Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
“Prepare the Way: Welcome”
Rev. Andrew Davis
December 23, 2018
Micah 5: 2-5a
Luke 1: 39-55
These last few days, I’ve had the rock band Europe’s song, “The Final Countdown” stuck in my head; or this morning, I have “One Day More” from the musical “Les Miserables” continuously playing in my head. Ready or not, we find ourselves at the final Sunday of Advent as we prepare to cross the threshold from Advent to Christmas with tomorrow being Christmas Eve. While we have been preparing the way of the Lord these last four week, it really feels like it’s only been a week, as time has gone by so fast and only gets faster each year. I remember having one of those paper Advent calendars when I was younger, where we would open up a panel each day to reveal something about what is to happen at Christmas and before we knew it, all 25 panels were open; or I’d watch presents gradually appear under the Christmas tree, trying to guess what’s inside before Christmas Day and excited when my guess was right.
Advent is a time of anticipation, along with actively preparing the way of the Lord as we make room to welcome the Christ child into our lives once again at Christmas. As we reach the final countdown of our Advent journey, which concludes at sunset on Christmas Eve, we aren’t sitting idle as we prepare to welcome people into our homes, whether it’s a family dinner or informal gathering with friends, or as we are preparing to be welcomed into another home if we are traveling. Or as we do every Sunday throughout the year, but even more so at this time of year and on Easter Sunday, we are getting ready to welcome many visitors through the doors of our sanctuary as we all worship together and celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow night, whether we come through these doors each week, or only every now and then. Nevertheless, all are welcome here!!
On the other hand, there are some who are struggling to welcome Christmas because of experiencing loss, being angry at someone or even with God, or for a myriad of other reasons that make this time of year difficult. This past Wednesday night, we welcomed people into our sanctuary who are struggling with this time of year and struggling to find joy, or those who just needed a quiet space and escape from the sensory overload this time of year brings, as we had our Blue Christmas service. While our sanctuary might not be packed to the brim for a midweek service, we still need to offer this kind of space too and provide a welcome for those who struggle. Even in the scriptures, there was some struggle to welcome something new, such as the priest, Zechariah struggling to believe the angel Gabriel telling him that his wife, Elizabeth is pregnant, or in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph struggling with the news that Mary is pregnant. Or even Mary, struggling to make sense of Gabriel’s message at first before saying yes to God before welcoming the news that she would be the earthly mother of God’s son. Even when we struggle, even when we may have a hard time finding joy, or even if we are approaching this timeless story for the hundredth time or for the first time, we have an opportunity to welcome the Christ child into our midst, along with welcoming others to join us on this journey of faith.
As we just read in our Gospel lesson from the first chapter of Luke, we hear the story of Mary’s visit to her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John, who we will come to know as John the Baptist who would be the hype-man and front-runner of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth was not an easy in any way given that Elizabeth lived in the Hill Country, as Mary had to travel a great length in mountainous terrain, kind of like navigating the Sierras or some of the many trails around here. Imagine making that journey while in the early stages of pregnancy. Amidst the challenges of that journey, when Mary reaches Elizabeth’s home, she is welcomed with open arms, and not just open arms, but an exclamation of joy from Elizabeth. Elizabeth knows something is special with Mary, as the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy when Mary comes to see Elizabeth, which had to feel like a very hard kick.
Backing up a little bit to before Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, after an address to Theopholis, Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist being foretold, then the priest, Zechariah being told by the angel Gabriel that his wife will become pregnant, yet doesn’t believe the news that Gabriel tells him and is silenced for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Although she is much older than Mary, Elizabeth has been barren, unable to have children all this time, which makes this a miraculous birth when Elizabeth becomes pregnant. In the passage leading up to this morning’s lesson, the Angel Gabriel visits Mary and in what’s called “The Annunciation” that is often depicted in Medieval and Renaissance art. Gabriel tells Mary that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that her infant will be named Jesus, then tells Mary the news that Elizabeth is pregnant too, as we then see Mary say, “here I am,” unlike Zechariah’s response which leaves him silenced.
