December 20, 2020 “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” Let’s talk about music for Advent. Truth is, there isn’t a lot to choose from. When you consider the volumes of Christmas carols and songs and cantatas and even oratorios, the poor little season of Advent somehow just gets left behind. But here’s the thing: despite all the Christmas movies and Dolly Parton specials and Blue Christmas’s with Elvis, there is one song that has been with us for over 1200 years that is all about this period – this season – that we call Advent, and it has been with us that long for a reason. It was originally written in Latin (no surprise there) as a series of what are called Antiphons. Seven days before Christmas, the monasteries would sing the “O Antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve at which time the final Antiphon would be sang which honored the virgin Mary. This song has evolved over the years to the point where it was known around the world by the Latin title of “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” which you have probably figured out by now translates into “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Now, the reason I bring this up is because I had a bit of a revelation when it comes to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” this year. I’m always curious as to why certain melodies seem to capture our imaginations and others don’t. So, I found myself on YouTube listening to countless versions of this haunting and beautiful Advent hymn – everything from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Mrs. Smith’s Sunday School singers – when I chanced across an arrangement produced by a site called The Piano Guys and it almost brought me to tears. There was no singing, no lavish production; only a cello and a grand piano set on the porch of what looked to be the entrance to a castle or medieval cathedral of some sort. But it was stunning; it was stunning and because I couldn’t help myself, I scrolled down and began to read the comments that people had sent in. There was 5 years worth of commentary and most said just what I would have said: words like “Thank you, this was beautiful, it was touching” and that sort of thing. Others got more personal. An Aaron Deneau wrote, “This is the kind of thing we’ll be hearing in heaven.” Another wrote, “Thank you, Lord. You saved my life after 20 years on heroin. I am a Greek Christian,” followed by Robin Rubin saying, “When I listen to this song, I think of Jesus and how beautiful life can be with him in it.” What got my attention, however, was a comment from a dude who called himself Some Edgy Teenager, and he wrote, “As someone who usually listens to heavy metal, I’m not ashamed to say that this song is absolutely beautiful. I honestly don’t...

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December 13, 2020 “The Nature of Life As the People of God”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“The Nature of Life as the People of God”   “To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.”  Fred Craddock Welcome to this, the 3rd Sunday in the season of Advent, December 13, 2020. I’m not sure why, exactly, but for some reason I felt it important to put a time stamp on this particular day in this particular time. It happens every year, and this year is no exception: Advent begins in late November or early December; we bring out the Advent wreath, we start to light the candles; and sing the hymns about Emmanuel, God with us, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. It’s pleasant, it’s comforting, and it not only gets us in the spirit of Christmas, but it prolongs this season of light; this season that we have come to rely on for decades to get us through the dark days of winter. This year, we are having to do things different. I guess that’s overstating the obvious, but on this the 3rd Sunday of Advent, it’s especially painful. I mean, think about it: this is the Sunday known as Gaudete Sunday; Gaudete being the Latin word for “rejoice”, or simply, “Joy.” Lord knows, we could use some joy right now. So, all week long I’ve been wracking my brain how in the world to find, to create; to conjure up what it is to be joyful. Now I’m not talking about happy here. If we win the lottery, we are happy. When we are able to gaze upon our first grandchild – that is joy. When we are able to find the perfect gift for the perfect person and they even say those words: “O, it’s perfect!” we are happy. But later on when that perfect person comes up to us and tells us, once again, of the perfect love that they have for us, that is joy. That is joy. My search for joy in this season of conflict and uncertainty, surprisingly, led me to something that a preacher named Fred Craddock said some time ago. When I first read through it, I didn’t know what to think. But after a while, it started to make sense. Craddock tells us, ““To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.” (X 2) Now, we will come back to this later and when we do, hopefully, it will seem a lot less like some sort of word puzzle and more like a wonderful description of the source of our joy as followers of Jesus Christ. But first, a word about the writings of the Apostle Paul to the congregations of Thessalonica....

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December 6, 2020 “This Is How It Begins”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“This Is How It Begins” Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8 Let’s talk about Mark- particularly the gospel of Mark. I was told long ago that if you were only allowed only one gospel to read and study to understand the life and death and teachings of Jesus Christ, then pick Mark. Mark’s Gospel is almost exactly half the length of Matthew and Luke which in the day when scrolls were quite expensive, made Mark’s gospel a real bargain and I’m sure there were quite a few of them floating around. Now, it’s safe to assume that the gospel was written by a John Mark, the same John Mark that had somewhat of a falling out with the Apostle Paul early in his ministry.(Acts 13:13) It’s the time he spent with Peter, however, that proved to be so valuable. The Lord smiled that Peter was able to tell so many of the stories of Christ’s ministry on earth and that Mark was able to record them. In fact, a goodly portion of the  gospel writings of Matthew and Luke came from – you guessed it – the writings of John Mark. Our Gospel lesson today is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel. This is the opening salvo, the declaration of what’s to come – of what to expect. But here’s the thing: as we find ourselves approaching the middle of the Advent season and looking forward to decorating and doing whatever we can to make Christmas meaningful, is John the Baptist really what we need right now? I mean, in better times when the nation wasn’t ripped apart by our politics and the world wasn’t under siege by a devastating disease; in better times, we could get behind the whole idea of “A voice crying out in the wilderness; a voice telling us to prepare the way of the Lord – to make his paths straight.” In better times- in normal times – this would have been simply a part of the Advent liturgy that we are used to: on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, it’s always all about John the Baptist. We read the story and roll our eyes at this man who eats bugs and wild honey dressed in a camel hair shirt. It ain’t a pretty sight. I met a kid years ago who grew up in central California. He used to show up with his guitar and we played songs and just enjoyed ourselves that way. But I remember him telling me about an old guy he knew when he still lived in California: a sheepherder whose family came from the Basque region of Spain. John used to go visit him any chance he could get and this old guy was always glad for the company, being as he spent his days with no one except – – sheep. John said that he was wise beyond his...

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