Happy Birthday, Jesus!

“Happy Birthday, Jesus!“

 

Shepherds adore the Christ child, Jan de Bisschop

Luke 2:4-15 – August 4, 2019

What events are particularly meaningful to children? Birthdays, of course. The birthday is not only a marking of the day the child was born, but is often (in this society, at least) a day for parties, presents and special things like ice cream and cake. And, children naturally love to go to birthday parties, too. No wonder many people celebrate birthdays as something really special.

Our two Scripture readings this morning both tell about the birthday of a really special Someone: the Baby born in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus. Except—I do not think it was common to celebrate birthdays with a birthday cake in those days.

When Isaiah wrote his prophecies six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, he was writing to a contemporary situation, it is true. But there is another situation, another prophetic announcement that people have marked from that point on. But, more about that birth announcement in a few minutes.

Yes, it is common for small children to concentrate on the baby Jesus and his birthday on Christmas Day. But, why did Jesus get born to a teenage girl in Bethlehem, anyhow? Why was this birth announcement made by the prophet six hundred years before the event?

For some of the answer to that question we need to go all the way back to the beginning, in the book of Genesis.

We know that God created the world, and God made plants and animals and humans. God created time and the seasons and great beauty and complexity in this marvelous world, and called it all good. In fact, very good. But, we know what happened. Sin happened, and entered into this world. Sin has caused tons of evil, heartache, misery, hatred, and disaster. We all know how much sadness and badness there are in this world.

Yesterday, in a shopping mall in the city of El Paso, Texas, we saw a horrific example of evil. The young, white shooter took the lives of twenty people, and did horrible harm to the lives of countless more. Is there a more visible example of corrosive sin and evil that can be shown to us? Sadly, violent situations such as this happen all too often, with tragic repercussions.

Yet, God the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, saw this horrible, pervasive evil of sin and nastiness and hatred that entered into the world, and knew its sweeping, widespread effects. God the eternal Son emptied Himself of all Godhood, and became a tiny, helpless baby human.

As the Apostles Creed tells us, We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Every time we say those words of that ancient—most ancient of creeds, we affirm those eternal truths. Are many Christians aware that in repeating this creed, we regularly proclaim the Good News of Christmas, the miracle of God the eternal Son breaking into human history and becoming a tiny baby?

As we examine that ancient birth announcement from Isaiah chapter 9, we reflect on those words that reverberate deep in the soul. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The music that George Frederick Handel used in his oratorio “Messiah” for this chorus ring in my mind whenever this Scripture passage is read.

Yes, God the eternal Son was born as a baby, just as this verse from Isaiah says. But not just a human child, but much, much more! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This baby was sent into the world to change the world. This baby was sent into the world as the Prince of Peace, to bring peace to a troubled world and dispirited people. This baby was mighty to save.

It is sort of a challenge to communicate all of that difficult, mind-blowing stuff about sin and salvation to little children. I can well understand how the ease of having a birthday party for the Baby Jesus would appeal to them instead. Small children understand about birthdays and birthday parties. That is within their experience. And, we certainly tell them about the Baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem at Christmas.

As we move to the second chapter of Luke, this narrative of the Nativity is so familiar. Is there anything here we haven’t looked at before?

We see Mary and Joseph, check. Knocking on lots of doors in Bethlehem, check. Refusal at an inn, but welcomed to a stable, check. We examine this next important part of the story. “There were shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly, an angel appeared to them and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be known to all people.”

While Mary and Joseph were busy with the birth of their firstborn Son, our scene shifts to the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem. We are familiar with this next part of the story: shepherds guarding their sheep at night, and the heavenly angel breaking onto the scene.

Does anyone remember what we just looked at from the book of Isaiah? The Lord God had a wonderful birth announcement, given a few hundred years beforehand. But, this is the time! This is when the prophet was talking about. The angel told the shepherds that a newborn Savior had arrived. He is not only a Savior, He is Messiah, too, with everything that that means to an oppressed, downtrodden people in an occupied country. Believe me, Rome was not exactly a gentle group of overlords. No, the Roman empire was an oppressive regime. I can just imagine how welcome this heavenly announcement was! God-sent, indeed.

Plus, the name given to this special Baby by the angel Gabriel had great meaning. Mary and Joseph did not go to a bookstore and pour over the selection of names in a baby book to help them name their son.  If we go back a chapter to Luke 1, the angel who tells the teenager Mary she is going to bear the Messiah also tells her what His name will be: “You will have a son, and you will call His name Jesus.” In Hebrew, the name Jesus means “the Lord saves.” That is just what the angel tells the shepherds—”Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

What a build-up for this heavenly event! Imagine, repeated birth announcements for this wondrous Child born in Bethlehem. Is it any wonder that this was the biggest, best birthday ever? If we go back to our first example, with the children having a party celebrating someone’s birthday, we could have a humdinger of a huge birthday bash, indeed.

Happy birthday, Jesus! We can celebrate, because Jesus came into the world on that Christmas Day. We can celebrate, because there is no other name given among people that can save us from our sins. Praise God, we have a Savior, indeed!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)