Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Say It Like You Mean It

Scripture Lessons: Micah 6: 1-8 and Matthew 5: 1-12 Sermon Title: Say It Like You Mean It Preached on January 29, 2023 Our daughter Cece’s favorite restaurant is Chick-fil-A, and I don’t mean that her favorite fast-food restaurant is Chick-fil-A, I mean that if she has the choice between a pack of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets and a $60 steak from Mac’s down the street, she’ll take the nuggets, so we eat there often. I like the spicy chicken sandwich and the ice they put in the tea. I’ve also grown to appreciate how they’ve revolutionized the drive-through. At most places, you talk to a speaker to make your order. Now, when you pull into the parking lot at Chick-fil-A, you see a huge line, but in an instant, some nice young person appears at your car door, smiling, taking your order on a tablet, and saying, “It’s my pleasure” all the while. Here’s the thing that really gets me: They say, “It’s my pleasure” like they mean it. Years ago, I read an article titled: “Corporations make employees use customer-service scripts, but what do customers think?” The author was talking about the likes of Chick-fil-A, where every employee says, “It’s my pleasure” or the drive-through at Taco Bell, where, as soon as you pull up, they’re supposed to say, “You can order when you’re ready” because the higherups at Taco Bell corporate believe asking “Can I take your order?” puts too much pressure on the customers. The one the article mentioned that I’d never heard before is at Kohl’s. If you call them on the phone, they’re supposed to answer saying, “How may I help deliver greatness today?” “How may I help deliver greatness today?” might sound a little aspirational, but Tim Omarzu, the journalist who wrote this article all about these scripts that corporations are making their employees use, wrote that we can all recognize the benefit of these scripts when we consider how not everyone is naturally polite. Some people need to be trained in how to respond to customers appropriately, so a restaurant manager should teach her workers how to speak with customers just as she should teach them how to flip burgers. Accoring to Omarzu, though, customers don’t like it when the people taking their orders sound fake. That’s a most important thing. You not only need to know what you’re supposed to say. For your words to have impact, you must say it like you mean it because if you don’t mean it, your fake words can do more damage than had you said nothing at all. For example, years ago I had to go and apologize to my sister. We were little. I stole her dolls, and hung them up in a tree, just to be mean. My mom made me take them down and hand them back to her. Mom was standing right behind me with her arms crossed, waiting for me to say the magic words. Looking down at my shoelaces, I just kind of spit the word out: “SORRY.” That wasn’t going to cut it, so Mom said, “Say it again, and this time, say it like you mean it” because it’s not just a matter of saying the words. You can’t just say, “It’s my pleasure.” You can’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Moreover, Christians can’t just say, “I’m blessed.” Have you ever heard a Christian make that claim? This is a good thing to say. It’s the perfect response to the question, “How are you?” based on the second Scripture lesson that I’ve just read where Jesus says again and again, “Blessed are you even when you suffer, even when you are oppressed, even and especially when you face hardship.” On the one hand, while there could be no more appropriate thing to say, the words are just words unless you say them like you mean them. I can remember numerous times when just this word, “blessed,” brought tears to my eyes because the one who said to me “Have a blessed day” really meant it. How many times have I asked the mourning, the impoverished, the afflicted, the oppressed, “How are you holding up?” only to hear them say, “I’m blessed” in defiance of their pain? That word “blessed” is worse than empty unless you say it like you mean it. How can you say it like you mean it? Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Wait just a minute. Blessed are the meek? What about in the airport? Have you seen what happens to meek people in the airport? A couple of weeks ago, an Ohio woman assaulted flight attendants and police officers with a fire extinguisher at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Did you hear about that? Or let me ask you a better question. After standing in line, going through security, watching people cut in front of you, feeling pushed around and prodded, only to then hear that your flight is delayed, have you ever been tempted to reach for a fire extinguisher? The meek get runover in the airport, yet Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.” Can you believe it? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Say that to the parents who are watching their kid play basketball, watching the ref call traveling on their son after ignoring the kid on the other team who picks up the ball and runs down the court with it. How can you see the blessing in thirsting for righteousness without getting it? It’s hard. Parents get escorted out of games these days for demanding righteousness. Some would say especially the parents whose kids go to Christian schools get escorted out of games for demanding righteousness, yet Jesus says that those who don’t receive it are blessed, so shouldn’t we Christians be the first to face hardship with something more than base, human anger? A friend I run with asked his middle school son how he felt after seeing a teammate’s dad escorted out of their game. “It looked like your friend was embarrassed. Are you OK? Do you ever feel embarrassed when these parents go crazy yelling at the referees?” His son said, “I’m just glad those parents are on our side.” Now that’s seeing the blessing in an unfortunate situation. Can you see the blessing in the unfortunate situation you’re living in right now? Can you say, “I’m blessed” and mean it? That can be a challenge. The more likely thing I’m feeling during hardship is regret, saying to myself, “How did I get here? What could I have done differently?” Looking back again on my childhood, I can remember how much I loved hitting the reset button on video games. A game I could play for hours, Civilization it was called, started with this one settlement. Then you’d move around colonizing other parts of the world, until you were either wiped out or achieved world domination. What I would do when I played this game is I’d send out my little colony, and occasionally the native inhabitants of that land would attack my colony, taking it over, and whenever that happened, I’d just hit the reset button on the game and could start over with a clean slate. