Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Sermon, Dec 24, 2012; Luke 2:1-20

Rev. George Miller
Luke 2:1-20
Dec 24, 2012

Once upon a time there was a good ol’ boy from the country. His name was Micah.

He was raised in a farming community with decent and honest folk who loved God, lived off the land and worked with their hands.

Maybe they didn’t speak so good; their language was clipped and colorful. But that didn’t matter because it was family and community that were important. Neighborly manners were valued and folk took care of one another.

Then Micah traveled 25 miles north to the big city of Jerusalem. He did not like what he saw.

The rulers were corrupt. The merchants were dishonest. The judges could be bought with a bribe.

Perhaps worse of all were the so-called religious leaders. The prophets told outright lies. The priests spoke heavenly words in the Temple but did ungodly things the other 6 days of the week.

Micah may have been corn-fed, but he knew enough that what he saw was wrong. Instead of accepting it and doing nothing, Micah did something.

Even though he didn’t have the best vocabulary, he put pen to parchment and became the first Old Testament prophet to predict the destruction of the Holy City.

In Micah’s view, the people were living on a spiritual, financial, social cliff and if something did not happen soon, they would totter off real fast.

Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?

But Micah was not a man bent on just gloom and doom. As a country boy, he knew that everything had a season; that times of drought can be followed by times of new beginnings.

Micah reminded the people that God requires us “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with the (our) Lord.” (Micah 6:8)

He also made a prediction of hope for the world. In Micah 5:2-5, he wrote

“But you, O Bethlehem…who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth…one who is to rule in Israel…and he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord his God.”

“And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”

Interesting that it took a small town boy to point out the fact that our salvation was not going to come from government and big business; nor would it come from a place of opulence, dominance or greed.

But that our salvation would come from someone who seemingly came from nothing but will ensure we all have enough.

Micah may have spoken rough, but he understood the importance of peace. And that is what we experience tonight. That is why we are gathered here.

Because today we celebrate the realization of Micah’s prophecy, that even in the midst of world chaos God is able to do amazing things.

For the past four Sundays we have been preparing for this event. We have studied the story in Luke. We have focused on words like hope and joy, peace and love.

Today, we embrace the word Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.”

Tonight we experience how God enters into our life, how salvation comes to the world.

And note how Luke tells the story.

Big government has gotten bigger. The emperor decrees a census, one that will probably influence taxes.

Mary and Joseph make their way into town right before her water breaks. But alas, there is no place for this peasant family to stay and no one willing to share their room even with a pregnant woman.

And it is in this simple, bare scenario that God enters in and does something new.

As far removed from a princely palace as one can be, Mary gives birth to her child in a manger, a place for animals and farm implements.

Of all the ways God could have entered into our lives, it happened this way.

So vulnerable. So lowly, so meek, so mild.
So surrounded by the sounds and smells of real life.

And instead of being visited by paparazzi and movie stars, it is the common working men who first visit Jesus that night, praising his name and sharing all that they’ve heard.

The significance of this is staggering, because what Luke is telling us, is that Jesus did not come into the world separated from us. Jesus did not come into this world with a trust find and servants.

No, Jesus came into our world, as one of us.

He was born under the shadow of questionable politics. He was born under limited resources.

He was born surrounded by every-day kind of folk struggling to make a decent living.

He was born into a life, which let’s be honest, did not smell or look so nice.

But it is because of those things that Jesus becomes the one we can turn to, the one who understands us, the one who cares for us, the one who watches over and feeds us. The one who forgives us.

And it does not matter if you are from a small country town or a big city, if you’re a good ol’ boy or a politician, if you are old or young, male or female, poor or rich, full of joy or living with sadness.

In Jesus, we will be fed; in him we will find peace.

In conclusion, tonight, we have journeyed to Bethlehem ready for the prophecy of Micah to come true.

To discover just what God is going to do, ready to experience the arrival of the one who will usher in peace and feed us all.

Tonight, we look to the manger, stripped down to the very reality of life.

The manger where magnificent simplicity takes the form of a mother, a father and a child.

Where stripped of possessions, stripped of politics, stripped of piety, God comes to us, not as a prince, not as a politician, but as a baby.

As one of us.

Therefore, Jesus can never be a stranger to us and the light that he brings into the world is one that can dispel any kind of darkness, the peace that he brings will quiet any storm.

All we have to do tonight is to welcome him once again into our lives and to let him feed us in the strength of our Lord.

And in response, we get to leave the manger believing we too have enough and that under his guidance we can do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sermon to be given Dec 30, 2012; Luke 2:22-40

Dec 30, 2012
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon Title: “Guided by the (Christmas) Spirit”
Rev. George N. Miller

All this month we’ve featured sermons with one word titles that were designed to celebrate a specific concept of the Advent season: hope, joy, peace and love.

Today we will add another concept: wisdom.

