Jeremiah 23: 1-6
LUKE 23: 33-43

December 1, 2019 WEEK ONE OF ADVENT

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Friends … the leftovers are disappearing and it’s become much more difficult to remember what this year’s bird looked like before it was carved … life has moved on another few days.  Black Friday purchases with its early morning alarms just to get out and make the right buy of the season no longer resonate in the ears of those shoppers.

Christmas lights … artificial trees … red and white banners along with snowmen and other lawn ornaments have been carefully placed on our lawns and in our homes.   It’s the season of Jesus’ birth … oh wait … wait just a second … I didn’t hear any mention of Jesus in the shopping advertisements leading up to those family meal disrupting Thursday deals or Black Friday sales.   Not one time during that totally beautiful football game from Dallas on Thursday that I watched start to finish with my grandson did I hear a whisper that soon we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.    Does anyone outside of these walls remember HIM?   Do you remember HIM as you begin your lists, AMAZON SMILE shopping experiences, trips to the mall, and Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal planning debates?  As you start cookie baking plans is Jesus there?

Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, part of your daily conversation with others?  Is He part of your daily thoughts and moments of thanksgiving?  Or have you joined the holiday season rush along with those who barely remember what the inside of a church looks like much less what it means to get down on their knees in homage to and honor of  God or to leap to their feet with Hosanna Hosanna shouts celebrating that Jesus is our Savior?  Is the concept of praising God that last week’s sermon focused in on; a mirage?

Such is the challenge of the Christmas season … I have often questioned the historic presence of Advent.  Four weeks of preparation to again celebrate the birth of Jesus?  We already know he was born … that He lived and taught … died was buried and rose again.  It’s Communion Sunday of course we remember Jesus and perhaps Easter because as good Methodists we take the bread and cup on the first Sunday of the month … after all its our tradition .. its on our calendars …  but ADVENT?

Perhaps time has taught me that most of us have the tendency to push aside our faith because faith is easy to put on a shelf when life’s story is all about the wrapping paper and the Rockwellesque imagery of a table loaded with holiday foods and cookies.  Perhaps the repeated disconnect that I hear in conversations about “God, Scripture, and Jesus” when I have to sit down with families during moments of pain, struggle and sorrow is a reminder that we need to find an opportunity to focus but the world needs to focus.  Those skipping church today and next week and perhaps attending one Sunday and then a Christmas Eve service this month need to focus and again align with Jesus.

I have two funerals this week.  Two services celebrating the life of two men I never really knew.  Mike Martz is connected to many of our church family and may have been here once or twice during my time as your pastor. Mark Narcisco whose service is this afternoon I never knew.   Sadly, these men did not reach their 60th birthdays … each life taken by one of those cursed diseases.  Families saddened during the holiday season.

Mike really loved the music of Pink Floyd and as I left the family home yesterday I put their music on.  Roger Waters’ song ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ hit me because its resonating lyrics almost could be the words people say about coming to church … about Jesus the Christ … about God and the need to be connected to God for the everlasting lives we will have once we leave this temporary place.  “We don’t need no education … we don’t need no thought control … All in all its just another brick in the wall.”

And, that is what church has become to some … that’s what Jesus teaching has become.  On St. Paul’s Facebook this weekend we put a meme that says “WANT TO KEEP CHRIST in CHRISTMAS?  Feed the hungrycomfort the afflicted love the outcast inspire the hopeless.”   It’s not about the greeting it’s about how we live our lives and yet some will be critical of us if we merely follow Jesus or talk about Him.

So, this morning the unwrapping of Jesus is something we all need.  The prophet Jeremiah shared God’s promise of hope “The time is coming declares the Lord when I will raise up a righteous descendant from David’s line and He will rule as a wise king.  He will do what is just and right in the land.  And, His name will be the LORD is Our Righteousness.”

Jesus the Christ … Jesus the Son of God … Jesus do you call Him Savior and Master?  Does He rule your heart and direct your actions in life?  Are you willing to stand by Jesus’ teaching even when those lessons contradict the world’s.  Is He your Lord of Righteousness.

