visited his old friend he made a huge decision. He gave one of his kidneys to be transplanted into his friend—his gift made it possible for his friend to have a second chance on life, all because of this gift.

When he was asked why he did it, Blyden said ‘We just get one chance to live our lives and do good things. If this will give Alan his life back, then I’m going to do it.

Alan struggled to comprehend what his friend wanted to do for him. He said: ‘Thank you seems so inadequate.’

It’s a great story of friendship—of generosity and selflessness. These two guys who met in the 5th grade ended up being a part of each other’s lives forever.

The main point of the story is pretty simple: In order to save his friend, Blyden had to give something up—he had to enter into his friend’s life in a sacrificial way. He responded to his friend’s emergency by doing something beyond what anyone ever expected.

That’s what we see in the coming of Jesus.

That’s what we celebrate in the birth of the Messiah.

Sometimes, in order to save someone, you have to enter in, like a transplanted life-giving organ, in order to make it happen.

Christmas is one of those seasons in the year when we celebrate and reflect on something that’s really beyond our ability to understand. This miracle, though—this supernatural event—is God’s response to our need for reconciliation and restoration.

This is God’s answer to our emergency call, and my prayer for all of us is that we can accept the amazing gift being offered to us.

If you’re hearing this for the first time, then make this Christmas the year you accept the gift of Jesus Christ in your own life.

If you‘ve heard this story a thousand times before, but it’s making sense to you for the first time or in a new way, make this Christmas celebration personal as you commit yourself to Christ’s Kingdom.

Mostly, wherever you are in your journey of faith, don’t let another Christmas go by without seeing the Christ Child as the answer to your needs—the place where the hopes and fears of all the years are met.

May God bless you and keep you as we remember the birth of his son. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

This Thing That Has Happened

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 2:8-15

I’ve been watching and reading a lot about the Copenhagen Conference this past week.

When it ended a few days ago most of the headlines read something like: ‘Climate conference ends in discord.’

After getting leaders from all over the world to gather for a conversation about climate change, the end result seemed pretty disappointing. Whatever any of us might believe about the issue itself, it wasn’t exactly encouraging to see the way the nations of the world got together for a discussion. The results ranged from hyper-bureaucratic legalese on one hand, to a shouting match on the other.

This morning I want to read you an account of a different gathering, with an entirely different impact on the world.

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."

The shepherds would have been aware of the promises God made to his people. Promises for a Messiah who would come and make things right—make things just—restore the Shalom God intended from the beginning. They would have known that they didn’t deserve God’s grace, but they hoped for it anyway.

In the Old Testament we learn a lot about the way God responds to our sin and rebellion—we learn a lot that we tend to forget when we only read the New Testament books. Maybe that makes sense. We don’t really like words like wrath and judgment, and yet they’re an important part of how God interacts with his people.

It would be a mistake to say that wrath and judgment are the only way God deals with his children—that would be a distorted picture of the God we see in the Scriptures. But we also give an incomplete picture of God when we leave his judgment out.

As we worked through Paul’s letter to the Romans this past fall we learned something about God’s wrath. We didn’t see God throwing lightning bolts or causing floods or wiping people out with his ‘terrible swift sword.’

The wrath Paul talks about shows God taking a step back and letting things play out as we think we want them. He allows us to have what we think we want, and by doing that we create our own misery. God’s wrath, when we think about it that way, comes when he pulls back—when he makes himself remote from us.

That’s why the Christmas miracle matters so much. At Christmas we celebrate the way God enters into our lives through the birth of this one, single baby. We remember that this baby grew up to love and teach and serve and die for us—all of that was done here, on earth, close to us. The birth of Jesus is the opposite of wrath, because it represents the gift of Emmanuel, of God coming to be with us.

But why did he come?

That’s what made me think of the Copenhagen conference this week. Saving the earth is one thing, and there’s no doubt that important work has to be done to create a healthier balance between natural resources and human industry.