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do the same thing with life? Hit the reset button on your dinner party so that you could start over with the roast that ended up burnt. Hit the reset button so you have the chance to not say the mean thing that you said. Hit the reset button on your day, hit the reset button on an argument, hit the reset button and go back to see the doctor before it got so bad, hit the reset button to go back and do it all over again. Wouldn’t it be nice to just start over and do something to avoid the outcome that you’re stuck with? Jesus points us towards something other than a reset, though. His is a step beyond regret and wishing you could do it all over to see that even in times of hardship, still we are blessed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the meek.” “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says. Why? How? After my dad’s mother suffered a stroke - a stroke that put her in a home, led to her losing her ability to drive, her ability to paint, then her ability to remember, and finally took her life, my dad would look back on the year leading up to the stroke and wonder what could have been done differently to have prevented it all. He would say, “If only I had been there when she fell.” “If only I had taken her to her doctor’s appointments and helped her take better care of herself.” “If only I had been there when the stroke happened, then we could have gotten her to the hospital faster.” “If only, if only, if only I had a reset button,” yet those regrets are so different from what the Lord said. “Blessed are those who mourn,” he said. Why? Because while we wonder why bad things happen and wish for a way to avoid them, to start over and steer around tragedy, the Lord says, “Open your eyes and see that you are always surrounded by God’s blessings.” Blessed are those who mourn, for those who mourn are surrounded by people who love them. Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for righteousness is on the way. Don’t waste time on regret. Don’t spend your time looking backwards. Open your eyes to the blessing that surrounds you even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Even there He is with you. From the cross, He said to the criminal crucified beside Him: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise awaits my friends. It’s just ahead, around the corner, and so it is what’s waiting for us that must hold our attention, not what might have happened in the past. Give up on regret. Instead, look for blessings in this moment, and remember always that our tomorrows will be far brighter than our yesterdays. Know that, and you will always be able to say, “I’m blessed,” and mean it. Amen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Here is the Lamb of God

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 49: 1-7 and John 1: 29-42 Sermon title: Here is the Lamb of God Preached on January 15, 2023 What was it about Jesus? There must have been something about Him, for this second Scripture lesson from the Gospel of John describes the sacred moment when John the Baptist recognizes Him and greets Him. What we’ve just read is the Messiah’s first public appearance in the Gospel of John. So far as we know from the Gospel of John, John the Baptist and Jesus have never met. However, John knew it was his job to prepare the way for the Messiah, only how would John recognize Him? What was it about Jesus? God provided no physical description, so how did John know it was Him? I imagine John the Baptist standing there at the riverside like a limo driver waiting at the airport, trying to give a ride to someone’s he’s never met. How would John know that it was Jesus? Did Jesus have on a name tag? No. We just read John saying: I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend is the one.” There must have been something about Him. There must have been something about Jesus that set Him apart from all those who crowded around John the Baptist at the riverside, for John the Baptist knew it was Him right away, saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Clearly, there was something special about Jesus. However, Jesus being special is not worth preaching a sermon about. We all already know that there was something special about Jesus. What if there was also something special about John? Today, I ask you to think with me about what it was about John the Baptist. In recognizing Jesus, calling Him by name, and identifying Him as the “Lamb of God,” John demonstrates a skill in short supply in our world today, for in our world today many people are not being noticed. Many are walking around, not recognized but ignored, not called by name but overlooked, not identified but misunderstood. As our second Scripture lesson describes how John welcomed Jesus, there is a part of me that wonders if John the Baptist welcomed everyone this way, and that idea gets to the other great question I have about John the Baptist: What was it about John that made him so magnetic? We know from Scripture that John was dressed in an animal hair tunic with a leather belt around his waist, eating wild honey way out there in the wilderness, yet crowds of people made their way out to hear him. That should surprise us because the Bible describes him as though he were like any sidewalk, doomsday preacher you’ve ever seen. He had a one-line sermon that would have fit on a panel of a cardboard box: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” A modern paraphrase might be, “Repent sinner, for the end is near,” however, rather than crowds of people looking down, and hoping to make it past him so that they can get on their way, people went out to the wilderness. People sought John out to listen to him. Why? What was it about John? For not only was his message brief and gloomy, but John was also dressed worse than a sidewalk preacher in his tunic made of camel hair with a belt around his waist. Why would anyone listen to him when the priests in the city had these beautiful robes, flowing and majestic. More than that, John had the river, and the priests had a temple. I don’t imagine John even had a lectern to place his sermon notes on, while the priests in the city spoke from a place of authority in a beautiful building that took generations to construct. Outside that temple were money changers and animals to buy. Did John have a marketplace to help you make your sacrifice? Did John have great scrolls of wisdom to read from? Why were all those crowds of people going out of their way to hear what John had to say? I have one guess: that just as John saw Jesus, so John would have seen you. There was something about John. His spiritual gift was speaking the truth, recognizing special people who walked up to him, and while Jesus is especially special, in the eyes of God, all people are special. However, few are the John the Baptists of the world who take the time to notice. John saw people. Have you ever been seen? Maybe you have, and it’s hard to explain what it feels like to be seen. It’s maybe easier to explain what it feels like to be ignored or mistaken. Misunderstood or overlooked. Years ago, when I was a student in seminary, just training to be a pastor, a friend and classmate Stephanie Coble and I would substitute preach. When a pastor at a small church wanted to take a vacation, he could call the seminary and get a seminary student to drive down to fill the pulpit for the day. This was great practice for us, plus we could make a little bit of money. Stephanie and I divided the service, about the way Cassie and I do. Sometimes I’d preach, and she’d lead the liturgy. Sometimes she’d preach, and I’d lead the liturgy, but every time we’d walk into these churches, the warm-hearted people who would show us around and give us the bulletin would direct all their comments to me. Sometimes, they’d hand me the bulletin and would walk me through the order of worship when Stephanie was the preacher. I’d interrupt and suggest that they give her these instructions. Sometimes they would. Sometimes, they’d just go on addressing me as the preacher and ignoring her. Have you ever felt ignored or mistaken? Misunderstood or overlooked? Undervalued, snubbed, slighted, disparaged, or