We have witnessed the pregnancies of both Elizabeth and Mary. We have experienced the births of John and Jesus.

Now we have this scene in which Jesus is brought to the Temple to be presented, and while there we encounter two elderly people who have a life changing experience.

First, there is Simeon, a man who had been promised by God that he would not die until his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord.

Then there is Anna, a widow who spent all her time in the Temple, taking on the moniker of prophet.

Simeon speaks of revelation and glory. He blesses the family.

He tells Mary that although her child will achieve great things, she will experience some suffering. A truth that any parent knows too well.

Anna praises God and speaks to all who will listen.

In some ways, Luke has completed his introductory cycle of relationships.

We’ve had Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary representing the parents of the world.

Jesus and John are the children.

We’ve experienced the presence of neighbors, relatives and co-workers.

Now, Simeon and Anna take on grandparent-like status.

By doing so, I feel like they are also meant to represent the notion of wisdom and knowledge, the kind that gets passed down from one generation to the next; the kind we soak in from our elders.

Just before, we heard Judy share the lyrics from one of her favorite Christmas songs. I’d like to now share the words of one of mine: “Ava Marie.”

“Take my fear replace it with knowledge divine
though I am weak, make me strong.
Each day I’ll be more understanding
each day more patient and peaceful within
and faith will lead me closer to wisdom
let wisdom deliver me closer to Him.”

These lyrics, which call upon God to show the meanings of love and contentment especially fit this season, especially in light of all that happened these past few months.

Due to the events in Connecticut, due to the events of Hurricane Sandy, due to the events surrounding election season, there has been a sense of fear, and with fear, confusion.

Fear and confusion are powerful emotions to mix that can lead to dangerous decisions and malevolent mistakes.

What I like about “Ava Marie” is the emphasis it places on knowledge, on the ability to think.

In other words: wisdom.

Wisdom is a smart theme to discuss as we close the year, after witnessing the birth of Jesus and rediscovering all that Jesus can be to us.

Trying to figure out who Jesus is has been the task of Christians throughout the ages.

In many ways, our faith is based upon our continued attempt to understand Jesus in new times, new places and new ways.

Way back, when Jesus’ ministry first began, people had various responses when they personally experienced him.

Some people were enraptured by his presence, his charisma, and his spiritual gifts.

Others were indifferent or negative: “Oh, he’s just the carpenter’s son” or “Oh, he must be possessed by a demon.”

Others had a positive response: Jesus was the answer they had been looking for, fulfilling their expectation about how they would meet God.

Those who were waiting for a prophet called Jesus “the Prophet.”

Those who were waiting for the Anointed One called Jesus “the Christ.”

Others came to see Jesus as Healer, Shepherd, Meal Provider.

Then there were those who delighted in discussions and dissertations, who desired to use their brain and were not afraid to faithfully think for themselves.

Read the Bible closely and you’ll discover just how large of a role wisdom and knowledge play.

How the Jews valued study and knowledge. How the New Testament writers, influenced by Greek thought, embraced wisdom, calling it Sophia.

Some of these people, those who prized wisdom, believed that it dwelled within Jesus.

So when Jesus walked past them or stopped to have an engaging conversation, they would say to one another “Behold the Wisdom of God.”

I think back to life lessons I have learned over the years. One that has stayed clearly in my mind is something that happened back in 2004.

I was helping my friend Cari to move. With her father and two friends we moved tables and chairs, books and potted plants, until only one thing remained: her couch.

It was not a simple, small couch; it was a huge, magnificent couch that took up the length of the wall. We tried to get it out the door, but no luck.

We pushed and we pulled, we turned and we flipped. We gritted our teeth and we shoved, but no good.

We took Cari’s front door off its hinges. No help.

We had her neighbor open up his door to create extra wiggle room. No wiggle was had.

We took the neighbor’s door off the hinges. Not a thing happened.

Nearly an hour passed and we had done everything we could do to free that couch from her apartment.

But freedom could not be had.

With nothing left to do, we did the one thing we hadn’t done: we prayed.

We joined hands, bowed our heads and simply asked God to send us some wisdom to figure out what to do.

After the “Amen” was said, we went back to work.

We tilted the couch, we grabbed an end, and somehow, some way (no kidding), the couch came right out of the apartment!

To this day I think about that moment, and if I wasn’t there, I would say it never happened.

But it did. How?

We were trying for an hour and did nothing different in those last five minutes but pray. Yet the prayer worked.

Somehow a combination of wisdom, coincidence, miracle and sheer luck all came together to accomplish what needed to be done.

All I know is this: when we stopped trying to do it by ourselves, when we paused for prayer and specifically sought out God’s wisdom, we were able to get the couch out of Cari’s apartment.

My prayer life would never be the same again.

As stated before, Wisdom is throughout the Bible. Proverbs 8 states that wisdom was present during the creation.