Saving the earth is one thing, but saving the world is another.

The gift of the Messiah offers healing and peace and restoration not just to the earth, not just to people, but to every level of God’s creation.

We talked earlier this year about how the Atonement—God’s work of reconciliation through Christ—the Atonement offers reconciliation for the relationships we have with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the earth.

That means that the gift of the Christ-child—the birth of Jesus Messiah—all of what we do at Christmas is a celebration of God’s reconciling work at all levels—it’s a celebration of what God has done not just to save the earth, but to save the world.

This past week Americans celebrated the anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Passed in December of 1865, the 13th Amendment made slavery illegal anywhere in the United States. Here’s how the text of the amendment reads:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This was a huge step forward for the United States, which hadn’t been all that united on the subject for years. At the end of a complicated and bloody Civil War, a war fought over national unity, to preserve a system of government that was still feeling its way, and also over the issue of slavery—at the end of that war the American states approved a law that made it illegal to own another person—to treat them as property.

But it’s the little clause in the middle that we don’t notice quite as much. Even after the amendment was passed, it was possible to force convicted criminals into hard labor for a period of time—that’s still the law today.

There’s a huge difference between that and what God offers to us through the Messiah. The US made slavery illegal, unless you committed a crime, while God offers freedom and forgiveness and reconciliation and a fresh start, even though we’ve all committed sins—we’ve all done things that put a wedge between us and God.

The 13th amendment was a little like the Copenhagen conference. It offered limited solutions to a problem that was a lot bigger than that. The 13th Amendment made exceptions, and it didn’t do anything about racism or hatred or even about the everyday injustices that make people feel as though they’re still enslaved. Even if Copenhagen had accomplished everything its planners had dreamed, it still would have only given us tools for saving the earth.

It wouldn’t have saved the world. It wouldn’t have healed broken relationships and transformed the culture or offered hope and meaning for a life beyond this one.

That’s what Jesus came to do. The Jesus we celebrate at Christmas heals our relationships and offers real hope for a hurting world.

When those shepherds met the angel of the Lord out there in the fields, remember what the angel said:

‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.’

And after the rest of the promise was made and a heavenly choir sang the first true Christmas carol: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people on whom his favor rests.’

When all of that was done, remember what the shepherds did?

They looked at each other and said: ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.’

What could you see or experience this Christmas that would make you respond the same way? What song could you hear or Scripture could you read or vision could you have—what would make you say, as if it were all unfolding for the first time, ‘Let’s go and see this thing that has happened’?

My prayer for all of us, as we make this final turn and head into the homestretch before Christmas—my prayer for us is that we can get a sense of just how huge a thing God accomplished in that tiny baby 2000 years ago.

The truth is there in one of the Christmas hymns we sing each year.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

Whatever it means or ends up meaning for us to say that Christ came to save the world, somehow that promise is offered to all people in all places. ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met’ in the Christ child.

If that’s news to you then find one of us and ask us to share the rest of the story with you.

If you’ve heard that a thousand times but it’s starting to get under your skin, don’t let another year go by without doing something about it.

The angels that spoke with those frightened shepherds are still singing that same song. Only now we get to sing it with them.

Let’s stand and sing together: ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Point of All This

The Third Sunday of Advent

John 3:16

The Telegraph newspaper ran a story about what kids in the UK know about Christmas. The news wasn’t so good.

When asked what gifts the Three Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus, these were some of the responses:

A boy from Manchester said: ‘The wise men brought coconut oil, which is made from coconuts, some sweets…and gold.’

A kid from Merseyside said: ‘The wise men brought Jesus presents of gold, frankincense, myrrh and silver…but I would have given him a Liverpool shirt.’

A six-year-old said: ‘I don’t know what the three wise men brought Jesus, but I would have given him a tin of biscuits. I think Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have all liked a biscuit.’

