Colossians 3: 12-17
LUKE 2: 41-52

December 30, 2018

“And, there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.”

Sound familiar church?

“And, the angel said unto them, FEAR not: for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Most of us know the rest of the story at least up until verse 16, “And, they  came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”  It’s as if through the generations we have allowed the story to end there or some have even changed the story to claim that somehow the three wise men or magi arrived with the shepherds at the stable when they actually headed to see Jesus after His birth.

Where does the Christmas story begin and end with you?  As we ready to face the changing of the calendar with all the new year’s probability for change potentially impacting us as individuals and the global community as well … Where does your faith story begin and end?

One summer when I was in high school, I took a driver education class.  The class was taught by a social studies teacher named Joe Callibrini.  Although some in the class had their driver’s licenses, most still just had a permit but all of us were attempting to improve our early driving abilities with the knowledge that a passing grade meant discounted insurance for our parents.  We filled that car each day. Mr. Callibrini had a set of brakes on the passenger side just in case whoever was driving might get too taken away with the scenery to miss out on the need to stop.

I really can’t remember all of the lessons he taught us nor do I remember who was in my car for the classes but there is one lesson that vividly stood out and that was being told that I always had to be looking everywhere while driving.  Look straight ahead, check my rear view mirror and side mirrors always being a defensive driver alert to my surroundings.  And, I remember one story he told … it was about a girl in one of his past classes.

He told us that she always was looking and focusing in on the rear view mirror.  He had a phrase that went something like this … “she was more concerned with seeing the fumes than in moving forward.”  If any of us locked our eyes in the rear view mirror it would be ‘Mr. Delaney the fumes look good to you today?’

As we end this year I continue to hear so many Christian people telling their story of faith as if it was just a frozen moment in time … “I accepted the Lord at a youth camp.”  “God came into my life when I was 27 years old.”  “When I was deathly ill it took that tragedy and Jesus Christ became my Savior to rescue me that day.”

Truly special moments … faith moments.  Moments when we know that the angels celebrated in heaven because someone came to know Jesus Christ.  But friends, we can’t keep looking in the rear view mirror if we are to be people of faith who make a difference.  New disciples aren’t made for Jesus Christ by looking back.

Yes, I think it is important for each of us to treasure and remember the first moments of knowing that God is real and Jesus Christ is not just some Christmas holiday adornment designed to sell crèches for merchants to profit from.  We need to remind ourselves that we were changed by God … by Jesus … by the Holy Spirit.  God’s grace becoming alive in us.

But, staring into our personal rear view mirror of our faith walk has the potential to have us get caught up in the fumes of what was, losing the Holy Spirit’s direction for what is in front of us, and becoming unable to navigate life with God because to all too many people of faith the God relationship is nothing more than a moment, a fragment in time that somehow has provided an assurance for the future even though nothing has really happened since.

The cover of our bulletins today has a few of the words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Directions for the forward movement of people of faith … we heard about 12 year old Jesus sitting in the temple listening to teachers of faith and putting questions to them.  Yes, it is true that he skipped soccer practice and maybe missed a game but even the Son of God, born after the proclamation of angels to those shepherds, needed more than a moment.  He looked at the frustrated Mary and Joseph who had been searching for Him and simply said, “Didn’t you know it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”

Of course it made sense for Jesus to be in the temple … of course it makes sense for children to be in church … of course it makes sense for people of faith to be alive in Christ and to be looking forward rather than sitting back.  It is necessary my friends … it is necessary to become different from what the world expects.

And here Paul sets it up for us … for you and me and for others who believe.  Don’t just tell the world I became a Christian on a certain day in the fog of history’s rear view mirror but instead <<HOLD UP BULLETIN>>… put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience!  Be tolerant with each other … forgive each other. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ And, above all these things PUT ON LOVE, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

Enough said … imagine with me church.  Can you put on your imagination caps … Imagine if … if every person who is attending a church service today.  No, I want to go back to when our churches were full on Christmas Eve … imagine if every person in every church service on Christmas Eve night truly believed in Jesus Christ and understood the type of people Christians are to be and that beginning today and moving forward into 2019 that they put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … that they from now on were tolerant of each other; forgave each other rather than blamed and guilted each other and PUT ON LOVE. 

Imagine church if we looked forward, moved forward rather than allowing the fumes of our rear view mirrors to stop us from taking on new challenges for God what a wonderful world this could be.  Individuals coming back to church …. Kids filling Sunday Schools … people getting the message of our Savior not just reveling in the holiday spirit.  What a wonderful world for Christ.

IF only … but it begins here and now in church today with you and me … if we start a movement in West Deptford just maybe it will reach Paulsboro and Westville by this evening … but with no one saying they will move forward for change then nothing happens we remain the same as always.

Of course Paul adds a few musts for people of faith too … “the peace of Christ MUST control our hearts … the Word of Christ MUST live in you richly.  WHATEVER YOU DO … WHAT EVER YOU DO CHURCH do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks.”

As we move forward into 2019 I can’t predict the changes that will occur for you or me but I can guarantee change will be happening.  365 days from now what is true today and real today will have changed subtly or drastically. In our family, Colleen and Ryan are looking forward to their first child in June, our first grandchild.  By May I can envision 130 people sitting and praising God in these pews each week … if we get the word out about God and Jesus showcasing how our lives are different than the world’s.

What happened just last week or the week before may or may not impact our tomorrow’s but if we keep looking in our rear view mirrors we will miss what is ahead.  Our histories cannot determine our future but can serve as building blocks for where we go.

Those shepherds didn’t stop and freeze when they found the babe lying in the manger.  They didn’t close out their faith journey thinking ‘we’ve seen angels on high and followed the star … that’s enough.  End of story.’

No, the shepherds “when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying that was told them concerning this child.  And, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.”

So, I am going to let the great Louis Armstrong deliver my New Year’s wishes as he sort of paraphrases First John’s message “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.  There is no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear.”

That moment of faith that is in all of our rear view mirrors should be the engine starter for us … moving forward to do great things … great things that are possible for God in 2019!  Listen to Louis’ words and then let this song of possibilities carry you forward.


Watch a video of today’s worship service:

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