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the sermon for

the Nativity of Our Lord, christmas eve

24 December 2017

Isaiah 9:2-7
We're saved not by our own faith,
but by god's believing!

12242017pmThis has been a big year for us! For us as Lutheran Christians. October 31st marked the five hundredth anniversary of the start of the reformation of the church across northern Europe. It started in Wittenberg, in central Germany, and quickly spread. And we celebrated. After all, five centuries, twenty-five generations of anything is a long time, let alone a movement like ours.

It was early August when I started a special project. T-shirts! Coffee mugs! Any celebration needs souvenirs, right? Toward mid-September, I got the designs to the printers. The shirts were ready, just in time. The mugs? Not so much. In fact, I just picked them up, Wednesday morning! A white mug. Red accents. Black letters. Kinda like Luther's seal on the front of the bulletin. Black cross. Red heart. White background. And nothing about Martin Luther! Nothing about the Lutheran church. It's all about god! So that each sip, every glance, the gospel will be proclaimed! Again and again. Over and over. Cup after cup. Good news to the last drop! "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." Those are the words on the cup. Bottom line, that's the gospel! Bottom line, that's why we're here. Sunday mornings. Christmas Eves. And this is the five hundredth Christmas Eve since the moveme3nt began.

Well, I was looking at one of those mugs as I was getting ready for tonight. By grace! Without a doubt, those are the most important words. By grace! By charity! By love! That's what gives all the other words their meaning. "For Christ's sake!" That's the phrase – more often than not – we tend to overlook, to forget about. Most of the time, we put them off to the very end... if at all! But it's those last words – "By faith!" - that catch our attention! Words that capture our imagination! Because of all three – grace, Christ's sake, faith – it's the faith we can make all about us! God loves us... but only if we believe! God saves us... but only when we trust! God answers prayer... but not unless or until we have faith! We should! We must! We ought! That's the moral of every movie, this time of year. The message of every carol and card! I thought about the sermons I remember hearing! The devotions I recall reading! And more often than not, we've got to believe... or else!

I got to thinking about everything that happens, this night. The angels singing. The shepherds going and seeing. Mary. And Joseph. The innkeepers. Even that little drummer boy, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. So much of this night, this moment, isn't, even, about them! It's not about their believing! If it's about anything, it's about god! If it's about anything, it's about god! You see, here at Bethlehem, here in the stable, god places god's own self into our hands! Here at Bethlehem, here in the stable, god commits himself, god commends himself, into our keeping! All-powerful? Far from it! God, on this night, in this place, becomes weak, vulnerable! God becomes helpless! Think about it, for a moment. God, this night, can't feed himself! God can't keep warm! God can't even change his diapers or wipe his nose! Without Mary, Joseph, god would surely die! Tonight, there is only one person doing any believing. And that one person is god! God believing in us! With all god's heart! With all god's strength! With all god's being! God depending on us! God relying on us! God staking his life on us! Tonight, we become the faithful ones!

I read something, somewhere, sometime... "If you don't trust somebody, you make them untrustworthy!" That's true for god, as well. We can be sinners only so long. Unwilling. Unable. But on this night, god changes all that! Changes all that by believing! Believing in this world! Believing in us! Entrusting us with everything that's holy! It's not our believing in god that changes us. It's not our faith that transforms the world. It's god! God believing! God's faith! God's trust! "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." It's all god! God from start to finish! God from A to Z! God from manger to grave and beyond! We're here, tonight, because god believes in us! Believes deeply! Believes extremely! Believes intensely! And it's all there... lying in a manger... hanging on the cross... stretched out in the grave... returning to the garden...

Faith doesn't begin with us. With our choices. With our invitations. It begins with god! God daring! God having the audacity! God taking the chance! To trust us with god's nearest, with god's dearest. The hopes we sing about, tonight? The dreams? They belong to god! It's god who comes down our chimney and places those hopes and dreams under our trees and in our stockings! Tonight, god takes eternity and lays it in our arms! Tonight, because of god, we cradle infinity! Christmas isn't about power and control! But it's always been about faith and trust and believing!

For the past month, we've been standing with our ear to the door, listening for that cry of a new life! Tonight, that door opens and the child is placed in our arms! In OUR arms! God trusts us! God has faith in us! God believes in us! And because of that, the world is changed forever! This world is born again!

No. The popular picture of believing is us placing our lives into god's hands. It's committing our days into god's keeping. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. But not tonight! Tonight, it is god who believes! Tonight, it is god who commits and commends! Tonight, it's god who takes tomorrow... and all the days after... and gives it all to us! To protect and preserve! To provide for and look after! This night, god makes all things new... by making us the saviors! Entrusting to us this child! It's been a big year for us. A half a millennium of reform. "By grace. For Christ's sake. Through faith." Good news is that it's god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! God's grace! For god's sake! And above all, god's faith in us! It's Christmas, one more time! And as god has hundreds, thousands of times before, god comes to us! To save! To redeem! To set free! But even more, my friends, god comes, again, and places a child in our arms! To have! To hold! Forever!