Wisdom is there with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah when it came time to rebuild the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, wisdom is referred to abundantly. Look at today’s reading.

Words that refer to Simeon being guided by the Holy Spirit or having things revealed by the Spirit are just other ways to speak about wisdom.

Look at Anna who is called a prophet and said to be a great age; again, just other ways to hint about wisdom.

Then, to make it clear, Luke tells us Jesus “Grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

Read a little further and we’ll see 12 year-old Jesus sitting in the temple, listening and asking, amazing all who hear.

To make sure the point is driven home, verse 52 states how Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew older.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, wisdom overflows.

The teachings of Jesus.

His sayings such as the blind should not lead the blind.

His speeches which did not always make sense but forced one to think, such as calling those who weep blessed.

There was something about the stories he told featuring beggars and lost children which caused people to say, as Jesus walked by, “Here is the Wisdom of God”.

People who met Jesus felt as if God’s wisdom had come down to them and was in their midst.

In fact, the earliest records we have of Jesus did not highlight his healings or miracles, they highlighted what he said and the lessons he taught.

The very earliest of Jesus’ followers gathered his sayings and stories. They celebrated his wisdom, even if his teachings often sounded peculiar, or undermined the official view of the world.

So…throughout this month we have talked about hope and joy, peace and love.

What does all this about wisdom mean for us, especially during this Christmas season?

For on thing, it means we have yet another way to “see” Jesus.

We heard Judy share a song that presented Jesus as black, Hispanic, Asian and white.

We each have our own ways of seeing Jesus. As Savior, Healer, Counselor, Friend.

Now we have another way, as Wisdom Incarnate.

What does this mean?

It means that when it comes to our own personal spiritual life we have another way to pray, inviting Jesus to share with us his wisdom.

It means that when we are faced with a difficult choice or a hopeless situation, we can pray, asking for wisdom on what to do and how to face our situations.

When loved ones go into the hospital, we don’t just ask for healing. We ask for the medical staff, the doctors, the surgeons, to be filled with wisdom.

At council meetings, at congregation gatherings when making a difficult decision, we can ask for wisdom.

Believing that Jesus is indeed wisdom incarnate, we can began to realize how anything which involves education and learning can become an act of prayer.

Teach your son or daughter how to change a tire: you’re sharing wisdom.

Teach a grandchild how to make their bed: wisdom.

Teach a child how to make homemade pasta: you’re sharing wisdom.

Sign up for a new class, learn a new trade, sit down with a loved one to read together: you are sharing wisdom, you are experiencing God.

I believe that anytime you embrace, share or seek out wisdom, you are embracing, sharing and seeking out the Divine.

In conclusion, since that day when I helped Cari move her couch, I have found that praying to God for wisdom takes me out of my world, and helps to move me away from my biases and worries.

It moves me closer into the realm of God, in which different realities exist, in which wisdom, not fear rules, and the Spirit of God, not the spirit of my ego dominates.

I invite you this week to take some time out, to engage God’s Wisdom in your own way.

The next time you face a crisis, or have a difficult decision to make, invite Jesus to become a partner in your situation by asking for and seeking Wisdom.

See what happens.

You may find yourself moving from helpless to an active participant.

And just like Anna, Simeon, and Jesus you will be guided by the Spirit, opening up doors and conquering things you never thought you could.

In the words of “Ava Marie”, may God take your fear and replace it with knowledge divine.

May each day make you more understanding, patient and peaceful within.

May faith lead you closer to wisdom, may wisdom deliver you closer to Christ.

Amen and amen.

Sermon for Dec 23, 2012; Luke 1:57-80

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:57-80
Dec 23, 2012

A teenage boy had developed a deep fascination for cars. It was something he inherited from his father.

Ever since he was just a little boy he would listen in fascination as his father drove down the road saying things like “That’s a ’63 Camaro” or “That’s a ’79 Corvette.”
So naturally, when he turned 16 he asked his father to take him to go get his license.

After doing so, he asked his Dad if he could use of the car, assuming that since they had spent years bonding over all things cars, his father would give an enthusiastic “Yes!”

So the teenage boy was extremely surprised when his father outright said “No.”
“However,” said the father, “I’ll make a deal with you. Bring your grades up from a C to a B, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we'll talk about the car.”

The boy thought for a moment, decided he'd settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.
After six weeks his father said, “Son, you've brought your grades up and I've seen how you’ve been studying the Bible. But I'm disappointed you haven't cut your hair cut.”

The boy, thinking he was slick, said, “You know Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, as did Moses, as did John the Baptist... and some even suggest that Jesus had long hair.”

To which his father wisely replied, “Ah, yes Son. But did you also notice they all walked everywhere they went?”
…I share this joke because it refers to John the Baptist, whose birth we just heard about. I also share it because it echoes a theory I’ve had for the past few years.
My theory is that we all have a desire to be a sponge for our elder’s information, traditions and experiences and that we all have a need to pass on information, tradition and experiences to others.

