Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Eve Message; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Dec 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38

Last week FOX TV showed a live musical version of “The Christmas Story.” It received low ratings and poor reviews, but I enjoyed it.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any allegiance to the original film. Perhaps it’s because I knew some of the music. Perhaps it’s because of the way they fleshed out the mother’s role.

The show took place during an era when news came from the radio, milk was delivered to the porch, and meatloaf was sure to cheer a child up.

Just like the movie, we see the messy things that take place during the holidays- how fuses can burn out, tired go flat, and entire meals can be ruined by unexpected circumstances.

In one scene the mother sings that she is the one to help her family forget that times have been tough. She laments that there always seems to be a new stain on the carpet and papers are always piling up, but it is so clear that she loves her role as a mother.

In another scene she consoles her worried sons by telling them that nothing is falling from the sky or crumbling to the ground. That moments come, moments go, and just like that- they are gone.

By song’s end, the mother is by herself, looking around the home she has created for her family and she sings “All these crazy moments, they flicker, they pass…Crazy, messy moments that you try to hold onto…don’t last...”

Her song and the show is a testimony that Christmas is not magical because it is perfect, but that Christmas is magical because it is messy…

Something has taken place in the past few months. I don’t know if it’s because we’re living in a post-Irma reality. Or the political climate has actually made us pull more together.

Or if I’m at that age where I’ve got my home, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got some money in the bank and things don’t seem so root-less anymore.

Something akin to a great calm has allowed me to see today’s reading with a new set of eyes.

I don’t know about you, but in the past it’s seemed like Mary, the mother of Jesus, has always been up “here.”

Preachers will give sermons about her and tell us how, if we follow her example, we can be holy and favored just like her.

How Mary becomes an example for all the women of the world on how to be a parent.

I myself recall spending so much time trying to figure out why God chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

That she must have been so special, she must have been so unique, she must have been so pure and so perfect that she amongst all people were chosen to bear Emmanuel.

So therefore, if one was to be just like her, if one was to live just like her, if one was to be more Mary and less themselves than perhaps God will find favor and bless them too.

I recall being in my 20’s trying so hard to unlock the mystery of getting God to bless me- perhaps if I was more patient, or more humble, or more prayerful, or more MORE than perhaps I’d be rewarded with a life that wasn’t so meandering and messy.

If one is not careful, scripture about Mary can become a tool, a measuring stick, a way to wonder what God is looking for to reward a person with blessings.

Now, scripture doesn’t say much about Mary, but if you comb over the few verses she’s in, you’ll find that she is described as thoughtful, obedient, believing, worshipful, and devoted to her faith.

But then again, who isn’t?

Is anyone here today not thoughtful from time to time? Is anyone here not trying their best to follow what they think God wants?

But Mary, if Mary is to become the Mother of Jesus, if she is to carry the Christ-child in her womb, she must be more so.

She must be above, she must be beyond, she must be as unblemished and unmessy as unblemished and unmessy can be.

And perhaps, perhaps if we try our best, and try really, really hard and try more and do better at being thoughtful and obedient and believing, then God will look down and find favor on us too!

But how exhausting that train of thought is.

How self defeating it is to compare yourself to another, and to think that if you carbon copied them you too would get the same results.


Not this year. Not this time.

Maybe, just maybe what Scripture is telling us is that Mary wasn’t chosen because she was the favored one, BUT that she was favored because she was the chosen one.

Allow me to explain- what if, what if Mary was more like us than we realize?

What if Mary really was just a small town girl, living in a small town world?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be in Lorida or Zolfo Springs working at Dollar General or McDonalds?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be a B and C student in high school?

That if Mary was alive today her fiancĂ©’s name could have been Joey or JoBob just as much as it was Joseph?

For God to do something magical, for God to do something so amazing, did Jesus have to be born to a perfect person who was purer than pure?

What sounds more like a miracle to you- that Jesus was born to a mother who was the most thoughtful, obedient, believing woman alive.

