Sacrificing Everything

Readings for the day (Lectionary 23, Sunday, September 9, 2018):

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

James 2:1-17

Mark 7:24-37

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

When I was in high school, I really wanted a job at the local grocery store.  I already had grocery experience, so it just seemed like a no brainer.  So one day after school, I went and personally handed by application to the owner and manager of the store.  He took my application but told me that he didn’t have any openings check back in another week.  So I did.  I returned a week later…he gave me the same answer.  I returned again a week later and again got the same answer.  I returned again about a month after originally turning in my job application and he told me that he was selling the store and that the new owner and manager would be handling all of the new hires.  Within a week after the ownership was changed, I received a phone call to start the next day.  Persistence pays off.

That’s true for many things.  If you want a particular job, you need to be persistent in showing just how much you want to work.  If you want good grades, you need to be persistent in your studies.  If you want a good harvest, you need to be persistent in caring for your crops and plants.  If you go to the doctor and the diagnosis that is giving is unsettling for you, do you A. Go home, accepting the diagnosis for what it is assuming that this doctor has made the correct diagnosis.  Or B. Go line up another appointment with another doctor to get someone else’s opinion.  Maybe you’ve already been in a situation like this where you seek out another doctor’s opinion.  Persistence pays off.

In our story today, Jesus has just finished feeding 5,000 men plus women and children.  So let’s just say 12,000 people.  And then he terrified his disciples by walking on water in the night.  Then as they came ashore Jesus healed many in the marketplace, got into an argument with the Pharisees about what is and is not considered “clean.”  Finally Jesus flees Galilee to get a break.  He heads north towards Tyre and Sidon; a Gentile region.  The Jewish people have seen the healings that Jesus has done.  Plus they just got free food from Him.  And the Pharisees keep complaining and arguing with Jesus about what He is doing.  All Jesus wants is a break.  So he flees to a non-Jewish area, hoping that maybe, just maybe, people there won’t know who He is and what He is capable of doing.

Even though Jesus enters a house trying to escape being noticed, He is spotted by a woman.  A Gentile woman.  She immediately comes over to Jesus, bows down and begs Him to heal her daughter.  Remember Jesus is trying to be on a little vacation here.  He has turned the phone off and put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door.  He doesn’t want to be bothered.  So Jesus tried to dismiss her saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”[1]  Meaning, Jesus came to feed the Israelites, God’s chosen people.  This woman was a Gentile, someone who was not part of God’s covenant with Abraham.  All Jesus wants is a little rest, so He basically says, “My mission is for the Jews, and you’re not a Jew, so leave me alone.”

And like any parent would do, she does not accept that answer.  Her daughter is suffering from an unclean spirit and she has heard that Jesus can help.  So she fights back and being persistent she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”[2]  Meaning, even though you may have come only for the House of Israel, couldn’t you spare just a little bit to heal my daughter?  Jesus, amazed by this mother’s faith, tells her that the demon has left her daughter.

This mother believed in something.  She believed that her daughter could be healed by Jesus.  She believed in something, even though it meant sacrificing everything.  That is, unlike Colin Kaepernick in the new Nike commercial this week.  A multi-million dollar quarterback has not sacrificed anywhere near everything.  He might believe in something, like making a few million dollars on a two minute ad, but he has not sacrificed everything.  This mother though, for the sake of her daughter’s health, was willing to approach a male, Jewish, religious leader and beg for His help.  Culturally this was wrong on so many levels, but she’s a parent and as a parent she would do anything, even sacrificing everything she had to get her daughter well again.

Persistence does pay off.  Whether it is for a job or grades or a harvest or an answer from a doctor, or even getting your child well again.  Being persistent pays off in the end.  The same is true in our faith.  We must be persistent in our faith.  We must be persistent because the devil is also persistent in tempting us each and every day; trying to turn us away from our trust in God.  Hold tight to what you believe in.  Be persistent in your prayer requests.  Be diligent in your study of God’s Word.  Be insistent in doing what God has called you to be and do.  Don’t be complacent.  Complacency creates problems.

As James says in his letter, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[3]  Of course as Lutherans we know that our salvation is not dependent on our works.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”[4]  We are saved and given the promise of eternal life as not just any gift from God, but THE gift of God.  As in the greatest gift we could be given.  And this gift is not dependent on our works.  It is not dependent on what we do or don’t do.  But we have been created in God’s image for the purpose of doing good works.

