Faith In The Christmas Promise

This sermon was an example in the Year of Mark where it was kind of hard to balance the preaching series with what was going on during the church year.  I really wanted to give these texts more time, but we were also hanging the greens during worship and I needed to touch on that, as well.  This worship service was actually the reason that I decided to go off lectionary until after Star Sunday, because I was just having a hard time really giving the texts the time they deserved and also being present in the season that we were in.  So one of these days I might go back to these texts to dig into them more!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 25, 2018

Mark 7:31-37
Mark 8:22-26
Mark 9:14-29

Faith In The Christmas Promise

This is what Christmas is all about, my friends.

These healing stories from the Gospel of Mark are the perfect kick off to the Advent season because they remind us why Jesus needed to be born in the first place.  They remind us why we so desperately needed God to break forth into this world – into this messy, imperfect and very-much-human world. They show us how God has the ability to majestically put together the broken pieces of our lives so that we might be made whole again.

This morning we are Hanging the Greens in preparation for the Advent season; next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, which is the season that is comprised of the four Sundays before Christmas.  We will sing one of my favorite hymns, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  The word, “Emmanuel,” means, “God with us.”  It means that, through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was here withus, present withus in this world.

At its core, Christianity is an incarnational religion.  The word, “incarnation” means a person, in human flesh, who embodies a deity.  I say Christianity is an incarnational religion because that is exactly what happened when Jesus was born in this world.  God came to us, to our world, in human form; Jesus’ life was not just about teaching us how to live our own lives, it was also about God experiencing humanity – the sorrows and the joys, the pain and the healing, the brokenness and the desire to become whole again.

This morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is a series of healing stories; moments in Jesus’ ministry when people came to him in sorrow, in pain and in their brokenness and asked for healing.

The part that struck me about the first two stories read this morning – when Jesus cured a deaf man in chapter seven and then a blind man in chapter eight – was that Jesus relied on the deeply incarnational notion of touch to heal.  Jesus put his hands into the ears and the mouth of the deaf man and suddenly the man could hear and speak.  And then Jesus put his hands on the eyes of the blind man and suddenly the man’s eyes were opened and he could see clearly.

These stories remind us that we do not believe in a God that is far away, but a God that is here with us; a God whose healing does not come from far-away promises, but from a close and personal and incarnational touch.

I joked on Facebook this week that I was breaking liturgical protocol in having Hanging of the Greens this Sunday because Advent doesn’t technically start until next week.  Depending on how early Thanksgiving is, sometimes Advent starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving and sometimes we have to wait a week. According to the liturgical calendar, today is the very last Sunday of the church year, Reign of Christ Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, reigning with God now and forever more.

And, don’t get me wrong, I think thatis important, which is why I wanted to mention it. And it actually is kind of fitting to kick off our Christmas season on Reign of Christ Sunday, because as a church, we should be proclaiming valiantly that Jesus Christ – the Alpha and the Omega – is at the center of our celebrations this season.

However, I did not want to wait a week to do Hanging of the Greens.  First of all, what do I always say about church?  It needs to be meaningful, relevant and accessible to all; and I just think I would have a hard time pulling off the whole relevancy thing right now if the rest of the world has decked the halls and I held the Christmas decorations hostage for another week just to teach a lesson about the liturgical year.

And second of all, it has been a tough year for a lot of people.  And I think, now more than ever, people need to be reminded of the Christmas promise; the promise that our cries for Emmanuel will be heard; the promise that God ishere with us and the promise that we are notalone.

In the third healing story we read this morning, Jesus seemed to get a little bit frustrated with people because they just didn’t get it.   Jesus called the people a “faithless generation” and asked the questions, “How much longer must I be among you?  How much longer must I put up with you?”  And this sounds really harsh, but I think the point Jesus was trying to get at was that it was not about Jesus doing the healing himself; it was about everyone’s faith that healing was possible in the first place.

“It you are able!” Jesus said, “All things can be for the one who believes.”

The same is true for us today.  We have to have faith.  We have to have faith in the Christmas promise.  We have to have faith in the incarnational nature of our faith. We have to faith that God is who we believe God is – Emmanuel, here with us.

