“Who Is This Child?”

Luke 2:41-52, December 30th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“This morning’s scripture reading is from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter two, verses forty-one thru fifty-two.  Let us open our minds as-well-as our ears to hear as we begin to grasp and understand what is being shared with us this day.” 

 Luke 2:41-52

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey.  Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  50 But they did not understand what he said to them.  51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.  52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

“’Who is this child?’ is the theme of our lesson this morning.  As we begin our discussion, let us open ourselves to ponder upon this writing, even as the excitement surrounding the celebration of Jesus’ birth, has yet to fade.”

  

“Who Is This Child?”

The Christmas decorations are still up, not just here in our sanctuary, but in a great many homes.  Our Advent candles are still lit, with the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and love, still reminding us of their sacred meaning.  The Christ candle is ablaze, also reminding us of the presence of the holy Light of Christ in our lives.  We are still within the traditional twelve days of Christmas which stretches till January 6th, 2019!  But yet, our scripture reading this morning, has the baby Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with his parents Mary and Joseph!  We have skipped right over the story about the wise men from the East whom followed a star seeking to find the child born “king of the Jews!” /Matthew 2:1-15/ We will simply need to discuss this next Sunday and see how their interaction with King Herod forces Jesus and his family to become immigrants!  We have barely finished our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, and already we are getting befuddled with the fast movement of the scriptures, trying to record all of that which quickly transpires there after!

Before we come to closure with the year 2018, we shall discuss the question put before the teachers and its shocking meaning to his frazzled parents: Mary and Joseph.  The temple teachers were forced to consider this child’s amazing questions and his astonishing answers.  His parents whom had traveled a day’s distance, before realizing their son was not with them, frantically, traveled back to Jerusalem in search of his whereabouts, only after three days, to find him in the Temple.  When confronted young Jesus simply says to them: “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” /Luke 2: 49/ “Who is this child?”  This is the question that hung over his parents and the wise older teachers at the Temple that day.  A question that surely is in our own minds and hearts as well!

Christmas is always a wonderful event each year, yet, in its aftermath are always a bunch of all too familiar questions!  Consequentially, the seemingly illogical order of the scripture readings, in the pastor’s planned topics, is in line with the logical disorder of the events as recorded by the early church in the scriptures.  There was a lot that quickly transpires in the lives of this new family, as their part in history begins to come together!  To complicate this, we do not ‘just’ have the writings attributed to the accounting of Luke, but also, we have that of Matthew who is trying to interject into our thought process!  Mark, he simply skipped over this whole business of how Jesus was born and his adventures before he was baptized.  Further done the road, the Gospel of John is written, and it weaves a whole different way of understanding the riddle of Jesus.  For today, we will stay with Luke’s accounting – as the young lad, Jesus, gives us, the temple teacher’s, and his parents – plenty to consider!

As discombobulating as it may seem, this will all come together in the end!  For, as we learned a bit ago, Jesus came to us to bring the love of God to all humankind!  Yet, there is a lot that needs to happen as the baby Jesus, grows through his adolescence and becomes ‘honed’ by the Spirit of God, to fulfill all that the scriptures foretold of this child named Jesus.  All this having been said, only you and me, with our ‘hindsight’, we know what is to come.  His parents, like modern parents, did not know what the future held for themselves nor for their son.   You and me, we are biased as we view this accounting, for we already know what is written about the life of Jesus.  We know how he grows to be a man.  In the gospel of Mark, we learn that he is baptized by John the Baptizer in the river Jordan.  We read further that he is driven into the desert wasteland by the Spirit, where, like Moses, he is groomed and prepared for his ministry.  Yes, we are biased because we know what kind of man Jesus grows up to be and the amazing things he does in his short three-year ministry.  And yes, we know of the tragic ending of his human life.  We also know of all that occurred after his tomb was found empty!  Mary and Joseph, whom were charged with bringing up baby Jesus, they did not have the ability to know the future.  Perhaps, they were blessed that they did not!