Martin Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”  God doesn’t need our good works of kindness.  He desires our persistence in confessing our sins, talking to Him through prayer, and studying His Holy Word.  But He doesn’t need our good works.  Our neighbors on the other hand DO need our good works of kindness.  Our neighbors need us to be persistent in living out our Christian calling to be disciples of Jesus.

So how persistent are you?  Are you willing to believe in Jesus, following His command to make disciples of every nation, even if it means sacrificing everything?  Are you willing to try something even if it means you might fail?  This ministry that Jesus calls us to is one that calls us out of complacency and into a life actively living out the Gospel for the sake of our neighbors and for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  We believe in Jesus because He is the one who truly knows what it means to sacrifice everything.  Sacrificing everything for you!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Mark 7:27, NRSV

[2] Mark 7:28, NRSV

[3] James 2:17, NRSV

[4] Ephesians 2:8-10a, NRSV

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Prayers FROM Jesus!

Readings for the day (7th Sunday of Easter, Sunday, May 12, 2018):

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Have you ever prayed before?  Okay, of course if you’ve been to church before, you’ve prayed to God.  You probably pray at home, too.  Maybe at work.  Maybe at school.  It seems that no matter where we turn, someone is requesting our prayers: prayers for healing, prayers for peace, prayers for a good outcome, prayers for safety.  Prayers are requested for family and friends who are in the hospital, someone struggling with mental illness, a family dealing with a financial crisis, a couple dealing with infertility issues.  We request prayers for favorable weather, for a loved one who is dying, for a family who is grieving.

In any given week, we can receive numerous requests for prayers – many of those requests coming from posts that we read online through Facebook and other sites.  I think there is something to be said about the power of prayer.  Even though there are many people who have no desire to be involved with the church, they still do request prayers for various situations.  And why would you request prayers for something or someone unless you actually believed in the power of prayer?  Even the lukewarm Christians believe in the power of prayer.

We have come to the end of the season of Easter.  Next Sunday is Pentecost.  In John’s Gospel, there is no teaching of the Lord’s Prayer.  There is no institution of Holy Communion.  Instead, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet during His final meal with His disciples.  And then Jesus teaches His disciples about loving each other by serving one another.  And then He enters into this long prayer.  First a prayer for Himself, as He prepares to head to the cross.  Then Jesus prays for His disciples, meaning His twelve closest friends.  Finally Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through [the words of these disciples].”[1]

Did you know that?  Did you know that Jesus prays for you?  Jesus, God’s only Son, the Messiah, the Savior of the World…prays for you.  You’re from Martin County Minnesota, you’re not all that important.  You’re a farmer, a teacher, a business owner, a nurse, a student, a golfer, a fisherman, a retired person who is living the dream.  None of us are really all that important.  I mean, it’s not like we are Pastor Eric or anything.  But we really aren’t all that important.  We don’t have a security detail.  We don’t have a wait staff at home.  We haven’t changed the course of history.  Generations down the road will not learn about us in history textbooks.  And yet, Jesus, the Savior of the world, the Son of God says that He is praying for you.

You are being prayed for.  Not just by your family, your friends, your neighbors, your pastors, but also your Savior.  The one who went to the cross because our sins put Him on the cross.  Yeah, He’s the one who is praying for YOU!

How are you all doing?  Stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Tired?  Worried?  Scared?  The weather certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors.  The late winter and now this wet spring is effecting all of us.  With all of this rain, the fields and gardens can’t get planted.  Windows of opportunity to mow the lawn between the rainfall is rather small.  And if your house is anything like ours, you are certainly sick of sucking up and bailing water out of the basement.  Maybe you’re exhausted.  Maybe you’re frustrated.  Maybe you’re impatient.

Well, I have some good news for you.  No matter how unimportant and insignificant this world says that you are.  Know that you are loved by someone.  And not only are you loved by God, but Jesus is also praying for you.  You know, it seems culturally okay to ask for prayers around the time of death, or when you or someone is in the hospital.  But when you are stressed and scared, when you are beyond tired, when you are overwhelmed and worried, then it appears that asking for those types of prayers is not culturally acceptable.