Or would the greater miracle be that Jesus was born to a mother who experienced new stains on the floor, papers piling up, and could make magic out of meatloaf?

What we are talking about here is the very notion of how we see God at work in the world.

Do we think that God only uses perfect people who are beyond reproach?

Or do we think that God uses people who are imperfect, flawed and one of us?

Do we think God can only do wonders with jars that are full, people that are pure, and baskets that are overloaded with bread?

Or do we make the claim that God can do wonders with empty vessels, impure people and with limited supplies?

Why search for explanations as to why God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, when scripture tells us again and again that we will never fully know why God does what God does.

Why would God choose Moses, a middle-aged murderer, to deliver God’s people?

Why would God chose Gideon, the youngest member of the weakest family of the smallest tribe to lead God’s army?

Why would God chose David, the ruddy 8th born son of a farmer to be God’s greatest monarch?

…why would God choose Sebring to build a church?

Why would God call someone like me to be the pastor?

Why would God call you to participate in this holy space and this holy time?

Is it because any of us are perfect? Is it because any of us are pure?

Is it because any of us are more thoughtful, obedient, believing than anyone else?

Why does God do anything God does?

So, at least for this year, I think it is Ok to not place Mary so high on a pedestal.

I think it is OK to say that she was most likely more like you and me, than she was not.

That it was her being chosen that made her favored. And it was her accepting the privilege to carry the Christ child that made her so awesome.

Maybe the magic of this Christmas season isn’t that God called upon the most perfect and pure of people to play a role in God’s story, but that God called someone who was just like us.

Maybe the magic of Christmas is not that it is perfect, but that it is messy.

That the Christmas story is more about the stains on the carpet and the papers that pile up then it is about unreachable ideals and perfect times.

That Christmas is a reminder that while it may feel like things are crumbling to the ground, or falling from the sky, we can catch our breath.

Christmas reminds us that these crazy, messy moments we live in are also the crazy, messy moments in which we can find God.

And in these crazy, messy moments God is able to do the most amazing, cool things.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Privilege to be a Witness; Dec 17, 2017 sermon on John 1:19-28

Rev. George Miller
Dec 17, 2017
John 1:19-28

Years ago I became a fan of “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” book series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Set in Botswana, it features a woman named Precious Ramotswe who runs her own detective agency.

The books are gentle forms of testimony to what it’s like to live in a place in which you feel privileged to be a part of.

A place in which the tinkling of cow bells can be heard, one always has time for friends and family, and true happiness comes from knowing who you are and honoring where you came from.

Every November I look forward to the newest installment, and this year’s 18th book, titled “The House of Unexpected Sisters” was no disappointment.

Each day of reading was like being with a dear, dear friend I’ve grown to know and love. How Precious adores the mini white van she drives, how pumpkin is her favorite food, and red bush tea is her beverage of choice.

How proud she is to know that her husband is the most honest mechanic in the city, and her late father was the best cattleman in the country.

So it was a bit of a shock when towards the end of the book, an important chunk of information comes out that changes everything Precious, and we the reader, ever knew about her.

It is a moment that the author handles so well and you don’t see coming.

Precious Ramotswe, who usually speaks so eloquently and clear, is not able to finish her sentences. She can’t finish her tea. She refuses her husband’s company, saying over and over again “My heart is broken.”

The author creates a deeply moving scene in which we, the reader, journey with Precious to the grave of her parents.

We feel her sorrow. We feel her loss. We see the sun, the sky, and the headstones before her.

She speaks to her parents the words she needs to say to confront her new reality. The author does not tell us what she says, because he knows that we know what is being said.

Instead of English, she speaks in Setswana, the language of her people, because that is the language her ancestors would understand.

This scene has haunted me all week because of its simple eloquence, and how well it deals with the issues of reality, and identity.

Who we are.

Who are we?

These same issues emerge beside the Jordan River in today’s story.