So, for his parents, Jesus was just the average young lad when they went to Jerusalem.  Can you just imagine what it might have been like for them?  Now we need to remember, travel was very different in those days.  No planes, buses or trains.  No cars or anything of that sort either.  No cell phones, or any type of electronic anything.  No, they traveled in a caravan with other travelers, perhaps a merchant or two.  It was safer that way.  Bandits and such lurking along the roadway into the big city of Jerusalem.  We still have that same problem in modern times.  Travelers need to beware, as there are always unscrupulous folks along the pathways willing to take advantage of the inexperienced, naive and weary traveler!  When traveling in a group like this, it is common for the larger children, like a twelve-year-old, to walk with others their same age.  These caravans often took on a large gathering of people; again, let us be reminded, it was safer that way.  With this in mind, we can assume that the same occurs when returning in the same manner.  Jesus was with the other lads of his age, his parents presumed.  Many of their friends and relatives were traveling with them.  It was not careless neglect that they were not aware that Jesus was not with the caravan.  Historically, the Hebrews, as we knew them from the accounting of their exodus from Egypt after being freed of slavery, they were nomads, therefore, traveling in groups like a caravan was very common.  Yet, when they discovered he was not among their friends and relatives, well, their emotions quickly shifted!

One could suspect this is how it must be for immigrants, migrants and refuges in South America, that whole region from Mexico to Chile and Uruguay, that whole region.  These folks who come together in their journey for a better place to live and bring up their families, they too must encounter conditions similar to that of the caravans which Jesus and his parents traveled.  Traveling in this manner is difficult in contrast to our understanding of travel.  At least, Jesus and his family appear to have a hometown to travel back to, which is a step better than migrants and refuges.  Next Sunday, our scripture lesson will suggest to us that this may not have always been the case.  Well, we will look into that, next week.

Getting back to our lesson for this week there are several observations we can make.  Clearly, we can start to see how the life style which they were experiencing was very different from how we currently know it.  Nonetheless, being a parent had the same responsibilities and obligations as modern parents have.  They just didn’t have all of our modern devices to keep tract of their children’s activities!  Setting these differences aside, parents all feel that same anxiety when their children aren’t where they are expected to be.  Can you imagine searching for your son or daughter for three or four days before finding them?  Good lord, I think we all know that this borders on some of the worst fears and nightmares a parent can experience!  So often, we hear on the news about a missing child.  The parents are frequently interviewed, from which we can see the anguish, the fear and the panic, as they use the media to ask for help to find their child.  Yes, it was a dramatic event when they found Jesus safe at the temple!

Our scripture reading points out how amazed the temple teachers were with Jesus while he was with them.  Apparently, his questions, his observations and listening skills were very high.  For they were amazed!  Oh, if only we knew the conversations which Jesus had during those three plus days!  The intellectual stimulation of this twelve-year-old child as he conversed with these scholarly men!  What a picture it paints of whom Jesus was developing into.  Again, we must hold our biases in check, and stay open to experiencing this scene for the first time, as they did!  But, how quickly the scenario changes as Mary and Joseph, the distraught parents arrive on the scene!  Can you picture the conversation of a modern parent when their child is just ‘three hours’ late for dinner, what it would be like!  Would it really change that much if the child had been at the town library researching a paper for school?  Not in the short run!  If you were the parents that were trying to find the child for those hours, you would be no less stressed out!  Can you hear the child saying: “But mom, where else would you expect to find me?  I was just researching for the paper I am working on for class. “Don’t you want me to do well in school?”  Raising children is no simple matter.

Let’s bring this conversion to its conclusion.  First, we now know that Jesus was raised by typical parents; they cared for his wellbeing as best they could.  We also learned that Jesus grew up like an average young adult; often unaware of how his actions might affect you.  Furthermore, we also learned a more powerful aspect of Jesus’ childhood.  We learned that his awareness of his relationship with the Almighty – was unique and special.  Clearly, mystically even, young Jesus at age twelve, was aware, he sensed how his relationship with his Father in heaven was to be his first priority.  Given all this, Jesus was also a youth who, in the end, respected his parents and strived to be obedient to them.  Even as our discussion nears its closure, we can easily say, at least in the context of this scripture from Luke’s gospel, Mary and Joseph, were asking themselves the silent question: “who is this child?