The greens are hung.  Our sanctuary has been prepared.  We are ready.  We are ready for the Advent season.  We are ready to uncover hope, peace, joy and love.  We are ready to turn on lights so that we will not be overcome by the darkness of this winter season.  We are ready to sing songs that we know by memory and to indulge in our favorite holiday treats.  We are ready to, like the father of the boy with the unclean spirit, proclaim, “I believe!” We are ready to rejoice with a weary world and have faith that God is here with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Hope Of Christmas

Good evening, everyone! Here is this morning’s sermon. It was our annual Hanging of the Greens worship service, so it is on the short side.

While I did not preach specifically on what went on in Ferguson this week, I would have been remiss not to have mentioned it. The news report I alluded to can be found here.

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 30, 2014

The Hope Of Christmas

It was the announcement heard around the country on Monday night.

No indictment.

What followed was nothing short of heartbreaking: Devastation. Cries for justice. Cheers. Riots. Peaceful protests. Fires. Tears. Sadness. Chaos. Fear.

My Facebook news feed was full of emotionally charged posts and heated arguments between friends and strangers.

The headlines were almost too disturbing to look at.

It does not matter where you stand on this case or how you feel about what happened in Ferguson this week, I think we can all agree that as a country, we entered a very dark place on Monday night.

Not the best way to start the Christmas season, is it?

It would be absolutely wonderful if Christmas was all Santa Claus and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and eight reindeer and twelve days ending with a partridge in a pear tree. But the truth is, the first Christmas probably looked closer to what Ferguson, Missouri did this week than it did to the Hallmark image that surrounds us every year.

Jesus was born into a violent world. We create magic on Christmas Eve with children dressed as angels, sanctuaries lit with candles and beautiful music, but we have to remember that the first Christmas did not end when the Wise Men arrived at the stable to present their gifts to a squirmy little baby laying in a manger while his parents peacefully watched over him. I wish that it did.

But scripture tells a different story.

Scripture continues on to tell a heartbreaking story of Mary and Joseph forced to flee with Jesus to Egypt because King Herod had ordered all of the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem to be killed. We often gloss over this, but that is how the first Christmas ended.

That is the world that Jesus was born into. It was – like the world that we often live in – a dark world.

And as difficult as that is to stomach, we have to remember that that is also the world that God was so desperately trying to save. God believed that that world could be saved. God sent to Earth his son so that the world could be saved. God’s light shined in the midst of that darkness.

And we have to believe that – amidst the horrifying images and stories that we have heard all week – God believes that our world can be saved as well and that God’s light will shine in the darkness again today.

O come, O come, Emmanuel! Emmanuel means “God with us”. We are a world still crying out for God to come into our midst and these are the moments when our faith is tested the most.

We celebrate Advent every year not as a way of passing time before Christmas, but as a way of truly remembering what we are celebrating on Christmas morning. We not only celebrate the birth of an innocent child, but also the life and ministry of a man that would change the world and call others to do the same. We not only celebrate the ways that we are crying out for Emmanuel – God with us – to dwell among us, but also the ways that we already see God in our midst. We not only celebrate a baby born in a manger, but also the hope that God had for the world – and the hope that I believe God still has for the world.

And we celebrate the ways in which we can all be part of that hope as well.

Fast forward to Friday evening, when a different image started showing up in the media. It was an image of a white cop and a black boy embracing one another, with tears rolling down their eyes.

Here is what Brian Williams said in his report on this image.

As someone around here said today, what the world needs now might just be what we see in this photo.

After days of disturbing media images surrounding the Ferguson grand jury decision, there’s this: In the midst of an emotional rally in Portland, Oregon, Police Sgt. Bret Barnum and 12-year-old, Devonte Hart.

And it turns out, Devonte has a remarkable story himself: Born to a drug-addicted mother and into a violent life, he and his two siblings were adopted into a loving family and Devonte was at that rally with a message of peace and holding a sign offering free hugs.

Sgt. Barnum asked if he might have one.

It does not fix what happened; but it is light shining in the midst of darkness, a reminder that our cries for Emmanuel – God with us – are always heard.

If we believe in the true meaning of Christmas, then we have to believe in the true hope of Christmas, as well. Today we light that candle, the candle of hope – the only candle that burns brightly for the entire duration of the Advent season. Because without hope, we would not have the courage that we need to make the journey to Bethlehem.

And that is a journey that God is calling us to take.

