Initial Thoughts for Christmas Eve/Day
2011-12-19 by David von Schlichten

Preaching for Christmas is overwhelming initially, because how do we say anew what everyone thinks they have heard a bizillion times?

Here are thoughts about Christmas that most people in the pew probably will not think of:

1. The Incarnation. The idea that God--the same God who created the universe and parted the Red Sea and all of that--came to Earth as a baby is pretty extraordinary. The God of the planet Kepler 22-B is the same God who was in the stable as a pooping, crying infant.

2. Mary as the bearer of God. God uses a person to bring God into the world. Incredible! How does God use us to bring God into the world?

3. The birth of Jesus matters because it makes possible the death and resurrection of Jesus. Good Friday and Easter are the reason for the Christmas season.

4. Jesus' birth does not just lead to eternal life (although that is no small gift). The birth also transforms our present lives. It inaugurates a new age of intimacy with God. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. How does Christ being with us in this new way transform our present lives?

5. Where and when in our lives do we find ourselves at the stable, and how do we respond? In other words, how does the story of the birth become a type (dangerous word, I know) that recurs throughout our lives?

What thoughts do you have?

Frantically shopping,

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Sermon Ideas for Advent 4B on December 18, 2011
2011-12-14 by David von Schlichten

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16: David wants to build God a house, but God doesn't really care about having one. Instead, God promises to make David's house last forever. When do we offer God something that God did not ask for? How does God respond? What does God give us that exceeds our expectations?

Christ's birth exceeds our expectations. Christ does not just come into the world to save us from the Romans. Christ comes to save us from death.

Romans 16:25-27: Christ's coming is the revelation of the secret long held. That is, God's salvation project is revealed by degrees, revealed in stages. How is that project continuing to be revealed? For instance, is the inclusion of homosexuals a new stage of the salvation project of God?

Luke 1:26-38: You are Mary. The angel comes to you and declares that you are the bearer of God to the world. How do you respond? How will your life be different? How do you nurture and raise Christ?

What thoughts do you have?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

4 Advent is not Pre-Christmas Christmas; Value of Pageants
2011-12-11 by David von Schlichten

What would it be like if we celebrated Advent in, say, August? Most us in the Church tend to think of Advent as preparing for Christmas, but Advent, as many of us chuch leaders know, is really a season that focuses on the comings of Christ, past, future, and present.

It's tempting to make the Fourth Sunday of Advent the de facto beginning of Christmas (In fact, at my congregation, we're having our Christmas pageant that day.). However, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is, well, part of Advent. How do we proclaim an Advent message that day without falling into a Christmas message, or do we not bother trying?

CHRISTMAS PAGEANTS: I'm going to sound like I'm raising my Ebenezer Scrooge here, but let's face it: pageants tend to be trite, and the kids are almost never loud enough, except when they're singing off-key. So what is the value of Christmas pageants, besides providing an opportunity for people to gush over our children's cuteness? I'm not saying that we shouldn't have pageants. I'm just wondering what you think of them.

Christmas pageants are often in lieu of the sermon, but do they function homiletically?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email them to me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Counting calories, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Sermon on Advent for December 11, 2011
2011-12-10 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on Advent

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, December 11,  2011

Third Sunday in Advent, Year B

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 816)


Get Ready to Sing, Part Three


            Today we’re concluding a sermon series. We have been hearing about Marison, a forty year-old working mother of two. Marison is thankful for her blessings but nevertheless has been feeling empty, lonely, and unfulfilled. Her pastor, Pastor Beatrice, suggested that Marison needs to find her song, meaning her calling, her true self. One night, Marison received a note which read, “Meet me Saturday at 4 PM. Love, Jesus.” Meanwhile, a mentally ill homeless man named Vic heard a voice tell him to go to Wal-Mart/Giant Eagle on Saturday at 4 o’clock to meet Jesus.

            Now it is Saturday at 4 PM. Marison pulls into the store parking lot. She is there to buy milk. She wonders, “Am I about to meet Jesus here, at the store, while buying milk?” She sees Vic standing out front. Everyone knows Vic. He is seen throughout town. He is greasy and smelly. He has black hair and a beard. He mumbles to himself and sometimes says strange things. Marison sits in her parked car. She drums the steering wheel with her fingers. “I don’t want to deal with Vic,” she thinks. “Maybe I’ll just drive away.” However, she wonders if God wants her to interact with Vic. She sighs. She gets out of the car and heads toward him.