Thankfully for us, Jesus says that He does not belong to the world.  Which means He does not belong to whatever the world has deemed as “culturally acceptable.”  Jesus also says that WE do not belong to the world.  He says that we are still in the world, but as God’s children, chosen and called, we are not of this world.  One way to think of this is that you are an ambassador for Jesus.  Throughout the world, our country has U.S. ambassadors all over.  As a U.S. ambassador in say, Italy, that ambassador is still considered a U.S. citizen, even though they are living in Italy.  So the ambassador is subject to any and all U.S. laws.  But the ambassador is also living in Italy.  And in order to create and maintain healthy relationships with the people in Italy, it would be wise for the ambassador to follow the Italian laws in addition to the U.S. laws.

We are God’s ambassadors in this world.  We are in the world.  The world that God created for us.  But we are not of this world.  This world is not our home.  As my son said this weekend about making cards for Mother’s Day, “Don’t forget to make a card for Grandma.  We can bring it to where she will come back with Jesus.”  This world is not our home.  We are not of this world.  We are simply God’s ambassadors, living in this world, following both God’s laws and the laws of this world, doing what God has called us to do until the day comes when Jesus does return for my Grandma and for all of us.

No matter what crazy thing this life throws your way, know that Jesus, your Savior, the Son of God Himself is praying for you…His beloved ambassador!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

[1] John 17:20, NRSV

No Inheritance Until Someone Dies!

Readings for the day (20th Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 28 – Sunday, October 11, 2015):

Amos 5:6-15

Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Would you consider yourself to be rich?  On Wednesday evening I shared this story at youth group.  Every September there is a yacht show, like a sportsman show or a car show, where manufacturers show off their newest products.  To enter this yacht show and look around you have to be a billionaire; millionaires are not invited.  Plus is costs $225 per person to enter.

I don’t think any of us fit the criteria for that yacht show, but some of those professional athletes might fit.  You may recall, back in 2011 the Twins signed Joe Mauer and agreed to pay him $184 million over 8 years.  That is $63,000 every day of the year.  Or $2,600 every hour of every day for 8 years.

There are many rich people in the world and maybe we aren’t rich like these people or Donald Trump.  But we are rich.  It might not seem like we are rich, but we are.

Five years ago, Stephanie and I took a trip to Egypt and when we got there we found an ATM and withdrew 1,000 Egyptian pounds equating to $200.  Now that doesn’t sound like much money, except most Egyptians (especially the Christians living there) live on $2 a day.  So we were walking around Cairo with enough money for someone to live on for 100 days (over 3 months)!  We even went to a restaurant that cost us 50 Egyptians pounds ($10 a person) – which for many is 5 days of food that we spent on one meal.

We are rich!  And the rich man in the Gospel reading today thinks that he’s got it all figured out.  He has done everything right; he has followed all of the commandments that deal with relating to his neighbor.  Jesus tells him that he must do one more thing, sell everything he has and then come and follow him.  But the man leaves grieving that he can’t inherit eternal life because he loves his things and possessions too much.

We are kind of like this rich man.  We all have many possessions. We try to keep the commandments, but you haven’t kept all of these commandments have you?  Don’t murder.  Don’t commit adultery.  Don’t steal.  Don’t gossip and spread rumors about others in the community, especially if you don’t know if the statement is true or not.  Don’t defraud others.  Honor your father and your mother.  We can’t even keep all of these commandments, can we?  And yet, what does Jesus do for this man?  Loved him!  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”[1]  Jesus saw him in his need and loved him.

Jesus sees you in your need and loves you.  You don’t need all of these possessions or all of these riches.  What you need is a savior and that is exactly what Jesus was going to give this rich man, but he went away grieving because his possessions were more important to him than receiving Jesus’ gift of eternal life.  Jesus says that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  God knows that you can’t sell everything that you own and give the money to the poor.  If you did so, you wouldn’t be able to continue on living in this world.  And more importantly, you would not be able to continue serving God and spreading God’s Word without money.

But are you doing that?  Are you keeping your wealth for yourself?  Or are you using it to spread God’s Word to others?  Are we as a church keeping our wealth for ourselves?  Or are we using it to spread God’s Word to others?  Jesus gave us an impossible command to prove the point that we cannot save ourselves.  There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves look perfect in God’s eyes and inherit eternal life.

