Tag Archives: Advent

An advent letter to my congregation

christmas eve candleDear Church,

This is our first Christmas together, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for Christmas Eve.  Every year, there are two moments I most look forward to at Christmas.  One is my daughters coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, pausing for a picture, then slowly making their way to see what magic transpired under the tree.  The other is singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” as the lights are slowly turned down and the candles are lit in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve night.

I know that Easter is supposed to be the big day. Singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with the throngs and the organ and the lilies and the spring air at Easter is pretty special, but it is Christmas that touches my heart like no other. I know that Christmas is wrought with commercialism, consumerism, and a secularity that some mourn.  Maybe that is why that moment is so special to me.  It is so needed.  It is that moment where nothing matters but joy.  I can block out the noise and the fear and the distractions.  Sure, “Silent Night,” has helped contribute to a falsely idyllic understanding of Christmas, but I’m okay with that.  It is a song that can end war, even if only for a moment.

I get a pretty special view for Christmas Eve.  I get to stand up front and look out at the faces of those gathered.  I can close my eyes and see it through the years.  I can picture each of the congregations I’ve had the awesome honor to serve.  I can see the faces of those who have supported me, shaped me, challenged me, and molded me into the man and pastor that I am today.  I can see the faces of young and old, woman and man, single and married, healthy and sick.

I can see the faces of people lit by the glow of a small candle as we sing those holy words, and I’m very much looking forward to singing it with you.  We haven’t been together very long, but things are going well.  No church is perfect, but I believe that I am right where I need to be.  Already we’ve laughed and cried together.  Already we’ve dreamed of a Kingdom future, and mourned the loss of pillars.  Already we’ve eaten too much, shared some of our scars, worried a little, and stumbled through some movements.   Already I can see the excitement and the energy.  I can see good things happening.  I can see people being fed without asking first if they deserve it.  I can see invitation that is born from joy, not fear.  I can see welcome.  I can see grace, and a desire to share lives,  not just small talk and pleasantries.  I can see the Body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s love, reaching out into the world.

Incarnation.  That is what Christmas is all about.  It is the coming of light in a world of darkness.  It is God breaking through all of the barriers.  It is strength and power and might redefined in the form of a newborn baby.  Christmas is peace, love, joy, and hope.  And just as that candle spreads from the table in the sanctuary to those that are singing in the pews, Christmas is the light of Christ spreading into the hearts of the faithful, and being carried out into the world.  It is not about “happily ever after.”  It is about the presence of God in the midst of real life.

It is a reminder that right here in the world is a promise that God is with us.  Right here with the cancer is hope. Right here with the struggle and upheaval is peace.  Right here in the gathering of Christ’s people is joy.  Right here with our fellow humans, hurting, sinning, and falling, is love.

So I’m waiting for Christmas Eve, and not altogether patiently.  I’m waiting to wish you a Merry Christmas, and to see your face lit by the glow of a candle.  It’s my favorite time of year, and I’m so glad we can do this together.

In Christ,

Your pastor

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Two Rivers United Methodist Church

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A service of Communion for Advent

The following is a liturgy I wrote for use during Advent.  Permission for use in worship is granted.  A note that it was “written by Robb McCoy, at http://www.fatpastor.me” would be appreciated.  If you’re going to use it, I also love hearing about it in the comments below, but that’s not necesarrt.  The musical settings found in the liturgy are Copyright 1990 Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  The links are to a pdf file.  Some of the Words of Institution are also from the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Communion Liturgy for Advent

One:      In this season of expectant waiting, we are invited to Christ’s table here and now.  Coming to Christ’s table is a way to experience the grace of God.  Therefore it is open to all.  The only requirement is a sincere heart.  The only barriers to the table are created in our own heart.  So we come together as a people to confess our sins to God.  We confess as a people because we all fall short of God’s plan of perfect love.  We do not confess to avoid punishment.  We confess to free our own hearts and minds, so we may remove the barriers we build between ourselves, our God, and our brothers and sisters.

All:          We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.   We go about our lives as if Christmas is an event to be celebrated, but not lived.  We hear the good news, but do not heed it.  We turn away the holy family for there is no room in our hearts.  We hear the cry of the expectant mother, desperate for care and a place to lie, but listen instead to the carols.  We see the lowly children, born in mangers among the filth of the world, but we look instead to the decorations.  We hear the call of the Angels to come and worship the newborn King, but we bow down to the idols of our culture.  Forgive us, we pray.  Forgive us and free us for joyful obedience.  Remove the barriers that we construct, and empower us to be a people doing the real, gritty, holy, graceful, loving work of Christmas every day. In the name of the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.  (pause for silent confession and prayer)

One:      Out of the wilderness a voice calls out.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Prepare ye the way of love.  Prepare ye the way of forgiveness.  The Christ child was born in the midst of darkness.  The waiting is over.  Christ may be born today in your heart.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven.