I think this stems from our attempt to stave off our mortality as well as too keep those we care about as close as possible.

I’m going to be a bit sexist for a moment, but I’ve seen this in how some women will pass on recipes, jewelry and the ability to do things like knit and to sew.

I’ve also seen this in men who will pass on their power tools and knowledge of how to change a tire, bait a hook or clean a fish.

There is something that happens in both men and women when a younger person shows interest in something we are doing.

Maybe they want to learn how to shine shoes or play Solitaire, or how to whistle or paint a fence.

I believe that all of us have an ingrain need to be both a mentor and a mentee, and we seek that out in various relationships.

Because of this, I think it is especially sad or difficult for those of us who do not have children or grandchildren that we can pass that information on too.

That’s why I am thankful for nieces and nephews as well as programs like our Vacation Bible School or the local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

As most of you know, I volunteer for Big Brothers and in so many ways my Little Brother is a perfect match for me.

Last week we joined people from our church to see the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.

However, the wait was too long and he was getting fidgety, so I hoisted him onto my shoulders and we walked to the back of the pavilion to view the show.

Being all of age 9, he wasn’t that much intrigued. He did, however, begin to muss up my hair. Then he started playing with my beard, asking why some of my hair was white and some was brown.

A little while later, I felt a heaviness on top of my head. Turns out he had fallen asleep.

I don’t think it was because of boredom, but because he was comfortable and felt safe.

A special bond occurred that moment.

Later, I watched as he saw his first live shark, he tried to use chopsticks, as he smiled from ear to ear when we went sailing down a log flume.

It was while viewing a dancing water fountain that moved and popped to music that he turned to me and stated that he’d like to design one when he grew up.

Not only was it a joy to introduce him to all those things, but he gave me a gift.

Introducing him to Disney World made me realize that one reason I love Disney so much is because it was something my father shared with me, and that it was at Disney World that I got to experience the best my father could be.

Last Saturday I felt that sense of paternal pride creep in, and with those feelings, a closeness for my own father who had died many, many years ago.

I share all of this because I think today’s reading is extremely paternal.

For three weeks we have been preparing for the birth of Jesus. For three weeks most of the stories and sermons have been from a feminine point of view.

But now we have a moment for the guys.

Zechariah is a priest serving in the holy Temple. Both he and his wife are righteous folks, living the best they know how.

For years they had been carrying great sadness and shame because they did not have any children.

But an angel had visited Zechariah and told him the hopeful news that he would soon be a father and his son would be called John.

Can you imagine the mixture of emotions Zechariah must have felt when his wife became pregnant?

The hope, the joy. The expectations of what he and his son would do. The lessons he’d share; the traditions he’d be able to pass on.

I imagine there was also fear. “What if I’m too old?” “What if I can’t physically keep up?” “What if I don’t live long enough to see his Bar Mitzvah?”

Time passes and eventually Elizabeth’s unusual pregnancy comes to its natural conclusion. A child has been born.

A son, promised by the angel Gabriel.

Luke continues to show us just how inclusive and boundary breaking the Jesus experience is.

Neighbors and relatives become part of the narrative fiber.

Ancient traditions of circumcision and naming give way to amazing newness and free speech.

Both mother and father play equal parts in what their son is to be called.

Then we witness this intimate scene of a new father talking about his son.

Although Luke does not describe the scene, I can’t help but to imagine this being a tender moment between father and son in which Zechariah, the proud father, is lovingly, protectively, holding his baby boy.

In his speech, the past, present and future come together. He refers to God as blessed, merciful, and rescuer.

He then shifts his focus onto his baby boy. “And you, my son, will be called the Prophet of the Most High.”

“You will go before the Lord to prepare the way; to share wisdom; to remind people about the tender mercy of God.”

“You will help to make sure God’s light will shine upon those in darkness. You will help guide their feet in the way of peace.”

Imagine Zechariah, a holy and righteous priest, being able to celebrate what his own son will accomplish for the Lord.

He may not be able to pass on how to change a tire or bait a hook or swing a golf club, but this…this he can do.

I also imagine that Zechariah, at this moment, feels a great amount of love.

Love for God. Love for his wife. Love for his child.

Love is not always the easiest concept to describe, because it is something you feel, something you do.

But I can say this: love is an act of creation in which that which we feel spills out of us like light from a candle, like sound from a bell, transcending space and time, darkness and silence.

Love makes one feel totally present in the here and now, while making peace with the past, while at the same time being hopefully, joyfully expectant of the future.

Love makes you want to be a better person because at that moment you are a better person.

The love that Zechariah feels for his son is no doubt a love that becomes rooted in tenderness and closeness.

Feelings which will introduce John to the concepts of justice, mercy and grace.

Since Zechariah has also been foretold by the angel of what to expect with his son, he also knows that his paternal love will have to involve the ability to let go and to encourage risks.