Modern parents, good ones like the couple whom brought up baby Jesus, preparing him for his destiny, ask the same question of their children.  Oftentimes, modern parents are unclear of the pathways their children shall choose and all that life holds for them.  Not all children are destined for greatness, like Jesus.  Yet, God has a vision for every child.  Our responsibility as parents, grandparents and great grandparents, every one of us whom interacts with children, is to do the best we can… giving thanks that Mary and Joseph led the way for us to follow.  Lastly, we need to be reminded we are all children of God. Therefore, we need to stay open to the mystical movement of the Spirit offering us God’s guidance, as we seek out our destiny – a destiny envisioned by our God.

Amen.

“A Baby is Born”

Matthew 1:18-25, December 23th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Light the Fourth Advent Candle – Love

“On this fourth Sunday in Advent, let us hear once again the accounting from the gospel of Matthew pertaining to the birth of the baby Jesus.  Listen to these words from Matthew chapter one, verses eighteen thru twenty-five.”  

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way.   his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’  24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

“Having heard this accounting let us now reflect on how we understand the birth of this baby, born of Mary so long ago.”

 

 

“A Baby is Born”

A baby is born to be loved… Jesus was born to love!  I have seen my share of newborn babies; baptized a few too!  What I witness to, on such occasions, is the love which pours out from the baby’s mom, the dad and grandparents and great grandparents too!  No matter how difficult or long her pregnancy; despite the agonizing pain of childbirth, the new baby is seen and looked upon with love, especially by the baby’s mom.  Even the bewildered sister or brother that lays eyes upon the new child, they too, look with wonder and love, perhaps not fully grasping how their own lives have been altered due to the baby’s birth.  It is the normal conclusion to such a time, for the new born baby to be looked upon with love and awe!  Babies change the lives of everyone connected to them.  When Jesus was born one could surely have said the same, despite the underwhelming bleakness of the baby Jesus’ birthplace.  Yet, we know, the baby Jesus, the Christ child, was born to love all of humankind, pouring out his very life for the sake of all the children of God!

Pastor Jennifer Chapman, Lead Pastor, Nexus Community Church of the Nazarene, reminds us of the reality of child birth in our modern-day times.  “Jesus’ birth story in Matthew reminds us how often pregnancy, or more broadly, the being and becoming of families, can be a situation of strife, fear, or even scandal.  It de-sanitizes the typical Christmas portrait of the holy family and their newborn child, reminding us of the messiness of it all.” /Jennifer Chapman/ Joseph and Mary were not wealthy parents.  No, their community was under the oppressive rule of the Roman empire.  Their life situation was that of lower-class people striving to keep food on the table, while paying their taxes to Herod and Pilate, and ultimately to Caesar, the Emperor of the Roman Empire!  It was for this purpose that they were compelled to travel to Bethlehem, during Mary’s pregnancy, to register for the tax census!  This concept of lower verses upper class structures, found in ancient societies, has lived on throughout the ages.  Taxes are very much part of modern life.  The separation of those who have – from those who have not – is still very much a part of modern world realities.

The historical truths, during the time period of which the birth story of Jesus springs forth, are well documented.  The tribes of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, wandered in the harsh lands and territories between their enslavement and that of Palestine.  By the time they arrive they are strong enough to occupy the “Promised Land.”  Yet, history moved forward and in ‘their’ glory, they fall prey to their humanness.  Weakened, they are conquered by invading armies.  By the time of Jesus, their plight had shifted into the hands of the Romans.  Yes, it is well documented.  This brings us to another point of reference, which contrasts much of humankind’s realities to our current time.  Pastor Keith Anderson speaks to us of the humble existence of Jesus’ earthly life.  “Jesus’ earliest days were lived on the religious, political, and economic margins of his time – marked by homelessness, immigration, and oppression.  This fledgling holy family lived a fragile existence.” /Keith Anderson/ Indeed, the sad likeness of our time to that of Jesus’s birth, more than two thousand years ago.  How utterly discouraging that with all the miracles of science, technology, the advancement of higher education, ‘to the point that the majority of people upon this earth,’ can at least read and write, and in first world societies, a higher percentage each year go on to college and thousands upon thousands get their Masters, PhD’s and Doctorate degrees!  Yet, we still have millions living in “religious, political, and economic margins of ‘this’ time ‘in history’ – marked by homelessness, immigration, and oppression!’ /Keith Anderson/