So here we are at chapters 39-55, encountering Mary’s visit with Elizabeth and as a response to Elizabeth’s acclamation of joy, Mary sings a song of joy known as the Magificat, another work that has been an inspiration for several choral masterworks. This song of joy is a response to Mary’s big yes to God, to being the earthly mother of Jesus, and foreshadows the way that this baby is going to change the world. When this baby grows up, he will bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, and bring about an ‘upside-down kingdom.’ In the Old Testament lessons we have been reading, this baby will ultimately fulfill the prophecies that have foretold his birth such as what we heard in Micah, and even what we’ve already read to this point in Zepheniah, Jeremiah, and Malachi during this Advent season. Mary is realizing that as she is welcomed by Elizabeth, this is no ordinary child, considering how John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, which becomes welcome news when Mary comes to this realization. It’s a welcome response to how God is faithful as Mary says yes to God.
Even though many of us may know the story of Christmas well, or if the Christmas story is new to you, Jesus’s birth is always welcome at this time of year, as it’s a chance to experience a birth and even a re-birth of our faith, maybe a birth of adopting new disciplines into our lives, as the Christmas story is a way of showing how God’s work is still coming to fruition, even today. During the first part of Advent, we focused on the Parousia, or second coming of Christ, which we are still awaiting just like the people had been waiting for the messiah up to 3-400 years before Jesus’s birth. Even while in between times and in the now, but not-yet between Jesus’s arrival and second coming, God still needs us and needs our hands to do the work that Jesus was sent to do. The birth of Jesus in each of us at Christmas today is a welcome opportunity to consider how we can be the hands and feet of Christ, or like our mission statement for our church says, how we can be Jesus’s ambassadors here on earth. In his Advent study book from 2011, The Journey, Rev. Adam Hamilton explains that as we hear the words of the “Magnificat” or “Mary’s Song,”
It is an invitation for us to humble ourselves before God and to be [equipped] by god to fulfill the first words of that line – to help the poor walk away full [and to pass along blessings each of us has received].”[i]
So how are we going to humble ourselves before God, or another way of re-framing that, how are we going to say yes to God as Christ is born and as we look ahead to 2019? Instead of the judgment, anxiety, and fear that we hear messages of more often than not in the news today or in some of the writings we heard earlier in the Advent season, how are we going to leave such messages behind in order to welcome a savior and new life?[ii]Likewise, how are we going to allow God’s love to enter into each of us this Christmas and throughout the year? As we concluded our Advent study, Down to Earth on Wednesday night, I was reading the epilogue afterward and Rev. Mike Slaughter got my attention when he writes
Before we can love like Jesus, walk in the humility of Jesus, practice the servant lifestyle of Jesus, or say our big yes of obedience to Jesus, we must accept the full significance of God’s love. We must allow ourselves to be loved, so that in turn we will find ourselves compelled to do love. We must unwrap the greatest gift ever given by our down-to-earth God, accept it for ourselves, and then extend it through Christ to others.[iii]
As we think about what it means to welcome Christ into our hearts once again or even welcome Christ into your heart for the first time, let’s welcome love too, just like we sang in the hymn of praise, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” Let’s take this opportunity to walk in Christ’s love, while we allow ourselves to be loved too, even loving ourselves, something I’m still learning to do. And as we go into this Christmas season and unwrap the love, how can each of us become more involved in ministries of love and caring, not just at Christmas, but throughout the new year ahead?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say Amen!!
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
“Prepare the Way: Refine”
Rev. Andrew Davis
December 9, 2018
Malachi 3: 1-4
Luke 3: 1-6
This past week as I was reading through our texts for this morning, parts of Handel’s Messiah immediately came to mind. How many of you have had the opportunity to sing the Messiah, have it on CD, or have seen it live? The Messiah by George Friedrich Handel is a beloved choral masterwork that often gets associated with Christmas, although it is a work that was written to tell the entire story Jesus’s life through music; from the prophets announcing his birth all the way to the resurrection. As I read these two texts this morning, I hear the words, “But who may abide, the day of his coming” or “Every valley…every valley, shall be exalted…” playing through my mind. Now, I could sing both of these solo arias from the Messiah, although they are a bit demanding to sing without extensive rehearsal, especially “But Who May Abide” where it talks about the refiner’s fire and all the notes in that part.