When asked what animals were present at the birth of Jesus, one boy said: ‘There were sheep, horses and a crocodile outside the stable.’

When asked who the Angel Gabriel was, one girl said he was ‘big white fairy who helped Mary and Joseph take care of the baby…kind of like a doctor.’

Then they got to the big questions.

When asked who Jesus was, a five-year-old said he ‘was a king and wore a crown even though he was a baby. It was a really small crown.’

One kid said that Jesus was Mary and God’s little boy,’ while another just said that ‘Jesus was a mystery man.’

The cappers were the responses to the question: ‘Why do we celebrate Christmas?’

A seven-year old said: ‘We celebrate Christmas because Santa comes and gives us lots and lots of presents.’

Now I don’t want to be too hard on these kids, and their responses are worth a few laughs. But if we’re honest we’ll admit that it’s hard to keep from losing focus on the true meaning of Christmas. As we shop and eat and drink and give and receive and travel—it’s hard to keep our eyes fixed on what we’re celebrating at this time of year.

It’s hard to avoid missing the point of Christmas.

Our passage today might be the most familiar text in the entire New Testament: John 3:16

“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.”

In Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message, he writes the passage like this:

‘This is how much God loved the world. He gave his son, his one and only son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.’

“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.”

When we get lost in the busy-ness of Christmas it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening here—to miss the point. The British equivalent phrase for missing the point is ‘to lose the plot,’ and that might be closer to the truth here.

The plot of the story runs like this: God made us to enjoy an intimate relationship with him, and to live in close connection with each other. But sin has damaged relationships at all levels, and God has created ways for us to be restored and renewed and welcomed back into his presence.

The climax of the plot is the redemptive work of Jesus the Messiah—his ministry of healing, his death for our sin, and his resurrection to prove that he had power over all places and all things, even death.

The beginning of that climactic chapter—of this crucial point in the plot—all of that begins with the birth of the Christ child.

Our text might seem like a strange one for the Christmas season. There’s no manger, no animals or crocodiles outside the stable, no Mary and Joseph.

But this one verse is the point behind everything in the Christmas story. This one verse gives us the meaning behind the action in the drama of salvation we experience in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

This one verse is the point of everything, everywhere, and for everyone.

Since we’ve already started talking about the elements of drama here, let’s get deeper into this passage. As a true English major language geek I’ll say that there are four verbs in this passage that matter. But more than just describing the action in the passage, these four verbs drive the plot of the story, and help us understand the true meaning of Christmas:

‘He gave his one and only son…’

‘That whoever believes…’

‘Will not perish but will have eternal life’…they’ll live.

But the most important of the four action words in our passage is the first one:

‘For God so loved the world…’ God loved the world just so…God loved the world so much.

He loved us so much that no expense was too high to pay.

He loved us so completely that no gesture was too grand to make.

His love for his people was so deep and wide and high that no sacrifice ever seemed too painful if it helped to communicate the purity and perfection of his love.

Brennan Manning tells a story about a friend of his that gets at the point here. He writes:

A few years ago, “the day before Christmas, Richard Ballenger’s mother in South Carolina was busy wrapping packages and asked her young son to shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile that only a seven-year-old can muster, he presented the shoes for inspection. His mother was so pleased that she gave him a quarter.

On Christmas morning as she put on the shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. She took it off and found the quarter wrapped in paper. Written in the paper in a child’s scrawl were the words:

‘I done it for love.’

We learn something pretty important about Christmas in John 3:16, in this passage that people can recite even if they haven’t been in a church in years.

Through the birth of the baby Messiah—through his life and ministry, his arrest and beating and death and resurrection—in each one of these plot twists in the story, God is there, looking at us and saying: ‘I did this for love.’

The point of all this business about Christmas is that God loved us so much that he wasn’t about to let us go through this life or any other life without him. As we continue thinking about Jesus and cultivating a sense of waiting, of expectation for the coming of the Messiah, never forget that the point of Christmas is to be reminded of God’s complete and perfect love for you—for all of us.

