Sermon for Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-20, December 24, 2011
2011-12-22 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on the Birth

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Saturday, December 24,  2011

Christmas Eve, Year B

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 872)


Go to the Manger

                Your life is demanding and exhausting. You work all day. You never quite have enough money. You are sick of taxes. Your neighborhood is full of crime, people stealing from each other or killing each other over nothing. You are furious with the government, which is full of bickering and out-of-touch leaders. Disease, fighting, poverty, injustice. People drinking too much and loving too little. You kneel and pray, “God, don’t you care? You say you love us, but then you let us struggle and suffer? How long, O Lord? Why have you forsaken us?”

            Then, one night, you are lying in bed, unable to sleep. Something is different. Everything looks, sounds, and smells the same, but you can feel trembling deep within you. Then, a clatter! Men in the streets. Gruff voices, yelling, cussing. You leap up and open the door. Shepherds run through the streets saying something about having seen angels. You follow the shepherds from a slight distance. They are large, smelly, muscular men who have a reputation for being crude and tough, so you don’t want to get too close. As you walk behind them, others come to the front door and ask what’s going on or yell, “Quiet down! We’re trying to sleep!” Some people also follow the shepherds. You see a couple Roman soldiers yell for people to quiet down, but nobody pays attention to them for once. You make your way past a fire around which some rowdy drunks stand. Eventually, you come to one of the inns. You follow the shepherds around back to the stable. These large, beefy shepherds are on their knees before a baby lying in a manger, a food trough. Next to the baby sits in the hay a girl of about fourteen and a man of about twenty-two.

            One of the shepherds says, “An angel told us that this is the savior. Then a whole army of angels filled up the sky. The light was so bright, it was like morning. It was terrifying. We had to come and see the baby the angel told us about. Awesome.”

            You step forward. All the world’s gloom and injustice and bad news, but here, in this sacred moment, here, is beauty, holiness, hope. Here, in this moment, is the savior. The world is still full of pain and fear, but now you have the baby who brings new life, joy, and peace.

            Your life is demanding and exhausting. You work all day. You never quite have enough money. You are sick of taxes. Your neighborhood is full of crime, people stealing from each other or killing each other over nothing. You are furious with the government, which is full of bickering and out-of-touch leaders. Disease, fighting, poverty, injustice. People drinking too much and loving too little. You kneel and pray, “God, don’t you care? You say you love us, but then you let us struggle and suffer? How long, O Lord? Why have you forsaken us?”

            Then, one morning, you get up and go to the manger by going to church. You haven’t been going. Frankly, you’d rather sleep in. Your life is busy. You get so tired. Sleeping-in sure would feel good. But today you don’t. You think, “It’s the first Sunday of the month, so there’s communion today,” and you sure could use some holy communion. The world is often rough and strange, and it is easy for the soul to get weary. Holy communion is, among other things, nourishment, energy, for the soul. The body and blood of Christ, the real presence of God himself in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Holy communion. Just as we meet the baby Jesus in the manger, so also do we meet Jesus in the bread and wine. So you drag yourself out of bed. You get your shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, feed the cat. You climb into your car. As you drive to church, you start to feel nervous. Your heart speeds up, because you don’t go to church very often. What will people think when they see you there? You decide not to worry about it. You want to go to worship; this is not a time to worry about what people think. You pull into the parking lot. You swallow hard, step out of the car.

            Now you sit in worship. You think, “This is God’s house. God is here in a special way that I can’t experience anywhere else, and key to that experience is holy communion. The body and blood. Food and drink for the soul. My soul sure needs some food and drink.”

            During communion, you walk forward. You kneel, hold out your hands. The pastor puts the wafer in your hands, and you think of Christmas. Think. Just as the baby Jesus was in the manger in Bethlehem, bringing hope and new life to a heart-aching world, so also now Jesus comes to you in the bread. That wafer in your hand is the body of Christ, is the same Christ who lay in the manger. Each Sunday during worship, especially during holy communion, is Christmas all over again, giving you strength, hope, life, love. Take and eat. Christmas every Sunday.

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?”

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