            She walks toward him. He says nothing. She walks past him and is about to enter the building when he says, “Hey!” Her heart speeds up. She turns around. His face is grimy. His hair is greasy. His beard has crumbs in it. His clothes look like they have motor stains on them. He stinks of body odor and old clothes. Her stomach turns.

            He points at her. His fingernail is long and black from dirt. He says, “You’re Jesus.”

            Marison puts her hand to her chest and says. “Me?” She laughs a little. “Not even close.”

            “No,” he says, “I’m always right. You’re Jesus our Lord, and so am I.”

            She stares at him. He stares back. “What do I do now?” she thinks. “Walk away? Talk to him more? Give him money?” She finally says, “May I buy you something to eat?”

            His eyes widen. He walks away quickly. Marison calls after him, but he does not stop.

            A woman passing by Marison on his way into the store says, “Forget him. He’s crazy.”

            At five, while she’s feeding the cats, she gets a call from Pastor Beatrice.

            “Well?” Pastor Beatrice asks. “What happened?” Marison tells her.

            “Hm,” Pastor Beatrice says. “That kind of makes sense.”

            “How so?” Marison asks.

            Pastor Beatrice says, “Vic is sort-of right. Jesus is within you and him. He is within all of us while also being in heaven. So when he said that you and he are Jesus, that was sort-of true.”

            “I suppose,” Marison says. “But what do I do with that?”

            Pastor Beatrice, “I’m not sure. Maybe what you do with that is start treating yourself and others the way you would treat Jesus.”  

            The next morning during church is the pageant. Marison’s two boys are in it. One is a shepherd, the other a wiseman. Her husband goes with her to church, one of only a couple times a year he actually attends. Marison thinks about how she likes the idea of the pageant but gets frustrated with it because the kids are never loud enough. She sits there and watches. She thinks about all the people who are there today but who never come any other time.

            In her head, she hears Vic saying, “All of these people are Jesus, too.” Suddenly being in that hot room with a bunch of people who never coming to church watching a pageant she has trouble hearing is full of holiness. It all suddenly seems miraculous, like she’s at the manger. “Christ is all around me,” she thinks.

            Later in the service, during the offering, everybody sings “What Child Is This.” At first, Marison thinks, “Why are we singing this hymn during the offering? What does this have to do with offering?” Then she hears the first line of the third verse, “So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh.” Of course! That’s what we’re doing now. We are bringing our incense, gold, and myrrh to Jesus by giving our offering.”

            That hymn, “What Child Is This” sticks with her for the rest of the day. The line, So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh” plays through her head over and over. Bring him incense, gold, and myrrh. Bring him incense, gold, and myrrh.

            On Christmas Eve, she says to Pastor Beatrice, “I think I found my song.”

            Pastor Beatrice’s face lights up. “And?” she asks.

            Marison says, and you say, and I say, “And Christ is all around me, and I have a lot of incense, gold, and myrrh to give.”

            Pastor Beatrice then asks, “Yes, and how will you do that?”

Sermon Ideas for December 11, 2011, 3rd Sunday of Advent
2011-12-07 by David von Schlichten

Isaiah 61: This eschatological passage offers hope for the future and challenges us to pattern our lives after God and that future. For instance, God loves justice (v.8), so we should, too. For another example, righteousness and praise will spring up before all nations (v.11); therefore, let's get busy working on making that vision a reality.

How do we have patience as we wait for that final consummation, for the End? A watched pot never boils. A watched God never acts? In other words, when it comes to God, we do well to exorcise our impatience by getting busy helping others. Stop watching the pot and get cooking! God will act when God is good and ready.

The passage gives us hope by promising us an extraordinary future. I had a parishioner on Sunday say that hope leads to disappointment. I understand where the parishioner is coming from, but, with God, our ultimate outcome is always wondrous. Thus, our hope in our final future will never lead to disappointment.

Think about the idea of hope leading to disappointment. How would you respond to such an assertion?

Magnificat: Prophet Mary declares the radical socioeconomic inversion. How should we, who are wealthy (and most of us reading this are), respond to such a prophesy? How can I be wealthy and a servant of God who truly cares for the poor and does not just do lip-service to helping the poor while I eat yet another Big Mac?

1 Thessalonians 5 calls us to be joyful and thankful always. This passage is calling us, not to some sort of irritating bubbliness that minimizes the world's sorrow, but rather to a deep confidence in God's goodness prevailing over evil. What else does this passage call us to?

John 1: Jesus is God, not John or any other human. Jesus saves, not anyone else. Jesus is the Messiah, not any football team, political leader, billionaire, singer, or actress.

What thoughts do you have?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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