The "other" Christmas Story (John 1)
2009-12-29 by Adam Grosch

Whenever we talk about Christmas we say that only two of the gospels offer to us the Christmas story.  But I as I have been thinking about the meaning of Christmas and reading the gospel lection for this Sunday, I am wondering if John does not get to the heart of Christmas even more so than Matthew and Luke.

 

Christmas has always seemed to pale in comparison to Easter.  The resurrection, after all, is the central point of the entire gospel.  Without the resurrection, would we even celebrate the birth of Jesus?  Christianity seems to hinge on Easter; and Christmas, a significantly less important holiday had been blown up by a capitalist society taking advantage of the reference to the men from the east coming and giving gifts to the baby Jesus. 

 

This understanding seems accurate to me as people repeat the sentimental stories of the manger scene with shepherds, angels, and the magi.  Christmas seems not much more than a nostalgic and sentimental holiday.  As we sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” during the Christmas Eve Children’s service, the holiday seems to lose more and more credibility.  Here we were celebrating the birth of Jesus – and only two of the gospel writers even bothered to mention anything about Jesus’ birth.  Seemed to me the feeding of the 5000, included in all the gospels, is more significant to the gospel writer’s than Jesus’ birthday.

 

But as I was reading the other birth narrative, the one we find in John, God “hit” me with a “new” appreciation for Christmas.  And when God “hit” me, it was a “duh” moment.  And I felt really dumb for going all Christmas without thinking about it.  It has been right there in front of me and is so obvious.  I am sure everyone else sees it, but somehow I had missed it this year.  I feel dumb – missing what seems to me now to be the central point of Christmas. 

 

My “new” realization coming out of the first chapter of John is that Christmas is not really just about Jesus’ birthday.  Sure it is this, but more importantly, Christmas is the time when we celebrate the incarnation.  The incarnation meaning “the Word became flesh and lived among us, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (v.14).”  Christmas is when we give thanks to God and rejoice in the fact that God came into this world to live with us and as one of us.  The incarnation celebrates the fact that the material and the bodily matter.  Christianity is not just about the spiritual, but it is about the physical.  God becomes someone we can touch, someone we can feel, someone who is physically real.  The incarnation means that life on earth matters and that the earth matters.  The incarnation means that God knows what it means to be human.  And it is through the incarnation that we can know God.  The incarnation is big.  Like the resurrection, it is not easily understood and not easily grasped.  It is giving me plenty to think about – much more than the simple manger scene and re-telling of Jesus’ birth.





Is Christmas Over?
2009-12-28 by Adam Grosch

As I begin to think about preaching this Sunday I am reminded that we will still be in the Christmas season.  At least that is what our church calendar says.  This may be a surprise to many of our congregants when they show up for worship.  I mean, the Christmas season is really in December and climaxes on Christmas Eve, right?  Most will be getting back to church now that the business of Christmas has ended.  Yesterday, worship attendance at our church was about half of what it was during advent.  By many measures Christmas is over.  This Sunday the kids will be thinking more about going back to school than the excitement of Christmas from well over a week ago.  Others will be more concerned with the beginnings of a new year and may be thinking about those new year resolutions that may already seem more daunting than they realized.  For many Christmas will be a distant memory. 

All signs of Christmas disappear so quickly.  The very day after Christmas our Boy Scout Troop hosted a Christmas Tree recylcing drive.  After all the preparations for Christmas, people seem ready to get rid of Christmas and get on with their lives.  Just about all of the Christmas lights that were up in my neighborhood are already gone.

 But if the good news of Christmas is God-with-us - this good news isn't just for one night.  It continues throughout the year and this Sunday as people are already beginning to get back into their normal schedules - it may be appropriate to remind them that God-with-us means that God is still here.

 





Introduction
2009-12-28 by Adam Grosch

Greetings.  My name is Adam Grosch and I have the privilege of blogging my thoughts on this Sunday's text.  I am a graduate of Duke Divinity School and currently I serve as Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Salem, Oregon.



Christmas Eve
2009-12-23 by David von Schlichten

For my Christmas Eve sermon I will pretend to be a contemporary Joseph on the brink of becoming the most famous stepfather in history. He will be a young man with huge obstacles and huge doubts about the world but who finds hope in the Baby.