Heart breaking to reflect on this.  Yet, despite the folly of humankind, the love of God has been poured out upon all people of all nations.  Today, this very moment, this Sunday morning before Christmas Eve… when we shall celebrate the birth of Christ, this very day, we have lit the Advent candle of Love, reminding us of the gift of Love… the very foundation of our Christmas celebration!  Once again, we must turn to our Advent wreath, with its reminders of Hope, hope which is born out of the belief that the God of our humble understanding, the God of Abraham and Moses, from the ancient writings of the Old Testament… passed to us via the traditions of Judaism, loves us still!  We pay tribute to the peace candle, with its symbol of God’s power to sooth our sin sick souls, and bring us to a new state of peace, basking in the Light of the Living God.  “Peace be with you.” /John 19: 26b/ Jesus said this unto his disciples in the Upper Room shortly after the discovery of his empty tomb and reports of the Risen Jesus’ appearance to Mary.  The candle of Joy, which we lit last Sunday, only can be understood when we allow our skeptical ‘world view’ to be replaced by the mystical wonder of the hope and peace which comes with believing in the Living Spirit of God.

Most of modern society, is focused on the importance of power and material possessions, which has consequences.  One of which is: fear, fueled by the growing gap between those who have power and influence, including those who have excessive material possessions, and those whom are at the other end of this pendulum.  Fear is fueled by the distrust of present time difficulties and problems not being resolved before tomorrow gets here.  Fear, greed and the lust for self-importance and power, blind us to what is real and what is truth!  Leaving folks, fearful and angry, with what is and what shall befall them… tomorrow!  How poignant these words sound, especial when emotions are so high as we quickly burst into our celebration of Christmas!  However, hiding from the truth will not make our celebration any more joyful.  Neither will our ignoring the plight of those around us, make our interactions with families and friends more pleasant.  No!  Facing the truth, trusting in the overflowing abundance of God’s love, this will bring us to a rich, rich understanding of what it means to know God’s love!  Power is the mystical Spirit’s to give and to take.  Material possessions are gifted by the Creator, meant for us to use and to share with those in need.  Faith will dispel the fear that holds us back from living in the fulness of God’s love.

The Reverend Sam Portaro, muses about the future.  “We’ve no idea what the future holds for us, for the church.  We forget (to our peril) that neither Mary nor Joseph could’ve anticipated the fullness of their child’s life, much less its enduring power in our own lives.” /Sam Portaro/ No, when a child is born, no one knows what that child’s future shall be.  Yet, we do know, that a child born in love, cared and nurtured in love… shall grow in love, developing in a sphere of loving goodness.  Love shall be their compass as they develop and mature.  Parents that live in fear will pass that fear to their child.  Conversely, parents whom raise their child in a circle which includes faith in a Supreme being; parents whom are believing that the Divine One in their lives, cares for them and wants them to prosper and be happy, growing in faith; these parents will create a home filled with goodness, kindness and mercy.  Fathers and Mothers, whom are basking in the sunlight, allowing the Light of a Living Spirit, born out the concept of a God, a God whom loves unconditionally, they will pass this to their children.  Their future shall hold a household, a family, blessed and nurtured by the Spirit of the Living Christ!

The Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie is Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, calls upon us to hold close the good news of the birth of the child named Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, so long, long ago.  “Let us embrace this child, this God with us.  Let us embrace this Good news whatever bad news we may face today or in the days ahead.” /Alyce M. McKenzie/ I know, and you know, that there are those among us, including those that will hear my voice on the internet, that are going through troubling times.  The news says we are at the height of a long and prosperous upswing in our economy; unemployment is at a record low.  This rings hollow, if you have been left behind or marginalized by the hustle and bustle of others who seem to have forgotten your plight.  The widow or the orphan, the families grieving the loss of a family member or friend; to these, the parties and the rituals of gift wrappings, seems shallow and insensitive; their new loneliness takes center stage.  Sickness and pain seem to drain the joy right out of a new suit or a golden ring.  Reverend McKenzie is encouraging us: “Let us embrace this child, this God with us.  Let us embrace this Good news whatever bad news we may face today or in the days ahead.” /Alyce M. McKenzie/

No matter where we are in life, good news is always welcome.  Let us be sure we approach this time believing in the metaphor of a ‘half a glass’ of whatever we have; remembering always, our glass is still half full.  Let us give praise and rejoice for what we have.  If you are out of work, rejoice in the gifts you still possess.  Do not discount the gift of the talents and the health you do retain.  Lost a loved one?  Treasure and cherish the abundance of memories of the one – whom has gone before you to a place which ‘The Holy One’ has promised.  Reflect on the awesome mystery of new life, a sight that makes every nurse and doctor in a maternity ward, ‘glow’ with the knowledge and awareness of the miracle of life!

