The Grace of God has Appeared


December 24, 2017 Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20, Titus 2:11-14

Birth is messy!

For those of you that have had children, you will know what I mean. Of course, you have the literal mess from the birth itself. There is also the mess that comes with the total reorganization of lives that have been completely changed by the birth of a newborn baby. Even with multiple children, there is an adjustment that must take place and varies in time for everyone.

In this messiness, we find ourselves living into the uncomfortable. Something that we are not quite acquainted with and at times scares us half to death. This messiness redirects us and we may even get buried and lost in the middle of it all. And as we all know, as we are able to get the messiness tidied up in one area of our lives, it rears itself in another part of our lives. This is a reflection of the broken world that we live.

This broken world was in existence over two thousand years ago when Mary and Joseph made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Now talk about messiness!

Their story is one that is so messy that our stories could pale in comparison. Many of you, by memory, could walk through the birth story that has been retold in the gospel of Luke. It is a story that we hear every Christmas and a part of the essential foundations in our faith as Christians.

They too found that they had to reorganize their lives. A reorganization that would forever change the face of the world and that would lead billions of people to follow a new born baby. It was not convenient though. It never is when an unwed teenager discovers that she is pregnant. Not to mention the fact, that the angel Gabriel tells her that it is the Holy Spirit that comes to her and she will give birth to the Son of God. This turns Joseph’s and her life upside down. After some discernment and a lot of trust in the Lord, they find themselves in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay and Mary to give birth.

The messiness of a stable, surrounded by animals. Not the royal palace that we would assume the Son of God to be born. And he is placed in a manger. A feed trough that the animals were probably recently eating out of until they needed a place to lay baby Jesus.

It is here that we find Jesus in the most unlikely of places! Not the first place that we would have looked, but probably one of the last.

Thank goodness for the angels that came to the shepherds in the field bearing good news and directions to where Jesus had been laid in the manger. In their own messiness, the shepherds are the first ones to come and visit the newborn king. It is in their simplicity and awe that they come to the manger and share the prophecy that has been told to them through the angels. A prophecy that fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrews and one that brings hope to a world that is desperately in need of hope. The shepherds then go out “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Being the first to bear witness to Jesus in this world.

It is in the letter to Titus that the author proclaims, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

What a word of hope that still resounds true for us today!

In the midst of our messiness, the grace of God has appeared!

In the midst of our broken world, the grace of God has appeared!

In the midst of our divisions and fighting, the grace of God has appeared!

It is in this grace of God that we are reminded that Jesus has come to us swaddled in the great love God has for all creation. A love that begins and ends with God. A love that can be found within each one of us as we open our hearts up to the incarnation of Jesus in this world. A birth that brings good news to a world that aches for any bit of good news that it can receive. We are now called to glorify and praise God. Proclaiming this good news for all to hear. God was, is, and will be with us for all eternity. Merry Christmas!

Let us pray, Wonderful Counselor, we give thanks for the news that the shepherds proclaimed as they left the manger. We pray that as we enter into this season of Christmas and into the new year that we be bold enough to testify to this same message. Amen.

Here am I


December 24, 2017 Advent 4

Luke 1:26-38

This has been a short Advent season. Actually, the shortest that it can be. Now, we find ourselves on the cusp of Christmas, and not quite there yet. We long for it and it appears within our reach, yet is still to come. In our longing and waiting for Christmas, have we taken time to really think about what we are waiting for? Are we waiting to receive the material things that were on our Christmas list? Are we eagerly waiting to see the reactions on our loved ones faces when they open the presents we bought them after having spent the past month hunting down the greatest deals.

The greatest gift that we could receive has already been given to us. That gift however, gets lost in the hustle and bustle and flashing lights of what Christmas has been turned into. It starts as soon as Halloween is over, if not before, and distracts us from relationships that could truly help shape us as people of God.

The news that Mary receives in the last Advent Gospel lesson this year throws a wrench into her and Joseph’s marriage plans. First, the fact they were not married yet, created problems for them in the eyes of the law. Being an unwed pregnant mother could result in a death penalty. Mary could have been stoned to death if anyone had found out her news.

Second, what was she going to say to Joseph? What would his reaction be to the news that the angel Gabriel delivered to her? Would he believe her, or would he think that she had cheated on him before they were even married? He may have possibly been one of the first to throw a stone.

This is not the game plan that she had anticipated when arrangements were made for Joseph to become her husband and she his wife. What now would become of their future together? There has to be a point when she realized that she had no control over the calling God had placed upon her.