ridiculed? Those are bad feelings that many of you have felt before. On the other hand, have you ever been seen? In our world today, it happens, and that feeling of being seen is a warm, bright light in a world that can seem so cold. The places where we’re seen are so magnetic that I can imagine people leaving the city and streaming out to the riverside, simply because the riverside was a special place. Special, not because the preacher dressed well or there was anything remarkable about the setting or the message, but simply because in a world where we often feel ignored or mistook, it feels so good to be seen. There’s a song about a place where people feel seen that you probably know. Making your way in the world today Takes everything you’ve got Taking a break from all your worries Sure would help a lot Wouldn’t you like to get away? All those nights when you’ve got no lights The check is in the mail And your little angel Hung the cat up by its tail And your third fiancĂ© didn’t show Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name And they’re always glad you came You want to be where you can see Our troubles are all the same You want to be where everybody knows your name What I’ve realized lately is that Cheers, a show named after a bar, has the best theme song for a church. Maybe that theme song is the right theme song for our church. John the Baptist stood out by the riverside looking into the eyes of people, watching them as they approached, calling them by name, and offering them relief from the worries of the day. More than that, he preached a message assuring them that Someone was coming, the Messiah Himself, who would change the world by toppling the powers that had dehumanized them, for in the eyes of the Messiah, they were all precious. When the Messiah showed up, John the Baptist recognized Him, saying, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” for He is the incarnation of the God who knows the number of hairs on your head. Who knit you together in your mother’s womb. Who calls you precious and beloved. Redeemed and forgiven. Blessed and worthy of love. If only we, as a church, did this one small thing, looking into each other’s eyes, calling each other by name, recognizing the miracle that we all are, would it not change the world? There is a painting downstairs that I’ve long walked past without noticing. It’s a painting of a cavernous cathedral at night. You know it’s at night because the only light is near the chancel at the front, where golden crosses glimmer and a pastor preaches in an illuminated pulpit. The light is at the front, save the light illuminating from Jesus who sneaks along the back row, reaching out to touch the shoulder of a figure veiled in shadow, too ashamed, too grief stricken, too modest, too brokenhearted to sit with the rest of the congregation in the front. Many walked past this man without noticing, but not Jesus. Jesus saw him. I say John would have seen him too, but what about you? Would you have seen him? Would you dare to see the one veiled in shadow, honoring the example of the One who came to earth to see you? Would you dare to help make this church a place that feels like Cheers: Where everybody knows your name? And they’re always glad you came? Would you dare to believe that such a church would be a miracle? I’ve heard that there is a church in Atlanta that has a snow machine in the room where the youth group meets. I dare you to believe that there is a teenager in that youth group who would rather be seen and heard than stand under a snow machine. Likewise, I haven’t heard it, but there might be a church that has a better choir than ours. I haven’t heard it, but what if it existed? What if there were a church with a symphony every Sunday, and soloists from the opera? Should such a church exist, I dare you to believe that there would be pew sitters in that church who would rather hear someone call them by name than listen to another note. Better sermons have been preached. Better liturgy has been written. Better technology exists. Better facilities have been built. There are churches in this world that have better stuff than we have. There are also places in this world far more entertaining than this one. Certainly, if you’re looking to be entertained, you are in the wrong place this morning. If you’re looking to cheer for the winning team, you’re in the wrong place. We barely clap here. You can’t cheer in the Presbyterian Church. However, those who walk into the great colosseums and arenas and theaters of this world will be treated more like cattle than people, while my hope for those who walk through our doors is that they will be recognized, called by name, and understood. My friends, all people want to be seen. Will you see them? Will you slow down long enough to see? Will you take the time to remember their names? Will you dare to believe that doing so might make a difference? For here we worship the God who sees us, who loves us, who comes down from heaven to walk beside us and to be baptized along with us. Will you see the person sitting beside you? Will you make this place one where everybody knows your name? And they’re always glad you came? For God is glad. So am I. So must we all be. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

What They Had to Give and What He Had to Lose

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 60: 1-6 and Matthew 2: 1-12 Sermon Title: What They Had To Give and What He Had To Lose Preached on January 8, 2023 Does it seem like Christmas was a long time ago? At our house, Christmas is long gone. The tree is out and on the curb. I took down most of the outside lights, at least the ones I could get down from the limbs I hung them in. We’ve eaten all the Christmas cookies. Kroger has already moved on to Valentine’s Day. Christmas is old news for a lot of us. All that’s left for me is the ten pounds I gained, yet here we are singing about the three kings at First Presbyterian Church because, according to the Gospel of Matthew, they didn’t show up until “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” Some scholars think he may have been five or six years old by the time they got there, which might sound strange because what we know or what we think we know comes both from the Bible and from what we’ve been told. We’ve been told that their names were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but that’s not in the Bible. We’ve also been told that there were three of them. That’s not in the Bible either. There were three gifts, but the Gospel of Matthew never specifies how many magi, kings, wise men, or whatever you want to call them showed up, nor should we be so quick to conclude that they were all men. When they couldn’t find Jesus, they stopped and asked for directions, so there must have been at least one woman with them. That’s my favorite Epiphany joke. The other is a cartoon where one of them shows up with Frankenstein instead of frankincense, but seriously, what people don’t know they make up, so not knowing their names, where they came from, when they arrived, or how many there were, tradition came up with all kinds of answers. There’s even a children’s book that names their camels: Erin, Nina, and Penda. The names of their camels are beside the point. Rather than getting wrapped up in superfluous details that someone made up, consider instead what the Bible tells us, for it’s likely that the Gospel of Matthew tells us everything we need to know about these magi from the East simply by telling us that they stopped