Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and The First Sunday after Christmas (Double Episode)

For December 25, 2016 and January 1, 2017

Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

This week’s post includes a little “double duty.” You will find Dr. Chilton’s sermon for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day included below, whilst the Lectionary Lab Live podcast we have posted is a bonus broadcast of our comments from 3 years ago and covers the texts for the First Sunday after Christmas — in this case, January 1, 2017.

We hope it’s not all terribly confusing, but we’ll be back for Epiphany and a brand new broadcast for January 8. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day                                             December 24/25, 2016

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

“Life is a series of adjustments to reality.”  Who said that?  I did.  Over, and over, and over again throughout my children’s growing up years.  It is a truth I learned the hard way.  One year I was absolutely certain what  I wanted for Christmas.  Like little Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” I wanted a BB gun.  I had seen it advertised on TV, I had seen one in the store, several of my friends wanted the same gun.  It was magnificent, it was wonderful, it was going to change the world and my place in it.  I absolutely, positively had to have the “Daisy Lever-Matic BB Gun” because it was “the ‘Spittin’ Image’ of the Great Model ’94 Winchester.”

Christmas morning came, and I got up, and snuck into the living room, and found my present under the tree, and I unwrapped it, and it was not a Daisy Lever-Matic BB Gun.  Instead, I got very fine baseball equipment – a bat, a glove, and a cap.  It was a wonderful gift, a wonderful gift indeed. There was just one thing wrong with it – it wasn’t what I had asked for, it wasn’t what I wanted, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I was equal parts happy to have a bat and ball, and sorely disappointed I had not received what I wanted.  “Life is a series of adjustments to reality.”

Middle school to high school, high school to college, college to seminary, life as a student to life as a pastor, bachelorhood to married life, double income, no kids (dinks) to parenthood, rural life to city life and back – over, and over, and over again, life has been a series of adjustments to reality. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting into, knew what was coming, knew what to expect – but I didn’t.  Reality was always and forever throwing me a curve ball.  Life has always been different than what I expected.

Throughout Jesus’ life, from his birth to his death, people were constantly having to adjust their expectations to his reality. Nobody expected the Messiah to be a poor boy born in a barn, raised by working-class parents in a tiny village.  After all, didn’t they say things like, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ and “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?” and “He can’t be the Messiah, he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners,” and “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter?  Who does he think he is?”  Yes, they were all expecting something or someone else, and many were unwilling to accept what they got. They were unwilling to adjust to reality.

With 20/20 hindsight and 2000 years of perspective it’s easy for us modern folk to look back on those biblical people with a bemused combination of superiority and pity. We think that we would have known so much better what God was doing.  We think we would have recognized Jesus as the true Messiah right away, the first time we met him, no doubt about it.

Well, probably not.  We human beings are just as full of ourselves now as we ever were.  And we still look to God to provide us with a superman savior, someone or something from outside ourselves who will rush in and fix everything in one fell swoop – changing the world and our place in it.

Or we attach the will of God to our particular political and economic vision of the future, and look for signs that it is happening so that we can believe that God and God’s kingdom are coming in our midst.

And year after year God persists in giving us what we need, not what we want.  God persists in responding to our desire for strength with weakness, our yearning for power with poverty, our aching for achievement with loss and lowliness.  While we still anticipate some metaphorical bigger-than-life Messiah, leading a mighty army while riding on a charging white steed, God once again sends us a pregnant teen-ager on a donkey, leading a parade consisting of one very confused middle-aged man, some dirty shepherds and a handful of refugee wizards. “Life is a series of adjustments to reality?’

And the only question is – are we ready to adjust our expectations to the reality of the Christ child who has come to be with us in this world?  Are we prepared to make room in our hearts and in our lives for the surprising and unexpected Good News that God has sent to us?

Like the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Amen and Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year A

For December 18, 2016

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Remember, you can use the “Search” feature to the left to look for previous commentary and sermons on any of the lectionary scriptures on any day of the three-year cycle!

A brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here)  Kindle version is also available!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I don’t know when the idea of “regifting” became common, but I do know when I first heard it – an episode of Seinfeld.  Elaine called her dentist a “regifter” because he gave Jerry a label-maker that Elaine had given him the year before.  I think some discreet regifting can be a good thing.  Often someone, out of the goodness of their heart, gives you something you can’t possibly use or appreciate with the full devotion it so richly deserves so – out of the fullness of your heart, you carefully find an opportunity to re-wrap it, re-label it, and re-gift it to someone who will surely use and appreciate it more than you ever will.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I thought of regifting and repurposing when I read our scripture lessons for today.  We have similar, but not identical, versions of a promise, a sign, of a young child being born.  Matthew has taken an old, old story from Isaiah and has repurposed it for a new situation. And for us, the really important thing to think about is not the fact that the stories concerning the promise of the gift of Immanuel, “God with us,” are so similar.  The important thing to consider is that the responses of the people who received the gift were so different. One person was given the gift and rejected it; the other accepted the gift of Emmanuel and it changed his life.

In Isaiah, we read the story of Ahaz, king of Judah.  This is a time when the people of Israel have split into two competing kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  The Northern Kingdom has made a political alliance with the king of Damascus and has become a political threat to Ahaz and the Southern Kingdom.  He is fretting about what he should do.  He has been in negotiations with the much larger kingdom of Assyria for protection.  Isaiah warns him that this is not a good idea.  He sternly advises Ahaz to keep the faith, to trust God’s promises. Ahaz remains noncommittal.  The Lord, speaking through the prophet, persists, “Ask for a sign.  I’ll give you a sign, something to assure you that I mean it.”  But Ahaz demurs.  His words, “I will not put the Lord to the test,” sound pious, but they are not. He has already decided to trust a powerful king with armies he can see rather than rely of the promise of a God he cannot see.