This is what is most important for some people. The ability to control every individual part of their lives. The moment they begin to lose control, it feels as though everything will fall apart. If you have control, then that means you have power. If you have power, then you are able to make the decisions that will affect the future. The focus is then shifted to the individual person rather than the community.

Some people are much better at relinquishing control than others. We all know people that would rather not be in control. However, who are they following? Are they following someone that is leading them in the right direction, or are they being led astray?

History has its fair share of people that have led others down the wrong path. With the promise of safety and comfort, it is amazing what we can find ourselves doing, even if we know deep in our hearts that it is wrong.

Mary changes everything when she relinquishes control and boldly proclaims to God, “Here am I.” There is also a bit of obedience that accompanies her. In the moments since the angel Gabriel comes to share the good news, she has a decision to make. She could flat out refuse and stomp off in the other direction, or she could listen and discern who God is calling her to be.

What an incredible weight that has been placed upon an unwed teenager. In Luke’s gospel, she does not stumble. She does not hem or haw in any way, other than asking how is this possible? I would be wondering the same thing myself. Pregnant by the movement of the Holy Spirit. Carrying the Messiah of the World.

She is open to the wonder that God has in store for her. Through any fear and wondering that may have crept up in her mind and heart, she is obedient to God and boldly proclaims, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She is prepared for what God has called her to and she does so willingly as she knows the word from the angel Gabriel is one of peace  and endless joy. God has come to her in the words of the angel Gabriel and she is now prepared to carry that Word to the rest of the world.

What does it take for us to relinquish control?

Are we prepared to wait in this Advent season and watch for the Messiah as our Advent candle lighting hymn says?

As we do so, are we prepared to step forward and respond to God’s calling in our lives with a bold, “Here am I.”

Here am I, willing to stand up for my neighbors when they are not being cared for.

Here am I, serving my brothers and sisters that may not be as fortunate as I am.

Here am I, asking for repentance and letting you guide me in this life you have called me to.

We eagerly anticipate the coming of this evenings services so that we can celebrate the birth of the Messiah. A birthday like no other and an opportunity to remember the coming of Jesus Christ into our world to walk among us and remind us that we are loved and saved by grace.

Let us pray…God Incarnate, we sit and wait to celebrate the coming of your Son into our world. As we wait and watch, let us not forget your presence is already with us. May we be patient until your kingdom fully comes to us. Amen.

Sit and Be, A reflection for a Blue Christmas


John 1:1-5, 14

There is a reason that we have a Blue Christmas Service near the longest night of the year. The day that has the least amount of sunlight, in the midst of what most people assume is a joyous time of year. Just walk into any store and they will tell you so. It is not joyous for many people. The holidays can bring a heightened sense of anxiety and also depression. The holidays seem to multiply the realizations that have hit us during the past year.

When we are not experiencing the loss, we wonder what to say to the person that is. We want to have just the right words.

What are we to say to the new father who lost his wife shortly after the birth of their first born child due to complications?

What are we to say to the woman whose fiance was struck by a car while walking on the sidewalk and ends up in the emergency room and dies in the hospital?

What are we to say in the present moment when it appears that all hope has vanished?

Just maybe, nothing needs to be said.

The presence of another person is the one thing that truly matters. To comfort as God comforts us. Just being present in the moment and providing a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or patience to just sit in the silence. To sit and be. To live in the moment with someone that is truly struggling and to witness to the pain and suffering.

Being with others can be the beginning of healing. That is the hope of this service tonight. To just be a presence in your life and offer an opportunity to sit and pray, or simply just be in the moment. In our silence, God is present. In our words of prayer, God is present. In our voices, God is present. You may not feel it in the moment and I completely understand. Because some things we experience are truly awful and it is difficult to find God in the midst of any of it.

So, maybe we do not need to celebrate. Perhaps we just need to sit and be for awhile. To sit and be comforted. God calls us into relationship for this very thing. To love and be with one another. We do not always get it right. In fact, we probably get it wrong more times then we get it right. Being present for one another and sitting in the silence can and will open up an opportunity for Christ to work in the midst of it.

God came into this very world to just be with us! To walk with us. To sit and break bread with us. To listen and pray for us. In the incarnation there is a hope that can never be banished. This hope has been with us from the very beginning with the Word, and all things came into being through it. That means you and me. That means Christ can be found in all of us. To truly embrace it, we open ourselves up to the love and grace of God that has come and walks among us.

In the bleakness of winter, let us be. Let us just sit and wait and be reminded of the hope that was, is, and will be with us in Jesus Christ.