and asked for directions. It’s not always easy to stop and ask for directions. It’s not always easy to ask for help when you’re lost. Think about what all it takes for George Bailey to finally stop and ask for directions when he reaches the end of his rope. I watched a lot of Christmas movies between Christmas and New Year. Did you? George Bailey is a great character in It’s a Wonderful Life. He doesn’t know it, but he’s made a difference in the lives of so many by giving them the means to buy their first homes. On the other hand is Mr. Potter. George is at odds with Mr. Potter. George loses his temper and calls him a warped, frustrated, old man, which he is, for Mr. Potter is willing to take advantage of people to make more money. He takes and takes and takes as though he’d be happy if he owned the whole town. The thing he can’t seem to get his hands on is the Building and Loan that George and his Uncle Billy run. When Mr. Potter ends up with an envelope full of cash that Uncle Billy was supposed to deposit, he doesn’t return it, but allows the bank examiner to breath down George’s neck. It appears the Building and Loan will close, and George will go to jail for misusing funds. Next, we see George, with his life insurance plan in hand, standing on a bridge above a river thinking he’s worth more dead than alive. He fears he’s about to lose everything, and the only way he can imagine saving his family is by sacrificing himself. Yet, in what might be his last moments, he prays. Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. That’s a powerful prayer. Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? Have you ever voiced such vulnerability? Notice that in our second Scripture lesson, we have on the one hand: Magi from the East [who] came to Jerusalem, asking for directions: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” On the other hand, when King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all of Jerusalem with him. Think about that difference. On the one hand are these magi from the East asking for directions. They’re asking for Jesus. They’re seeking Him out. They want to meet Him, as though there’s something that He has that they need or want. They go to Him bearing gifts worthy of a king. On the other hand, King Herod is afraid because if there is another king in Jerusalem then he’s suddenly vulnerable, and he didn’t want to be vulnerable. In fact, he was determined to make himself invulnerable, and so he searches for this child to destroy Him. Next, in Matthew’s Gospel, we read that he channels Pharoah from the Exodus by having all the boy children in Bethlehem killed so that his position might be secure. People do all kinds of things to try and keep their positions secure. They’ll pretend they know where they’re going when they’re lost. They’ll pretend they know the answer when they don’t. They’ll see others as threats rather than friends. They can’t laugh at themselves, for to err makes them feel vulnerable. What’s wrong with being vulnerable? Think about what happens to George Bailey. When George Bailey reaches the end of his rope and his wife lets the whole town know that he needs help, they bring him gifts. When instead of lashing out and building walls. When instead of breathing threats and allowing his fear to turn into hate. When instead of closing in on himself and becoming a monster, he opens his heart and becomes vulnerable, he asks for direction, and he prays to God to show him the way. What happens? The town brought him gifts. He became vulnerable, and they brought him gifts. My friends, I’m not just talking about George Bailey anymore. I’m talking about myself. I am a man who hates to ask for directions. I am a man who can’t stand to ask for help. Last week, rain was coming into our basement. Sara’s trying to help me. I’m determined to do it all myself. She starts calling Freddy Moore, our contractor. I’m determined to do it all myself. Do you know what happened when Sara ignored my stubbornness and called for help anyway? Go down to our basement and see. I couldn’t fix it. I can’t fix everything. I’m just a human. Who last Wednesday called Bill Paden “Bill Rohner” during his funeral? Did you hear I did that last Wednesday? Well, I did, and it nearly killed me. I’ve had that reoccurring nightmare for years. I’ve never wanted to make that mistake, but I did. I’m only human. There was a part of me that wanted to cover up my mistake and pretend it hadn’t happened. There was a big part of me that wanted just to keep going, hoping no one had heard the slip. Well, they had, so I stopped to apologize and to laugh at myself, and the congregation laughed with me. After the funeral, someone told me that that was the best part of the service. Why? I’ve been thinking about that all week. Why would that be the best part of the service? It’s because only one of us was ever perfect and think about what He did. He so wanted a relationship with us that He came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, and was incarnate in human form. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords shows us how to live by making Himself vulnerable. His very DNA was humility. Rather than stay up in heaven, He came down here. Rather than live in a palace, He was born in a barn. He came eating and drinking, laughing and crying. Why, then, would we hide the very mistakes that make us human? We are the only species so vulnerable as to require parents for survival, yet our Father in Heaven becomes vulnerable to be here in relationship with us. Why then would we be slow to ask for directions when Jesus was born into our human weakness? My friends, I have to remember that the way to build a relationship is through vulnerability. We all must remember that the way to build friendships, be better parents, and better partners in relationship is to stop and ask for directions. That’s how relationships are built, and we know it because God builds a relationship with us by becoming human. Reveal your humanity, your imperfection, your faults, your weakness, your prayers, your dreams, your insecurity, for it is by becoming vulnerable that we become like Christ. This is the way to live. It’s by offering ourselves and revealing our true vulnerable selves, for it is by losing what we’ve long defended that we gain eternal life. Amen.

The Darkness Did Not Overcome It

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 52: 7-10 and John 1: 1-14 Sermon title: The Darkness Did Not Overcome It Preached on December 25th, 2022 What I just read as our second Scripture lesson is the Gospel of John’s version of the Christmas Story. It’s different from Luke’s version, which I read last night. Luke’s version of the Christmas story has shepherds. Matthew’s gospel has the magi or wise men. John’s account is different. In John’s account of the Christmas story, there is no manger, no shepherds, no wise men, no angel, no pregnant Mary, no worried Joseph, no baby Jesus, and certainly no Santa Clause. What there is instead is the light and the darkness. This light has been shining since the beginning: before the earth was called forth from the void, before the mountains called up from the deep, since that time before life dawned and long before we humans were granted dominion. In those passing eons, despite the heat of summer and the cold of winter, despite death and war, extinction and holocaust, this light never went out, but shown through all that darkness. That’s what’s there in John’s Christmas story. Unlike Matthew or Luke, John’s gospel focuses on light