Yes, indeed, the baby Jesus was born to love.  That love was born in the heart and Spirit of God; contained in the written words of the Prophets; the Word which: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” /John 1:1/ From the beginning, Jesus was meant to pour out the love of the Creator, the Holy One, upon all people!  Let us rejoice in Christmas love!  Let us open our hearts to the true meaning of Christmas!  God, incarnate, born in the fullness of human life, born in humility in a lowly manger bed, born out of love, to pour forth the love of a Creator that cares for us and about us, one and all!  The Spirit of Christmas lives, lives in our hearts, lives in the smile of a child’s face when they open a gift given in love!  The love of God was passed to us that we might give it to another and feel the joy of Giving!

Amen.

Look for the Light”

Isaiah 42:1-9, December 16th, 2018

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

Third Sunday of Advent, Light the Third Advent Candle – Joy

“Hear the ancient words of Isaiah, chapter 42, verses 1 thru 9”

Isaiah 42:1-9

“42 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  2 He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.  9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

“Let us now open our eyes as well as our hearts to see the shining ‘Light’ of God!”

 

“Look for the Light”

Our annual celebration of Christmas still lays ahead of us, yet, here we are listening to the words of the prophet Isaiah… reaching across the expanse of time, telling us to let the light of Christ shine in our lives, our churches, cities towns and villages; even to let it shine upon the nations of the world!  What a joyous occasion Isaiah is prophesying about!  He is foretelling of a time when the light of God shall overtake the dark corners of our nation and the shadows which dwell in and around all of humankind throughout the entire inhabitants of the world in which we live in!  Isaiah is picturing and envisioning what can be – when everyone begins to see the light of God glimmering, sparkling and flashing; taking away the blemishes of humankind’s injustices!  What a joyful day that shall be!

We too are forecasting and announcing: a time when we too can proclaim to the world the light of Christ, the light which is flashing from this community.  It has been proclaimed from our Facebook page at Riviera United Church of Christ, and on our website at Rivieraucc.org; even our sign in front of our church proclaims it!  On December the 24th, Christmas Eve, we shall celebrate in our annual service of Lessons and Carols!  At which time we shall read the old, old story of the coming of the Holy One, the Messiah, the Christ Child and we shall sing the glorious Christmas Carols which remind us of the hope, the peace, joy and love of God in our lives!  Setting the stage for the symbolic lighting of individual candles by everyone in attendance, stemming from the Christ candle which signifies the light of Christ!  One by one our candles are lit, lighting up the darkness which surrounds us.  Ultimately, this sanctuary, will be ablaze with the light from our community, symbolizing the light of Christ which shines through our personal faith… as we receive the love of God through the Christ child into our lives!  What a glorious night it shall be!  I pray that many shall gather, on such an occasion, as the Light of Christ beams from our midst!

Why is it so important to set aside time each year to proclaim these truths about the importance of God’s gift to the world?  Is it less important now than it was at the time of Isaiah so long ago?  Our modern society is so advanced from the ancient times of old.  Christ was born over two millennial, two thousand years ago.  Christ has already walked upon this earth born in a humble way, more out of poverty, then out of power, influence or authority.  Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the embodiment of God in human flesh, has already personally experienced the pain of our mortality, in the midst of our rebellious and oft times corrupted ways, by means of our all too human nature!  Yes, even after paying for our sinfulness, the Spirit of Christ, the Living God, has transcended the barriers of human life and that of eternal life in the realm of our Creator God.