Advent Blessings, my friends! May your seasons be grounded in hope, calmed with peace, overflowing with joy and filled with love. And may God’s light shine in your life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Be Intentional

O Come O Come Emmanuel!

Photo Dec 01, 12 20 11 PM

We had an awesome Hanging Of The Greens service at RCC this morning.  Here is my meditation (much shorter than a regular sermon – the Hanging of the Greens took up most of the service!).

Be Intentional

I came across an article online yesterday titled, Black Friday 2013: Walmart Becomes #Brawlmart. Here’s what it said:

It’s that time of year again: Black Friday. Millions of people gather at various retail stores to push and shove their way to a $98 TV set or a 50%-off iPad.

As usual, things got ugly in some places. So ugly that hashtags #Walmartfights and #Brawlmart had thousands of tags overnight.

One video went viral showing an unidentified Walmart full of shoppers swarming a discount item and fighting, shouting, and shoving to get out of the crowd. Police even swoop in to take down a shopper who got physical.

Another #Brawlmart tagged item showed a video of a Walmart in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. As the “This was a nice try at crowd control … but then,” one twitter user said, [linking to] a video showing a stampede-like crowd storming the doors.

#Brawlmart also spread to Fort Worth, Texas, where this video shows shoppers getting frighteningly rough reportedly over a DVD player, a Garmin GPS, and a variety of other items.

And in Rialto, Calif., a fight broke out over line-cutting in the parking lot of a Walmart before the store opened.

Videos of each of these incidents were embedded into the article.

Guys, I think we can do better than this.

This is not a rant against Black Friday shopping – truth be told, I was actually out on Friday buying a few last-minute items for this morning’s worship service (and hey – the fabric used to make the paraments were 40% off!). This is, however, a reflection on how extreme our society has taken the “holiday” season.

I have been thinking a lot about the Advent and Christmas seasons this year; about the commercialization of a Christmas holiday that most of us hold so sacred in our faith; about the growing divide between the sacred and secular celebrations of Christmas.

It would be easy for me to stand up here and tell you how important it is to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, to remember the reason for the season and to put the Christ back in Christmas. I could only choose Advent hymns for us to sing over the next four weeks. I could preach total resistance of the commercialization of the holiday season and complete embracing of the holiness of the Christmas season.

But that would do none of us any good.

Because around 11:00 I will say the benediction and we will all go our separate ways. We will be re-integrated back into the real world, a world where the Christmas season is very much secular and very much commercialized. So the Advent that we are experiencing inside the walls of the church will seem so irrelevant.

But here’s the thing: I do not think we have to choose between one or the other. I just think we have to find a balance that works for us.

This Advent season I charge you all to be intentional. Don’t just celebrate the season, experience the season. Find a way to merge the Christmas that your faith is calling you to rejoice in with the Christmas that is being celebrated all around you. Let’s face it, there is a real magic in brightly-lit lawns, in Pinterest-inspired centerpieces, in all-day cookie-baking extravaganzas, in gift-giving and gift-receiving, in 24-hour a day Christmas music and in the hustle and bustle of holiday parties and concerts.

But the magic goes away when these things become a task, when these things become a stress that weighs us down and when these things become a catalyst for a Black Friday stampede at Walmart.

One of the reasons that we have a Hanging of the Greens service is so that we can be intentional; so that we can remember why we adorn the sanctuary with decorations; so that decorating remains a spiritual and holy experience and does not simply become another obligatory task on our never-ending to-do list.

This season, be intentional. When you are out shopping, don’t do so out of obligation; rather think fondly of the person that you are shopping for and be grateful that you are in a position to give. When you are cooking, rejoice that you have food to prepare. When you are listening to Christmas music, sing along as if you surrounded by a chorus of people. When you are watching television, mute the sound during the holiday sale commercials and read a prayer, a devotional or a passage of scripture. When you are preparing your house for guests, give thanks to the Lord for a roof over your head. And when you are cleaning up after everyone has left, pause and be grateful for the friends and family in your life that descended upon your house and made that mess.

Separation of church and state has scared many of us into thinking that we cannot celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday in our day-to-day lives. But we can. We can be intentional and celebrate the coming of Emmanuel – God with us – in our lives.

Our sanctuary has been prepared and we are ready! Ready to wait; ready to celebrate the Advent season and ready for Jesus to descend upon our lives.

Come, Emmanuel, come! We are ready.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.