Manger Danger: A Sermon for Christmas

Luke 2:1-7; Colossians 1:15-23

“She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.” We love the manger scene as we gather here on Christmas Eve, but if you think about it, it’s not exactly the kind of place you’d want to have a baby and not the kind of crib you’d choose. We would much prefer the hospital to a cave (which is probably was—that’s the setting in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem); we’d rather hear the controlled voice of a doctor and a labor coach than the grunts of goats in the room; and we’d much prefer a climate-controlled room with a sanitized bassinet than a cattle trough that was likely made of stone, chiseled in the floor, and filled with hay.

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What is the “Good News?”

Text: Isaiah 61

good-news-great-joyGood news!

That’s how Isaiah begins last Sunday’s text from the Narrative Lectionary. In many ways it’s appropriate. I mean, we’d all like some good news at Christmas, right? Especially given that this year has had a lot of bad news. This is the time of year that we like to focus on the angels singing “good news of great joy” and “peace and earth and good will toward men” and all that, even though we struggle to see how it’s possible given all that’s happening in our world.

But I think that’s why this text is so important for us to look at today on this third Sunday of Advent. It’s a reminder that Advent anticipates the good news that is to come in the coming of Christ. But what exactly is that good news? That’s the question I want us to focus on today. Sometimes the good news gets forgotten, sometimes it’s hard to articulate. Sometimes it even turns into bad news. I want to take a moment before the Christmas crowds gather to talk about this good news and remind us what it’s all about.

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Joel: Return to the Lord

joel-212-widescreenIt’s the second Sunday of Advent, and our attention here at the church has turned completely toward the upcoming celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’ve often said that this is like the Super Bowl for us who lead churches—it’s the time of year when we have the biggest crowds and the most expectation. It’s something you actually have to train for—the extra stamina required for multiple services (four this year) plus Christmas Day is a Sunday. That means extra leg work at the gym and lots of preparation and practice for sermons, setting up extra chairs, etc.

Of course it’s also the time of year when many people wonder just why the crowds are bigger. Where are all these people the rest of the year? We go out of our way to prepare for them, but wouldn’t it be great if they all came back the next Sunday? Some ridicule them as “Chreasters” or H2O Christians (Holidays, 2 Only) and some churches make these folks feel guilty when they show up, not realizing that there sarcasm will ultimately insure that they never show up again. We’ve banned that sort of sarcasm here. For us it’s about rolling out the red carpet, no matter what it takes.

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Daniel: A Conspiracy of Hope

daniel-in-lions-denIt’s the first Sunday in Advent—a time when when we’re usually prepared to sing songs of the season and hear the familiar stories that will lead us up to the manger, whether it’s the preparatory texts in Luke’s Gospel or the prophecies of Isaiah, or the echoes of the Exodus story in Matthew’s Gospel. While there are lots of texts to choose from, Advent is always a challenge for preachers because we tend to cover the same territory.

But this year, using the Narrative Lectionary, we’re confronted with a text that looks like anything but an Advent story. If you grew up in the church, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) is a familiar one that we learn in Sunday School as children. It’s a wonderful story of faithful resistance in the midst of a pagan and hostile culture—something we’ve been talking about a lot over the last few weeks.

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A Game of Thrones: A Sermon After the Election

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

campaign-signs-president-1This has been a historic week by any measure. As we gather here on Sunday, after Tuesday’s election, we suddenly realize that the usual way of things—the predictable politics of the past—is no more. Whether you are dejected or elated over the results, we share in common the fact that none of us knows how the future will play out. Pundits, both professional and amateur, have been offering their predictions since early Wednesday morning, but if we’ve learned anything this week it’s that polls and predictions can be dead wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of Christians posting this week on how to respond to the election. Some are quoting Bible verses, some urging caution and kindness, others despairing, and still others are shocked with no clue as to what to do. I suspect most people are in that latter category. We don’t have a real precedent for this kind of thing—we’ve now marched off the map. We don’t really know what’s next.

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