Longing in the Wilderness


December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

At some point in all of our lives, there is a longing that resides within us and it can be hard to name. We know that something is calling us to greater things, but we are not sure what it may be. The longing can take on the form of nostalgia as we look towards the past and wish that we were back in a time where things seemed much simpler. Those days when we were children and we did not have too much to personally worry about. We long for that time where we may have felt more secure. That same longing can also bring a sense of pain as old memories are restored and we are confronted with those things that we would rather not approach.

The institutional church is great at longing. Longing for days past. Longing for days when there were a 100 children in Sunday School and the sanctuary was full every Sunday. Yet, when we long for the things that were, we tend to forget God in the present and the trajectory that the Spirit is guiding us.

There is a longing that we can point to this morning within our lessons. First, in Isaiah, the people of Israel are nearing the end of their Babylonian Exile and there is a longing for what they had many years ago. They longed to be back in Israel and the familiar, even though a couple of generations had passed. They knew it was their home and they longed to return to the land of their ancestors.

This is picked up in our gospel lesson from Mark this morning. “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” There is a longing among the Jewish people that takes place across time. A longing to be in touch with God. A longing to repent of their past grievances and to be found righteous in the eyes of God that had seen them out of exile.

In the longing, they find themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness can be a scary place if you are not familiar with it. You don’t know what is around each bend and each turn could lead to the unexpected. The wilderness does not tell them when it will end. The wilderness can make them forget who they were, or it can help them look toward the future.

Everyone of us could point to some time in our lives when we found ourselves in the wilderness. A time where we felt lost and did know where to turn. A time that all hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps, some of you may even being finding yourselves in that wilderness now. Amid the decorations that we have up in preparation for the Christmas Season, celebrating Christmas may be the farthest thing from your mind.

We may find ourselves longing for days when we felt more comfortable. We even celebrate the days gone past. Richmond has the Good Old Days Festival. My hometown, has a Frontier Days Festival. Now, I am not saying that we should not remember those that have gone before us and helped lay the foundation for our families. These festivals are great for building community and being in relationship with one another. Our Jewish ancestors had several festivals that they celebrated and still celebrate to this day. As we look towards the past, let’s not forget that God is working towards the future.

Those days that we felt comfortable, may have been uncomfortable for others. This is not the kingdom of God that Jesus preaches. The entire world will continue to find itself in the wilderness until we can come together and be reconciled with one another.

In the wilderness the Israelites find hope. While they may have been in the wilderness for decades, Isaiah tells them that their waiting is over and they are being called back to the homeland. It is John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness that proclaims he is clearing the way for someone even greater than him. While John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it is merely with water that he baptizes. It is in the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist prepares the way to lead people out of the wilderness. It is in Jesus Christ that those that have followed John will find the true God. The God that forgives all sins and breathes the Holy Spirit upon people, calling them to continue proclaiming the good news. That is the first verse of Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark wants to let his readers know what they are going to be reading. This is the good news that comes to the people of Israel as foretold in the Hebrew scriptures, This is the good news that they have been waiting for. This is the good news that was with creation at the very beginning.

In the midst of our own wilderness, many of us are still searching. Searching for something that may be lost. Searching for meaning in our lives. Searching for what it is God is calling us to. Perhaps, you have given up searching. It is hard work, that is true. As we find ourselves in the wilderness, Jesus never said it was going to be easy.

The people that began following John the Baptist were searching for something. They were longing for something greater. People today are searching as well. Longing for deeper relationships and yearning to find meaning in a life that sometimes feels overburdened by the negativity of our world. It is in the voice crying out in the wilderness that we find our hope. We first hear of Jesus Christ, in the gospel of Mark, from John the Baptist. He is simply preparing the way.

The way has been prepared for us. Jesus has come into the world and fulfilled the prophecy of the prophets. In Jesus Christ, we find the grace of God in flesh for all people. The grace of God that welcomes in saints and sinners alike. The grace of God that calls us out of our longing and searching. The grace of God that loves beyond compare.

As you find yourself in your own wilderness, look for those that have prepared they way, and listen to the voice of God calling you and naming you as a beloved child. For as Mark writes, “this is the beginning of the good news.” Do you understand that? It is just the beginning. We find ourselves in a wonderful story that has not come to completion yet. In this story we find hope and grace.

Let us pray. . . .God that fulfills our longing, we come to you in the middle of our own wildernesses. Reveal to us the calling you have placed on our lives as we desire to follow your Son, Jesus Christ. We give thanks for those that have prepared the way and we ask for strength and perseverance as we wait for your kingdom to fully be upon us. Amen.