As we continue our Advent journey, now in its second week, we began our series, “Prepare the Way” last week by talking about Jesus’s second coming, or Parousia, as the first Sunday of Advent begins with Jesus’s second coming. When we come in expecting to talk about Jesus’s birth, it can be a little bit unsettling and jarring if you’re not used to dealing with hearing about the second coming, or hearing apocalyptic language and seeing such imagery. And yet, there is still hope even in the midst of the chaos and the vivid imagery, because we have this hope of redemption, salvation, and this hope of peace, love, and joy that can be born in each of us at Christmas each year. Likewise, Advent is a time of waiting, watching, preparing, and taking some time of stepping out from the hustle and bustle of this time of year. As I shared last week, I’m finding that similar to the season of Lent, adopting spiritual practices during Advent is a meaningful way of stepping away from this busy time to spend some time in quiet and spending some time with God. Just like Lent, Advent “calls for a time of reflection and even repentance and mourning, [while it] also invites people to a joyful celebration in anticipation of a radical divine intervention with the coming of the Messiah.”[i]Even in the now, but not-yet between his first arrival and second coming, we as followers of Christ are the ones that can bring that joyful celebration and anticipation to those around us.
As we engage with our texts this morning, we hear this message of someone coming, whether it’s in the form of a messenger in Malachi’s prophecy, or John the Baptist calling on the people around him to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ as he cites the prophecy from Isaiah 40 (Luke 3: 4). In Malachi’s prophecy, we get the imagery that when this messenger does arrive, he will be “like a refiner’s fire” or “fullers/cleaning soap” that will “purify” everyone who crosses the Messiah’s path (Malachi 3: 2-3). Yet what exactly is this “refiner’s fire” that Malachi is talking about? Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto talks about how refining in this case
stems from the effects of the coming messenger’s work. It is a call to renewal on the part of God’s people. It is not so much the idea of punishment as it is the idea of being convicted in light of the Great Day of the Lord and a time of new beginning. The prophet concludes [the Book of Malachi] with a promise of hope.[ii]
Even both of last week’s texts point towards a new beginning which all of us have the opportunity to experience at Christmas, even as we spend this time of actively preparing during the season of Advent. As part of this active preparation, we need to take the time to repent, to seek forgiveness from God, to forgive others who have wronged us, seek forgiveness from the ones we have wronged, and to allow ourselves to experience a new birth or beginning, and accept God’s grace. To refine means to renew, so that we can be like that gold or silver, renewed and purified once again.
Even in Luke’s gospel, we see John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin who lives in the desert proclaiming a prophecy that something more powerful than him is coming, a messiah, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Here in Luke’s Gospel, we encounter John being kind of like the hype-man that warms up a crowd before a TV or comedy show, or the guy we’ve been seeing on TV, Michael Buffer who says, ‘let’s get ready to rummmmmmmmbbbbbbbbbbbble,’ hyping the people up to prepare the way for Jesus’s ministry, ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ John’s ministry involves calling on the people to repent, as their salvation is coming near, which is a major theme all throughout Luke’s gospel. At the time Luke’s gospel was written, John is calling on “an ethical renewal in Israel, and the extension of the work of salvation to all peoples.”[iii]
Nevertheless, when we think about being purified, about changing our hearts, preparing the way of the Lord, and about new beginnings at Christmas, we still need to get ready. Part of that is the need to remove the obstacles and barriers that get in the way, even the walls that we tend to put up around our hearts, which is what happens when the valleys are made plain and the mountains made low[iv]. Likewise, as we are on the journey towards sanctification, which is the Methodist view of salvation, we are seeking to ultimately having the mind and likeness of Christ. Yet as we are on the journey of justification, we have to constantly refine ourselves by accepting God’s grace, practicing self-reflection, being willing to be held accountable by our peers, studying God’s word, worshiping often, and seeking God’s will in everything we do.
On the other hand, anytime I mention change which is akin to dropping a four-letter up here, I’ll encounter some who will say ‘well, I’m not going to change, so deal with it.’ Yet, all of us are in need of change; we’re all in need of refining; we all have something to repent of, myself included. As much baggage that change or repentance might carry, it’s not a bad thing and is something that is necessary.
It’s like weeding the garden, mowing the lawns, or at this time of year, pruning our trees and bushes.