All:         Joy to the World. Amen.

(Musical Setting)

One:      The Lord be with you

All:         And also with you.

One:      Lift up your hearts.

All:         We lift them up to the Lord.

One:      Now let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:         How good it is to give thanks and praise.

One:      It is good to give our thanks and praise.  It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  You create the world from chaos.  By simply speaking, you set the cosmos into motion, and create all things from the dust of stars.

All:         Blessed are you, O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

One:      God of many blessings, you called out a family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  You gave them a land, and promised to make of them a great nation so that all of the nations of the world could be blessed.

All:         Blessed are you, God of Abraham and Sarah.

One:      God of salvation, when the people were but slaves in Egypt you called upon your servant Moses.  You gave him the power to speak salvation to the Pharoah, and led your people out of slavery.  You led them over the water, and helped them Passover into freedom.  When the people were hungry, you gave them food from the sky.  When the people were thirsty, you brought forth water from the rocks.  When the people were no people, you gave them the Law.

All:         Blessed are you, God of our salvation.

One:      When the people asked for a King, you anointed David to be a just ruler. Though flawed, David united the people, and you promised to be with his line forever.  When the Kings rebelled, as you warned them they would, you anointed the prophets, who called the people back to obedience.  The prophets spoke the truth to power, and called the people to remember who and whose they were.  The prophets warned the people of the consequences of injustice and false worship.  When the people fell into exile, the prophets spoke words of hope and restoration when all around them, there was nothing but despair.

All:         A voice is crying out: “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

One:      You promised the coming of an anointed one, who would lead the people to peace and righteousness.  You promised that the descendant of David would rule forever.  You promised that out of Bethlehem would come the Prince of Peace.  You promised the coming of your Kingdom, when “swords would be beaten into plows, and spears into pruning hooks.”

All:         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

One:      John the Baptist came, telling the people to “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. And so now we come, having confessed our sins, searching for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with expectant grace.  We come to be transformed by what has already come, and waiting with hope for what is to come.  We deck our halls with joy, but it is our hearts that truly matter.

All:         Prepare the way of the Lord in our world.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our communities.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our churches.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.

One:      And so, in hopeful anticipation, we give thanks to you, God of Creation,  God of Abraham and Sarah,  God of salvation, God of the Law, God of King David, God of the Prophets, God of hope and deliverance, God of John, and God of us all.  We join in praise and come together to sing unending hymn of the saints of glory.

(Musical setting)

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.  God of power and might adored, heaven and earth are shining bright with the glory of your light.  Loud Hosannas now we sing. In the highest they may ring. Blessed is the coming one. Christ Emmanuel your son.  Glory in the highest. Holy God, your name is blessed. 

One:      Holy are you, and holy is your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who is the one to whom John pointed in the wilderness.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was born to us in a manger, for there was no room in the inn.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who came to show us the way to your love.  He proclaimed good news to the poor.  He restored the sight to the blind.  He called the children to his side, taught the women, ate with sinners, and called out the religious leaders blinded by the letter of the Law.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was betrayed by those who loved him.  Who was persecuted by those who feared him.  Who was crucified by those who thought that his death would be the end of him.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who, on the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

All:         “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One:      And when the supper was over, took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said:

All:         “Drink from this, all of you.  This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One:      Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  Make us a Christmas people, secure in what has come, and hopeful for what is yet to be.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.  Keep us vigilant in our Advent waiting until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

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2014 #AdventRun to Bethlehem