So again, the question is asked: why do we still set ‘time’ aside to celebrate the birth of a baby named Jesus!?  Because it is so important to renew this landmark occasion in the course of history!  Reclaiming for ourselves and for all humankind the milestone in the relationship between humanity and the Creator.  But even more important than all of this, we do so every December the 25th, remembering the birth of a baby named Jesus, so that the generations behind us will come to know of this ancient story.  Why, because we want them to grow up knowing about God’s abundant love!  When we honestly look at the state of affairs, within the world in which we live, we must realize how crucial it is to keep reminding ourselves that Jesus also is the symbol of true social justice in the world!  Justice of which Jesus proclaimed, and Isaiah before him proclaimed, was for all those whom have been and are being marginalized within our society!  It doesn’t matter how we categorize injustices, and our part in it, it is still part of our society, just as surely as it was at the time of Isaiah and that of Jesus.

We are still mortal.  We humans still need to be born and we still struggle with life as we live the best we can.  We still, despite the miracles of science and modern medicines; we still shall come to the end of our life cycles and we shall return our essence unto the dust from which we were born.  The celebration of Christmas is a joyful reminder of the promises of God through the gift of a baby boy-child named Jesus.  It is important for our own needs of spiritual renewal to be reminded of the gift!  Just as it is important to be reminded that this is a time to make a special effort to be sure no one is left behind, or pushed aside, as we seek to live into the prophesy of Isaiah.  If we do not, then the writings of Isaiah are only a history lesson, falling upon deaf ears.  Therefore, unless we pick up these words of Isaiah and allow them to speak to us here in this present time, we dishonor the prophesy of the Messiah of whom Isaiah speaks of.

The question which needs answering for each one of us is this: “Are you seeing the light of Christ in your life?”  If you are not, perhaps you are not looking, or you are looking in all the wrong places!  First let us hear again what the voice of God is saying to us through these writings of the prophet Isaiah.  “I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;”/Isaiah 42:6b/ Through the words written and now read for us this morning, Isaiah, whom is speaking on behalf of God, is introducing to us the Messiah.  Continuing on, he is telling us more of how the Holy One, the Son of God, will become a “Light” to all the nations.  “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,” /Isaiah 42:6c/ Further more through the voice of Isaiah, God tells us that Jesus is: 7 “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” /Isaiah 42:7/ Isaiah, speaking as the voice of God, to you and to me, we the people of God, we are being introduced to and told, through the voice of the prophet, of the coming of the Messiah, the Christ Child.  Furthermore, through this prophesy we are hearing outlined, for our ears and our hearts to hear, God’s expectation of what the Servant of God shall be responsible for!

Fast forwarding to our present time, knowing Christ was born of Mary, raised by her and Joseph, then baptized by John at the river Jordan; we know that Jesus walked among the people of God, healing the sick, reaching out to those whom had been marginalized and pushed aside. While doing so, Jesus taught his early disciples and those whom were willing to listen, opening the scriptures while he interprets and proclaims for all to hear the teachings and promises of God.  Through his personal example, documented in the New Testament, Jesus prepares all who are willing to hear, how to continue the ministry he proclaims.  Jesus charges his follows to be the hands of healing for the weak; the voice speaking out for the outcasts and marginalized, become the living voice for justice.  Jesus taught compassion, kindness and love.  We honor his birth by following in his footsteps!  Joy comes from carrying out and living into his teachings.

Here it is the third Sunday in Advent, we have lit the candle of joy.  In so doing we have moved closer to the Sunday before Christmas which quickly leads us to our Christmas Eve celebration!  Joyfully, when we look for the light of Christ, we see it showing up in our church, in the eyes of those who trust in God’s love.  We see it when we reflect on all which has been accomplished through our joint ministry here in this community.  Through the generosity of all here gathered and those who have gathered before us, we have a place of worship where all are welcomed.  Not just the well to do and affluent, but all levels of the economic spectrum are welcome here.  We have welcomed the old, the young, and all those in between.  We celebrate and welcome the highly educated and the skilled craftsmen and women into our midst; all the while beckoning to those who are at various and wide-ranging levels of education and skills, to come join us as well.  It is with joy we celebrate the diversity of our ethnicity, knowing we are all beloved children of God.  We believe that God approves of our acceptance of all people, gay, straight or unsure, all are welcome here!  It is with joy as we feel the Living Spirit of God, illuminating and setting on fire the dark corners of prejudice, bigotry and bias of all kinds, giving way to new openness and extravagant welcomes by churches and institutions such as the Riviera United Church of Christ!