I can’t help but to see and to hear and to feel all of these things in the words of Zechariah.

That here is his son, flesh of his flesh, and in him exists the reality of not only Zechariah’s work living on, but the work of God, preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our lives.

In conclusion, we are nearing closer to the birth of our Savior. Every week, every story in Luke is showing us just how much Jesus will change history and all of our lives.

We have welcomed in hope, we have welcomed in joy, we have welcomed in peace.

Now today we welcome in love.

Love that goes beyond all pretense and brokenness and nurtures us so we can grow in the Spirit.

Love that blossoms like a flower, shines like a light in the darkness, and sustains us during times in the wilderness.

And now, let’s end with just a very quick joke.

Four men are in the hospital awaiting the birth of their children. A nurse goes up to the first guy and says, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.”

“That’s odd,” answers the man. “I work for the Minnesota Twins!”

A nurse says to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!”

“That’s weird,” answers the second man. “I work for the 3M company!”

A nurse tells the next man “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!”
“That’s strange,” he answers. “I work for the Four Seasons hotel!”

The last man is groaning and wringing his hands. “What’s wrong?” the others ask.
“I work for 7 Up!”

…This holiday week, may we all experience our own kind of abundance.
May we welcome the gifts of hope, joy and peace.
May we also welcome and share the gift of love.
Love that reminds us of how we are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our Lord.

Love that gives us rest when we are tired. Love that makes us feel safe even when things appear unsure.

Amen and amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, December 16, 2012; Luke 1:39-56

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:39-56
Dec 16, 2012

We have entered into the third Sunday of Advent.

Luke, like a southern gentleman, is continuing to tell his tale in a slow, relaxed pace using poetry and hyperbole.

He is using multiple techniques to tell us just how boundary-breaking, radically inclusive the Jesus experience is.

In the past two weeks we talked about hope, we talked about joy. Now, today, we talk about peace.

But first, a recap of what has happened so far.

In the city of Jerusalem, Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older righteous couple, hear the hopeful news that they will have a son named John.

In the process, Zechariah is rendered mute and Elizabeth goes into seclusion.

Six months later in the small country town of Nazareth their relative Mary, a young girl engaged to be married to Joseph, hears the joyful news that she will have a son.

His name is to be Jesus and he will establish God’s kingdom here on earth.

Upon hearing this revelation, Mary departs for a two day journey to Elizabeth’s home.

Upon hearing the voice of Mary, Elizabeth’s child leaps inside her belly and she gives the first confession of Christian faith in Luke’s Gospel.

Then Mary, in melodious words of praise, makes a profound statement about God.

But do not be fooled, these are not words of a passive petunia, but of a resilient rose whose message bears both beauty and thorns.

Mary is, after all, a pubescent, passionate peasant who is fully aware of what she’s been called to do and how the birth of her son will change the world.

Mary’s words, known as the Magnificat, celebrate God’s mercy and the ways in which the Lord will make sure those who are without will have “enough.”

Make no doubt about it, Mary’s speech is political, celebrating what God has done, is doing and will do.

Put her on a balcony in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical and she would be Evita Peron singing to the descamisados.

But, today we are not going to talk about politics; there are other times and places to do that. Today we will talk about peace.

Peace…as in rest.

Peace…as in the after affect of experiencing God’s blessed assurance.

Peace…as in that which follows feelings of hope and joy.

Think of what has gone on already. Zechariah is unable to talk. Elizabeth is 6 months into her first pregnancy.

What would their household have been like at this point? How far out would her belly be? What levels have her morning sickness raised too? What are the neighbors saying?

Mary has just discovered she’s pregnant. She leaves her hometown and fiancĂ© to travel 2 days to Elizabeth’s hillside home.

At this point both women are probably a bit tired. And then they come together.

One the wife of a priest, one engaged to a carpenter.

One who lives in the big city, the other from a small hick town.

One who is much older, the other who is very young.

Can you hear how even before Jesus is born, boundaries are being broken down?

Now think of what those three months together must have been like for them.

For Elizabeth, there is finally someone to talk with; someone who will not judge. There is someone to help prepare meals with, do household chores, share stories, songs and memories with.

There is indeed a peace that comes when we have someone close to us who we can just be ourselves with, to make no apologies to.

For Mary, there would have been the comfort of having someone older and wiser to seek advice from. To learn what to expect. To gather strength from.

There is indeed peace that comes when we have someone who can mentor us, watch over and guide us on our journey.

Imagine how peaceful those three months together would have been, as they have the chanced to cherish their growing bodies.

Peace from eating the right food together, doing gentle exercises, measuring each other’s tummies. (Margaret Hebbelthwaite)

The songs they would sing as they combed out each other’s hair, the stories about their ancestors they would share while carving toys or sewing garments.