Isaiah looks around the throne room and points at a pregnant woman, “Look, that young woman, that “almah,” will soon have a child.  I tell you – before that child is weaned this crisis will have passed. It will all be over without any help from Assyria. Trust me and trust God.  We have not been abandoned by the Holy One. Be patient, God will provide.”  But Ahaz rejects the promise, the sign, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

Fast forward 800 years or so.  We all know the story.  Mary is supposed to be come Joseph’s wife.  She too is a young woman, an “almah.”  They are betrothed, but not yet married.  Such a betrothal was more than our modern concept of being “engaged,” the only way to end a betrothal was by divorce. Mary turns up pregnant. I’m sure Mary tried to explain about her visit from the angel Gabriel, but Joseph wasn’t buying it – and who would.  He was, as the Bible says, a “righteous man,” so he was trying to find a way to extricate both him and Mary from the situation with as little shame and embarrassment as possible.  And then he had a dream.

In his dream, an angel of the Lord comes to him and tells him to not be afraid.  I prefer the more declarative and directive language of the King James Version, “Fear not to take Mary as your wife.”

Then the angel cites the story from Isaiah. The promise of a child named Emmanuel “God with us,” is regifted, repackaged, repurposed –  for a new time, a new place, a new people.

And Joseph believes the promise of the angel – not only in his head, but also in his heart – as is shown by his actions.  When he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded; he took her as his wife.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Joseph raise Jesus as his own son.

Two men received the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  One rejected it, the other received it. Two men were invited to alter the direction of their lives.  One didn’t, the other did. Two men had an opportunity to trust God with the future.  One turned away to self and the worldly powers, the other turned to God with hope and faith. One man changed nothing, the other helped God change the world.

This Christmas, we too are presented with the promise, the sign, the gift, that is Immanuel, “God with us.” Are we like Ahaz, or are we like Joseph? How will we respond?

Amen and amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

For December 11, 2016

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Remember, you can use the “Search” feature to the left to look for previous commentary and sermons on any of the lectionary scriptures on any day of the three-year cycle!

A brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here)  Kindle version is also available!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a student in a United Methodist seminary a story went the rounds about a video tape that everyone had heard about but no one had actually seen – instead of an urban legend it was an ecclesiastical one I suppose. The story was about the summer Lay Pastor’s School. Many small United Methodist churches are served by second career ministers, many of whom are bi-vocational. Instead of going to seminary, they commit to several years of attending Pastor’s School, while also pastoring a church and many times holding down a secular job. I have known many lay pastors over the years and most of them are some of the best parish ministers I know. A few others – not so much.

The story is about a man who new to the Methodist Church, who had been raised in a Pentecostal tradition and brought much of that ethos and sensibility with him to Pastor’s School. The tape was of his first sermon in preaching class. He said, “I got here today to preach and this preaching teaching fellow asked me ‘Where is your manuscript?’ and I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no manuscript.’ So he says, ‘Well, where is your outline?’ And I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no outline.’ And he says, ‘Well have you got your sermon memorized?’ And I said, “How could I memorize it if God ain’t told me it yet?’

He looked at me kind of dumb-founded so I says, ‘Look here, I just flip open the Bible and put down my finger and then God gives me utterance on whatever verse my finger lands on.’ Now this here preaching teaching fellow stared at me a minute, then he says, ‘Well, what do you do if you run out of things to say?’ And I says ‘Well now, I just reach back and grab me a handful of Isaiah and go on!’”

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah in order to answer John’s question about his identity. John was in jail and in doubt. Some time back John had pointed to Jesus as THE ONE, the Messiah, the Savior of the world – but now, well, maybe not so much.

Maybe John, like so many others, had been expecting something else. Maybe John, like so many others, thought the Messiah should be going up side some Roman heads; ought to be kicking some heathen backside; cleaning the infidels and backsliders out of Israel. Maybe that was what John was talking about when he was talking about the Kingdom of God! So, when he heard about Jesus’ teaching and preaching tour and when what he was hearing didn’t match up with what he expected – he asked the question, “Are you the Messiah?”

And Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah. He uses the prophet to show his listener, that he is indeed THE ONE! “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)

I do not know if that answer satisfied John the Baptist but I do know that it often fails to satisfy us, the church. For if we believe that these words summarize what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, would this not be what it means for us to be Christ-ians – little Christs to one another and the world? Much too often we center our thoughts on what Christ has done and con do for us, and think too little about what Christ has called us to do for others.

Advent invites us to prepare our hearts and our lives to receive the Christ. Advent invites us to also be messengers of the Good News that the Holy One is coming. Advent invites us to prepare the way so that the world will be ready to receive the Christ into their lives. Advent invites us to reach back and grab ourselves a handful of Isaiah – not so much with our lips but with our lives. Advent invites us to show the whole world who Christ is by loving them – really, really, loving them – not in words only but in deeds. Advent invites us to be about the holy work of helping the blind to receive their sight, the lame to walk, the lepers to be cleansed, the deaf to hear, yes, even the dead to rise and the poor to hear the Good News, the very, very Good news that God is love and God is near.

Amen and amen.