Psalm 148: 1-6 & 12-14
LUKE 2: 22-40

December 27, 2020

Christmas is over … well my trees and decorations will probably be up for another month or so but … but … the actual day called Christmas when most people get off from work is completely over with for another year.  No more holidays for 2020; by the way is that what you think of first when you consider December 25th?  A NO WORK DAY?  A holiday? A day off from work? YAY … if it wasn’t for the kids a SLEEP IN day.

And, so I begin my questions. This morning I am going to be full of questions for you … obviously you don’t have to raise your hands to answer them but I do want you to think about Christmas 2020 in relationship to the person you are and as to where your faith life is at right now because it’s all about life … now and that eternal life truth.

Now, I am not looking for you to think about nor to talk about the gifts you received under the tree nor the gifts you gave.  I don’t even need to know and neither does the world who in your opinion received the best gifts of the year.  Although, I have to admit that Donna’s discovery of a cardboard pirate ship, purchased at a very reasonable cost, might be my grandson’s best gift … but I said we weren’t going to compare notes, right?  The gift however that transcends time and place as the ultimate best gift of all time is God’s gift given freely out of love … His Son, Jesus Christ.  And, perhaps that is best understood during Easter Week rather than on the holiday we just experienced but the calendar says we are in the time of Christmas.

So church, do you still feel that special wonderment because of Christmas that Simeon had the moment he connected with the Son of God?  On Friday or on Thursday night were you really shouting JOY to the WORLD? Did you share with your children and/or grandchildren the excitement of knowing Jesus. Do you talk about Jesus with the same amazement and joy that you get from driving by the lights outside of the Griswold house in Mullica Hill?   Do you tell the kids that Jesus is far cooler than some rich person’s light display although the number of toys they collect for kids who are hurting is just amazing. I am talking about the wonderment of faith … the joy in knowing that the God who created the universe actually loves you; has a plan for you; and is hoping you choose to believe in His Son … not the baby but the Savior of the world; the Messiah who fulfilled the prophesy of the Christmas story!  Do you tell them the stories of Jesus you love to hear?  The psalmist when celebrating God’s love writes, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”  Simeon was so excited by Jesus more excited and happy than he had ever been in his life … “Anna began to praise God and speak about Jesus to EVERYONE …” By the way, just like those shepherds did … remember that part of the Christmas story? “And, when they had seen it they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” You know they had just been watching their flock by night and suddenly JESUS was there and they told the story with joy and excitement. So, are you filled with wonderment and telling the story of Jesus?  Someone might love to hear it … again and again!  In fact, someone might be saved by it.

Now that the multi-colored wrapping paper that covered the items under our indoor trees are in the trash … have you unwrapped the Baby Jesus to discover as Simeon put it … “God’s Salvation?”  He saw it in Jesus … did you open your hearts and minds to discover or rediscover that same salvation through Jesus this Christmas? Did your faith walk have a new beginning just a few days ago that is still your driving force when you wake up in the morning or are you quickly searching to see who is mad at whom on your social media?

Yesterday, two days after the Christmas Eve worship service lights were dimmed … did you find yourself opening up God’s Word desperately seeking a clear pathway for your life; directions from Jesus? Reading His words in the Gospel.  Have you been busy celebrating that JOY TO THE WORLD over and over again knowing that Jesus represents a “a light for revelation and a glory for God’s people?”   Are you ready to join the Jesus’ revelation that can change lives and the world?

Did you listen to the call of the angels that the shepherds heard? Were you moved by Paul’s letter to Titus?  Remember, “the grace of God has appeared … through Jesus … bringing salvation to all people.” 

Has the unique circumstances of Christmas 2020 led you to want to be “educated so you can live a sensible, ethical, and godly life right now … right now … Paul wrote that … and how do we get there? “by rejecting the ungodly lives that surround us and the desires of the world?”  Is that the Christmas present you want and need from God right now? Even just a couple days after the holiday.   Are you with me in wanting to receive from God the ability and strength to reject the ungodly lives that we all see around us each day; they were around in Paul’s time on earth too. And, they certainly get our attention these days … are you excited about  using God’s Word and being open to the Holy Spirit’s direction so that you can actually be educated in the Good News of Jesus Christ not in some millionaire television personality talking head whose job it is to agitate and spread hate?  Not from those telegenic camera-ready preachers whose lust for wealth and worldly power counters the Gospel truths but then again they rarely quote Jesus do they but are you out to discover more Jesus … for you? For your family?  So that you can change the world one person at a time?

Are you willing to allow Jesus to bring you to a level of peace that will leave the storms of this year distant and far away as you move into the future?  And, will you abide by the angels … ‘PEACE on the EARTH GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN … from heaven’s all-gracious King.’ Sharing the peace of Christ is more than an in-church handshake it is loving ALL of our neighbors as we love ourselves … forgiving them as we want God to forgive us.  Is that the new you?  Is that the person of faith you have been or know you need to be?