Now if you are going to inherit something, how does one go about getting an inheritance?  Someone first needs to die, right?  The only way for you to receive an inheritance is for a loved one to die and gift part of their estate to you.  And the person’s will lays out the specifics on who gets what parts of the inheritance.

The rich man asks Jesus at the beginning of the lesson today, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”[2]  Well, in order for this man or for any of us to inherit eternal life, someone has to die.  And continuing on from our reading today, Jesus tells us who is going to die, “Jesus took the twelve aside again (this is the third time he is telling them this) and began to tell them what was going to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.”[3]

Jesus died for you so that you may inherit eternal life.  He even wrote it in his will, that in the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after giving thanks, broke it, gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Again after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it for all to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

His blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  You can’t earn your way to eternal life.  You can’t buy your way to eternal life.  You can’t save and protect your money and possessions to get to eternal life.  There is absolutely nothing that you can do to inherit eternal life, except for Jesus to die and to write your name in his will on the night he was betrayed.  Which is exactly what he did.

There are many things in this life that seem to be impossible for us to do or understand, but with God all things are possible – even for you, a messed up, commandment breaking, rich sinner.  Even for you, you will receive your full inheritance from Jesus on the last day when Jesus returns.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence and boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need and hope to sustain us in this life until Jesus returns.[4]  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Mark 10:21, NRSV

[2] Mark 10:17, NRSV

[3] Mark 10:32-34, NRSV

[4] Hebrews 4:16, NRSV

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 18, 2015

Readings for the day:

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Psalm 139:1-18

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

When I left the small, little town of Chandler to go to college in Fargo, I realized just how unknown my hometown really was.  When I first got to college, people would ask where I was from and I could never just say, “Chandler Minnesota.”  An explanation always had to follow.  After having to explain to people where Chandler was for the 50th time or so, I decided to just say, “60 miles northeast of Sioux Falls.”  And that seemed to satisfy people’s curiosity about where I was from.

I know that this is similar with any small town; including our three little communities.  No one really knows where Ceylon, Welcome and Trimont are at.  We have to explain where we are from.

Now Jesus was from Nazareth and Nazareth was a small town.  But Nazareth wasn’t an unknown town that no one knew where it was located.  No, many people knew where Nazareth was at, but not because Jesus was from there or because it had a good school there.  Nazareth wasn’t a known town for its restaurants or because it had a wonderful bakery.  No, Nazareth had a bad reputation and everyone knew it.  The Jews in the area knew of Nazareth as the town that was filled with pagans (people who worshipped other gods).  The town was a sinful place and the Jews wanted no part of it.  So you can just about imagine Nathaniel’s response when he hears Philip say, “We have found the Messiah!  He is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  And Nathaniel responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  He asks that question because he is so surprised that there is any faithful Jew living in Nazareth.  How can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Do you ever get that feeling when you are explaining to people where you are from?  Doesn’t it sometimes feel like they are wondering, “How can anything good come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont?”  And you know, for most people in our country today they would say, “No, nothing good can come out of a small town in fly over country.”  I don’t remember this, but back during the Homestead Act, living in the rural areas was seen as the best place to live.  People were racing out of the cities to come to the rural areas.  Today, living in the rural areas is considered by our society as one of the worst places to live because people think that we don’t have anything out here.  At seminary people actually thought that we didn’t have internet in the rural areas.  Living in rural, small town areas is usually seen as a form of punishment by many city people.  I enjoy it and I’m sure you do too.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth (or Ceylon or Welcome or Trimont or any small town)?”  The answer is probably not a lot.  After all, look at us: we are a group of nosy people who love to gossip.  We don’t have many celebrities or sports stars or movie starts arising in our midst.  We live in an area where the population is doing anything but growing.  Most of our grocery stores and other small businesses have closed.  Don’t you ever wonder, “Why do we even live here?  Can anything good come from us?”

The correct answer to that question is yes!  Yes, something good can come from you.  Jesus chose you before you even knew it.  For his disciples, Jesus chose mainly Galileans.  People from Galilee were not seen as the best of the best – the best lived in Jerusalem some 90 miles away.  For many people, they could really care less about what was happening in Galilee.  But even though this region was seen as a land that could bear no fruit, this is exactly where Jesus resided and where he carefully picked his disciples.  And Jesus carefully picked you, even from a place that society flies over and doesn’t care about nor believes that we can amount to anything.  Jesus has chosen you!