One of my favorite authors, The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor explains that
As any good gardener knows, new life requires some assistance. The life itself is entirely God’s gift, but the cultivation of it calls for work. There is some tilling and fertilizing to be done, some weeding and pruning of dead branches. Without such intentional participation in the renewal of life, the roses will eventually disappear under the poke-weed, and the [beetles] will eat all of the peaches.[v]
That’s what Malachi and John the Baptist are essentially talking about, as we need to be refined and we need to overcome the obstacles and barriers that we tend to put up as we prepare the way of the Lord during Advent, so that we can fully experience the new life that Christmas brings.
This week in our Advent study, Down to Earth, we’re going to be talking about lifestyle and as we think about what it means to look within ourselves, to be refined, and prepare the way of the Lord, Mike Slaughter writes that
Advent is one of our best opportunities to perform the greatest act of service that anyone could ever commit: introducing another person into a life-giving and life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.[vi]
It doesn’t mean we have to have our stuff together and already be refined, but this walk of faith is not meant to be done alone either. It means that we have others we can be refined with together, people we can prepare the way of the Lord with together, and even repent together because “God is still in the process of doing. All who hear ‘the Word of God’ are called to declare what God is doing in our midst.”[vii]Like the Christmas gifts that we shop for, sharing your faith, sharing how God has refined you and has changed your heart with someone else, sharing that “life-giving, life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ” is a gift on its own.[viii]
As we go into the new week and actively continue preparing the way of the Lord, think about renewal and what we can renew in ourselves at Christmas, both as individuals and a church. Where do you need to repent and where might you need refining? What are some things that we can change within ourselves and our hearts? And what are some obstacles that are still in the way, or as Luke says, “mountains and hills” that need “to be made low” as we prepare for Christmas?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, AMEN!!
[i]Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto, “Second Sunday of Advent 2018, Year C Preaching Notes" in Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, accessed 8 December 2018, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/advent-christmas-epiphany-2018-19-worship-planning-series/december-9-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c/second-sunday-of-advent-2018-year-c-preaching-notes
[iii]R. Allen Culpepper, “Commentary on the Gospel of Luke” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 81.
[v]Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin: Recovering the Lost Language of Salvation (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000), 49.
[vi]Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups: Down to Earth: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years are Met in Thee Tonight (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 82.
[vii]R. Allen Culpepper, 82.
[viii]Slaughter and Billups, 82.
Sunday, December 2, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
“Prepare the Way: Stand”
Rev. Andrew Davis
December 2, 2018 – First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-36
How many of you already have your homes decorated for Christmas? How many of you were at Main Street Sparkle on Friday night? As we look around us, the song title sung by Perry Como and a number of other artists at this time of year says, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as the town is now decorated and looking extra festive. We saw signs of it looking like the Christmas season earlier last month as the ornaments were being hung on the trees along Main Street. Then on Monday, the lights were being strung on the tree at the courthouse and of course, Sparkle was amazing once again thanks to the work of the Quincy Chamber. I think it’s safe to say that we are now in the Christmas spirit around here, especially as we just had some snowfall too.
However, you might wonder why we aren’t all decked out with boughs of evergreen and why we aren’t singing Christmas carols in the church quite yet? That’s because today, we begin the season of Advent, a four-week period of preparing the way for the birth of Christ and preparing our hearts and homes to let the Christ child into our hearts and home at Christmas once again. But rest assured, it’ll look more like Christmas before long!! I’ll admit that waiting isn’t my favorite part, except I’m realizing the older I get each year, I have come to appreciate Advent more and more every year and look forward to Advent.
One year, when I was somewhere between 10-12 years old, I was always eager to jump right into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, although one embedded value was that we wait until December 1 until we even put a single decoration up. One of the years, my mom decided to take a new approach to Christmas decorating and decorate the house a little bit at a time each week, which did not sit too well with me initially. Over the years, I find more meaning by putting things out little by little instead of just jumping right into Christmas, as it makes preparing the way even more meaningful and gives me a greater appreciation of waiting. Likewise, I’m not too eager to put things away the day after Christmas, as the Christmas season actually lasts until Epiphany, which is January 6th.
