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!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 25, 2018
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!