You won’t get a better gift this year or any year. May God bless you with a sense of his presence and love this Christmas season.

Let’s pray together.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Burden of a Promise Kept

The Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."

This is one of the great songs in the Bible. It comes in an action-packed first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It starts with a priest named Zechariah, going through the motions of leading a worship service in the temple. The angel of the Lord appears to him—right there in the temple—and tells him he’s going to be a father. He seems surprised, and the angel gets peeved and makes him mute until the baby is born—never say that God doesn’t know exactly how to get our attention.

After Zechariah the angel visits a girl who must have been about 15 years old or so. He tells her that God has noticed her faithfulness, and that he has a job for her. She’s going to be the mother of the Messiah God had promised to his covenant people—everything they had hoped for over centuries was going to get started right there in her body.

Her reaction is priceless. She may have been a 15 year old in the 1st century, but she knew how things worked. She said to the angel: ‘How can this be, since I’m a virgin?’ I can imagine the angel smiling and thinking that God had picked someone with just the right amount of chutzpah for the job. He says to her: ‘don’t worry—we’ll take care of that part.’

Then Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, one of her relatives, who happens to be the pregnant wife of Zechariah the Silent Preacher. They swap their amazing, miraculous stories, and then Elizabeth gives Mary this word from God: ‘Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’

By the time we get to our text, Mary knows not only that the promises God made to his covenant people are going to come true, but that she is going to play a starring role.

How do you think you would respond to that?

This is one of the classic readings for the Advent season, but it’s always stuck out to me as strange. Mary comes off sounding unreal, un-human—like a saint. She sounds like a heavenly being instead of like a teenage girl who just got the shock of her life.

Over this Advent season I’ve been rethinking this passage. I posed a question in Facebook the other day that went like this: ‘John D’Elia is rethinking Mary's Song in Luke 1:46-55. Is she rejoicing or terrified?’ You wouldn’t believe the reaction.

People leaned one way or the other. Some caught where I was going with it and talked about how terrified she must have been. Others defended her sort of other-worldly courage—the traditional view of her. Lots of people rode the fence and said it was equal parts of both (every four years when the press talks about swing voters or undecideds, that’s who they’re talking about). Some of the moms said fairly strongly that no man could ever understand this passage.

Any conclusion we come to about how Mary felt has to include the fear she must have experienced when the angel Gabriel told her what was in store for her. At the very least it would be a scandal for a young girl to be pregnant in a hyper-traditional, rules-based culture. At the very least she had to be afraid of that. The rest of the story, if it turned out to be true, would have been even more overwhelming.

The point here isn’t to tear down our image of Mary—to make her seem weak or pathetic. Let’s remember here that God chose her, and that we don’t believe God uses us like puppets. She must have had some strength, some powerful faith, some special qualities that God could call for this special task of special tasks.

When I talk about the sheer terror Mary must have felt, it’s as an introduction to our text this morning—it’s a way of creating context for this amazing song we read every Advent season.

Mary knew the promises of God—she was a part of a community that existed in constant waiting for the Messiah to appear—she lived her life faithfully, day by day, struggling to be a reflection of the God she believed in. In her own way, as a young woman who lived in a culture that didn’t give much weight to the opinions or hopes of young women, Mary lived at the very core of the Jewish faith tradition.

She knew God’s promises and believed that he would make good on each and every one of them. She just never thought she was the one God would choose to use in fulfilling those promises. It’s one thing to believe God will do what he promised to do, it’s another to find out you’re playing the lead in the show.

But this shouldn’t surprise us as we think back on other stories in the Bible. God had a habit of calling people who didn’t feel ready to do the job he had for them, and they didn’t always respond so well.

God sends an angel to Jacob and Jacob picks a fight with him—wrestles with him all night.