Here we have another account of the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist is out in the wilderness, baptizing folk in the waters when he is confronted by religious leaders wanting to know “Who are you?”

Like the Caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland” they ask this rather existential question again and again.

“Who are you?”
-“I am not the Messiah.”

“What then? Are you Elijah?”
-“No, I am not.”

“Who are you? Answer us; what do you have to say?”

It’s a rather interesting interaction.

“Who are you?”

Like an earworm, this question seemed to penetrate my mind.

Then a thought occurred- what if this question, being posed to John the Baptist beside the river’s waters nearly 2,000 years ago, is being posed to us, near Lake Jackson, today?

What if this is the author’s attempt to reach out to us, across time and space, to ask us the very same question-

“Who are you?”

One of the oldest questions of the ages-

Who are we? What are we about? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Why are any of us here?

Books have been written about this. Philosophies created over it. People have lost hours of sleep pondering these questions late into the night.

“Who are you?”

John is asked these questions while he stands by the water’s edge, and he is clear in his identity.

He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He is not ‘the prophet.’

Who is he?

He says that he is a voice, a testimony, a witness crying out in the bleak, bad wilderness that something greater, something good is about to happen.

There is power in John’s ability to articulate who he is, and who he is not.

And in a metaphysical timey-wimey way, John can also be speaking for us.

After all- who wants to be the Messiah? Who wants to be the Savior of the World?

Who wants to carry the weight and worry of always having to save and rescue and heal the woes of everybody?

How many folk here have ever played the role of Savior or are currently playing it?

Done that. Tried it. No thanks. Being a Messiah is too much work and gets you no reward.

Who wants to be Elijah? Talk about work!

Always having a king to stand before, always having priests to contend with, droughts and starving widows to deal with, and having words of judgment to speak.

Not to mention Elijah was supposed to return when the end of the world was near.

Who’d want that job? “Guess what folks? The clock is set to stop ticking!”

“Who are you?” John is asked while standing besides the river, and essentially he states “I am a voice. I am a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

One theologian stated that John gets to give testimony that a new reality is about to begin.

Another scholar stated that John has the privilege of introducing Jesus to the nation.

I like this. This notion of privilege.

That John is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, but he has an important purpose, and he has the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

Have we ever stopped to think of our faith that way?

That as Christians, as members of Emmanuel UCC, we have the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

We don’t have to be Jesus. We don’t have to take on all the stress of being the Son of God.

But we get the privilege to introduce Jesus to others.


It is a privilege to be able to worship together, in this holy space and this holy time. Not because we must, but because we may.


It is a privilege to serve the community side by side. To gather in the Fellowship Hall to bag groceries; to meet tomorrow to hand out 180 Christmas baskets, not because we must, but because we may.


It is a privilege to share our resources, to share our time, our talents, and our tithes, not because we must, but because we may.


Because we know who we are; and we know who we are not.

Oh, it feels so good, it feels so freeing when we can stand beside the waters of our baptism and accept the fact that we are not the Messiah, we are not the Son of God, we are not the Saviors of the World.

It feels so good to let that stress, those expectations, that ego, go.

And to say we are a voice, we are witness, we are a testimony.

That as Christians, we have the privilege to be a witness to the light, the life, and the grace that the birth of Jesus Christ will represent.

That we get to be a voice in the dark and scary wildernesses that reminds people that God has not forsaken us.

That we too get to be characters in the eternal story of God, in which we will each have our own role, our own place, and our own special scene.

That just like John we are not the Messiah, but we do have the privilege to make Jesus known and to help welcome him into our world.

How sweet it is that by the Jordan Rivers we can join our ancestors in embracing our identity and sharing the light of Christ with the world.

For that we can say amen and amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sharks in the Ocean/Guns in Church Dec 10, 2017 sermon; Mark 1:1-8

Rev. George Miller
Dec 10, 2017
Mark 1:1-8

A few days ago, a news story came out about a nativity scene created in a shark tank located in Rome, in which 3,000 sea creatures are present.

