We finished up our Advent sermon series on spiritual practices this week by looking at evangelism through the story of the shepherds and the angels. This is my last Advent sermon – our Christmas pageant is this Sunday. I will be back a few days after Christmas to post my Christmas sermon. Merry Christmas everyone! Our cries for Emmanuel have been heard!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 15, 2019
Sharing The Good News Of God’s Love
I have to admit, I had a different plan for my sermon earlier this week than where I finally landed by the time I started writing.
Okay, so perhaps not so much different, as a whole, but as I was putting some of the pieces together, I came across a commentary that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion in the end.
But I will get to that in a little bit.
This is the third and final week of our mini Advent sermon series looking at some of the spiritual practices highlighted in the Christmas story. We have already looked at service and hospitality; the topic for this morning is evangelism.
First of all, I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by admitting that I have a complicated relationship with the word evangelism.
To some extent, I used to be kind of scared of it. When I was in high school and college and thought about the term “evangelical” I thought about a very specific stereotype of Christian; the type of Christian that was more on the extreme side of things and, for lack of a better way to describe it, shoved religion down people’s throats.
I hate to even say this, because I really don’t like feeding stereotypes like this, but I do think that for a long time, there was this line drawn in Protestantism where you were either evangelical or you weren’t. Unfortunately, the way I understood evangelism was in a negative context; the thought never crossed my mind that I would even have something in common with evangelical Christians, let alone consider myself one.
And yet here I am, years later, and that is exactly what I would consider myself.
In fact, that is what we should all consider ourselves.
The word “evangelize” means to preach the Christian gospel. And, as Christians, this is something that we are all called to do, regardless if we realize it is what we are doing. We are all called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – in both word and action. We are all called to preach of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, a love that triumphs over evil, hatred and death. We are all called to preach a message where redemption is real and possible and holy. We are all called to preach the hope that comes from not being defined by our brokenness, but our wholeness in God.
This call to evangelize is something very different from what I used to understand it to be. But this, in fact, is the scriptural call to evangelize; this is the call from Jesus, himself, to go and make disciples, to share the Good News with a world that so desperately needs to hear it, to shine light into the darkness of the world.
Our 9th and 10th graders are currently going through Confirmation. Last month during our meeting, we were talking about the history of Christianity. One of the things I said in our conversation is that I think it is more important to understand Christianity as an experiential religion and not just memorize dates and other facts about it. Because, at its foundation, Christianity is about an experience; it is about individuals experiencing God’s love and then sharing that experience with others.
The ironic thing is that I usually use the resurrection as an example when I talk about this. The women who discovered the empty tomb told others what they had seen; they experienced God’s love through the resurrection of Jesus and then shared that love with others. But if you think about it, this is also exactly what happens in the part of the Christmas story we just heard with the angels and the shepherds. An angel appears to the shepherds and tells them that God’s love has come into this world through the birth of Jesus. They then run to see for themselves and when they return they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen.”
They experienced God’s love through the birth of Jesus and then they shared that love with others.
One of the miraculous parts of this story is that people were sharing the Gospel long before Jesus even them to. They knew they had seen and experienced something that was going to change the world and so they shared that something – that Good News – with the world.
This is evangelism.
And that, my friends, is not scary. It does not feed into negative stereotypes. It does not shove religion down people’s throats. Instead it promotes the hope, peace, joy and love of this season. It points people not only to Jesus, but to the Gospel he lived and calls us to live. It shines light into the darkness of the world and assures people that redemption is always possible; that, even when the moments of our lives seem bleak, God is not finished writing our stories.
This is what the Christmas story calls us to do – to tell people about this kind of love, to share our stories and to invite them to be part of this narrative.
And this is where I discovered something this week that caused me to draw a little bit of a different conclusion. The thing is, what I have come to learn about evangelism is that it is something that we all are called to do – even those of us who might not always be comfortable talking about our faith. We are all called to share our faith, to talk about our faith in a way that brings comfort and hope to our world.
But how do we do this? How do we do this in a way that feels comfortable to us? How do we do this in a way that others will listen to and understand? How do we do this when there are so many competing voices around us, especially at Christmastime when the commercialized narrative of presents and parties and other holiday chaos is so loud?
Listen to what I came across in one of my commentaries:
As elsewhere in these narratives, the word of God come through an angel, a divine messenger. Luke speaks of angels as easily as he speaks of human beings. In fact, when a sign is offered as proof of the good news, it is not what moderns might regard as a sign; i.e., something as extraordinary as a heavenly host. Rather, the sign is as common as a baby to be found in poor circumstances, lying in a feeding trough. (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Jame L. Mays, General Editor with the Society of Biblical Literature, page 931-932)
For those of us living on this side of the resurrection, 2,000 years after this story unfolded, we know that this was just not an ordinary baby lying in a feeding trough, but a savior who will not only one day proclaim the Gospel, but also live, die and be resurrected to new life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would all have a place in God’s eternal home.
But they did not know that at the time. At the times they just saw a baby.
And yet this was their sign. This was their sign that a miracle had just happened. This was their sign that God’s love had broken into our world. This was their sign that was hope was real and that redemption was possible. This was their sign that there was Good News happening in this world that was worth sharing.
It did not come through pomp and circumstances and other extravagant things. It came through the simple image of a newborn baby lying in a manger.
Here’s the thing – sharing God’s love does not have to be complicated and over the top. It can be as simple as a conversation with a family member or friend about what this season means to you. It can be a moment where you share a tangible sign of peace with someone else. It can be sending someone a card, bringing them a meal or surprising them with decorations if their house seems dark. It can be inviting them to church on Christmas Eve and grabbing their hand if the songs make them cry. It can be welcoming them into your home if they don’t have family close by to celebrate with.
I think sometimes we are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism because we overcomplicate it. We think we have to do something grandiose and over the top. We think that our voices have to be louder than everyone else’s. What we do not realize is that evangelism can and will happen in the ordinary and seemingly mundane moments of our lives.
People do not need huge and overwhelming signs to believe in God’s love, they need signs that are accessible and real and easily connect them to this story.
So if there is one thing that you remember from this particular part of this story, may it be this – you, too, can proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth. You, too, can join the angeltude of voices singing about the birth of Christ. You, too, can tell the world that God’s love is real and here. You, too, can help others bear witness to the signs around them – however ordinary they might seem – that will open their eyes to God’s love.
So go, therefore and proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to a world that needs to see grace in the ordinary and hope in the mundane. Share God’s love with others this holiday season. Sing with the angels. And may your voices be heard and your signs be recognized.
And may the world be forever changed.
Thanks be to God!