 
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the sermon for

the Fourth Sunday of Advent

24 December 2017

2 Samuel 7:1-11 , 16
God dwells not in buildings, but in communities!

12242017amIf you've never seen it before, this is a picture of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The one that replaced the First Temple built by Solomon about nine centuries before Jesus and destroyed by Babylon about six centuries before. This is the Temple remodeled by Herod that was standing at the time of Jesus. This is where Jesus overturned the tables and tossed aside the chairs of the moneychangers. Where he chases out the sellers and the buyers. This is the Temple – with a capital T – destroyed by Rome in 70AD. And the only thing that remains of it today is the foundation – the Wailing Wall – that was left standing as a monument to the power of the Empire.

Actually, this is a picture of a model of that Second Temple. A detailed replica, Amazon.com calls it. Hand painted with gold accents. Made from resin. Designed in Israel. Nine inches by six inches by six inches. Only $174.95 + $6.99 shipping! Or you can get the larger versions – two feet by one foot by eight inches – for a little more than twice as much. Or there is a 3d puzzle at only $26.75! But, like I said, this is only a picture. We can only imagine what that real-life Temple must have been like. The glory! The grandeur! This is why the disciples were dumbfounded that day when they came out of the Temple. Overwhelmed by it all. "Jesus," they said, "would you look at all this!"

Truth is, the Second Temple of Jerusalem was one of the wonders of the ancient world! People – both Non-Jew and Jew, alike – came from all over to see it. From descriptions, it sat like a crown perched atop Jerusalem. It could be seen for miles. Sparkling, glistening like a diamond in the sun! Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Magnificent! But the Temple was more than just a place in which to worship god. Somewhere to sing songs and to say prayers and offer sacrifices. It was, quite literally, the house of god! It's where god lived! God's home! God's dwelling place! The Temple was heaven on earth! Theologically-speaking, in the faith of the Jews, the Temple was the center of everything! All roads led here! It wasn't, simply, a metaphor, a figure of speech. It's the way it was! God's palace right there in the midst of Jerusalem!

It's impossible for us to overestimate how important this building was. "I was glad," sang the psalmist, "when they said to me, 'Let us go the house of the Lord!'" He meant what he sang. With all his heart! With all his strength! With all his being! And that dream began right here! In this handful of verses from Second Samuel! With David! Son of Jesse! King of Israel! A millennium before Jesus! The Canaanites – Palestinians – had been conquered. Their land possessed. Jerusalem had become David's capital. The king lived in a palace – in a palace of cedar, we're told. While god still lived in a tabernacle! God still lived in a tent like god had all through the wilderness! So partly out of gratitude and partly, no doubt, out of guilt, David said that he'd build god a palace just like his own! And the prophet say, "Great idea! Do it!"

But on second thought, Nathan said, "No." God doesn't want it. God doesn't need it. Thanks, but no thanks! He went on to explain that god isn't a god of sticks and stones. But god is a god of flesh and blood! God is a god not of buildings, but of people! And if god is going to live anywhere, it won't be in a palace... or a Temple... but between and among people! Living in! Living with! Living under! "I never asked you," says god, "to build me a house! I haven't lived in a house since Egypt! I didn't need one then! I don't need one now! Because I have you! Because I have you!"

"You are my palace," says god, "You are my Temple, my dwelling place! My house!" And for us, here, today, the same is true! This place isn't the house of god; YOU are! Not person singular, but people plural! Y'all are! Y'all are the house of god! Y'all are god's dwelling place! Where y'all are, god is! And where y'all aren't, god isn't! God's not imprisoned within a building, waiting, watching, for someone to come and visit. God is with y'all! Always! Forever! Between! Among! When y'all come here, god comes here! When y'all leave, god goes with you! Wherever you go! For however long you're gone!

And the same is true for Jesus! Jesus isn't up high and far away. Sitting beside god. Twiddling his thumbs until the day he comes back. Jesus is right here! Closer to us than we are to ourselves! Y'all are the Temple! This building isn't what brings people here. The stained glass! The knotty pine! Bricks! Beams! What draws people, what attracts people, is you! Y'all! I'm not sure if this is would be considered heresy or not, but I don't, even, think it's the water or the bread or the wine that brings forgiveness. It's you! Y'all! It's you, it's y'all that creates faith! All of you! Together! Here in this place! That's the gift you give! Give not to god, but give to one another!

No matter how astounding, no matter how incredible, this place, these walls might appear, they have no redeeming value! They save no one! Nothing! You do that! Y'all do that! God does that through you! Whenever you're here! Wherever you go! Through your hearts and minds! Through your hands and feet! Because of your deeds and your words! The church is a people! A people with a mission! To be the house of god! To be god's palace! To be god's dwelling place! To be god's Temple!

So, this is the "so-called" Second Temple of Jerusalem! The one to replace the First Temple built by Solomon and destroyed by Babylon! Remodeled by Herod! Cleansed by Jesus! Destroyed by Rome! The one replace by the Muslims with the Dome of the Rock. But please, be careful. No matter how extravagant, no matter how elaborate, this Temple is not the house, the palace, the dwelling place of god! Y'all are that! Whether you're lying in a manger or hanging on a cross or sealed in a tomb, where you are, god is there! Always! Forever! My friends, this isn't one of the wonders of the world. But you – y'all – are!

 
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