Claiming Faithfulness


Mark 13:24-37

As children, we usually first learn of faithfulness as we enter into relationship with our parents. We begin to learn that they are someone to trust and rely on. When we have needs, we know that it is them that we can seek when we do not know where to turn. This continues through school age and into their teen years, even when we think we know more than our parents. Unfortunately for some, parents are not always present and thus the image as God as a loving parent does not resonate. There is then a struggle to justify what it means to be in relationship with God and the thought of faithfulness flies out the window.

This Sunday we begin a new Church year, and like all first Sunday’s of Advent, we have an apocalyptic image presented and the second coming of Jesus. We haven’t even celebrated the birth of Jesus this church year yet, and we are already speaking of his return. Jesus’ apocalyptic preaching begins at the beginning of chapter 13 (vs. 1-8). Here we have the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, which when Mark’s gospel was written, had already happened.

Perhaps you feel a little rushed in hearing the gospel lesson this morning. Why are we talking about the second coming in the midst of our waiting during Advent? Don’t worry, there is an uneasiness in the midst of the disciples as well. They are not yet prepared for Jesus to leave them, even though that is what he has been preparing them for during the last three years. Again, we have the warning from Jesus to “keep awake.”

If you recall, we heard these words just a few weeks ago in the parable of the ten bridesmaids as they were waiting for the bridegroom and half of them were not fully prepared. This could possibly be something that we should pay attention to. There may be something behind this theme of keeping awake. In the midst of keeping awake, one may wonder how faithfulness fits into our practice.

It is in Jesus’ prophetic voice that he is encouraging them to stay faithful to the ministry that they have been doing. In the midst of his death, to not lose hope. And yet, what did they do? On that Good Friday, they went to the upper room and sulked around and did not know what to do. They were living in fear.

We have the habit of doing the same thing when things do not go the way we expect them to. We go and sulk and we begin to lose any faith that we had. We begin to question everything and we are left wondering where to turn next. Just like the disciples.

We too, like to rush. How long ago did we begin to see Christmas decorations up in the stores. Usually, they start appearing before Halloween is even over. We want to look right past the time of Advent and get right to the presents and joyous family gatherings. We fail to take time to listen to God in our waiting and watching for the Christ child, yet alone the return of Christ.

That is the way we have been taught to function in our society. We saw it just a few days ago with our Congress. They rush a tax bill through a vote without allowing proper time for full disclosures and the opportunities to examine how it will affect the majority of Americans. We have found it hard to delay gratification. We know what we want, and we want it now!

We fail to let God work in God’s time and because of this, that faithfulness that God calls us to as God’s children becomes tarnished.

Fortunately, faithfulness is not a one way street!

Paul reminds the people of Corinth that “God is faithful.” God calls all into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. That fellowship is not exclusive. All are invited to be a part of it. Despite the prophetic warning that Jesus gives the disciples, God is present.

God is present in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple, just as God was present in the beginning. God is faithful through the Word, that is Jesus Christ. The Word that is promised to come again. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus tells them, “but [his} words will not pass away.” While the disciples have no clue exactly what Jesus means in these words, they will come to understand. It is in their staying awake that they will encounter Christ and be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit. A calling that will lead them on their own paths proclaiming the Good News of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While we are called to keep awake, there are times that we fall asleep at the wheel. We forget where we are going and we get distracted by the bright twinkly Christmas lights.  The chaos in our world makes us point to the apocalypse, give up all hope, or truly dig deep and encounter the faithfulness that God has for us. Created in God’s image, we can find hope, knowing that God’s presence is always with us and God’s faithfulness will never vanish.

Our faithfulness, on the other hand, is not as consistent. Because of this, we have the reminder of Jesus Christ breaking into this world to walk among us and encounter the same pain and suffering that we do throughout our lives. In this time of Advent, we wait and watch. We keep awake for the sign of hope found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we find life and are called to live it abundantly.

Rowan Williams, in Being Christian, writes, “The new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, “Where might you expect to find the baptized?” one answer is, “In the neighborhood of chaos.” It means you expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured, and needy.”

This is the faithfulness of God that shines through the darkness for all people, but especially for the lost and forgotten. The hungry and the poor. Those that society has cast away. Through our actions as people of God, we can share that same faithfulness with those that we serve. Those that we help when we support mission trips, welcome the homeless during MCREST, collect food for the backpack ministry and the food pantry, prepare gift bags for the children of Macomb County, and much much more.

As we begin our Advent Season, let us claim our faithfulness and keep awake, not only for the coming of the Christ Child, but for the return of Christ to this world to make all things right.

Let us pray…Expectant God, we struggle and are challenged when it comes to keeping awake. May your faithfulness in us, guide us to claim our faithfulness in you. May we be embraced by your love this season of Advent as we wait and watch. Not just this time of year, but until the kingdom of heaven has finally come into view. Amen.