This caught my attention, because as someone raised on Long Island, I grew up with a deep love for the ocean.

I was also born in the 70’s, which means I grew up with movies like “Jaws.” So, I love being in the water while also being afraid of what’s in the water.

So much so, that as a child I was afraid to swim in our backyard pool by myself, imagining that somehow a time/space portal would open up, allowing a shark to enter our 4-foot deep, above the ground pool, and eat me alive.

I’ve spent years loving the ocean, but having nightmares of being attacked.

An ex once shared that statistically speaking, I was more likely to be killed by a wild boar than a shark, but that didn’t put my fears to rest.

Then 4 years ago, something liberating happened. I met a surfer from South Africa, and when I asked him if he ever saw a shark he said “Oh yes, all the time. They’re always there.”

This thought should have scared me, but it did the opposite. Here was someone who surfed every day who stated this reality so matter of fact and calmly, that it got me thinking-

-if sharks are always there, and I have never once been bit, attacked, or even seen one, then they really have no interest in attacking me.

So I began a new relationship with the ocean. Mindful and cautious, but not as paralyzing afraid.

I’ve learned that when you step into the water, be mindful of what is around. Watch for shadows. If fish are racing past you or jumping out of the water, it usually means something bigger is chasing after them.

Use your instincts.

Last year, something inside me said “Get out of the water” and I followed that instinct.

I saw a female surfer also come in. When asked why, she stated that she saw a bull shark acting aggressively.

Since then, the moment I feel my 6th sense say “Get out,” I get out.

But also since then, I’ve witnessed great wonders, like being in the water with a sea turtle, watching a porpoise play in the waves, and twice now seeing a shark on the shoreline.

Yes, Florida is ranked as having the highest rate of shark attacks, but the chance of me being attacked is 1 in 4,000,000.

I love being in the ocean too much to ever stop going in it based on a fear of being attacked by a shark…but I never stop being aware of the great “what if.”

I share all this because America has moved into a heightened sense of fear.

Although crime in Highlands County has gone down, our nation’s murder rates are lower than 30 years ago, and we’re living in the most peaceful time in history, we don’t act that way.

Our awareness of killings and unprovoked attacks has become heightened thanks to instant news, social media, and commerce.

Fear is sexy. Fear is powerful. Fear wins presidential elections. Fear gets you to spend money on security systems, car alarms and firearms.

At our last council meeting we had people express concern that our congregation could become the target of an attack.

Personally, this fear is not new to me. You can’t be an openly gay pastor without being aware you’re at some sort of risk.

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that people of faith have always been the targets of hate, be it slaves fleeing across the Red Sea, to the Jews in Jerusalem, or the disciples as they went from town to town.

But something very tangible, very real has taken place-

In the past, when people heard about synagogues being burned down, we wrote it off as happening to “them.”

When black churches were the target of violence, we could write it off as acts of racism.

When mosques are attacked overseas or vandalized here, well…many people secretly think they got what they deserved.

But when a gunman attacks a primarily white crowd in Las Vegas, and another gunman brutally kills members of a church in rural Texas…then it sets off something real, very primal-

-no one is every truly safe and it can happen here; it can happen to me; it can happen to us.

Something must be done.

I’d like to share with you that things are being done. Last week about 9 church members attended a seminar on active shooters.

Mike Griffith has attended a county wide safety taskforce that will meet again in January.

Mike and I met last Wednesday to share notes and begin the process of creating a Disaster Response Team.

Through all this, we’ll come up with ways to be prepared if human and natural caused disasters take place.

I like this idea of being prepared.

It’s smart; it’s solid.

However, there is one part of the conversation we had at Council that I was very uncomfortable with-

The idea of locking our church doors during worship.

There are some who feel that worship is no longer safe and the only solution is to lock ourselves in and the public out once the prelude begins.

This fear is very real, very tangible, very primal.