My prayer is that the sermon will help people to learn to see God giving hope in the small births of their lives. Any advice? I will post the sermon at the cafe sometime soon.

Beneath this post is one from Ro Ruffin about the lessons for this Sunday.

Wishing you a soothing and rejuvenating Christmas, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Resurrecting the Image - Ro Ruffin
2009-12-21 by Ro Ruffin

It will be the first Sunday after Christmas.  This should be easy…God is with us! 

The lectionary passages for this week are remarkably in-sync.  Has it all been said?  Who am I that I think that I can, say something new?  These passages are smoothly intertwined, it seems.  Perhaps I am simply proof-texting, though.  But still, God is with us!   Love God, your neighbor as yourself, and your enemy.  The entire message of the Bible, here encapsulated; in a sentence, God is with us.  And, if we are obedient, we love as Christ loved, thus glorifying God.  This is what God demands of God’s children, that we be like God.

Psalm 148.  First, we are to praise God.  This is not simple lip service, but love in action.  In obedient love and selflessness, we honor , we praise God in a very real way.

1 Samuel, 2:18-20, 26.  Eli’s sons are a contrast to Samuel.  They are selfish, unloving, disobedient.  Samuel is not disobedient.  Samuel listens for God’s voice.  Samuel’s mother is a picture of the good parent , a very God-like way to be.  She gives all in praise of God and Samuel is obedient, he imitates his mother, as Jesus imitates his Father, who gave his Son to all who would trust the Son.

Eli makes an attempt to correct his sons, but they have gone their selfish way.  Their sin was great because they treated God’s offerings with contempt.

Now, we turn our attention to the Christian community following Jesus’ death.

Colossians 3:12-17.  How exactly are we to praise…to honor God?  The way Jesus did!  Selflessly.  Others first.  This is love. And loving others is loving God.  If we are to see this passage within its context, we cannot ignore the following verses.  Verse 18 and on is about the Christ-commanded primacy of putting others above the self.

Luke 2:41-52.  Clearly, Luke intended to compare Jesus’ situation to Samuel’s situation.  There is no reason to question this most obvious point.  Theologians have, for centuries, assumed that Jesus and Samuel are, for Luke, priests of God, their entire selves dedicated to God.    Jesus intimates that his parents should have known he would be in his father’s house.  Looking at the bigger picture, there is the suggestion that, like Christ, all of God’s children are to be in God’s house.  We are all to be who God created us to be, our very lives a service and a praise to God.

In both Samuel and Luke we find women of faith giving their sons, their very lives, giving all they are and have, to God.  These women lived in a world where having children (boys especially), and raising them be good people and to do great things, was the greatest honor to which they could aspire.  I have been searching for an analogy from today that might be comparable.  What brings women great honor in our age?  A slender figure?  A pretty face?  Fame, fortune, and Paparazzi?  These seem terribly shallow by comparison.  I don’t think women today can relate.  I would do anything for my child.  I would sacrifice anything but our relationship.  Hannah and Mary, we are told, sacrificed that familial bond to offer up their most precious gift, their lives, their honor, to God.  Men clearly also understood what it meant for Hannah and Mary to have sons whose lives were totally dedicated to God.  Thus, we have these writings.  In the end, I can only say that it was everything to these women.

Two major themes are designated by this month’s goodpreacher.com  commentators.  The first is the suggestion that God is at work in the lives of the children, Samuel and Jesus, behind the scenes, guiding and governing their growth and direction (see Kenneth E. Kovacs).  I don’t doubt that we are often unaware of God’s activities amongst us.  But, if God works behind the scenes, it is only because we have relegated God to that position.  Traditionally, the God of the Hebrews, and the Christians, has worked with the people for God’s purposes (see Huston Smith’s World Religions, for one).  God with us, not God behind us. 

The second major theme is a suggestion, well made by Kristen Johnston Largen.  She says that as God does not give up on us, we too are to be faithful to God.

Both points are good ones.  The latter, though, is closest to the ground, and the ground is where people walk.  We are, simply put, called to follow in Hannah and Mary’s footsteps…called to give our all, our lives, our very selves.  This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Okay.  So, I have not come up with something new, just something old, as old as creation itself.  This has been the point from the very beginning.  As with all of God’s earthly creation, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your enemy.  Afford everyone you meet grace, as you were given grace, though you too do not deserve it. 



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