And, we see the table set in front of us this morning.  Pieces of bread, little cups, and a chalice too.  On this first Sunday of December in the year 2019 DO YOU REMEMBER HIM for His sacrifice for you and me?  Or is he just a cute little plastic baby?

As we unwrap Christmas and the gift of Jesus from God the Creator of the Universe to each human … humans who are faulty, sin-filled, and flawed … it is not that babe in the manger we need to consider as God’s gift to us.  That image through time has become all pretty and nice but frankly if we are to put God’s gift to us into use it’s not a little baby who impacts our life it is Jesus who took the cross for our sins! Jesus who taught!

This morning you heard again from the Gospel of Luke that scene in Jerusalem … it was not pretty but frankly we have made the manger far too pretty through history creating the idea that all was well but all was not well in the time God brought Jesus to us and all is not well in the times we live … but God still brings us Jesus.

God’s love could have given the world a king in a palace but Jesus was born in a city that was not his home town.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph were forced away from Nazareth by the threat of Herod and went as aliens to Egypt where obviously they were not chased back to certain death by the authorities.  When things settled down they returned.  Jesus went into ministry teaching God’s Word across the land but the powers hated how God contradicted them so they plotted to kill this man of peace … this man who healed … this man who represented God.  Jesus who taught that his followers would be about love!

Friends, the Christmas story … the season of Advent that prepares us for Jesus is not about buying baby gifts it is all about accepting the gift of the cross that we truly are not worthy of but that God’s love has offered to every single person so that our sins no longer require anything more than accepting Jesus into our lives and asking God’s forgiveness as we did earlier this morning.  Seriously and sincerely connecting to God.

I believe that the season of Advent is a time when we need to shake off the dust … open our eyes … and as one calendar year ends and another begins look up to God  understanding the words of the one criminal hanging next to Jesus on Golgotha’s ugly hill “DON’T YOU FEAR GOD?” Because as we push God aside … as we treasure our glitz and glamor and put the living Christ right into the box of decorations that our plastic or wooden manger scenes are stored in … then we are missing out on the message.  We are missing out on CHRISTMAS … we are not prepared for the closure of life because …

And, dear church I share these words out of love and out of concern for all people.  I can’t read your hearts … I don’t know your minds … I know we are loving and welcoming … we hold an awesome Christmas service of song … but as one who has to lead two services celebrating the lives of men who have died I am reminded again that although God creates an easy path for us because Jesus took the cross with its nails and pain … too many have decided that they don’t want to live for Christ … live as Christ.  Too many if asked to share their favorite Jesus story have blank faces … and I ask that of every family whose funerals I have conducted in ministry, what was his or her favorite Jesus story.

There are so many loving life stories of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  There are so many examples of God’s love for us.  But, I would say that in 75% or more of these moments the family look at me with blank faces and can’t remember ever hearing about Jesus from their loved one.  I DO NOT WANT MY FAMILY nor MY FRIENDS to think I am disconnected from Christ.  I DO NOT WANT YOUR FAMILY nor YOUR FRIENDS disconnected from Jesus, the Son of God.  I want Jesus to be your essence of life!

So today …. This table is before us.  We heard Jesus ask God to forgive those evil men who hammered his wrists and ankles into the wood and slammed the cross into the ground.  We heard Jesus say “I assure you that today you will be with me in. paradise” after the criminal on the cross declared his own personal faith in the moment when he turned to the other criminal and said, “This man has done nothing” before turning to our Lord and saying, “ Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

We begin ADVENT … sing “JOY to the WORLD the LORD has come let earth receive her king!” Sing it every day out loud so others can hear it.  Sing “AT THE CROSS AT THE CROSS where I first saw the Light and the burden of my heart rolled away.  It was there by faith that I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.”

Our preparation for another Christmas Day has to begin at the cross because the birth of a child in a dirty manger didn’t save you but the Son of God going to the Cross brought you and brought me home to God.   REMEMBER that JESUS and then tell the world the message of Christmas is not the freshly cut tree with bright lights but the dirty blood soaked one.


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