But despite recent news, it is also very unlikely. You can go online and discover that the chance of being killed in a church shooting is 1 in 6,552,000.

To give you some perspective, the chance of dying by heart attack is 1 in 5, but no one is talking about doing away with bacon and sausage during brunch.

The odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 165, but no one says they’re skipping Sunday service because the commute is too risky.

So why is the 1 in 6,552,000 chance of being killed in church enough to make us want to lock our doors and worship in fear?

Because it’s about the sense of helplessness. About the unknown; being a sitting duck; the lack of control.

It’s the way that guns level the playing field. It does not matter how big or strong you are, if you are old or young, male or female, gay or straight - a bullet is a bullet.

Understandably, people are afraid, and it seems like locking the doors is a safe solution.

I don’t know about you, but I did not come out of the closet to be locked behind the doors of a church.

Not to mention, once a church locks its doors to the stranger it stops being church, and in an effort to stay alive, actually begins to die.

There is no biblical passage that even suggests the way to preach or to embody the Good News is to do so within locked doors.

There is no Psalm that says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall sequester away.”

Matthew 25 does not say “When you locked the doors you ministered to me.”

I have more of a chance of being killed by a shark in the ocean than I do of being a victim of gunfire in the church…

…but then this week the news came out that a woman in Costa Rica died after being attacked by a shark while scuba diving.

1 in 4 million sounds really high, until it is you.

So how we deal with this new reality, this new normal we have of perceived danger within the church setting?

We do so by addressing it, as we have in Council, and as we are in the sermon. We address it by doing our best to be prepared.

We also do it by trying to see what scripture has to say.

Here we have Mark telling us his version of the Gospel.

How does he start his story? By saying “In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…”

But this is not fake good news. This is good news rooted in the darkness and despair of history.

Mark was written during a very dangerous and violent time.

Mark wrote during the 70s, a time of war, in which Jerusalem was under the attack of the Romans. Hundreds and thousands of Jews and Gentiles were being slaughtered in the streets.

People were fleeing to the hills for safety. The mighty, mighty Jewish Temple was utterly destroyed.

If you thought things in Palestine are tense now, they were nothing compared to what was happening when Mark wrote his Gospel.

And yet…and yet even with the Temple under attack, so much darkness, so much hate, Mark felt compelled to tell this story, and to start it by saying “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ…”

This, this is the stock we come from. This is the spiritual ancestor we are descended from.

This is a patriarch of our faith who in the bleakest of historical moments, begins with words of hope.

Good news.

Mark goes on, to tell us about John the Baptist, who is out in the wilderness, saying “Prepare a way for the Lord.”

Wilderness is a code word.

Others words for wilderness are dessert, outback, wasteland, and badlands.

A wilderness was seen as a dangerous place in which one was left utterly vulnerable and in harm’s way.

In the wilderness one is an easy target for thieves, marauders, and criminals.

From a biblical perspective, when someone is in the wilderness they will face issues of fear, and forsakenness.

So when Mark starts his story in the wilderness, he is essentially saying “Yo, things are not good and are scary as heck!”

And yet, even though Mark is writing during a time of war, although he sets his first chapter in the most dangerous of places, he has the audacity to say “The beginning of the Good News…”

Does this sound like a person who is behind locked doors; does this sound like a man who feels the ways of the world are more powerful than the ways of God?

What we have here is a narrator who is saying “Things may seem crooked and scary, but the LORD will make the paths straight.”

What we have here is a narrator who knows all too well the violence that men do, and yet is willing to let us know that Jesus Christ is coming to shower us with the Holy Spirit.

What we have here is a narrator who within a few short verses, sets the stage and says “Yes, we live in a wilderness of fear, forsakenness, and danger, but through Jesus Christ we can also experience faith, deliverance and new beginnings.”

What follows is a story about how Jesus overcomes temptation, welcomes the stranger, and moves throughout the community.