Isaiah prophesized the coming of Christ, giving hope to the hopeless.  John the baptizer came calling upon the people to repent, preparing the way for one greater than he.  “The angel Gabriel came telling Mary to be not afraid for unto her a child shall be born, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, the Messiah, a baby named Jesus.” /Luke 30 adapted/ Surely, Mary found peace in knowing her pregnancy, though she was unwed, was blessed by God.  Anyone, who has looked at the expression on a mother’s face, when she first gazes upon her new born child, has seen the light of God’s love, the joy which comes when the miracle of life is first witnessed.  Look for the light of God all around you.  Be the light of God dispelling the darkness that lurks in the corners and alleyways of humankind.  Be that little light that shines and shines in the darkness.  Together, when we allow the Light of Christ to shine through us, we shall light up the world; “and the darkness shall not overcome it!” /John 1:1-5 adapted/

Amen.

“Faith as a Way of Life”

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, December 2nd, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

First Sunday of Advent, Light the first Advent candle – Hope, Communion Sunday

“Hear now these ancient words from the writings of the prophet Habakkuk concerning living with faith.”

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.  2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.  2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.  3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.  4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

“Having heard these prophetic words with our ears let us now open our hearts as we seek to grasp their meaning in a modern time.”

 

“Faith as a Way of Life”

Faith is a precious and available gift; all you need to do is ask for it and believe in the God whom offers it; then nourish it, practice it, and cherish it!  Easy words to say; easy instructions too; yet, very difficult to grasp when there seems to be little or no hope!  This is what the prophet Habakkuk was working with.  The people he ministered to where filled with hopelessness.  Habakkuk, in his prophetic voice was trying to speak for and to the people of God.  His words still speak to us in our present time.

There are plenty of situations, events and circumstances which do leave many people feeling hopeless!  The homeless, the missing and the families of the deceased victims of fires in California; and now the pending mudslides yet to come.  Refugees fleeing their homelands now stuck in that lonely in-between place… with little hope, and uncertainty in their future.  Loved ones suffering due to cancer, heart problems and a long list of other life-threatening issues.  Some have lost a loved one and still feel the pain, the loss of losing their beloved from their lives.  Others have lost a job or their home, and they now feel the isolation and loneliness of being left behind while it seems that everyone else is doing ok.  Yes, I think we all understand what it means to feel that hope has failed us.

Faith, of course is something we Christians discuss a great deal.  Pastors, Priests and Rabbis all speak of and preach about it.  Jesus often spoke of faith, especially when speaking to people whom he had helped, those whom he had healed of something that afflicted them.  He is often quoted as saying: “your faith has made you well.”  I can find no reference to Jesus being quoted as saying someone was healed because of what he did; although most of us believe this to be so.  Yet, faith seems to be in the mix of things frequently when we hear of the mystical healings through Christ.  There are numerous miracles, healings, of which different people have told me about over the years.  Many of them are astonishing and even unbelievable.  Yet, what I have found utterly amazing, as I have listened to others speak of these miraculous events, is their undying belief and faith that it did happen!  Who am I to say it didn’t!  I must confess, I have been in-between the power of God’s healing Spirit and that of the recipient a few times.  No, I did nothing other than pray or bless someone on these occasions.  Yet, the unbelievable has happened in my presence.  I have no excuse for not having faith.

Once we have accepted God into our lives and have come to believe in the overpowering Love of God, it becomes our responsibility to nourish that faith and cherish it in our lives like no other possession we have!  Then, as our journeys continue, we will find life events can diminish or bolster our faith.  Making it weaker or stronger as we journey along the pathway of life.  This is what makes it so important that we belong to a community such as ours ‘to build up our faith’ through the fellowship of others or be the one whom offers their faith to strengthen someone else.  It is a two-way street.  As a faith community it is our responsibility to share our faith with others and especially to others in need.  As a result, we serve meals at the ‘Daily Bread soup kitchen.  For that reason, we have the ‘Angel Tree’ as we try to offer kindness through our generosity at Christmas.  Therefore, we also have a Shepherd’s fund… to help others!