and darkness. Inspired by this version of the Christmas story, I invite you to think with me about how the light shines in the darkness, and how the darkness did not, nor will it ever, overcome the light. It was there on the first Christmas of World War I, though it was a hellish time for Alfred Dougan Chater and every soldier who found himself on the battlefront that Christmas morning. Chater was a second lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, and he woke that morning in a freezing, muddy trench less than 100 yards from the German lines in West Flanders, Belgium. The bloodiest fighting had briefly ended in a stalemate. Corpses littered the deadly no man’s land, which separated the two sides along the Western Front. Yet that Christmas morning, Chater saw, all along that 20-mile stretch of the Western Front, unarmed German troops climbing over the parapets and walking toward the British side, simply to shake hands and exchange Christmas greetings. This miracle, this light shining in the darkness, is called the Christmas truce, and is likely the largest spontaneous truce in modern history. It resulted in a day of shared cigars, good cheer, chocolate, and, in more than one place, a game of soccer in the middle of a battlefield. According to historians, no one pre-arranged anything. It just happened. How? I’ll tell you. The light shines in the darkness. Now of course, there was one German who refused to play soccer on that battlefield. He thought the truce was disgraceful. His name was Adolf Hitler, and his dedication to the darkness is so legendary that most people consider him to be one of the vilest humans ever to have walked the earth. Yet, even in his concentration camps, the light was shining, though there was tremendous, suffocating darkness. The first Christmas Eve behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz, the SS set up a Christmas tree with electric lights and called all the prisoners to gather around it, for they had placed corpses under the tree as a warning to the living. The next year, Pope Pius XII gave a Christmas Eve proclamation in German, and despite freezing temperatures, all prisoners were required to listen. Forty-two succumbed to the cold, dying of exposure. Others suffered nervous breakdowns. How many spirits were broken? Yet in cell block ten, which housed Polish prisoners, the singing of carols began not long after. Like the waves of the sea came the illuminating words, “God is born, the powers tremble.” The powers will always tremble. No matter how merciless. No matter how compassionless. No matter how strong. For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. It’s true. On Christmas Eve 1944, when the days of the Third Reich were numbered, the prisoner priest Father Grohs de Rosenburg celebrated midnight mass. Women in Birkenau prepared 200 gifts for children fashioned from rags. One dressed up as St. Nicholas and passed them out. In one month, those who survived would gain their freedom, for on January 27th, 1945, the light broke through the darkness, which it always does. It's true. You have heard about all the darkness that surrounds us today: war, disease, poverty, and discord. However, in Kansas City, there is a man who makes it his Christmas tradition to slip $100 bills into strangers’ pockets, handing out between $100,000 and $200,000 every year. In Michigan, there’s a man named Chad Rose who gives away Christmas trees. Inspired by his example, a woman in Grand Rapids named Ann offered to donate ornaments for all of Chad’s trees. Likewise, Grammy-award-winning singer, BeyoncĂ©, surprised Walmart shoppers in Boston by buying their merchandise for them. In Colorado, a homeless man bought a Barbie and a Hot Wheels set for two kids in need, then went back later to buy another kid a bike, saying, “This is probably going to be my last Christmas. I’m no one, so I might as well make some little kid happy. It took my losing everything to realize that I’m happier now in my life than when I had big money.” Stories like that are everywhere. They’re here. For the last two nights, members of our church drove homeless families in our church’s vans to an emergency shelter because the MUST shelter was already full. Our Kroger has been giving away Christmas trees since Thursday. Yesterday, Elizabeth Lisle took her farm torch to melt ice in our parking lot so those who came to Christmas Eve services wouldn’t slip and fall. I tell you, therefore, that the light shines every day, and the darkness will not, cannot, overcome it. How do I know? I’ve seen it myself. I was a prison chaplain one summer years ago. It was the Metro State Women’s prison, and there I was sent to the floor where all the inmates who suffered mental illness lived. They were the lowest of the low, constantly taken advantage of. They were pushed around and had little to brighten their days, yet when I walked into their common room, one of the women stood and asked to sing. From that hopeless place, she sang out: Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is he. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For his eye is on the sparrow, And I know he watches me. My friends, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, will not, cannot overcome it. That’s the Christmas message that every one of us needs to hear. Some days are so bright and full and hopeful, but one little shadow cast along my path strikes fear in my heart and takes the wind from my sails. Some days that’s all it takes. One little disappointment. One little inconvenience. One little word of whining and complaining, but imagine with me what it took for those soldiers, so aware of the darkness of war, to walk out into no man’s land that Christmas morning during World War I. Imagine with me the faith it took to go from being shot at to playing soccer. Imagine the faith it took to stare down the barrel of a rifle and to see the soldiers on the other side as enemies one day, then to realize that they are brothers, made of the same flesh and blood, the next. That’s the miracle of Christmas, not only to hear that the light shines in the darkness, but to live knowing that it’s true. For if they could play soccer on a battlefield and sing Christmas carols in a concentration camp; if some man is slipping $100 bills into peoples’ pockets, and if a woman can sing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” while locked up behind bars, then you and I can hardly walk out the doors of this church afraid of the darkness any longer, so I charge you to live trusting in the light, my friends. The light is shining, so pay no more homage to the shadow. Pray for the sick, knowing that death is not the end. Offer kindness to strangers without doubting their intensions. Walk boldly into this new day, not as the cynics do, fearful, cautious, expecting things to fall apart, but as the saints in light would have us do: full of expectation, trusting that the light will soon enough break through the storm clouds overhead. The darkness in this world isn’t going to overcome anything, but it sure will consume our minds if we let it. It sure will consume our thoughts, and suck hope right out of our souls if we give it that kind of power over us. Christ has conquered sin and death, so pay attention, not to the shadow, but to his light which casts out the shadow from our midst. That’s what Christmas is all about. The light that shines in the darkness, which has come into our world. Watch for the light and remember that the darkness, its days are numbered. Halleluiah. Amen.