Though Mark wrote during a time more dangerous than we could ever imagine, he shows how Jesus stills a storm, deals with demons, and sits among the thousands.

Yes- there were times in which Jesus was threatened, we know there were times he had to leave town for his own safety, and we know all too well how he was betrayed.

But it did not stop Jesus from being Jesus; it did not stop him from embodying the highest hope.

In conclusion, we know that people are scared; we know they are worried. We know that there are preparations we should be doing.

But how far do we go? How much do we sequester ourselves away?

If we give in to fear, have we also given up on hope?

If we lock our doors, can we truly worship God?

Is faith still faith if we give in to “what ifs?”, or is faith truly faith when it looks fear in the face and says “You have no power here.”

Do we believe the darkness of men overcomes the light of Christ, or that the light of Christ overcomes the darkness of men?

This is for each and every one of us to think about as we continue to find our own way to embody Matthew 25 and to find our own way to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Lord.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Get Your Butt Off Your Throne, God" Psalm 80:1-7 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Dec 3, 2017
Psalm 80:1-7

Dressing up in our state is an interesting experience. The first week I moved here in 2010, I attended our Conference’s Spring Gathering in Naples wearing a pair of jeans paired with dress shoes, a pink button shirt and a navy blue sport coat.

A clergy colleague came over and said “I’ve been living here all these years and can never figure out what to wear, and it looks like you already have.”

7 years later I now know what he means. There are days in which long pants and a button down shirt feel just about right, other days a pair of shorts with Jesus sandals make more sense and is way more comfortable.

Look out into our congregation and you’ll see where the real meets the ideal, from folk like Hardric and Gerry who are always dressed to the “T”, to Ken who wears festive Hawaiian shirts and always ready for his next cruise, to Norma with her purple streak of hair.

All solid sartorial choices in which they are wearing what they feel comfortable with to praise the Lord.

As a pastor, I always want to look presentable, but I also want to be realistic. It doesn’t matter how fancy my clothes are if I’m sweating through my armpits or tugging on my collar.

There are events I go to and people to visit in which if I’m too dressed up it comes across as aloof and out of touch, but if I’m too dressed down, I can sense they are saying to themselves “Well bless your heart.”

That’s why I am ever-so thankful for the Emmanuel UCC polo shirts we have.

I can pair our church polo with a pair of slacks and shoes and look like I have the good sense God gave a goose. Or I can rock them out with a cargo shorts and Birkenstocks and I’m ready to go-go-go and get my hands dirty.

Or I can put a sports coat over it, and viola- ready for a banquet.

Yes- clothes can be a mystery here in Florida, but they can also be a ministry.

Is the pastor one of the people, apart from the people, or somewhere in between?

Which brings us to today’s reading. Here we have in Psalm 80 a song that is known as a “Psalm of Lament.”

It is sung by folk who feel like God has not been present in their lives, God has been somewhat asleep, and they have been left to fend for themselves.

Anyone here ever feel that way?

Anyone here ever have a time in your life in which nothing seems right, you’ve been crying for days, and it feels as if God is far, far away?

We all have, and we all will. It is part of the spiritual, human condition.

Three times in the Psalm they sing out to God “Restore us, make your face shine, and bring us back to a life worth living.”

But sadly, God seems silent; sleepy.

“Hear us. Save us,” they say.

“Don’t you remember that time you took our ancestors out of Egypt and put them in the Promised Land?”

But now?

Well now the people feel like they have been left unprotected and made vulnerable to all their enemies.

They assume God is mad at them; that God’s smile has turned into a scowl.

They feel like the bread and cup they used in worship has now been replaced with a pitiful portion of salty tears.

Yup- sometimes our experience of God can be that way.

If you go through this entire Psalm, you see all the ways they view God- as a Shepherd who leads the flock, as a farmer who clears the ground, and as a king who sits on a mighty throne.

All those descriptions sound wonderful…at first. Until you think about what they mean.

A shepherd and a farmer sound cool- hands on folk who deal with the every day. But the image of God enthroned upon the cherubim?