A contributor to a commentary series which I read, remarks: “Faithfulness to God is the willingness to choose to live life a certain way under God, even when the “vision” may be far off in the future, and the present circumstances are bleak and barren.” /Dennis Bratcher/ We are being told that we need to keep the faith even when all seems lost.  Examples of this are all around us.  Consider the tireless resolve in getting the mortgage paid off, having faith and persevering even after the first deal fell through, a few years back.  Ironic isn’t it?  The deal that fell through was less than half as beneficial to the financial stability of this institution.  Interesting to note; then when things seemed to be their bleakest, it was in fact a resetting of opportunities.  Through the faithful determination of all those involved in the process a meaningful conclusion came to be.  At one point in time, such an ending would have seemed impossible.  Perhaps it was a miracle after all!

Listen again to what the prophet has written.  “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” /Habakkuk 2:1a/ Waiting for the miracle is the hard part.  “Wait for it; it will surely come.”  “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” /Habakkuk 2:1b/ Worthy of repeating.   Of course, there are many things which do not seem to go our way; at least when we want them to.  How many of us have told a friend, or a friend told us, not to worry?  But they, or we… worry none the less.  The timing of things is frequently outside our control and influence.  Perhaps we have lost sight of God’s vision.

There was a time, the preceding years before I entered Seminary.  It was the late 1980’s.  That decade after the Vietnam War, which the United States lost, were turbulent economic years.  I was working in the high-tech industry in sales and marketing.  I was laid off three consecutive years in a row.  From companies that were not supposed to fail, for they had been at the top: Tandon Disc Drives, Diablo Printers, Wang Laboratories, each had been at the top of their perspective markets, yet when the economy is in turmoil… nothing is sacred and for many… visions seemed to be shattered.  By the year 1990 I was working for some small software company, it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea.’  I had been turned down for health insurance.  Seems that they only wanted to insure people with zero health issues.  The days of working for large high-tech firms with unlimited benefits including health insurance was over for many like myself.  Then, out of nowhere, God gave me a new vision, that of being an Ordained Ministry.  The next day my boss and I had different opinions on how to proceed and I was unemployed.  I had to give my red sports car back to the bank.  My credit cards were maxed out.  But with new and reinvigorated faith I followed God’s vision for me.  Here I am twenty-eight years later, having been ordained Twenty-four years now.  I own a house and drive a late model car and my bills are all paid on time.  A miracle!

Miracles don’t just happen.  There needs to be faith, at least faith in the vision.  There needs to be faithfulness.  A vision without follow through is worthless.  Jesus said: “your faith has made you well!”  The Dean of students at Andover Newton Theological School, he believed in my vision.  But that didn’t change his next statement to me.  He said: “now figure out your financial situation and get your education, your Masters of Divinity degree.”  It took tenacity, determination and committed resolve.  I had to keep that vision in front of me.  When others, whom did not understand, ridiculed me for what I was doing I needed to stay faithful to the vision.  I needed to remind myself it was God’s vision for me; not another foolish choice I had made.  Faithfulness in a new vision, a new dream or idea, needs to be developed and cared for.  My ‘calling’ to serve God’s church, sounded foolish and irresponsible to those who did not believe as I did.  Therefore, I needed to fellowship with like-minded people whom believed in the same principles and the same God as I did.  The journey had its rough spots, but my faith carried me through.

Habakkuk was ministering to a broken people whom were finding their faith failing and their vision fading.  It was his responsibility to rekindle that vision of hope for the future.  It was his duty, his ‘calling’ to re-energize the faithfulness of a people who longed for hope to be restored in their lives.  He was reasserting what every person of faith has come to understand: ‘one must be faithful to the journey; faithful to God whom has a vision for you and for me.’  When we fall and break a few bones, it hurts, and we get discouraged.  We are only human, and things happen to mortal humans.  Yet, as we mend and get back on our feet, we must set our sights on the vision, the dream, and the prophecy of things yet to be!  With a faithfulness to the God of Moses and Abraham; with belief in the saving grace of the child, born in poverty and oppression, being the Messiah… we shall overcome our hardships and our loses.

Our parents, spouses, even our sons and daughters, may pass on into the next life long before we are prepared for their departure, and we shall grieve.  At such times as these, we need to cling to our faith communities; leaning on the shoulders of those who believe what we believe.  Allowing them to nourish us as we reconnect with God’s vision for a faithful people.  There is always hope!  Hope never dies unless we turn our back on the love of God.  Amen.