Imagine peace radiating out and filling their home. But let’s not forget that there is a third person in this story: Zechariah.

Unable to speak, what would it have been like for him to spend 6 months in silence?

Sure, he and his wife would have created ways to communicate via notes, head nods and body movements.

But how frustrating for Zechariah, as a man, as a priest, to not be able to use his voice.

The restless silence that would have filled his days and nights.

And now Mary, rich with new life, was there in their hillside home, filling their rooms with conversation, with laughter and tears.

And yes, I am sure there were moments when the women talked a little too loud, talked a little too much, gossiped a bit too boisterously.

I am sure they told some randy jokes at Zechariah and Joseph’s expense.

But I expect that this was ultimately a time of peace for Zechariah.

A peace that came from hearing his wife laugh.

A peace from knowing they were not alone.

A peace from listening to their hushed conversations coming from the kitchen, the living room, the garden.

All three of their lives have forever changed, and for three months, before life changes again, they are able to find refuge.

Refuge in this hillside home where three people from such divergent backgrounds are able to come together and remember just how good and merciful God can be.

I believe that often times this is what going to church on Sunday morning is about for some folk.

It’s about the peace that comes from leaving behind our life for a moment and finding refuge in a peaceful place.

Church is about reclaiming that anchor which keeps us steady during life’s floods.

Church is about experiencing the Holy Spirit falling upon us like a dove and feeling that peace from within.

Today, we are all Zechariahs, Marys and Elizabeths, all seeking and deserving moments of peace that come from experiencing our Lord, Jesus Christ…

…Have you come here today because there are things happening in your life that scare the heck out of you? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because you know what it’s like to feel persecuted and judged? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because there are things happening which are beyond your control? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because illness or death and not enough new life are filling your day? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because it feels like all you’ll be doing next week is rush, rush, rushing? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because you are dreading this holiday season because someone you loved is no longer here or your life has dramatically changed? May you find peace.

In conclusion, we continue our Advent journey to the manger, following the trajectory Luke has placed before us.

Today we have experienced just how the promise of Jesus’ birth is already bringing about change.

How God is working to bring about hope, joy and peace.

How the fears of scarcity and loss are being replaced with an economy and generosity for all.

May we each find ways to glorify the peace that Jesus brings, knowing that in Christ we will all get to humbly walk with our Lord in which there is justice, there is mercy and there is indeed enough.

No matter who you are, no matter what age you may be, no matter where you are on life’s journey,

may the peace of Jesus Christ be upon us all this week.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sermon for Dec 9, 2012; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:26-38
Dec 9, 2012

Today we continue our Advent journey through the Gospel of Luke. If you haven’t realized it by now, Luke is a writer of great skill whose story involves boundary breaking inclusiveness.

The author is a light-bearing witness for Christ who is taking the Jesus experience and completely opening it up, going beyond the people of the covenant to all four corners of the world.

He wants to shows us how Jesus came to minister to the rainbow of all God’s people.

Not just the Jews, but the gentiles. Not just the rich, but the poor. Not just the local, but the foreign born. Not just men, but women.

For Luke, Jesus truly is the Bread of Life and everyone is welcome to experience just how joyfully tasty life can be, no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey.

But before we get too serious, have you heard about the latest recent archeological discovery? It seems they have unearthed an ancient copy of the Old Testament.

The shocking thing about it is that it features a different version of the Creation story in which Eve, not Adam, is created first.

It says that one day in the Garden of Eden, Eve called out to God, "Lord, I have a problem!"

"What's the problem, Eve?"

"Lord, I know you created me and provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals and that hilarious comedic snake, but I'm just not happy."

"Why is that, Eve?"

"You see, all the animals are paired off. The ewe has a ram and the cow has her bull. All the animals have a mate except me. I feel so alone. Lord, I am lonely, and I'm sick to death of apples."

"You know what Eve, you’re right. I have a solution. I shall create a mate for you and he will be called a man."

"What's a man?" Eve asked.

"A man is a ruggedly handsome but flawed creature, with many bad traits.”

“He'll be vain and glorious; he'll be witless and revel in childish things like fighting and kicking a ball about.”
“He won't be too smart, so he'll need your advice to think properly."

“But he'll also be big and fast and he will like to fish and hunt and kill things so you can have tasty food to eat.”

“He’ll be easy on the eyes, great to cuddle up with at night and wake up to in the morning.”

"Sounds great," says Eve, with an ironically raised eyebrow. "What's the catch?"

"Well... you can have him on one condition."

"What's that, Lord?"

"As I said, he'll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring... So you'll have to let him believe that I made him first. Just remember, it's our
little secret...”

“…You know, woman to woman."

I share this joke with no disrespect to men but to lighten the mood and to set the tone because today our story does not focus on a man, as so many stories do, but on a female: Mary, the mother of Christ.

Luke has continued his slow, deliberate telling of the story. It’s six months after the angel has appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth has become pregnant with John.

