Good News of Great Joy!

Stained Glass Nativity

“Good News of Great Joy!”

Luke 2:8-16 (2:10) – December 20, 2020

            Do you need Good News? So many are discouraged. Disconnected. Downhearted. This disconnected year of 2020 makes us all feel isolated and separated, even with the computer and social media. Especially at holiday time.

            The shepherds needed some Good News, too. On those hilltops around Bethlehem, they were not exactly welcome in the general society of the town, either. Focusing on today’s Scripture reading, Dr. Luke tells us about the shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. But, he does not mention anything about the low position they held in society.

            Did you ever think you had something in common with those shepherds? This year of the pandemic, we certainly do. We all experience a real disconnect and isolation in society—and so did the shepherds.

            Throughout the centuries, in many situations, Christians have found themselves set at a distance from society at large. As you are feeling a similar kind of discombobulation, it may be that there is some solidarity in our worldwide disconnection.

            Differences in language can be a real barrier between people, too. It does not matter whether a family comes to a new land or a different area in times of conflict, or famine, or some other upheaval. If you are unfamiliar with the common language spoken in the area in which you are now living, that can be a huge disconnect, too. That is a large reason why ethnic groups of people gather together in towns and cities—for solidarity, social purposes, and for ease in communication.  

            I worked as a chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital for a number of years. I can remember how particularly touched an elderly woman was when I spoke to her with the few words of Polish I knew. This woman from Poland had dementia, and there was no one working in the hospital that evening who spoke Polish. I heard about this very sick woman when I went to the nurses’ station. I told them I just knew a very few Polish words. However, a few nurses encouraged me to come to her bedside and say those few words—which I did. It calmed the woman immediately, and the nurse and CNA were so grateful to me.

            Even a few words in a familiar language can bridge that disconnect and barrier, and make a stranger feel more at home, more connected.

            But, the disconnect for the shepherds was even more than that. “By the time of Jesus, shepherding had become a profession most likely to be filled from the bottom rung of the social ladder, by persons who could not find what was regarded as decent work. Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits.” [1]

Imagine the difference in class between the shepherds and the bulk of the townspeople of Bethlehem. Certain people live “on the wrong side of the tracks,” or “on the other side of town.” Or, perhaps they come from the hill country, or down by the river.   

            For that matter, can you believe the disconnect between all people on earth and the angels? When the angels came to communicate their Good News to humanity, who were they sent to, first thing? Not the wealthy, in their expensive houses. Not the leaders of the community, or the rabbis or ministers of the houses of worship. No, the angels came to the lowly shepherds in the hill country, who did not even rate a home or a welcome among the “decent folk” in the middle of town.  

            I know this is not quite the same as the shepherds’ loneliness, but have you been feeling the isolation of COVID-19? Not being able to connect, or go out for coffee, or sit down with a friend or relative for a meal? Isn’t this similar to the shepherds’ isolation and loneliness?

            The angels did not observe the class consciousness of society, or the language barriers or color barriers of so much of our world. No! The angels sent from God brought glad tidings of great joy to ALL the people. Not just some select few, not even to most of the earth’s population. No! This Good News came to ALL the people. To all with a spiritual disconnect, too!          

            The angels came to the “fields of the isolated, the disenfranchised and the forgotten, or in our own painful places of spiritual wilderness, because God speaks the good news of Christ’s coming there. God brings great joy to those who need it most there.” [2]

            Whether we are isolated spiritually, or disconnected in real life, God wishes to draw ALL of us in to the Good News of the birth of God’s Son. Regardless of where we come from, or where we are right now, we are welcome.

            Do you hear? Each of us is special—each one of us has the angel of the Lord bringing Good News to us—personally. Glad tidings of great joy, no matter what!

            Wonderful news for Christmas, for sure. Wonderful news, any time we need it!

Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Poor Widow’s Gift

“The Poor Widow’s Gift”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:38-44 – November 11, 2018

You know celebrities? Many of us follow their activities. Look at popular tabloids, magazines, television, and computer screens. It seems like the richer the celebrity, the better. So many celebrities give away a lot of money, or a lot of stuff, and they get a lot of applause. Look at Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Bono, and Angelina Jolie. All of them are very open in their giving, and they are to be commended, even applauded.