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR RUN

In 2013, we had our first Advent Run/Walk to Bethlehem.  As a way to promote living well in the midst of a season that is notoriously difficult on healthy habits, we went on a run together.  The goal was to honor the journey of Mary and Joseph by running the 103 miles it takes to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We promoted the run through this blog and at The Pulpit Fiction Podcast.  We asked people to log in their runs and walks online, and shared updated results a few times between Thanksgiving and Epiphany.  The results were phenomenal.  Even though I bowed out early because of a terrible chest cold, the 2013 Advent Run had 23 different people log 67 different runs for a total of 255 miles.  The runs took place in 14 different states and London, England.  Our longest runner was Jessica, who ran 30 miles.  My Pulpit Fiction partner Eric ran 6 times for just over a marathon (27.2 miles). We reached our goal of 103 miles in just two weeks, so we created a challenge goal.  We decided to honor the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt (as told in the Gospel of Matthew) and go 333 miles.  We didn’t make that goal, but I think that is a good goal for 2014. Here’s how to participate: Follow this link, and then book mark it.  This year we added a “Group” option.  If you are a part of a church, club, or class that wants to participate in the #AdventRun, then tell people to enter their group name.  We’ll compile individual, group, and total miles. You won’t be able to register a run/walk until Thanksgiving – November 27.  We’ll keep it open until Epiphany – January 6. Follow The Fat Pastor on Facebook

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#AdventRun Run to Bethlehem Final

Advent Run FinalHere are the final results of the First Annual Fat Pastor/Pulpit Fiction Virtual Run to Bethlehem.  The results were originally announced on the Pulpit Fiction podcast.  Here are the final entries, from Thanksgiving Day until Epiphany.  Our orginal goal was to compile 107 miles, which is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.  We reached that goal in about two weeks, so we extended a challenge goal.  We decided to go, as the Holy Family did in the Gospel of Matthew, all the way to Egypt.  We decided that 333 miles would be our second goal.  Since we extended the distance, we also extended the time frame to include Epiphany. As a group, we completed 255 miles.  This was enough to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem and back, but not enough to escape Herod.

23 different people made a total of 67 entries in our Advent Run.  There were entries from 14 different states plus London, England.

I was barely able to participate.  I ran in a 5-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.  The next day I had a 103 fever, and wasn’t well until January.

I’ve gotten back into running now, but I’m hoping next year I’ll be able to participate more fully in our Advent Run.

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Sermon: Let No Prison Hold You

From the sermon below:

“‘Are you the one?’  John the Baptist asked. ‘Or do we need to wait for another?’ 

I can understand this question John asked.  I can see the prison walls around me.  That we build up with violence, war, and poverty.  I see Newtown and Columbine.  I see apartheid South Africa, and oppression and racism that exists today.  I see hunger amongst us, hurting people in our pews.  I see my own heart, my own failures, and the hurt that I cause.  I see the times when I’ve failed to love God the way I should, or participated in the unjust  systems.  I can see the walls, and they are thick, and they are strong.  And I can ask too, ‘How long must we wait?'”

For a full blog post, go here.

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Let no prison hold you

let none hold you

Few of us ever plan on going to prison.  No one wants to spend time in a jail cell.  Yet many of us spend time in one every day.

We spend time in jails built around us.  Sometimes they are barely noticeable.  Like the fish that doesn’t know it is in a fish bowl, or the bird that doesn’t know the world outside the cage, we spend our time in prison.  These are the prisons of injustice.  They are the prisons of systems that keep us from fulfilling our dreams.  They are the walls that are built by those that want to keep others oppressed.  Hope and possibility are kept out, and all that remains is a cycle of despair.

Sometimes we are in prisons that we built ourselves.  We guard our pain and our torment and make sure nothing is able to penetrate the walls we build.  We have been hurt too many times, so we build walls.  We remain in the cell because the outside world is full of pain, and at least inside the cell we have the illusion of safety.  Intimacy and friendship are kept out, and all that remains is superficiality.

Sometimes we are in prisons that have been built for us.  These walls are built by sickness, or by those that hurt us.  Sometimes great wrongs are inflicted upon us.  Sometimes the tragedy is too much to take.  Some say, “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.”  I don’t believe it, because I don’t believe it is always God that is giving it.  Sometimes the pain is just too much, and the walls of the prison are too strong to break free.  Healing and joy are kept out, and all that remains is pain.

In Matthew 11:2-11, we find John the Baptist in prison.  He was imprisoned by a King that did not want to hear the truth.  John spoke the truth to power.  He called for repentance.  He called for a change of heart.  He called upon people to follow the path of righteousness, and he prepared the way for the one that would come.  But he was not imprisoned until he demanded too much of the King.  When he impeded the powerful from having his way, he had to be stopped.  He was kept alive, for awhile, by the will of the people.

John was called the “greatest of all those born of a woman,” by Jesus.  And yet as he was in jail, he wondered.  It can be dangerous to inject too much of our own thoughts into figures in the Bible, but here it is almost impossible not to wonder what John was thinking when he sent a messenger to Jesus.

“Are you the one? Or are we to wait for another?” he asked.