I appreciate that as we wait and prepare the way for Christmas, Advent gives us an opportunity to adopt spiritual practices that will feed our soul, that will allow us to slow down a little bit, and give us a moment to step out of the busy nature that this time of year brings. It’s hard not to have a mile-long to-do list, or be bombarded by all the advertisements along with all the shopping, the rich, sweet, and tasty foods, the decorating, school concerts, plays, and other things that make this season so busy and overwhelming at times. One practice I’m finding valuable is being able to step away and spend some time with God through journaling and guided meditations. And tonight, I’ll begin lighting my home Advent wreath. As you saw at the beginning of worship, we began by lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath, as the candles represent the light of hope, peace, love, and joy that Christmas brings to us as we prepare the way. Even while we need to take the time to quiet our heart, we do want to stand idle either. As we await Christ’s birth and at the same time, await Christ’s second coming, or Parousia, we set the stage to prepare the way of the Lord, stand up, and wake up as Jesus talks about the future in our Gospel lesson from Luke 2.
As we engage with the text that we just read, our Gospel lesson includes some vivid imagery that Jesus uses when he talks about his second coming. As followers of Christ, we stand in the in-between times of Jesus’s first arrival with his birth and in his return to earth, which has yet to happen, also known as the now, but not-yet. Jesus explains that just before his return, some unsettling things and different phenomena will happen around the earth before we see “’the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” (Lk. 21: 25, NRSV). It’s a pretty impressive sight that Jesus describes here as the son of God, although for many, it could conjure up images and emotions of fear or awe. Even while waiting, Jesus says to pay attention, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk. 21: 28, NRSV).
There is a certain urgency that Jesus is instructing the disciples at the time Luke was written, as
like the prophets, both Jesus and Luke expected the end to come before the end of their generation, but the continuation of history does nothing to invalidate the warning of the judgment of the wicked or the assurance of the redemption of the faithful.[i]
All the more reason that we as a people of faith cannot stand idle and why we need to stay awake and pay attention, listening to God while being guided by the Holy Spirit. Like the reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah that we heard this morning, there was an expectation of God sending a messiah to the Israelite people when Jeremiah was written. Likewise, in Luke’s gospel and even in Paul’s letters, the end of the world as they knew it and God’s new creation was expected any day, yet here we are 2018 years after Jesus’s birth and we’re still waiting. Jesus is saying to us today that we need to stand ready for our redemption with God, and actively wait instead of sitting and twiddling our thumbs, as we don’t know when we will “stand before the Son of Man” or when Jesus will return (Lk. 36, NRSV).
Even though we are in the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas, our world is much like the world that Jesus was ministering to, messy and tense. Today, we’re seeing political tensions on a daily basis around the world, natural disasters, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, and other phenomena happening around us and around the world. And yes, there are some who believe it may be a sign from God. Nevertheless, we still do not know the exact time when Jesus’ return will happen, although if he was to return, would we be ready? It’s why we need to “be alert at all times“ as we actively stand and wait (Lk. 21: 36, NRSV). Jesus says all of this because “the danger is that if the disciples allow their hearts to be weighed down by worldly distractions, the coming of the day will catch them the way a trap catches an animal unawares” and the same goes for us today as 21stcentury disciples of Jesus.[ii]
The intent of this morning’s scripture lessons is not to scare us into believing in God/the Holy Spirit or following Jesus, but it does give us an urgency that we need to be living in hope of God’s redemption and restoration of the world when Christ does come again. It’s important to stand at attention as we prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas during the season of Advent, but at the same time, there is hope even amidst such vivid imagery and apocalyptic language that feels more like something of a doomsday movie as we await Jesus’s second coming. Perhaps, our gospel lesson and reading from the prophet Jeremiah are both pointing us towards God’s new creation and a restoration of order. Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto shares in our series commentary that what we are seeing in both of our readings this morning
is a vision with concrete implications for the present circumstances in which the people of God find themselves…the church claims the message of this first Sunday of [Advent] as an opportunity to “announce a future that enters around the restoration of this world to its proper character in God’s creation.”[iii]
That’s where we can find hope during Advent, a future filled with hope in God’s restoration and redemption of the world and creation. That’s why it’s important that we try our best to live accordingly too, loving God and neighbor, forgiving those who have wronged us, loving the creation that we have right now, cultivating new spiritual practices, and building upon the practices we already do. At the same time, we can share a message of hope, especially by standing with those who struggle at this time of year, as we do need to be mindful that this isn’t ‘the most wonderful time of year’ for everyone. On the other hand, “for those who live to step on others, the message of Jesus is a message of judgment and a call to repentance,” yet when repentance of our sins and wrongdoing happens, redemption and forgiveness from God and those we have wronged are both possible. Even amidst the messiness of our world, even in light of disasters and earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or fires, the good news is that God still shows up and that we can be redeemed, and restoration can happen.