God is not a ruler dictating selfish empowering demands on people but rather  a loving God whose Son was born into abject poverty and while just a toddler, his mother and her husband took Him away from his homeland to a foreign land where they would be strangers but safe … traveling to a land of safety because of the storms at home.  It should come as no surprise that Jesus later speaks directly about welcoming strangers in the land.

So, yes I have some questions this morning … but for a moment my questions take us to the highways of life …

Have you ever been driving on an expressway during a massive downpour when the wind is kicking up like a hurricane?  If you are a passenger you might close your eyes or focus on the power of the storm but if you are in the driver’s seat your brain is making all sorts of calculations … all related to your survival.

How fast is a safe speed?  What sort of following distance should you maintain from other vehicles?  Definitely take the cruise control off since you need to be the one in control.  And, you might even consider pulling over to the side of the road or at the very least get those emergency blinkers going so the vehicles behind you can see that there is something with human beings inside ahead of them.

I guess my basic question comes down to whether you do your best to protect your family and yourself from injury or death during the worst storms in life?  God gave us Jesus for exactly those reasons with the bonus being a final destination in heaven.

On Christmas Eve night after preaching two sermons here at this St. Paul’s and one sermon at St. Paul’s in Paulsboro I headed to our home in Smithville down the 42 Expressway.  It was pouring rain … it was windy … the stormy weather had arrived, which meant I was going to drive slower than normal.

The first hint of how much rain had fallen came as I went towards the ramp to the expressway right by the Deptford Mall.  The water was deep my friends … the waves of water poured over the hood of my car and I was like WHOA!   But, I kept on going into the high speed lanes moving with great care.

But the moment when that all changed occurred as I saw headlights to the right of me getting closer and closer to my car.   It was obvious that that driver saw the 55 mile per hour speed limit and decided that 65 or 70 was a comfortable speed on a stormy rainy night … perhaps he or she was in a hurry to be in bed before Santa arrived or had presents that had to be delivered at a set hour.

As the car passed mine the science of hydraulics and water and windshield wipers all came together because that car’s speed totally covered my windshield with a wave worthy of SURFER CITY and I could not see … I did not know where that car was … I did not know where my lane was … I did not know where any other car was but I knew I was moving forward at about 50 miles per hour in a prison called my car and I literally prayed asking God if this was it … was I going to die on the road after preaching 3 sermons and I wondered in a flash if I had said the right words to connect people to Jesus Christ.

And, then the wave returned to the highway … that driver who just drove right by me  couldn’t care whether they had pushed me to death or injury … friends, did you just drive by Christmas not noticing what it was all about?

Have you ever driven right by?  Have you ever crossed the street because you wanted to avoid some of God’s creation … hurting human beings in need of love.  Even though the message of Jesus is clear about the challenge for us … to love is to cross the road.  To believe is to not let the unknown evil of the world cause you to crash and burn while they just move on …

Statistics from America’s churches have four constants that truly baffle me.   The first reality is that the two most attended church services annually are Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday; I know that I had several people say over the last few weeks that they were looking for a church that was open because it is the one time they enjoy church … as if church is an entertainment venue with lights and music bringing the familiar to those who are busy focusing on their FACEBOOK and TWITTER the rest of the year.

The second truth is that the two least attended Sunday’s in America’s churches are the Sunday’s after Christmas and after Easter.  One would think friends … one would hope friends … that the message of God’s loving gift to all of humanity and God’s Son’s sacrifice for our sins … the power of the Resurrection would inspire people to want to dig into God’s Word .. to experience worship over and over again … to change their lives but … all they did was drive by God and glance inside church for the pomp and circumstance of holidays in which they probably hold a bearded guy in a red suit and a rabbit delivering chocolate as more relevant to the lives they lead.

In today’s Psalm … the psalmist was full of praise for God; PRAISE THE LORD!!!  Do the same young men and young women too!  You who are older together with you who are young; LET ALL of THESE PRAISE THE LORD’s NAME BECAUSE ONLY …. Now, I realize that there are some in today’s world who might think some human is worthy of such praise and the waving of banners but Scriptures tell us LET ALL PRAISE THE LORD’s NAME BECAUSE ONLY GOD’s NAME IS HIGH OVER ALL!  ONLY … ONLY GOD’s majesty is over earth and heaven.

So, church, did your just drive by God this Christmas because you had places to go and memes to post that had nothing to do with the God whose love gave us Jesus.  Or, in this time of global pandemic … is this the Christmas where you once again BELIEVED?

Tell the stories to the children … not of failed human beings whom you adore but of God whose majesty is great … God who created the heavens and the earth … God whose love is so amazing that he loves every human being even those who have rejected God time after time … Jesus is waiting to rescue them too.

CHRISTMAS is over the the Son of God is alive … the Messiah came … and our Savior lives giving us reason each day to SING JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME … LET EARTH RECEIVE … our king. AMEN.

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