In today’s portion of his tale, the angel Gabriel visits Mary, calls her the favored one, and assures her of God’s presence.

Mary ponders what this means. She is told to not be afraid, to know that in due time she will have a child whose kingdom will be eternal. Her son will be named Jesus.

“How can this be?” Mary asks, possibly seeking assurance and comfort.

After the angel explains, telling her about Elizabeth, reminding her that nothing is impossible with God, Mary responds “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke has set the stage for hope to enter into our world. But let’s pause and take a moment to ask about this Mary person.

What do we know about her?

Scholars have their own opinions. She is a peasant girl who lives in Nazareth, a small, tiny town of ill-refute in Galilee.

She is engaged to be married, most likely still living at home with her parents. She is probably between the ages of 12 and 13.

Mary appears to be in a state of in-between: not yet a wife, not much longer a daughter.

Not yet a woman, not much longer a girl.

Still a virgin, but soon to be a mother.

Anything else we can gather? A close reading of Luke 1 and 2 reveals to us a few adjectives.

Mary is referred to as being favored (1:30), thoughtful (1:29; 2:19 & 51), obedient (1:38), believing (1:45), worshipful (1:46), devoted to Jewish law and piety (2:22-51).

These are all well and good. But they all seem so, so serious…

What about Mary being joyful???

Why does Mary have to be portrayed so serious, pious and reverent? Can’t she also be someone who is playful with a twinkle in her eye?

There is a beauty to Luke’s writing because he doesn’t tell us everything. He expertly creates blank spaces for our mind’s imagination to dance on in.

For example, Mary’s closing line: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

Think of the multitude of the ways she could have said it: quiet, like an introspective librarian; loud, like a mighty warrior.

She could have said it with fear and trembling, or cool and detached.

She could have said it with tears in her eyes. Or she could have sung it to the mountaintops, with joy radiating out of her very being.

That’s how I would like to envision Mary this season. Not at a passive bystander to her son’s story or a specimen of untainted holiness.

But as someone who received an awesome calling from God, who was given a unique opportunity, and was someone who approached it with joy.

Sure, there had to be things she worried about: what will her parents say, what will the neighbors think, how would this affect her future.

But how could she say “Here am I…let it be with me according to your word” without there being a hint of smile and a sense of joy of what’s to become?

Think about what this call from God means: that she, a poor peasant girl has access to the sacred outside the context of the patriarchal family and its control. (Jane Schaberg)

Think of how this surprising news becomes an opportunity for grace. (Elizabeth Huwiler)

Think of how, as her body would begin to stretch and grow that her soul would also stretch out and grow into the glory of her God. (Margaret Hebblethwaite)

If Mary experienced the divine, how can joy not follow?

And if Mary experienced joy, why can’t we?

How has God called us in a way that brings about joy?

What are the talents, the gifts we have been given, that when we use them, when they are utilized, we find joy bubbling up from within?

What has God placed within us that brings the twinkle to our eyes and a smile on our lips???

Before we close, another joke:

Little Johnnie desperately wanted a red wagon for Christmas. His friends were writing letters to Santa Claus, but Johnnie decided to go one better.
"Dear Jesus," he wrote. "If I get a red wagon for Christmas, I won't fight with my brother for a year."
Then Johnnie thought “Oh, no, he is such a brat, I could never keep that promise.” So Johnnie threw away the letter and started again.
"Dear Jesus, if I get a red wagon for Christmas, I’ll eat all my vegetables for a year."
Then Johnnie thought “Oh, no, that means lima beans and peas. Yuck! I could never ever keep that promise.”
Suddenly Johnnie had an idea.
He went downstairs to the living room. From the mantel above the fireplace, he grabbed the family's statue of the Virgin Mary.
Taking the statue to the kitchen he wrapped it in newspapers and stuffed it into a grocery bag. He took the bag upstairs to his room, opened the closet and placed the package in the farthest, darkest corner.
He then closed the closet door, took a new sheet of paper and wrote:

"Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again..."

In conclusion: today we continue our Advent journey with the theme of joy.

Joy that’s rooted in a hope for the world. Joy that comes from knowing God’s dreams for us are grander then our own.

Christmas is about joy. It’s about doing things that are fun: stringing up lights, putting up decorations.

Christmas is about people; people not just singing carols together, but actually being friends, loving one another.

Christmas is about the story it tells us about God, about Jesus, about the world, and about who we are and how we fit in.

With this in mind, can we envision this moment in Mary’s life as a time of joy?

A joy that will reach all four corners of the world, beyond all fields and floods, hills and plains, men and women, old and young.

And how do we, as God’s people, get to become angelic messengers of that news this season?

Here we are Lord; let it be according to your word. Here we are, Lord. Here we are.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sermon for Dec 2, 2012; Luke 1:1-25

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:1-25
Dec 2, 2012

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, and we have lighted our first Advent Candle, symbolizing hope.