First of all, what the heck is a cherubim and how do you sit on it?

It’s cool to imagine God as king, but a king who is sitting on a fancy, schmancy throne while the people suffer?

I don’t know about that.

Sounds to me like this particular kind of king has been too comfortably snoozing while the people are crying and dying.

I can’t help but to feel that what the psalm is actually saying is:

“Hey, you- God. Get off your big ol’ BUTT and get down and do something to help us out!”

Personally, I love this, because once again we have another biblical example of deeply faithful people who have NO problem holding God accountable and telling God what to do.

Too often folk think they have to be all meek and mild with God, when sometimes we need to remind God just what it means to be God, just as Moses and Abraham did.

“God,” the psalm seems to say “Wake up, wipe the sleep from your eyes and help us out just like you helped all those slaves you freed hundreds of years ago.”

That’s faith. That’s courage.

That’s being in a real relationship with your Creator.

That’s covenant- making sure that all sides stick to their end of the deal.

“Get your butt off the throne, put on a pair of overalls and work gloves, and start to digging!”

…and as we enter into the Advent Season, isn’t that just what God did?

We are just weeks away of welcoming the birth of Jesus Christ into our complex world.

As Christians we claim that Jesus embodied the incarnate God, and by encountering Jesus one was encountering the face of God.

A face that was not scowling, or asleep, or set apart and far away.

But a face that was near, and dear, and real, a face that was like one of us.

With Advent we experience this amazing miracle that when God chose to enter into the world in a new and unexpected way, it was not as a prince in a palace with servants and tutors and trust funds and polished finger nails.

But when God entered into our lives, God did so in the most meek and mild, most messy, ordinary and vulnerable way-

A child born to blue collar folk, surviving the political climate of their time, who needed to learn a trade, figure out what his 20’s were all about, who wasn’t above drinking wine at weddings and talking to wild women at a well.

Forget about the Son of God being an untouchable king asleep on a throne, what we got in Jesus is a tangible, human presence who was not afraid to face the elements, mix with all members of society, and teach and preach and demonstrate what it meant to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord.

In Jesus Christ, we see that God was anything but asleep and far removed.

BUT- there is another element to today’s scripture.

If we feel that God is asleep, or not keeping the covenant or needs to get off God’s big BUTT…well that means we have to be willing to get off our big butt too, doesn’t it?

If we are in a true, honest relationship with our Creator, it means there are things for us to do as well.

And fortunately, as we learned last week, Jesus has made it so, so easy for us.

If you remember, last week we explored Matthew 25, which is so foundational to our UCC faith.

And what is it that Jesus invited us to do?

Give food to the hungry. Quench people’s thirst. Clothe the naked. Show care to the sick. Let the imprisoned know they are not alone.

Welcome the stranger.

So simple. So clear. So concise.

Not because we must, but because we may.

Not because we are trying to buy our way into heaven, but because we already know we were given a ticket via the gift of grace.

Feed. Quench. Care. Visit. Welcome.

Part of our Covenantal Relationship with our Creator.

In conclusion, there are times in all of our lives in which God will seem far away, life will be filled with sorrow, and all we want is to sense that God’s smiling, sparkling face is nearby.

Today’s reading reminds us that it is Ok to feel that way. It is Ok to call upon God.

It is Ok to remind God of what has been done in the past, and to expect God to do it again.

It is Ok to say to God “It’s time to get your BUTT off the throne and get to work.”

And it is Ok to say “Alright, God- you need to take off that sport coat and put on some shorts and get your hands dirty and face sweaty.”

And as Christians, we can expect that God will say the same thing too, and expect that we will work together.

It’s not just God; it’s not just us.

It is ALL of us- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pastor, parishioners, friends, and Conference Ministers who can-

work together, clear the ground, plant the vine, and make the Kingdom of God a little bit better known right here on Earth. For that we can say “amen” and “amen.”