John was in prison, so all he could do was wait.  And yet he wanted to know, “Are you the one?”  Sitting in jail, still alive at the whim of a tyrannical King, looking back at his work, his ministry, and looking forward to a future that was unlikely to have a happy ending, he asked, “Are we to wait for another?”

And likewise I wait.  I wait in my prison.  I wait in the prison of sin that I have built around me.  I wait in the prison of injustice that is all around.  I look to Newtown and Columbine.  I look to the Liberian Civil War and Apartheid South Africa.  I look to violence on the streets of our cities, and violence in the homes our children.  I look to hungry children at the school in my neighborhood, and to the cold families looking for coats at our Wardrobe ministry.  I look into my own heart at the choices I make, the hurts that I cause, and the prisons I build.  I wait and look back at my work, my ministry, and look forward to the future and wonder.  “Are we to wait for another?”

Is the question a sin unto itself?  Maybe.  But at least I know that I’m in good company.  I’ve never felt that doubt is the opposite of faith.  .

So, trapped in our prisons, what do we do?  What is Jesus’ answer?  Of course, Jesus doesn’t give us a straight answer (That is why I think doubt is not an obstacle to faith, but lines the pathway of faith.  If Jesus wanted us to never doubt or question, he would have given us more straight answers.).

Tell John what you have seen,” Jesus says.  Tell John to look beyond his prison walls.  Tell him to look beyond the pain and the heartache and the bleak outlook.  Tell John “that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This Advent, we still wait.  We wait like John in prison.  Not held in by despair, but looking always outward.  Looking from within our own prisons at the world all around. Waiting and watching with God’s eyes to see the signs.  Waiting is never a fun activity.  We do everything in our power to avoid waiting… for anything.  We fill our time with noise.  We go to restaurants designed to limit waiting as much as possible.  We go to grocery stores where the lines are filled with things to read, and last-minute items to buy.  What are waiting rooms filled with? TVs, magazines, some even check out ipads.

Yet here we are waiting, but not idly.  We are purposefully waiting.  Waiting with eyes open to the love of God that is all around.  We hear one of the Newtown mothers declare “Love wins,” and are left in awe of the power of the human heart to heal. We hear stories like the one Peter Storey tells here, of a woman in South Africa who said to the man that killed her son, “You took my son.  So now you must be mine.”

Advent is a season to wait.  Wait and watch for Christ in our midst.  In a world addicted to instant gratification, the act of purposeful waiting is a revolutionary act.  It is a soul-cleansing act.  We wait with eyes wide open.  We wait with hearts open for Christ, seeking the answers to our questions in the stories of hope and grace.  We wait, seeking  forgiveness.  We do not rush into anything, because you cannot rush something as powerful and painful and precious as forgiveness.

This Advent, we wait like John in prison, who was called to notice the signs all around.  

This Advent, we wait like Mandela in prison, who refused to let the walls hold him.  We wait like Mandela, who transformed his prison into a crucible of learning, organization, and reconciliation.  Who practiced forgiveness even as he was tormented.  Mandela, who befriended white guards who were supposed to hate him, who used their friendship to secretly write his manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom.  Mandela, who wrote in prison, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death” (from A Long Walk to Freedom)

We are called to look beyond the walls of our prison.  Don’t ignore the walls, but do not let them defeat you.  Look beyond the walls, and do not let them contain you.  See the signs of mercy, justice, and love.  See Christ all around – not in holiday decorations or TV specials.  See Christ in the hearts of others.  The prisons made by sin and injustice can feel impenetrable, but there is freedom in Christ.  No prison held Mandela.  No prison held John.  Let none hold you.

Listen to the sermon I preached based on this post

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Advent Photo-a-Day

advent photo a dayRethink Church has come up with another great chance to combine social media, art, reflection, and devotion.  The concept here is simple, prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by spending each day reflecting on a concept or theme.  Then take a picture of something that you feel represents that theme.  Share the picture on twitter, instagram, pinterest, facebook, and maybe someone you know will take some time to reflect as well.  This is not only a great tool for reflection and devotion, but a tool for evangelism, and connecting to others.  Once again I commend my friends at RethinkChurch.org for providing this tool that has so many positive facets.

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The Virtual Run to Bethlehem

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

According to google maps, the journey along the Jordan River from Nazareth to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is 166 kilometers, or 103.2 miles.