George Herbert, who was a 15th Century poet and priest, once stated that “Hope is the poor man’s bread.”

This statement is fitting as today is Communion Sunday, and we seek to be fed, not just physically but spiritually.

Speaking of hope and spirituality, recently I read the book Life of Pi. Though the first 100 pages bored me, I was whisked away by the story.

Life of Pi is about a boy who loses everyone and everything in a shipwreck and learns to survive in a tiny lifeboat…even with a Bengal tiger on board.

The story is fantastical and miraculous, and without giving anything away, Pi survives to tell his story. But no one believes him. How can a teenage boy and a 450-pound tiger survive the chaotic seas?

They keep asking Pi to tell them the truth. Frustrated, Pi says to them:

“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. (A story) that will confirm everything you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want a dry, yeastless factuality.” (pg. 302, Yann Martel)

So Pi gives them what they want, a story devoid of all splendor and wonder…

Thankfully the writer of Luke does not do that. Like Pi, his story will not be dry or yeastless; it will not lack mystery, bite or hopefulness.

As a story teller, Luke reminds me of a southern gentleman: he shows restraint, he takes his time and he enjoys reveling in hyperbole if it will get his point across.

Unlike Mark and John, Luke is going to tell us about Jesus’ birth. Unlike Matthew, he will make us wait until chapter 2 before Jesus is even born.

Letting the yeast in his story rise, Luke is crafting a warm, narrative loaf of spiritual bread we can sink our teeth into.

But before he leads us into the light, Luke starts his story in darkness.

He introduces us to a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both of them are righteous Jews, both of them come from the line of Aaron.

Both of them also live with the disgrace and emptiness of not having a child, and both are getting on in years where having a child seems hopeless.

We have heard this story many times before, but I wonder how many have actually heard this story.

Because what it’s really telling us is about a hopeless situation. Culturally, women of Elizabeth’s position had one duty and one duty only: to provide an heir.

Unable to do that, Elizabeth would have been looked down upon. People would say it was her fault, they would assume she had done something wrong and was being punished by God.

There’s another layer of hopelessness here. Zechariah and Elizabeth had reached the end of their family line. With no children to carry on the name, they were as good as dead.

Without a child, who would fill their home with laughter and song? Without a child there would be no barmitvah and wedding to celebrate.

Without a child there can be no grandchildren to call them Memar and Papi.

We might as well place Zechariah and Elizabeth in a grave, because for all intents and purposes, their story has already ended before it began.

Their reality is shrouded in barren darkness …but as Dante once wrote “A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.”

And God is the one who creates that spark.

In Luke, that tiny spark comes in the most unexpected, fantastical, way: an angel who proclaims that Elizabeth will have a child and that child will not only bring joy and gladness, but he will turn people to the Lord.

Into heartbroken reality comes the spark: that God is going to find a way to bring hope into their world.

Think about what the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy could have done for her and Zechariah; how the hope of a child would bring new life into their home.

What would you imagine a newly pregnant Elizabeth to do at this time? Could you see her preparing a space for the child? Can you imagine the toys she would make?

Do you think she spent days on end sewing together clothes for herself as her belly grew bigger and for her son when he was born?

Can you hear the songs she would sing as she is doing these things? Can you see the colors of fabric and paint she would use?

Can you smell the aromas of the foods she would prepare so she could give birth to the healthiest baby possible?

Do you believe that the news about what God was doing gave her the hope and the ability to believe in a future?

Can you imagine how this would transform every aspect of her home and her life?

It’s like Luke is telling us that even before Jesus’ birth, he was making a difference.

So I ask: how can we apply the hope that Zechariah and Elizabeth may have felt into our lives this Advent Season?

How can hope reshape and transform our lives?

What are the dark moments and dark places in which we need the spark of hope to burn bright?

How can hope spark us to create, to build, to plan?

How can hope spark us to clean out, let go, mend and to forgive?

How can hope spark us to anticipate, dream and blossom?

How can hope in what can be lead us to stop focusing on the what has happened?

How can hope move us from the ways of death into the ways of life: to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our Lord?

If Jesus can bring hope into a family before his very birth, how much more so can Jesus bring hope into our own lives right now?

In conclusion, both “The Life of Pi” and the Gospel of Luke teach us about hope, that tiny spark that starts a great flame.

Hope surprises us, flying in the face of everything we thought we knew. It makes us see higher, further and differently.

Hope is robust, active, lush and productive.

Hope means believing in the possibility of making it through any situation, no matter how dark it may seem.

Hope allows us to conceive of beating the odds, of surviving miraculously, and to see the miraculous in the every day.

Hope is knowing that as long as God is with us, we still have a reason to believe, and with that a reason to live. (Above 3 paragraphs are based on Martel’s words in “Pi”, page 148)

For that, we can say amen and amen.