As I’ve said the last couple weeks, God has shown up and stood with those coming to bring aid to those affected by the Camp Fire. God showed up through our Rotary Club and Crisis Center by preparing Thanksgiving dinners for those in need. God shows up and stands with those who are giving of their time this season in ringing The Salvation Army bells, and God shows up and stands with us, even when we are going to-and-fro during this very busy season. As we can see, we’re not standing idle, as we’re actively waiting, watching, and preparing for Jesus’ birth and as we bring the kingdom of God here to earth not just during the Advent season, but throughout the entire year. As we discussed during our Advent study this last week, Rev. Mike Slaughter writes that “Advent is the expectation that Jesus will come in the present to birth in us God’s new work. It is a season of active preparation as we welcome Jesus down to earth.”[iv]Let us be active as we make all the preparations as we get ready to welcome the Christ child into our hearts and homes at Christmas. As we go into this new week and step into the season of Advent by taking some time to reflect and put your faith into action, what are some signs and happenings you are seeing around you that you are paying close attention to? How are you praying, staying alert, and standing at attention, particularly in ways you can help bring God’s kingdom here to earth? And finally, how are you preparing your heart and home to welcome the Christ child into your midst at Christmas?In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!
[i]R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 409.
[iii]Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. “First Sunday of Advent 2018. Year C – Preaching Notes – Umcdiscipleship.org.”Umcdiscipleship. Org. Accessed November 29, 2018. .
[iv]Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups, Down to Earth: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years are Met in Thee Tonight (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 11.
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
“The One Who Is, Who Was, and Is to Come”
Rev. Andrew Davis
November 25, 2018
Revelation 1: 4b-8
John 18: 33-37
Today is one of those strange-feeling Sundays, as it has the feeling of a holiday weekend with many still out of town from Thanksgiving this past Thursday. It’s also the quiet before the storm, as we are in a now, but not-yet when it comes to Christmas despite the fact that Black Friday has come and gone and that Christmas décor abounds just about everywhere you look now and Christmas music will be playing on many radios, CD players, or Pandora internet radio from now until December 26th. As I was driving back to Quincy from Rio Linda yesterday, I saw many Christmas trees on top of cars and trucks pass by me on Hwy. 89 and 70, a clear sign that Thanksgiving is now over and that it’s all about Christmas. Yet here in the church, or at least those of us who follow the liturgical calendar, it’s the end of the liturgical year with today being Christ the King Sunday before we begin the season of Advent next Sunday.
Christ the King, or Reign of Christ Sunday is one of those Sundays in the Christian year which is fairly new, as it was created in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. During that time, much of Europe was still dealing with the aftermath of WWI, while some of the world powers were beginning to assert their control and rise to power, and the world at the time was quite frankly a giant mess. At the same time, Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan explains that “the Pope felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. They were choosing to live in the ‘kingdom’ of the world rather than in the reign of Christ.”[i]Of course, Christ the King is different than any king and his kingdom will be much different than any of the kingdoms here on earth, whether it was then or today. It will be a kingdom of the one who is, was, and is to come that will turn any other kingdom upside down, although we stand in the in-between times of Jesus’s birth, death, and second coming, or Parousia.