So as we enter into our annual meeting this morning and look to the year ahead, remember that God has called all of us (like he did to Samuel) and he called us to a certain purpose – to share this Good News with the people in our community.  The Good News is that Jesus has chosen you and has chosen them (those in our community who aren’t here).  Don’t listen to or believe what society says about the rural areas; it’s not true!  We do to matter and we do produce fruit!

What good can come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont?  YOU!  Jesus has carefully chosen you to pass on the faith to future generations in this area.  The work is not always easy, nor is it always what WE want to do.  But we have been promised that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our reward will be great in heaven.

2014 was a great, second year for Circle of Faith, and 2015 is looking marvelous.  God has been doing some pretty wonderful things in this church and I look forward to seeing what God will do this year; for you all have been chosen by God.  So it is true, good things can come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont!  I give thanks and praise to God for he chose you!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

2nd Sunday of Christmas – Sunday, January 4, 2015

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:[1-9]10-18

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Today is the 11th day of Christmas, and there are only 12 days of Christmas.  That means Christmas is almost over!  Christmas is actually the shortest of all the church seasons.  Pentecost spans nearly half a year.  Easter and Lent are six weeks long, and Advent and Epiphany are each about 4 weeks in length.  But Christmas, the season where we celebrate our God becoming human, only lasts for 12 days; not even two weeks!  Now does that really make any sense?  Maybe it is because we can only celebrate for so long.  There gets to be a point where we want the celebrations to end, the guests to go home, and the decorations to be put away.  We want to get our lives back to normal.  Or when you are on vacation, don’t you get to a point where the only thing that you want to do is go home?  Vacation is fun, but getting back to our normal routines and patterns of life are always welcomed.

I imagine the days after Jesus was born, life would go back to normal for the shepherds and the wise men, for the animals and the owners of the stable.  I’m sure it was just life as usual in Bethlehem once everyone returned to the homes after the census was complete.  The animals would be alone in the stable.  The wise men would return to their homes and continue with their lives.  And the shepherds would return to their flocks.  Life would return to normal for everyone except for maybe Mary and Joseph who had a little newborn to care for.

But you know, there is nothing normal about the creator becoming part of his creation, or the divine becoming human, or the immortal becoming mortal.  God becoming flesh is not normal.  So of course we celebrate this special abnormal event with parties, presents and feasts.  But what happens when the parties end, the guests go home, the presents have been opened and the leftovers are gone?  What then?  Do we just start counting the months and days until Christmas next year?  We could, but God has a better idea.

How about instead of being sad that Christmas is over or getting ready for next Christmas already, how about we actually go to work, doing what God intended all along with the birth of Christ…feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, supporting each other, and bringing peace to one another.  The whole reason why God became human in the first place was to balance the scales and save the world from sin, death and the devil.  The world could not do this on its own; God had to do this for us.  Only God is the one who can bring true and complete peace on earth.  But now we need to do our part in helping God bring that peace by feeding those who are hungry, caring for those who are sick, and supporting each other in the needs that they have.

Christmas may be over, but the work of Christmas is never over.  This past week I ran across this poem written by Howard Thurman titled “The Work of Christmas.”  It goes like this:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.[1]

Our work as Christians is never over until we are called home to our final resting place.  Until that day, we continue bringing the spirit of Christmas to all we encounter.  We do this out of obligation?  By no means!  We do the work of Christmas because of the grace and truth that comes through Jesus Christ.  Grace is an undeserved gift given for you.  The grace that you have been given is God becoming flesh, living among us, and sacrificing himself on the cross (taking your place on that tree).  He did this out of obligation?  By no means!  He did it out of the deepest love he has for you!  Truth also comes through Jesus Christ.  The truth is simply things that aren’t lies.

So through Jesus Christ, God’s Word becoming flesh, which is an undeserved gift that is freely given to you.  And this is no lie, it is absolutely true, something that you can rely on because our God is always trustworthy and true.

