Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas/Joseph in Matthew 1:18-25
2010-12-17 by David von Schlichten

Earlier this week, a few of us got into a discussion via Facebook about the old "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" debate. I tried to make the case for the latter. Some agreed, others did not.

As is so often the case with that debate, exchanges quickly descended into mean-spiritedness. The chief perpetrators were pastors, including myself. "Silly humans," Satan said as he observed all this from hell. "So easily do they embrace evil in the name of righteousness. They make my job a breeze."

Joseph provides some wisdom. When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, he is supposed to have her stoned to death. That's what the Bible says. Instead, Joseph resolves to divorce her quietly. Then, of course, an angel in a dream lets Joseph know that it is all right (I was going to say "safe" until I realized how ironic that would be) to marry Mary. So he does.

There are causes that demand for us to be loud and passionate, but is this whole issue about the proper greeting one of those causes? Maybe the best thing to do is to focus less on the proper greeting and more on emulating the quiet mercy of Joseph, which arises from and is sustained by the greater mercy of God.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Reluctantly Blessed
2010-12-14 by Stephen Schuette

(Or, let me make you an offer you can’t refuse...)

Isaiah 7:10-17

It’s telling that the footnote in the HarperCollins Study Bible to vs. 17 says, “Whether the verse is a promise or a threat to Judah is ambiguous.”  Makes me wonder if you can be threatened by a promise?

For that seems to be Ahaz’ position.  For whatever reason, whether due to lack of trust, fear of loss of control, faithlessness, a reluctance to “go there,” etc., Ahaz says he won’t ask, even though the prophet has invited him.  All he has to do is ask.  Reminds me of the story of the healing of Naaman when the only thing he has to do to be healed is to wash.  (2 Kings 5) All Ahaz has to do is ask.  But while Naaman wanted more Ahaz seems to want less.  Maybe he simply wants to manage the nation’s affairs without any theological or moral complications.  (Sometimes this stuff really strikes close to home.)

And yet there is a blessing bestowed.  Ahaz’ enemies will vanish.  Where there is no way God is going to open a way.  It’s almost as if Isaiah is saying, “Ahaz, you will be blessed, damn it!  One way or another God is going to bless you!”

Are we ready for Christmas in terms of the blessing?  I know I’m not, and hardly ever have been.  I’m too caught up in whatever is occupying my attention.  I think I can manage if I just try a little harder.  I think I’ve figured it out, if I can just have one more chance to try it on my own.  I want God to understand that I’ll feel a little better about the blessing after I am more secure in my own sense of accomplishment, thank you very much.  But what may be psychologically understandable is theologically profoundly wrong.  It’s a stubborn refusal to turn willingly and openly to receive the blessing I need.

But God will bless!  And Jesus is born!




Lutheran Santa and Mary's Song
2010-12-11 by David von Schlichten

Last night, Santa came around to our cul-de-sac to hand out candy.

He said to me, "You're that Lutheran minister, aren't you?" I said I was.

He said, "I'm Lutheran, too. How about that? Santa's a Lutheran."

"Wow. Who knew?"

He said, "It's a problem, though, because the whole Santa-thing is based on works. You get gifts if you're good."

We laughed about this and moved on.

Mary's song is about God's grace being shown to the downcast and judgment being shown to the wealthy. Ultimately, of course, God shows mercy to us all, even though we can never earn it ever.

I don't know where I'm going with this (and it's Saturday afternoon!), but this will all probably somehow turn into the sermon for tomorrow morning.

Any thoughts?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Exceeding Our Expectations!
2010-12-09 by David Howell

Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! (click here) is exceeding our expectations!

Tom's journal details each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached.

Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources.

 

Follow an outstanding preacher!