Moses, probably the most important character in the entire Old Testament—the one God chose to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt, and the one God used to communicate the 10 Commandments to the Hebrews—when God called Moses do you remember what he said? ‘Please God, not me, I wouldn’t be very good at this at all. I know—you can send my brother Aaron—he seems like a smart guy.’

Even Jesus—and I know this might be shocking to say—even Jesus, when he was waiting to be arrested at the end of his earthly life—even Jesus asked if there was a Plan B. He prayed: ‘Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me.’

When Mary finally absorbs what God has in mind for her, she doesn’t wrestle with God like Jacob did. She doesn’t try to weasel out of it like Moses did. She doesn’t even ask for the cup to go to someone else.

Mary praises God. Mary sees herself in the plan that God has for her people and the world. Mary remembers who she is and whose she is and says to God: ‘Let’s get on with it.’

But here’s the follow up question to Mary’s willingness to serve: Let’s get on with what? What was the Messiah supposed to do?

The Messiah came to reconcile us to God himself. To begin the process of bringing God’s peace and justice to every part of his creation. The Messiah came to show that God loved his people more than they could ever imagine. The Messiah came to keep God’s promises.

Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, tells the story of shopping in a local mall one Christmas Eve. He was walking through a department store, hearing ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’ playing on the shop sound system. He looked all around at the people scrambling for gifts they couldn’t pay for—trying to buy happiness that wasn’t for sale, and asked himself: Are the hopes and fears of all these people really met—fully satisfied—in the Christ Child tonight?

Mary believed they would be. She knew the promises and trusted the one who made them. When it came time for her to play her part in the plan God had for his creation, she might have been terrified, but she stepped into the ring and trusted that God was in control.

There’s a lesson for us here as we prepare for Christmas—as we get into this season of remembering how to expect the Messiah in each of our lives. Mary’s story might be unique, but it plays out in different ways in each one of our lives.

God has promises on the table, and he has a part for each of us in bringing those promises to life here, now, in this place and in places we may never even know about.

God has a call on each one of our lives, and there isn’t a single thing about that call that’s dependent on us feeling ready—on us feeling able or competent. The deal isn’t sealed when we get enough training or pray enough or read the entire Bible. The deal is sealed when we respond like this teenage girl who just realized her life was about to change forever.

We begin to understand the Christmas story when we get past our own fear. When we hear God’s call and respond by saying:

‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my soul rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.’

In modern English that prayer might sound like this:

Praise God! I might be scared out of my mind, but I’m going to trust the God who saves me, the one who doesn’t care about the things I’ve done in my past—who isn’t keeping an impossible list of requirements—who isn’t lurking around waiting to drop a hammer on me when I make a mistake. ---

So what does that teach us about how we can respond when God calls us to faith and service?

We can learn a few things from a teenage girl in a backwater town in an occupied country.

Just like Mary, our response has three parts:

First, we praise God as the maker and keeper of promises.

Next, we see ourselves in the plan that God has for his people and his world.

And finally, we remember who we are and whose we are and we say to God: ‘Let’s get on with it.’

God has promises on the table. God has promises made and promises fulfilled on this Table. When Jesus asked for the cup to pass him by he also said, in the same breath, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done.’ He took that cup, and now he passes it on to us.

If you’re ever wondering what in the world God wants from you—if you’re ever struggling to know how you should respond to God when he calls your name, it can be reduced to that single sentence that Jesus said to his Father, and that we say each week in the Lord’s Prayer.

Not my will, but yours be done.

As we come to Communion during this Advent season, we remember the way a young girl responded to God’s call on her life, and the way her son did the same. We remember the sacrifice that brought us all to this place today, and the promise that Christ will return to finish what he started.

As we come to the Table, ask God to show you something new this Christmas season. Tell him you’re ready to play your part in his plan. Then be prepared to say the most important sentence you can ever say in your lifetime:

Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.

Come to the Table.

Let’s pray together.