Our Christmas season is coming to an end, soon all of the decorations will be put away; we have once again celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  But even though the celebrations have ended, God never stops working on those whom he loves.  Jesus will not stop until the lost are found, the broken are healed, the hungry are fed, the nations are rebuilt, and there is peace throughout his kingdom.  Merry Christmas!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Thurman, Howard. “The Work of Christmas” in The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations (1985).

Christmas Eve – Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 9:6-7

Micah 5:2

Luke 2:1-20

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

For many, Christmas is a time that brings great joy – family members are returning home, we catch up with distant relatives that we don’t get to see very often, college students are home on break, and everyone is usually in a cheerful mood.  Maybe you got engaged or married in the last year and this is your first Christmas celebrating with both families.  Or you had a child and this is the baby’s first Christmas.  At home, the Christmas tree is lit, the traditional family meal can be smelled throughout the house, and people wait eagerly to see what are in those presents under the tree.

Except, for some this time of year is the hardest of all.  For some, this is the first Christmas without a parent or child or another close family member or friend.  For others there may have been an argument that has left your family in pieces or you’ve received troubling news from your doctor.  Your crops may not have done as good as you would like this fall, and so now you’re left with figuring out what you need to cut back on.  Maybe this is the first Christmas in which you are celebrating in a new location because grandma and grandpa can’t live in their house anymore.  For some, this is not a joyous time of year – it is the hardest time of year and people just look forward to this holiday being over.

Well, and if you look at the news it sure doesn’t feel like a joyous time of year.  We still have Ebola spreading in Africa, ISIS is still gaining ground in the Middle East, police officers getting attacked in the states, riots and protests are popping up all over the place.  There have been recent car accidents where teenagers have gotten injured or killed.  The Vikings are going to have another losing record this season.  And there are fewer and fewer young people throughout the world believing in God and attending church.  How can people possibly say that this is a joyous time of year?  Wherever we turn, there is bad news lurking in the shadows, just waiting to swallow us up.  And all we can really wonder is, “When will the bad news hit us?”  Worry and fear end up trumping our joy and happiness.

We get to a point where we just cry out to God, “Where are you, God?  Can’t you see we are suffering here?  Why won’t you just rip open the heavens and come down here in the mess and chaos of this world?  Don’t you care about us?”  Sometimes I feel this way about God.  I ask God, “Why can’t you just take the cancer and all other diseases away?  Or can’t you just protect our young people as they are learning how to drive?  And why can’t you take away the hurt and pain that families are faced with?”  But then the Christmas season comes around and I am reminded once again about what our God has done for us in the midst of this chaotic and messy world that we live in.  On that night when Jesus was born, God ripped open the heavens and came down to us.  You may have come here tonight because it is your tradition to do so, but tonight we are here to worship and give our praise to our God who has heard our cries for help and ripped open the heavens and has come down to us in the messy world we live in.  This God that you worship, is real and He humbled himself, stepping down from His throne to become just like one of His very own creatures.  Our God became human to know what it is like to be us.  Our God did not have to do any of this, He could have just left the world to fend for itself.  But because He loves you so much, He chose to start from the beginning – learning what it is like to be you.  Our God became an infant, born into this world – for YOU!  Jesus learned how to walk, He learned how to talk, and He learned just how messy and troubled this world really is because He witnessed it firsthand.  This world is so troubled that we would nail our own God to a tree and then laugh and mock at Him.  And then rejoice when He died.  But this God that we worship on this dark December night, can do anything, even death itself cannot control our God.  He could not stay dead.  He rose again to overcome the grave and forgive us all of any wrongs that we have done.  And Jesus did all of this, from being born as an infant, to dying on the cross, to rising from the dead, all because of the deep, unconditional love that He has for you!  You don’t deserve this love because you often forget about God, but Jesus loves you in spite of who you are!

Tonight and throughout this next year may we continue to worship, rejoice and give our praise and thanksgiving to God for hearing our cries for help, ripping open the heavens and coming into the mess of this world.  Jesus, the Christ child, was born this day in the city of David to save us from our sin, and to redeem the world from the troubles that it has.  Your Messiah has come as a child, to know your hurts and your pains.  And then Jesus took your hurts and your pains to the cross, nailing them on a tree in order to save you, redeem you, and give you everlasting life with God!  Praise be to our God, our Savior and Messiah!  Amen.