In our text this morning, we are presented with two scenarios of Christ as king in Revelation and in the Gospel of John. In this opening chapter of Revelation, Jesus is revealing through his messenger, John, God’s vision for the world and how God is ultimately the one who is, was, and is to come with Christ as God’s witness, and the one who will rule the earth. While Revelation oftentimes gets a bad rap because of the supernatural/apocalyptic imagery and association with the end-times, Revelation is actually a more hope-filled book when you really get into studying it and reading in between the imagery. Instead, there is “a shift in time and space that comes with a God who is, who was, and who is to come. We need not have a vision of Christ as a king on a throne,” but we can instead see how Christ is no ordinary king who didn’t sit on a throne or demand royal treatment.[ii]
While the Gospel from John is typically read during Holy Week, let’s shift back to that time when Christ entered Jerusalem, when the people of Jerusalem declared him king. He didn’t exactly ride in on a majestic stallion, now did he? Nope, he rode in on a humble donkey. He didn’t come wearing anything fancy except maybe his tunic and sandals, and he certainly didn’t wear a jewel encrusted, who knows how many carat-gold crown, but wore a crown of thorns as he walked carrying a wooden cross following his trial with Pilate that we just read in John’s gospel. We see a suffering king, a crucified king, a king who challenged systems of authority and tyranny in the Roman government, who stood up for the poor and the outcast of society. Even as believers today, we have a king who we can turn to when we believe and confess Jesus as Lord, as “Christ our king is right there with us and has committed to be in solidarity with and in our suffering,” even when it feels like the world is messy all around, which I don’t need to rake over the coals.[iii] Christ’s kingdom comes down to a kingdom of love.
As followers of the one who is, was, and is to come and as followers of Christ our king, we have opportunities to bring that kingdom of love here to earth today, maybe with more urgency than ever and especially as our world is literally dark at this time of year with less daylight. As things are the way they are and “despite the current divisions that flow through our news and social media feeds, we” as followers need to keep striving for and embodying “the Kingdom values of [helping the poor, the sick, the prisoner, loving our enemies, loving God, loving our neighbor, and being able to forgive those who wrong us, just as Christ forgave those who wronged him].”[iv] By embracing Christ as king, let’s strive for such values as we follow in the way of Christ our King and bring God’s kingdom here to earth, as “Jesus Christ is King and Lord of our lives, rather than a political party’s ideals, our career ladder, our children’s achievements, or the pressure to portray ourselves as having everything together,” especially during the holidays when it’s constructed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ when in reality, it’s not for quite a few people.[v]
Earlier this month, we read from Revelation on All Saints Sunday and the good news is that we have a king in Christ who stands with us and the one who is, was, and is to come, who knows our pain, who “promises to one day wipe away every tear, make all things new, and restore and redeem all of Creation.”[vi]As we go into our new week, how are you being the presence of Christ, even in light of suffering or bad news? How are you bringing the kingdom of God to earth in the here and now? As we rally around Christ our King, I invite you to turn to page 882 in the red hymnal and stand as we say together an acclamation of faith that binds us together as we say The Apostle’s Creed. In what do you believe?...
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
What an awesome weekend it was last weekend in Santa Barbara as my family celebrated my sister Sarah and brother-in-law Juan’s wedding in the rose garden at the mission. While weddings can be a little tedious to plan, I am beyond thankful and filled with gratitude that everything went as close to perfect as it can get. Even in light of the Camp Fire going on in Butte County next door to us and the Woolsey Fire, which my family saw the plumes of smoke from in Santa Barbara last weekend, I am filled with gratitude for this congregation, as I do not have to worry about being away and things falling apart. I was on pins and needles not being able to be here last week with the power being out for the Fall dinner, yet everything went off the next day without a hitch, plus I heard our DS Blake Busick had an excellent message and hope it challenged everyone too!! I am filled with gratitude for Linda, Pastor Ray, and everyone who helps to keep things running. But, I am filled with gratitude for this congregation and everything you do in this community and world.
As we see in our scripture lessons this morning, both the prophet Joel and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew give us little tidbits of wisdom which can shape us in having an attitude of gratitude. The prophet Joel is talking about restoration, as a locust invasion destroyed crops and decimated the food supply, as God is promising restoration of the land and food supply, encouraging us not to worry or fear. Likewise, in the Gospel of Matthew, our reading is situated in Jesus’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in which Jesus is pointing us once again encouraging us not to worry about what we will eat or drink, trusting in God to provide for our basic needs. We can have an attitude of gratitude when we can trust in a God who will provide for our basic needs one way or another.