Mary's Treasure

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 9: 2-7 and Luke 2: 1-20 Sermon Title: Mary’s Treasure Preached on December 24, 2022 This is Christmas Eve, which is the high point of the year for many of us. It’s a wonderful night. An important night. Especially for kids, tonight is the most anticipated night of the entire year because of one jolly man who I hope will be making a visit to your house. However, if in your house there are kids who are sure that tonight is all about Santa Clause, I want them to know that Santa is not whom tonight is all about. Santa Clause is not the most important person we think of on Christmas Eve. That spot in our house is reserved for Cousin Eddie. Do you know Cousin Eddie? Giving Clark an update on his daughter, he says, “She falls down a well; her eyes go crossed. Get’s kicked by a mule. They go back.” When Grandpa wants a kiss from the grandkids, he warns, “Better take a rain check on that. He’s got a lip fungus they ain’t identified yet.” Cousin Eddie is the greatest character in the greatest Christmas movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In our house, we watch it every year. Some years, we watch it twice because we love it. I just bought Sara and the girls t-shirts that say, “Save the neck for me, Clark,” which is what he says as the turkey is being carved. I love Cousin Eddie, and nothing gets to the heart of what this night is all about so well as considering how the Christ Child was born for him and all the Cousin Eddies of the world. We know that’s true because on this night so long ago, there were kings and princes sleeping in-between silk sheets under high, vaulted ceilings, but the angels did not nudge them awake to tell them the news of the Christ Child’s birth. There were scholars up late pondering the great questions of the age, but the angels left them to their contemplations. That night long ago, there were saints meditating, priests praying, and preachers preaching who missed hearing the angels’ message on that first Christmas Eve, for while the angels could have gone to the rich, the powerful, the great, the holy, or the strong, they went to a field in the country to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Now if you know anything about shepherds, then you know that the angels going to the shepherds is extraordinary. It’s one of those truly strange realities that has become commonplace. We’re so used to hearing it, we don’t even realize how strange it is: that the angels going to the shepherds is upside down. It’s something like how we park in driveways and drive on parkways. It’s an incredibly strange feature of the Christmas story that we’ve heard about so often that we’ve made it sound inevitable, but don’t skip right over this little detail. I ask you to stop and think about it. The angels went to the shepherds even though they were the Cousin Eddies of long ago. It’s true. They lived with animals in fields under the stars, so imagine them. How did they look? How did they dress? How did they smell? Imagine what high society people did when they saw the shepherds walking into town. Archeologists have dug up the back yards of mansions in the Roman Empire, and there they’ve found statues of shepherds. Wealthy people had shepherd statues displayed on their patios. These exaggerated depictions of them, with missing teeth, rags for clothes, and matted hair decorated the space so people could laugh at their backwardness, for in the ancient world, they were the class of people everyone was allowed to make fun of. They were the punch line because they didn’t talk right. They were considered rude and ignorant. Uncouth and foolish. Illiterate and unclean. Had the Snuffy Smith comic run back then, Ma and Pa Smith would have been shepherds instead of hillbillies. Had National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation been made in the dark days of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born in a manger, Cousin Eddie would have parked a herd of sheep in Clark’s front yard rather than pulling that RV into his driveway. They were the lowest of the low. They were the cast aside and forgotten, yet when Almighty God sent out the announcement that the Savior of the World was born, an angel went to the shepherds. Why? Because some people can see miracles. Cousin Eddie knows exactly how blessed Clark Griswold is. However, Clark Griswold is too busy and too distracted to notice. He was too preoccupied with getting his Christmas bonus to notice how much he had already. He was so obsessed with getting the lights on his house to work that he had no time to notice that the light of the world was born. In the words of Clark’s wife, his expectations for every holiday are so blown out of proportion that no family has any hope of living up to what he’s aiming for, and even as he was surrounded by plenty, he was so focused on what he didn’t have that he ignored the miracles all around him. He dreams of a swimming pool while Cousin Eddie lives in a tenement on wheels. He has a wife who adores him, yet he’s consumed with loathing for his neighbors. He invites a house full of people to come spend Christmas with him and then spends all his time outside. To put things over the top, Cousin Eddie shows up. Cousin Eddie wasn’t supposed to show up. He’s the last person you want in your house when you have blown out of proportion Christmas expectations. When you’re working for your own version of perfection, you’re monitoring the perimeter for disappointments. When you have an unrealistic idea in your head, every shortcoming takes up real estate in your mind. When you’re working for more, the miracles you have already are not on your radar, so Clark would have been blind to the angels, deaf to their message, while Cousin Eddie can see what Clark cannot. That’s the truth. It’s the tragedy of those of us who so fill up the manger with Christmas cards, Christmas cookies, ornately decorated Christmas trees, and perfectly prepared Christmas dinners. We fill up the manger with so much that there’s no more room left for baby Jesus. Some of us have worked so hard to get tonight just right that all we can see is what’s out of place and whose behavior is falling short of our ideal. On this Christmas Eve just like any other Christmas Eve, there are those of us who are so surrounded by miracles that they can’t even see them all, while out in the world are shepherds who heard the angels’ voices because their world is so dark that the light shines more brightly. Disappointments were so commonplace to the shepherds that a miracle caused them to stop and pay attention. Then they dropped everything to go and see. Did you hear all that? The shepherds heard what the angels said, and then they dropped what they were doing to go and see the Christ Child. That’s an important example for us to follow. It’s an important lesson for busy, preoccupied people to learn because this Christmas, like every Christmas before and every Christmas after, the key to sucking the marrow from this momentous occasion is recognizing the miracle that God brings us. That might sound obvious; however, on Christmas, not everyone can see the miracles. Those who can’t stop working on the Christmas lights may miss the reality that the Light of the World has come. Those who can’t stop tinkering on Christmas dinner may be too distracted to realize the One who comes to offer us His very body and blood. Those who are obsessed with giving the perfect gifts wrapped with perfect bows may miss out on the Gift that our God is bringing us tonight. My friends, as the shepherds dropped what they were doing to go and see the Christ Child, I want you to know that now is the time to stop working for perfect. If we could get life perfect, there would be no need for the Christ Child to be born. Now is the time to stop what you’re doing to open your eyes to the miracles that are surrounding you right now. That’s the point of all of this. The Christ Child is born to save us from ourselves. Look around you and notice the miracles. If you have family in your house, consider the gift you’ve been given. I don’t just mean the members of your family that you get along with and who actually help clean up after the meal. Think about all of them. Who is the Cousin Eddie in your family? In our family, it was Uncle Al. Al baked the turkey with the bag of giblets still in it one year. That grossed us all out. He’d always complain about how my parents’ trash can was too small. “How you going to fit anything in there, George?” he’d always ask my dad. What did Al know about Christmas? He didn’t help to clean up after the meal. We tried to keep him out of the kitchen before and after given the giblet incident. But he could see what we had. Can you see? Can you see what you have? Christmas doesn’t come because we work so hard and get it perfect. Christmas comes regardless of our preparation. We take notice when we stop working so hard. Take notice, my friends. Listen. Thousands of years ago, the God who created this world saw fit to be born in a manager so that we would finally get it, so that we would finally understand just how much He loves us and wants to know who we are. He’s coming, even if the turkey comes out so dry you can’t eat it. He’s coming, even if the cat ends up wrapped up in one of the presents. He’s coming, even if your dog goes nosing through the garbage, the tree goes up in flames, and the Christmas bonus doesn’t come through. The Light of the World is coming. Love incarnate. Mary’s treasure for all humankind. Halleluiah. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Holy Highway