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

4th Sunday in Advent – Sunday, December 21, 2014

Readings for the day:

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Luke 1:46b-55

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Christmas is coming!  But before we hear the words of that very familiar Christmas story about our Savior’s birth from the second chapter of Luke, we first hear two wonderful passages from the first chapter of Luke.  Today is the fourth and final Sunday in Advent.  We just heard the Annunciation, which is when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary giving her the message that she would bear a child.  And for our responsive Psalm this morning, we read the Magnificat or Mary’s Song.  This is the song that Mary sings after being told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child, and not just any child, but God’s child – God’s Son.

Mary, a teenager, engaged to be married to Joseph becomes perplexed and ponders the words from the angel Gabriel.  “How can this be, Mary asks, since I am a virgin?”[1]  When Zachariah is told that his wife is going to bear a child he asks how this can be in her old age and laughs.  Zachariah is then muted, unable to speak until his son, John, is born.  Mary on the other hand, when asking how this can be, a virgin, gets an explanation.  She is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her; therefore the child to be born will be holy, set apart from the rest, he will be called Son of God.[2]

Then the angel gives Mary proof that his words, which are coming from God, are true and will indeed happen.  The angel Gabriel says, “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.”[3]  Then probably the most important verse in this whole passage is said by the angel.  The angel says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”[4]  Nothing will be impossible with God!  Now after looking at the Greek, this really isn’t the best translation.  As it reads in English, nothing will be impossible with God, sounds like God does magic tricks or something; things that can’t be accounted for.  But our English translations leave off two important words that are in the Greek.  Those two words are – EVERY WORD.  So if we include these words in our English translation this verse would say, “For nothing will be impossible with God’s every word.”  Or maybe a little clearer, “For nothing will be impossible with all of God’s words.”

Now that means something!  Sure nothing is impossible with God, but God isn’t David Copperfield, Chris Angel or some magician.  He is the creator of the world.  When He speaks, things happen!  It is God’s Word that makes all things possible.  When God spoke, the world came into being.  When God spoke again, Moses was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  And when God spoke, Elizabeth and Mary became pregnant and each would soon bear a child.  There is great power in God’s Word.  When He speaks, things happen!

If you don’t believe me, look at our sacraments, baptism and communion.  In baptism, we are claimed by God, washed clean of our sins, and given the promise of eternal life with God.  But how can water do all of that?  Water is just water after all!  Water, on its own cannot do any of this, but water with God’s Word does give us these promises.  Without the word of God the water is simply water and no baptism.  But with the word of God it is a baptism, which is life giving water poured over us.

Likewise, with Holy Communion, how can a little wafer (made out of water a flour) possibly give you nourishment for your day?  Or how can a little shot of wine possibly quench your thirst?  They can’t!  But when you eat and drink and hear the words given and shed for you, you can know that you are receiving Christ and receiving forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal life with God.  Bread and wine can’t do this on their own, but with God’s Word, nothing is impossible with God.

You see, when God speaks, things happen.  When water is poured over a child’s head and God speaks, the child is claimed by God.  When you hold out your hand and eat that tasteless wafer or drink that little cup of wine and God speaks, you receive God’s forgiveness of sins.

Nothing will be impossible with God’s Word.  How else do you think that a teenage girl became the mother to the savior of the world?  Or how could she possibly sing that beautiful song after receiving that word from God?  Because she had faith that when God’s speaks, things will happen as they say.  God told Mary that she was to bear a child and he would be great.  Mary proclaims that God has brought himself, the powerful, down from his throne by coming into the world as an infant.  He has done this to lift up the lowly, all of the sinners – you and me!  God didn’t have to do any of this.  He could have just had Jesus just die on the cross to save the world, but instead he wanted to gain our trust and show us just how much he loves his children.  So he works through Mary and Joseph, a simply, humble, little family.  He learns what it is like to be one of his own creatures all to save the world.  Sure, nothing is impossible with God.  When God speaks, things do indeed happen – babies are born, the sun rises in the east, people are claimed through the waters of baptism, and we all are nourished through bread and wine.  Jesus is coming because nothing is impossible when God speaks!  Amen.

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Luke 1:34, NRSV

[2] Luke 1:35, NRSV

[3] Luke 1:36, NRSV

[4] Luke 1:37, NRSV