Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon 2011

There is something very healing and wholesome about holding a baby. I don’t exactly know what it is. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I do know that I experienced it while holding each of my children in their infancy. It would usually happen right after feeding them. After burping, their eyes would begin to close as sleep overtook them. I would then rest their head on my chest. In a matter of moments, they were breathing deeply and regularly, sleeping while listening to the beat of my heart. At this point, it seemed like time would stop. An overwhelming sense of peace and serenity came over and upon me. And I didn’t care a bit about anything else. Work? It would get done. Politics? Who cares. Fire and bombs raging around? Inconsequential. My child was sleeping on me. She knew she was safe. She knew she was protected. And in some strange way, so did I. It didn’t matter what was happening in the world. All was well.

Sadly enough, these times were short lived. Time interrupted. I had to trudge off to the office because food had to be put on the table. My kids’ beds also awaited them because we believed they needed to get used to sleeping on their own in their own beds without clinging to us and needing us to sleep. With a sigh of regret, I would put my kids down and be reunited with a world that raised my anxiety and stress. A world that reminded me time and again of brokenness, of pain, of frustration, and all the other downers of life. In bygone years, we would nave named such things sin, but it has become much less popular these days to talk in such terms.

It cannot be sin that has ruined the world. No. It has to be something else, it has to be something that we can control and change.  It has to be something that we have power over.   It has to be greed. If folks just weren’t so greedy and could learn to share, things would be better. Or it’s just pure laziness. If people would just get up off their backsides, stop thinking that they were entitled to things and get to work, they would learn how to earn their own living and stop whining and griping so much. Or it’s capitalism. That system of economics creates a wealthy class and a poor class where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If we could dismantle capitalism, things would get better. Or, the problem is socialism. It robs people of the incentive to work, and so they no longer become productive. Those who actually work watch their wealth siphoned off until they break under the pressure and the whole shooting match collapses. Or, no, it’s the Republican’s fault. No, it’s the Democrat’s fault. Let me stop for a moment and see if I have sufficiently offended everyone yet.

If I haven’t, then perhaps I will now. For you see, I believe that in each and every one of us, including myself, there is greed. And in each and every one of us, there is laziness. There is a root cause for this, and it is called sin. There is a problem with capitalism just as there is a problem with socialism, or communism, or with a monarchy or any form of government that is instituted: none of them can deal with the brokenness of humanity. No government is equipped to deal with human sin. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican. Neither political party can even come close to addressing the real heart of the matter which confronts the realities of why the world is as messed up as it is at times. Until we can confront sin and overcome it, we will never, ever have a perfect world.

Most of us deep down know this. Most of us deep down realize the futility of trying to change the world and turn it into some type of magical utopia. Most of us realize just how ineffectual we really are at bringing about change. And so, we either stop trying and seek ways to escape the conflict and turmoil or we throw ourselves into the fray even more convinced we’re not working hard enough. One of these methods is called escapism. The other is called insanity. Neither work.

God knows this. God knows the futility of humankind trying to fix the problem of sin. God knows we cannot fix it anymore than a kindergartner can fix a nuclear reactor. The problem is too complex. It’s too big. It’s too overwhelming to consider. And so, God is the one who has to act. God is the one who has to bring a remedy for sin. God is the one who must bring a way into the world to confront sin and offer hope to those of us who want the world to be a better place.

And that is exactly what God did. When we couldn’t reach up to the heavens and deal with sin, God came down to earth in the person of Jesus to begin the process of defeating sin. Why do you think Jesus’ birth was so special? Why do you think the Heavenly Host appeared to the shepherds? Why do you think they sang "Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth? Why do you think the shepherds left their flocks to go and see this thing that had happened? God was acting. God was no longer keeping Himself separate from this world; He was entering into it.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering just how Jesus coming into the world accomplished this. You might be looking around at the state of our nation today. You might see the polarization of movements like the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and say that Jesus didn’t do much to confront sin. You might also look at the continued squabbling between political parties on capitol hill and say the same thing. You might look at the continued high unemployment rate and the still struggling economy, the amount of poor and hungry, and the continued injustice and say, "Well, Jesus may have come to confront sin, but he hasn’t done a good job of getting rid of it."

And you would be right, but I would also argue you would also be missing out on how Jesus works. For, He came, not as a king of nations. He came not as one who would change the structures of society. He came as one who was to rule over the hearts of those who came to believe in Him. Let me rephrase that just a little bit–He didn’t come into the world to rule over society, He came to rule over your heart. He came to help you confront sin in your life so that you may live differently in this world right here and right now. How? Let me explain by sharing something personal with you.

This past year has been a very difficult one for me. My faith has been challenged in all sorts of ways, and many external factors have contributed to this. The ongoing drought that has stricken our state and this community has played a major role. I’ve been praying for rain for months, and it seemed like God didn’t care. On top of this, many of the congregation members here have experienced some severe trials and tribulations. Illnesses, strokes, heart troubles, cancer, children ending up in the hospital in extremely serious condition–dealing with all of these things has been a constant struggle in the past several months. And it would be easier if I didn’t care, but I do. It hurts me to watch others suffer. And I prayed. I prayed fervently to God for His intervention. But it seemed like He was quiet. Then, I got kicked in the teeth when it came to my own faith life. In reading a couple of books, I found just how far short I was falling when it came to my own following of Jesus and being his follower. I threw myself into further study and discipleship techniques. But interestingly enough, this didn’t help at all. I found myself further and further discouraged.

Until just recently. Something changed. As I was preparing for a class on discipleship I was teaching, I re-read a portion of Richard Foster’s book The Celebration of Discipline. I re-read about practicing the presence of Christ. This is a prayer technique which invites a person to realize that Jesus is not far off, but that He is with you at all times and in all places. Suddenly, something clicked within me. As I reflected on many of the things that had been happening in the church and in the community and with the drought, I realized that much of my prayers were directed to God who was out there–far away–who I needed to somehow cajole into action. I had forgotten that Jesus was here, now, a part of daily life.

I’ll not forget soon after, driving in my Mustang and picturing Jesus in the passenger seat. I asked Him to forgive me for missing His presence. I asked Him to help me be more aware of Him on a daily basis. As we drove, I pointed out to Him the stock tanks and how depleted they were. Somehow, it seemed like He heard me better, and I could sense my own anxiety draining away. Jesus was here. He cared. He listened, and He wanted me to know that. And He wanted me to know that He wasn’t finished with me yet. There was work to be done. "I am yours," I said, and I was at peace.

My friends, just as Jesus came to me, He comes to you. This is the reality of Christmas. He is not apart from us. He is not far off. He is near. He is present. He is with us right now, in this room and in our lives. He wants to work on and in us to change us so that sin may decrease and His love may increase. Do you dare take hold of Him? Do you dare allow Him into your heart? Do you dare sense His presence and rest in Him so that you too may say, "All is well?" Amen.

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