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 146: 5-10 and Isaiah 35: 1-10 Sermon Title: The Holy Highway Preached on December 11, 2022 I titled this sermon “The Holy Highway,” and when I came up with this title, I wasn’t thinking of 285. You might call that the unholy highway, or the parking lot that surrounds the city of Atlanta. 285, 75, 85, Powder Springs, Whitlock, and even Church Street can be wastelands of frustrated people trying to get somewhere fast, yet often not moving at all. That’s why traffic is frustrating. When people are stuck in traffic, they have some place to get to and can’t get there, but the worse thing is people who have given up on getting there. We leave work to get home. In between is traffic, which is frustrating, but the worse thing is having a home you’re in no hurry to get to. In the same way, we graduate to get to a career. Maybe in between is a dead-end job and a stint with mom and dad, which can be frustrating, yet people get stuck in those in-between places. Some even give up on getting where they set off for. Shawshank Redemption is a movie about that. There’s a character named Red who became the man who can get things like posters and cigarettes from the outside world into the prison, and he takes pride in his status while giving up on parole. Another, who raises an orphaned crow, is released after 40 years of living behind bars. Once he’s out, he fantasizes about committing a crime so that he can get arrested and go back to the prison, which has become a place where he feels safe. Because the main character never stops working for freedom, unlike them, he never completely settles in. He keeps his hopes up, which can kill you to watch because his hopes are dashed again and again. His closest friend, Red, encourages him to give up on trying and to accept that his life isn’t going to get any better because he’s stuck in prison, but what happens to people who give up on trying to get out? There is something worse than traffic. When people are stuck in traffic, they are frustrated because they have some place to get to. The worse thing is when we give up on getting there, which is an easy thing to do. It happens to all of us. Every couple fights. The marriage counselors tell us not to let an argument go until the next day. Don’t go to sleep during an argument. Work it out right then. Why? You can hit pause on an argument and leave it unresolved, neither here nor there. Neither here nor there is not a fight or a resolution. It’s just quiet awkwardness. Some people can’t stand that kind of ambiguity. They want to know where things stand. One such woman, who felt her long-term boyfriend was taking too long to pop the question, finally said, “Either do something or get off the pot.” That wasn’t very romantic, but it was brave. Others who find themselves in an in-between place just make the best of it, so I have a memory of a traffic jam on the connector where a man got out of his car, took a charcoal grill out of his trunk, and started cooking hamburgers. If you’re stuck somewhere, why not make the best of it? Why not do as the prophet Jeremiah said: “seek the welfare of whatever city” we find ourselves in? We weren’t meant to do that forever, of course, because we are destined for a homeland. We were not created to spend our days in exile. We can’t put down roots in the middle of mediocre, neither good nor bad. We are destined for joy. We were created for more. We have a reason to hope so don’t stop moving. Don’t stop looking. Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop caring. Don’t stop hoping for better until you’ve made it to better, for sooner or later, the barriers are going to come down. When they do, you need to be ready to go. That’s the promise of Scripture. The barriers that keep us frustrated are coming down. You remember how John the Baptist said it: Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. The barriers we hit on the way to something better will be knocked down. One day, the disappointments that have sapped our hope will evaporate. Soon and very soon, the desert waste you’re stuck in will blossom and bloom to become the Holy Highway to the place you were always meant to be. That’s the message of our second Scripture lesson from the book of Isaiah. Like so much of the Bible, the prophet points us back to the desert, which, in Scripture, is the main in-between place where people got stuck. The Israelites wandered in it for 40 years after leaving slavery in Egypt. Yet, they never stopped calling themselves Israelites. There are people who live their entire lives in deserts. We call them Bedouins or nomads. Surely 40 years wandering in the desert would have qualified them as nomads. I know you must live in Marietta for more than that to consider yourself a real Marietta resident, but imagine the desert isn’t like that. 40 years in the desert is enough time to consider yourself a resident. A nomad. A Bedouin. Not an Israelite. Israelite refers to a place on the other side. Israelite refers to Israel, and so from Scripture we know that they never got so used to the desert that they forgot about the Promised Land. Don’t you forget about the Promised Land. Maybe you say, “I haven’t,” or “How could I?” If a man will pull out a charcoal grill after an hour of traffic to start making burgers, we will all get used to heartbreak and give up on love. We will all get used to isolation and give up on community. We will all get used to wasting time and will give up on living with purpose. Therefore, we must not get used to the pain or start working to manage our expectations. We can’t settle for that in-between any more than we can take up residency in a traffic jam. Soon and very soon, the traffic jam will become the Holy Highway. That’s the promise. No more roadblocks. No more red tape. The desert shall rejoice and blossom. The burning sand shall become a pool. The redeemed shall walk there, and everlasting joy will be upon their heads as they walk to Zion. This is the Holy Highway. The Peach Pass to joy. That’s what’s coming, so don’t settle in if you’re not where you want to be. My dad is getting closer and closer to retirement. He’s spending a lot of time playing pickle ball, so last week our girls bought their grandfather a coffee mug that says, “contains the tears of my pickle ball opponents.” That’s the perfect gift, but my father was not born to play pickle ball. My father was born for joy. You were born for joy. The Son of God who bridges heaven and earth will be born in a manger, and he will lead us by the hand down the Holy Highway from where we are now to where we long to be. That’s the promise, and it’s the promise whether we are on the way from work to home, graduation to living our life’s purpose, from isolation to community, or from life to death. Back in Tennessee, I went to visit a woman named Mrs. Cotham. Mrs. Cotham was in hospice. I went to visit her and asked her if she was afraid. “I’m not afraid of death,” she said. “It’s what happens in between now and then that scares me.” The in between is scary. Don’t settle in, though, and don’t be afraid. This Advent, may our prayer be like that of the great Episcopal priest Thomas Merton, who was bold to pray: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. [Yet I do know this,] you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. “Do not fear, for I am with you,” says the Lord, walking beside you on the Holy Highway from where you are now to joy. Halleluiah. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Let Us Walk In the Light of the Lord

