Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Samuel’s message is a reminder that, while the tangible expressions of God’s presence with us — things like Temples and Churches, candles and wreaths — are nice and helpful, they are NOT the actual presence of God with us. We must never confuse the building with the blessing, as it were; or, as Wes Avram so aptly put it writing in Christian Century recently, “…God’s presence is not assured in the building, but in the promise.” (Click here for the link.)
Psalm 89 stands as a steadfast reminder that — boon or bust, scarcity or plenty — it is the love of the Lord that remains in our lives and sustains us, somehow.
The benediction from the book of Romans is simply not surpassed for lofty language praising God for God’s work of salvation — from beginning to end, from eternity past to eternity yet-to-come. It’s all part of “the Christmas story!”
Luke‘s telling of the encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel illustrates for us that God always has — and always will, I suppose — use quite ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Just a girl — just a guy — just a handful of shepherds — just the Savior of the world!
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I saw this in a magazine a few years ago. Margaret was having a tough Christmas season. Her husband was out of town on business for most of December. Her kids were sick half the time, work was driving her crazy with year-end deadlines. Nothing was going right. About a week before Christmas she did some shopping at the mall during her lunch owner. She darted into a card store and bought a box of 50 Christmas Cards, already on sale because it was so late. That night she printed some labels using the computer and put the kids to work. One signed the cards with the family’s last name, a second stuffed the cards into the envelope, a third put on the address lapels and the youngest stuck on the stamps, mostly upside down or sideways; but it got done, just in time.
The day after Christmas, Margaret was cleaning up and found a stray card between the couch cushions. She realized she had been so busy she never even read the card. She sat down on the couch and then cried after she read: “We’re sending this card just to say, a little gift is on its way.”
A little gift is on its way. That is the message of the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It’s the message Elizabeth and Zechariah got about John. It’s the message Joseph and Mary got about Jesus.
And it’s the message we are getting about the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. In the midst of our running around and gift-buying and card-sending and house-decorating; we need to pause and remember why we’re doing all this. We’re doing it because God has sent us a message that a little gift is on the way, a little bundle of joy is coming, a Word of Hope and Peace is just around the corner.
It is a gift and a word that the world needs now as much as ever. A glance at the daily paper, or 30 minutes of watching the news is enough to remind us that the world is all too often a dark, scary and lonely place run by the proud, the rich and the powerful.
And we, like Mary, have been called to carry the gift that is Christ into the midst of that hurting world. The lowly still need lifting up. The hungry still need to be fed. The poor still need a chance to live. The world still hungers in its heart for true goodness to reign supreme.
Caroline was active in her church. A few years ago she was asked her to do something more, something extra. The churches in the area were opening a Homeless shelter and they needed a director – would she help? Although she was already quite busy Caroline agreed. She went into it with great enthusiasm and high commitment; she wanted to help, she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.
By Christmas Eve, she was quite tired of the whole thing. She had come to see her job at the shelter as a thankless chore. When she started, she thought: Give these people a little love and they’ll turn around and soon become useful and productive citizens. But her high hopes and great expectations were soon dashed. “These people will never change,” she thought, “they’re all the same ; take, take, take and never give anything back.
It was in this mood that she met a young man named Christopher. She had gotten everyone bedded down for the night on Christmas Eve, which was a lot like every other night, except that they had turkey for dinner instead of soup; and everyone received a Christmas package of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes from the Ladies Auxiliary of Greater Hope Baptist Church.
Caroline turned out the lights and retreated to the kitchen for a cup of coffee when Christopher came in, wanting to talk. She agreed, nodding her head, but not really interested. He told her the usual story – the kind of story you hear a hundred times a year if you work with the homeless. His father drank and beat him, his mother slept around. He dropped out of school at 14 and did a lot of drugs, married at 19 to a woman 36 who was already pregnant. She left him and the baby a little while later, so he gave the baby up for adoption and hit the road.
By this time Caroline was looking at her watch, ready to send the young man back to bed, when suddenly Christopher said, “God has really blessed me.” Caroline jerked her head up. “How can he say that?” She thought. “After all he’s gone through, how can he say that?” “Yes,” Christopher said, “God has really blessed me. He let me see the darkness, so I’d recognize the light.”
Christopher – the name means “one who bears Christ.” That night, Christopher lived up to his name. He brought the light of Christ to a tired and bitter woman. A woman who learned one more time that God specializes in surprise packages, in coming to us in unlikely places, in speaking to us through unlikely voices.
As Caroline thought about Christopher’s words about light and darkness, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, worn Bible and from it he took a dried and pressed Monarch butterfly with radiant colors. “Here,” he said, “Merry Christmas. This is for you. Put it in your Bible and remember that on one cold Christmas Eve you took the time to let your light shine on some tired and lonely people.”
The mystery and miracle that is Christmas is just around the corner. Our little gift is on its way. We are invited to be like Mary and receive the gift of Christ with glad and joyful hearts. And we are invited to be like both Mary and Christopher in sharing the gift of Christ with the world.
Amen and Amen.