Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Sermon-December 23, 2007

I preached yesterday and today at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis (Erik of Tuesday Prayer fame goes to this church with his partner, Scott). It's a wonderful small congregation on the southside of town. I filled in for my colleague, Mary who is recovering from surgery.

“What's the Good News?”
Matthew 1:18-25
December 23, 2007
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
Minneapolis, MN

“What's the Good News?”

That's a question that Tammy Rottschaeffer, the Associate Pastor at Lake Harriet Christian asked a group of pastors one day. She recounted this story at our prayer meeting recently and no, I wasn't there when she asked that question initially. She said that the pastors sat there in an embarrased silence. She responded in a righteous anger that only Tammy could, saying that if these pastors couldn't answer that question, they couldn't expect their churches to be vibrant places.

But Tammy wasn't done. She decided to pose the question to those gathered at the prayer meeting. This time it wasn't in anger, as more as it was in curiosity. So, we responded. One elderly couple said they were happy to find fellow member of the congregation who was a shut in was doing well after calling her several times to check in on her. Another responded in being saved and so forth. I started thinking about what was the good news. Nothing particularly outstanding was happening in my life. There was something I was thinking about, though. My partner, Daniel lost his father suddenly in October. Eight years earlier, he lost his mother unexpectedly. As Daniel has said, this is the year of “firsts:”the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday and so forth. I knew that Daniel and I would be heading to North Dakota this weekend to celebrate Christmas with his family as we did last year. Only difference is that his father would not be there this year. There was nothing good about that, but in doing some study for this sermon, I was reminded that Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us, and that was good news. God would be with us in our time of mourning.

If you asked what was the good news to Joseph, he would probably look at you if you are crazy. He was in a pickle. He found out that the woman he was pledged to marry, was with child and he knew for sure, he was not the father. All the dreams he had of a good life had seemingly dissappeared. He didn't know what to do. You have to think Joseph might have been a bit angry that Mary had been with another man and it might make sense to want to hurt her. But the Bible says Joseph was a righteous man and didn't want to expose Mary. He had a plan to end the marriage quietly, so that Mary would be spared the disgrace. But one evening, he is visited by an angel who tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the child growing inside of her was from God and would be the Savior of creation. He would be called Jesus, the Greek name for Joshua which means “God Saves.”

The verse also says that prophecy would be fulfilled and the child will be called Emmanuel or God with us.

Joseph's response to his amazing technicolor dream was to take Mary as his wife, which had to be a bit uncomfortable since it meant having to endure the stares of the townsfolk along with Mary, the pregnant single mom.

What is the good news here? I mean, great, Jesus is gonna be “a star”, but in the meantime, poor Joe has to deal with a pregnant wife to be and people will talk.

But the fact is, there is a good news here. I am not talking about some kind of Pollyanish happiness, but some honest to goodness hope. Something good was happening, and it was growing inside of Mary: the Son of Man is coming and will his save humanity from their sins.

On this fourth Sunday in Advent, we can almost feel the birth of Christ. Hope is literally on the way. And we have a Savior that is named, God Saves and God With Us.

Do we know what that means?

We have a God that saves us. I come from a background, where one becomes “saved.” Salvation was an event that took place when you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life. Before that, you were damned. I prayed that prayer when I was growing up. But the true fact is, I was “saved” long before I was ever born. And so were you. God, in the form of Christ, lived among us, and died to give us life, so save all of humanity, indeed, all of creation. Christ rose from the dead to show that not even death can destroy us.
God With Us. What does that mean? It means a God that sticks with us through all the rough places in life. When we get the diagnosis of cancer, when we get that call in the middle of the night telling us a loved one has died, when your troubled child breaks your heart time and time again and when you get that pinkslip as the Christmas season is beginning. God doesn't promise that nothing bad will happen to us, but that God will remain with us in those dark times, a safe harbor in the midst of storms.

I remember a few years ago, when I found out my mother had breast cancer. I shared that with the members of a Presbyterian church in town. I was surprised to find in my inbox the next morning, several emails from members of that church telling me they were praying for my mother. Looking back, it was a powerful reminder that God is with us.

What made Joseph heed the angel's words? I have to believe it was the fact that he believed God would be with him and his wife. Maybe he could endure the hard, cold stares of the townsfolk because he knew God would be there and wouldn't leave when times grew rough. That was good news to his soul.

What's the Good News? The good news for me is that God saved me a long time ago and I am child of God. The good news for me is that God is with me, all of us, as we go through our life, through the good and bad times.

But it doesn't end there. The fact is, there are many that don't know what is the good news. There are those dealing with loneliness, or mental illness, those who are trying to find a place to eat or stay the night. As Christ followers, we are called to be Christ to them to let them know the good news: that God is with them even during these dark times.

So, what is the good news for you? I can't answer that question, but I do hope you have an answer. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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