Preaching Luke 1:46b-55
2010-12-08 by David Howell

What song is in the air as you approach this third week in Advent? Is it a song from the Christmas cantata that the choir has been practicing or perhaps one of those Christmas commercial jingles infiltrating the airwaves around you? Music is a primary medium through which the ethos of this season is conveyed. An expansive territory of sound bites was claimed months ago for the very purpose of monopolizing our hearing. The problem arises when we actually listen. Even though each song may be identified as "Christmas music," not all of those songs are saying the same thing. The delineation between secular and sacred may help us sort out some of the divergent messages. Yet, what are the criteria for a song to qualify for the elementary school’s Holiday Music Concert? Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s famous duet of Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy is one example of the blending of these categories in such a way as to proclaim the Gospel inadvertently, while announcing the urgent need for this good news to be made real among us. Even the legend of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer bears a resemblance to "the last will be first and the first will be last." (Mt 20:16)

St. Augustine of Hippo is credited with saying, "He who sings prays twice." The Latin is more accurately quoted as "He who sings well prays twice" and does not appear in any of St. Augustine’s known writings. He did however write, "Singing belongs to one who loves" (s. 336, 1-PL 38, 1472). Further investigation of Augustine’s writing on the matter reveals a deeper understanding of the power of music. He writes, "There is a praise-filled public proclamation (praedicatio) in the praise of someone who is confessing/acknowledging (God), in the song of the lover (there is) love."1

From the milieu of Christmas songs, Mary’s song rises to be showcased on this particular Sunday. It is all that Augustine writes about, joyful praise confessing a public proclamation of faith and love. I have always been amazed that the song exudes strength, trust, and confidence in all God has promised to do. The verb usage is in the past tense (2:48, 49, 51). Mary sings of God’s promise as if God has already done these things. Note, she does not sing about being scared, nauseous, bloated, or anxious and there is not even a hint that she is overwhelmed. Nor does she sing about the plight of her people and how it is about time that God stepped in. Her song exudes a kind of enthusiastic eschatological belief in the final reign of God on earth. It is a reign that will establish God’s justice. Listen to her declaration: the proud and puffed up are brought to terms with the effects of their pride and self-righteousness (1:51); the powerful are brought down off their high horses and the lowly are brought to a place of respect and dignity (1:52); the hungry are (finally) filled with good things—no more table scraps and demeaning handouts (1:53); and the rich are sent to deal with the consequences of their wealth and the emptiness that is left when tangible gain is lost (1:53).

At the beginning and again at the end of the song Mary proclaims God’s mercy, yet the lyrics are clear that God’s stepping in directly affects the human systems of power that have not represented God’s best desire for creation. The power of her song is not in the sweet innocence of Mary the singer, but rather in the bold claim, she (of all people) makes. After all, who is she to speak for what God is doing or has done? She declares that God’s good news has been and will be made real among us. Her baby is not one who will lie quietly in a manger surrounded by well-behaved barnyard animals only to be sketched in a tableau for Christmas cards. The birth of this child will place the being of God squarely in the skin of humanity and will occur in the chaotic mess of human need. This child will have as custodians a barely married couple trying to obey the census laws while not having made appropriate plans for a place to stay. Good folks, no doubt, are this Mary and Joseph. At first glance, it just does not make sense when you connect the dots between who they are (not wealthy, not of any power or influence in the current economic and sociological systems) and what Mary says God is going to do through this child. The boldness of her declaration points us to the realization that it is not about them. It is about whom God is and God’s way of bringing light from dark, joy from mourning, and life from death.

Who will sing Mary’s song? In your context, how will you represent her? Will your listeners put her on a pedestal or identify with her? Will worship this Sunday inadvertently proclaim the Gospel while announcing Christmas is almost here or will the bold proclamation of Mary’s song be center stage? Will you offer a joyful praise confessing a public proclamation of faith and love? What song will your sermon sing?

Carol Cookmore

Notes

1. John Zuhlsdorf, What does the Prayer Really Say? 17/June/2010 htt;://wdtprs.com/blog/2006/02/st-augustine-he-who-sings-prays-twice/





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