This Advent, I am going to run to Bethlehem, but I need your help.  As a way to encourage people to Live Well, I’ve started a new virtual running event.  From November 28 until December 25, I want to run the virtual journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  According to Google Maps, this is a 106 mile journey.  For me to run the 106 miles, I would have to average four miles a day.  While not impossible, it is an impractical goal.  So I’m enlisting help.

My Pulpit Fiction co-host and best friend Eric Fistler and I are going to do this together.  We are asking all of the Fat Pastor readers and Pulpit Fiction listeners to do the same.  If we can get a few people to do it with us, the 106 mile journey will be a lot easier.  In fact, I figure if there are ten people running, we might be able to make the return trip too.

If you want to participate in the Run to Bethlehem, just submit your time and distance on this google form.  We’ll compile the information and post our progress as we go along.  We’ll start tracking on Thanksgiving Day, and we’ll go until Christmas (maybe Epiphany)

If you’re on twitter, use the hashtag #AdventRun to post pictures or tag routes if you use something like Map My Run.

Also, don’t forget to use #BeChristInChristmas to share ways that you, your family, or your church is trying to be Christ in the life of your neighbors.

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Sermon: Declare that the dawn is coming

Click here for a podcast of the sermon, “Declare that the dawn is coming,” which was preached on December 23, 2012.

Click here for the blog-version of this sermon.

“God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.”

Scripture:

Luke 1:65-79

Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

 

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Declare that the dawn is coming

girl on beachI love holding babies.  I have held many babies.  Countless times I have held a baby in my arms, and looked down and wondered, “What will this child be?” I can think of no act in life that is more full of hope then holding a baby.  I held each of my daughters within minutes of their birth.  Each time I was filled with awe and wonder.  Each time was a holy moment beyond explanation.

This year at Advent I have rediscovered Zachariah.  I’ve been a Dad for a few years, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to Mary’s song.  I wrote last year at Advent about preparing for the coming of a child.  This Advent though, I have been drawn to Zechariah’s prophecy when his son was born.

Zechariah praised God when his son was born.  He praised God for the promises that God made.  He praised God for the promises that God kept. He praised God for the promise that was in his son.  For he knew that his son was created for a purpose.  He knew that his son would be called a prophet.  He knew that his son would “go before the Lord to prepare a way.”  He knew that is son would “tell the people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.”  Zechariah was filled with joy at the birth of his son, so he praised God.

But I’m here to tell you that God rejoices no less for you than did Zechariah  for his son.  Zechariah so loved his son that he could glimpse him through God’s eternal eyes.  God so loves you that he has laid out a path for you to follow.  God has given you something that makes you uniquely you.  There is something in you that transcends employment, labels, gender, race, or status.  God has created you with a purpose, and is calling you to that purpose today.  You were created to do no less than John once did – to prepare the way of the Lord, and “to show the people the way to salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”

God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.

Fear is powerful.  Fear can be overwhelming.  When we sit in the shadow of death, fear can be crippling.

Many of us have experienced that kind of fear.  We have experienced that kind of sorrow or loss.  When the chaos of the world is too much to bear, we sit in the shadow.  When the diagnosis is positive, and the prognosis is not optimistic, we sit in the shadow.  When the job is lost and the source of the next check is a mystery, we sit in the shadow.  When we fail to love as we were called to love, we sit in the shadow.  When thousands of children die from undernourishment or  preventable disease, we sit in the shadow.  When a man breaks through the sanctuary of a school and shatters the lives of innocents, we sit in the shadow.

Though some would claim that God does not go where God is not wanted, such a claim stands in direct opposition to the claim of Christmas.  The claim of Christmas is that God goes where God is not expected and is not wanted.  God goes where it one time seemed impossible.  God breaks through the cosmos, tears through the curtain, crumbles our dividing walls, and makes the audacious and spectacular claim that God was made flesh.  God was a baby.

The claim of Christmas is that God broke through the darkness.  As Zachariah said, “Because of God’s compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 CEB)

Through our freedom, humanity has created many dark and terrible places.  The shadow of death at times looms large over our world, but in the midst of darkness a baby is born.

Zachariah saw a great purpose in his son’s life.  People wondered, “What then will this child be?”  John grew to be the voice in the wilderness that cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

What then will you be?  For what purpose have you been created?  Use what you have been given to do as John did.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Show people the way of salvation.  Find those that sit in the shadow of death, and sit next to them.  Hold their hand.  Weep with them.  Give them love.  Show them the light, and declare that the dawn is coming.  Declare that the dawn is coming, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the path of peace.

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Let Your Life Speak is one of my favorite books.  It was written by Parker Palmer.

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