Many people watch celebrities, to see what they do, and even how they give. This is not a new activity. People have been doing it for centuries. In our Gospel reading today, people were watching, too. The offering box for the Temple was in the back, by the exit door. In the first century, apparently it was common for people to sit or stand near the offering box and watch as the faithful put in their offerings.

In the first century, all money clinked. All money was in coins. That means, no paper money. When anyone threw money in the offering box, the money made a metallic sound. I suspect there even were some who knew what kinds of noises different coins made. They possibly could keep “score,” regarding what kinds of coins were given by which people.

In the first part of our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus calls out the temple leaders. Jesuse tells His disciples that the teachers of the Law of Moses are hypocrites. “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Whoa! This is judging! And, judging pretty severely, too. Notice, please, where Jesus mentions “devouring widows’ houses.”

Does everyone here understand what happened to a widow, after her husband died? She had no way to earn money, and very quickly she would become poor, sometimes even losing the house she lived in. That’s a direct condemnation of the group Jesus was talking about in the first verses. He’s weighing one group of people against another.

These religious leaders had special clothing that actually was very different from the clothing of the other, “blue-collar” workers around them. The leaders had fancy long sleeves and elaborate cloaks that came down to the ground, which would just get in the way for the blue-collar workers. What is more, the synagogue leaders just loved to sit at the head table for public events or at synagogue functions.

“While those actions may have seemed spiritual, Jesus warns they’re signs that the religious leaders especially enjoy the attention they receive from people. However, Jesus also points out that the religious leaders of his day don’t just crave attention.  They’re also hungry for material things.  Jesus grieves, for example, how they “devour widow’s houses,” exploiting these defenseless people.” [1]

So, these religious leaders are two-faced and hypocrites. What else is new? The way the scribes/Pharisees treat the widows. That is, the poor, the indigent. Horrible example for others. They were throwing their pocket change (jingle, jingle) in the giving box in the back of the synagogue, so everyone could see AND hear how MUCH they gave, all the while neglecting and even robbing the widows of what the Temple offering would have given the poor.

This sermon is about so much more than the poor widow and her tiny gift. But, now that I’m referring to that, what about her gift, anyway?

If they were lucky, some widows had a small next egg saved up for a rainy day. And when that was gone, they had nothing. Zero. Talk about living on a fixed income! With no life insurance, Social Security or other government safety nets, these widows were often sunk, Out of luck, unless the synagogue chipped in or helped out, that is.

Jesus pointed out that ““Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

What a contrast! On one hand, the show-off religious leaders, with their ostentatious gifts of money they can easily afford. On the other hand, we have people like this widow, giving her all.

But, what about the attitude of giving we see here?  One of the commentators says, “Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people on the face of this planet have the fewest resources and choice. These same people are also some of the most generous. They don’t seem convinced that hoarding their meager resources is the best use of them, and they appear to find more joy and possibility in sharing with others and in building relationship capital.” [2]

Another way of saying a similar thing? In the archives on a pastor’s chat-board, a Pastor JD from Washington DC gave the following example. “The widow gave from her “poverty” it says. Think about people who have given from their vulnerable experiences, from their “poverty” and, in so doing, have helped others beyond measure. An alcoholic revealing to a problem drinker his or her life’s story; A woman who has survived breast cancer shares her struggle with someone newly diagnosed; A Christian shares his faith doubts and journey revealing a realistic and growing faith.” [3]

Think about it. Those who knowingly share in their poverty are truly the most giving and trusting individuals of the world. God doesn’t want 10%, God wants 100%, regardless of whether we have less than others or more than others. God wants it all.

Each week we sing “We give thee but thine own, what-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee.” All we have is from God and we are to use all for the Glory of God. Giving our all, and trusting in God to take care of us.

May we all strive to follow this Godly example. So help us, God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

The Center for Excellence in Preaching commentary and sermon illustrations, Scott Hoezee, 2015.

[2] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/11/the-abundant-life/

“The Abundant Life,” Sharron R. Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2015.

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!