Of course, we do have to be careful in this instance, as God providing for us does come in different forms, not always as I shared a few weeks ago like a ‘cosmic Santa Claus’ or ‘divine vending machine.’ Six years ago during my first Thanksgiving week at seminary, I didn’t go back home, as I would be going home for Christmas, yet still had a place to go thanks to a generous classmate and her family who opened their table and home to anyone on campus who didn’t have a place to go. That same week, I was very worried, as my paycheck from the church I was serving did not arrive when I was expecting it and the mail room had closed for the remainder of the week, leaving me broke for the week given I was not and am still not the best in managing my finances. However, I don’t ask anyone for handouts because I feel because management or lack of management of my finances is my personal responsibility. Luckily, my mom had sent a care package earlier in the week and there was an emergency food pantry in our dorm building, which was a way God provided, along with Pastor Dottie coming to the rescue too. Although one of the days, my friend Sia, who now serves Magnolia UMC in Seattle was fixing a big lunch one day and demanded I come eat, which I couldn’t turn down, another instance of how God provided. While my check never showed up, I was still able to enjoy the Thanksgiving week and not have to worry too much, which I’m good at. Instead, I was able to have an attitude of gratitude to the people who helped me that week, in which I learned a few lessons about being better prepared and still learn some hard lessons along the way.
Likewise, I’m seeing how God provides through our own hands, especially as we help in fire relief. We helped through our financial gifts to UMCOR and the CA-NV Conference Disaster Relief Fund during the fires in Santa Rosa last year and the Carr Fire in Redding over the summer, and how we are lending our gifts and our hands to helping our neighbors in Butte County in the Camp Fire. While there has been death and destruction in the wake of the fire, I see God at work in the outpouring of support and in the helpers that have descended on Paradise and neighboring communities. And God will continue to provide through the support of the helpers, and through those who help in the rebuilding effort. And while there will be a time of grief for those who have lost everything, including loved ones in the fires, there is still a present attitude of gratitude seen in those who have received such help and support. Even in the midst of destruction, sadness, anger, or grief, we are seeing the Kingdom of God at work here.
Even a couple weeks ago during our first hot pot lunch of the season, our scheduled soup maker was not able to be there due to illness, yet people stepped up to cook soup, help set up, serve, clean up, and we had an awesome noon lunch. God provided, and at the same time, we saw a small foretaste of the Kingdom of God in our fellowship hall, with people from all walks of life coming together, enjoying a meal and good fellowship with each other. Just as Jesus reminds us, “strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33, NRSV). Striving for God’s Kingdom and that God is with us (Joel 2: 27) can bring an attitude of gratitude, especially on days when gratitude can be a challenge.
There are and will still be days when we’d rather not get out of bed, days where we don’t want to turn the news on or read the newspaper, or even face other humans. There are some days where I admit that I’m just flat-out annoyed with everything and everyone, then will get a little reminder that it could be worse and that I could have it worse. As I was perusing Facebook on Thursday as I do when I need a ‘brain break,’ a friend of mine I used to work with at Raley’s posted such a reminder. As I perused some more, I came across a posting from author Anne Lamott, who I read on occasion. As Anne was awaiting the publication of her latest book, Almost Everything, she mentions how one day in September, “I have been informed [by] the rascally rabbits at that today is World Gratitude Day. Good to know! I thought it was Vague Annoyance Day. So, I changed channels, made a gratitude list, and wonder if you might consider doing so, too.”[i]InAlmost Everything, Anne quotes that “gratitude is seeing how someone changed your heart and quality of life, helped you become the good parts of the person you are.”[ii]That’s a pretty good way to see gratitude, one that I’ve never thought about. It doesn’t hurt to change our channels when we find ourselves annoyed at the world, instead plumbing the depths of our souls to find gratitude and God’s presence.
That’s something to think about this coming week as celebrate Thanksgiving, thinking about who it is that brings out the best in us, who cultivates an attitude of gratitude in us, who shows us that we don’t have to worry about what we’re going to eat or drink, or even gives us something to eat or helps us in a profound way. Even with devastation and destruction, it’s up to us to continue being the helpers, bringing God’s Kingdom here to earth, not worrying about what happens next, but trusting and rejoicing in God, even on the days when it might be difficult to find gratitude. As we go into this week of Thanksgiving, I want to invite everyone to turn to where it says “notes” on the blank space in the back of your bulletin and as Alice plays some music for reflection, to start a gratitude list, whether it’s people, ways God has provided directly or through others, and use that list as a guidepost this week and beyond as you reflect on what gives you an attitude of gratitude. Then following this time of reflection, I invite you to turn to page 405 in the Red Hymnal and sing together, “Seek Ye First…”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!
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