Scripture Lessons: Romans 13: 11-14 and Isaiah 2: 1-5 Sermon Title: Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord Preached on 11/27/22 Have you ever been wrong? Wrong about a person? Wrong about a deep conviction? Wrong about directions? What if we, as a society, as a culture, as a nation, have it wrong? Looking backwards, it’s easy to see that not all society’s convictions stand the test of time. For example, up until around six hundred years ago, more or less the entire human population was sure that a ship that sailed too far west would fall off the face of the earth. A typical way to treat illness up until the beginning of the 20th century was bloodletting. More recently, in the 1920s, Lucky Strike cigarettes ran an ad celebrating how 20,679 physicians say, “Luckies are less irritating” and will protect your throat against your winter cough. They were wrong about that, just plain wrong. Today, on the first Sunday of the season of Advent, as preparation for Christmas begins in full force, I want to introduce you to the way that Church prepares for the birth of our Savior. During the season we call Advent, a time of expectation and preparation for the birth and second coming of Jesus, the Church gets ready by examining human assumptions, by placing convictions under the microscope. Advent is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: What if we have it wrong? Speaking of having it wrong, when I was in high school, my algebra teacher swore up and down that we would use the stuff she was teaching someday. Maybe you use algebra every day, but I’m still waiting. Not all of what we believe to be true is; yet we are all capable of being stubborn. We operate under untested hypotheses. We get stuck in false assumptions and become rooted in baseless convictions. Advent is a season when we are invited to ask ourselves: What if we have it wrong? What if we really don’t know where we are going? What if what we thought was true wasn’t? We ask ourselves such questions during Advent because Jesus is coming, the only One who has ever gotten it all right. The rest of us are capable of getting it wrong, so in our first Scripture lesson from Romans, the Apostle Paul calls us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light… Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” What does he mean by all that? He means that there is something in our flesh that keeps us from admitting when we are wrong even though we often are. Call it pride. Call it stubbornness. Call it whatever you want but know that there is this thing that keeps men from stopping to ask for directions when they’re lost and prevents women from apologizing when they were wrong, believing they must always be right. I know a woman who was so sure that her husband was overreacting that she made him walk from the parking garage to the emergency room. She wasn’t going to pay for valet parking when he was just being dramatic. Well, right before they took him for quadruple bypass surgery, she felt pretty bad about that. What do you feel pretty bad about? When were you wrong? When did you gratify the desires of your stubborn flesh but should have stepped under the true light of humility. That’s where Jesus leads us: to humility. His very birth assures us that if we could save ourselves, He wouldn’t have needed to be born to show us the way, so let Him show you the way. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. On this warm November morning, while snowflake lights shine from the lamp posts, and trees are decorated with ornaments, remember that: Out of Zion shall go forth instruction, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And shall arbitrate for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks. For generations, the prophets have looked forward to such a day. Generation after generation has spoken of the day when the weapons of war will become the tools for peace. So ingrained is this image in the global consciousness that a statue stands outside the United Nations of a giant man, hammer in his right hand. The sword in his left is being flattened into a plow to prepare the soil for a new harvest. A harvest of peace. A new day of harmony. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? How can we prepare ourselves for such a day? How can we get ready for His coming? We must practice listening for the truth in a world where many have stopped listening. We must learn new ways of doing things in a world where many are stuck in old habits. Back to algebra. In the words of my friend Mickey Buchanan, “Math got really hard when they mixed in the alphabet.” Algebra was hard, so I expected the worksheet our teacher handed out to us as we entered class one morning to be difficult. I sat down and diligently began working like all my classmates did. I went from problem to problem all the way to the end and thought I had done alright, but then the teacher wrote the answers on the board, and I got every single question wrong. That was a new low, and the teacher seemed to be able to read my face and the faces of my classmates. She asked, “Did anyone answer these questions correctly?” Only one girl raised her hand. We all looked at her wondering what she knew that we didn’t. The teacher smiled at her, then simply said to the rest of us, “Go back and read the directions.” I did, and there, right at the top of the page, it clearly stated, “After you solve the equation, add 10 to your answer.” Now, before, I said that I’d never used anything I learned in algebra. That’s not entirely true because that day my teacher said: “Never start an assignment without reading the directions.” What are our directions? Forgive one another. How often? As many as seven times? Peter asked. Jesus said, “not seven, but seventy-seven times.” Those are the directions. What else did He tell us? He told us to love one another. What about the people who get on our nerves though? Jesus said, “You have heard it said that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Those are the directions. What about the people everyone else turns their backs on? Can we go and do likewise? December 1st is World AIDS day. A good friend of mine who sends me an inspirational verse of Scripture every Sunday morning and has for the last five years is HIV positive. Since 1993 when he first tested positive, he’s felt rejected by the Church and even members of his own family, yet he remembers Jesus, Who in Scripture, again and again, reaches out to touch the outcast, the leper, the rejected, and those considered unclean. Jesus reaches out to touch them. He moved toward every outcast of society. Is that what we’ve been doing, or have we been leaving God’s people out in the cold? Follow the directions, or you’ll get lost. Do you ever feel lost? If so, remember that the moral of every great Christmas movie is the same: It’s not too late to change. It’s not too late to stop and ask for directions. It’s not too late to apologize. It’s not too late to admit that we have it wrong. That’s what Ebenezer Scrooge did. Money left him cold and lonely, but it wasn’t too late for him, nor was it too late for the Grinch’s heart to grow three sizes, and don’t even get me started on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Cousin Eddie, who gets everything wrong, is the one who leads to everything turning out all right because not the boss nor Clarke has it all sorted out. No one does, and that’s OK, especially this time of year, because the thing that sets Christians apart is not that we get it right. It’s that we believe the One who got it perfect is coming, and we need only listen to His directions. Are you ready to listen? Are you listening for truth, hope, and joy? Emmanuel: God in human form is coming. Prepare yourself for His birth by letting go of old, handed-down prejudice and hatred. Discard old convictions. Put them out on the street with your Amazon shipping containers and wave goodbye. What we always thought was true may be holding us back from following Him today. Invite Him into your heart to teach you a new way to be. Let us walk in the light of the Lord. Amen.