CHRISTMAS EVE SERMON
So welcome back. Good to see you. I hope you feel welcome here tonight. I hope you feel welcome enough that you will come and visit us again. You guys are welcome here. But the bats are not. As some of you may remember who were here last year somehow a bat got loose from the basement or the church steeple right around the time we lit the candles. I mean we had dimmed the lights, lit the candles, I was in this Holy and Reverent mood, and people just started laughing, and at first no one told me why. I was thinking was I making a weird face? Was it actually a dream and I was in my underwear or something? So this year if the bat shows up give me a little heads up okay? Can you do that for me? Thanks you guys are awesome.
As some of you may know it has been a bit over a year since I moved seven hundred miles from Virginia to take this position here at Pierceton Presbyterian Church. And this congregation has made me feel welcomed in a lot of ways. I mean there are a lot of perks to being a minister they don’t tell you about when you enter seminary. I mean I get free oil changes, free hair cuts, one of my members makes a pretty good bottle of wine. People give me cards of encouragement. Sometimes they give me a Chick Fil A gift card. Which to my congregation members I just want to remind you it has been a little while since I got one of those cards. I am not a hard man to go shopping for Christmas for. The way to my heart is through my stomach. And I love me some Chick Fil A.
So I’ve gotten a good dose of Hoosier Hospitality so thank you all for that. But I am not going to lie, a year out from leaving my friends, my family, where I grew up, Richmond, VA, a city that I loved, I got to admit I am feeling a little homesick. You see I am from the Shenandoah Valley, home of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And a year out I find it strange how my heart aches for those ancient blue peaks. A year out I find I am not as lonely as when I moved here but I have really begun to feel the loss. I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss looking at the Richmond skyline from the lookout in the neighborhood of Church Hill where I lived for about five years. I never thought of myself as a sentimental person. I live in the manse right next to the church building, makes for a short commute, another plus of the job. And when I arrived all my stuff was stacked in boxes everywhere. And to be frank I am the type of person who would be comfortable just leaving those boxes where they were. Watching HG TV is like watching an alien world to me. But the women of the church they got cracking and I got to admit it looked pretty good when they were done. My mom has been out to see me a couple of times since I have moved here. And whenever she comes to visit my blood pressure spikes several points, because she is the sentimental type, and she takes it upon herself to rearrange my bachelor pad which I let so carefully fall into disarray. I get angry while she is here. But when she leaves I relent. Because I look around and I see that my house is not just a bachelor pad, it has become a home, and I needed to be reminded what that felt like. To ward off the darkness I needed to be reminded what it feels like to be at home.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That verse has been on my mind constantly of late as my year anniversary came around. Though our job is to deal with people, being a pastor is a lonely profession. Maybe you have gotten to become friends with a pastor and know that yourself. Maybe you have been through your own trials and you know what it means to be alone in a crowd. Maybe you have left your home to start a new era of your life and you know the feeling I am talking about. And even when you visit, even when you return home, you know it is not the same. Because the journey has changed you. And you understand the old saying, “you can’t go home again”, is more true than you ever thought it could be.
As homesick as any one of us may have felt at different times of our lives I don’t think any of us could feel as homesick as Jesus did. As this verse says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus was and is God. He was free of the trials and the pain that we suffer. He didn’t have to partake in our suffering. And yet the Word became flesh. Not only flesh but a helpless baby. I suppose Jesus could have skipped the entire birthing step. I understand it is an unpleasant experience for the mother I would guess if babies could remember it would be unpleasant for them too. But Jesus knew he had to go all in for this redemption thing. No cutting corners. No taking the easy road. We focus during this Christmas season on the beauty of the manger but the horrors of the cross are not far away. But he did it anyway. Not because he delights in pain and suffering. But as Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” You see the Word became Flesh not because God is angry but because God is Love. This is not to say God doesn’t get angry over our sin. You see psychologist tell us that anger is a secondary emotion, the anger is not the core of what is going on, the anger is about something else. And if God is angry it is because he Loves us and wants the best for us. He rejoices in us as a mother rejoices in her child coloring a picture, even if they don’t color between the lines. And it is for this joy, that we might come home to him, that Christ endured the cross, not only the physical pain, but all the shame, all the homesickness, all the hurt of our hearts. And he has sat down so that we might sit down. So that we may only strive to rest in our Father’s embrace. For as a song that has been catching fire in the Church says, “You’re a Good, Good Father, that’s who you are, that’s who you are. And I am loved by you. That’s who I am. That’s who I am.”
This passage tells us that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The word for “dwelt” in the Greek means to Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was the tent that the people of Israel made for God to dwell in as they wandered in the wilderness. So basically this text is saying that Jesus came down from heaven to go camping with us. I mean you don’t live in a tent forever. He didn’t plan to stick around. He knew what was coming. But he wanted to show us his Kingdom. He wanted to show us our true home, the Father’s house, where there are many rooms, and he has gone to prepare a place for us. And I think the point of worship is to remind us that our home is in heaven and one day the scriptures tell us that Jesus is coming back to bring heaven to Earth and till then we do our best as Christians to show people what heaven looks like. You see when Jesus calls us he will call us to make sacrifices. As Jesus says in Mark 12, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” In other words following Jesus means we will suffer loss. But it also means we will receive new blessings, though we don’t get to determine what those blessings look like.
I moved out here a disorganized bachelor. I got to admit I am still pretty disorganized but I have been dating a beautiful woman named Kari for eight months now. Her name means pure grace and all I can say is that is what she has been for me. The unexpected part is Kari has a three year old daughter. I mean I like kids, people around here seem to like my children’s sermons more than my adult sermons, but the thought of skipping the young couples stage, and going straight to being a dad with a three year old, sort of terrified me when I first met Kari. But about a month ago I was talking to Kari and her daughter EmmaLee on the phone. I was about to hang up and out of my mouth these words just spilled out, “I love you EmmaLee.” There was a pause, and then as if out of nothing a three year old voice replied, “I love you too.” You know I could imagine getting married, that is something I have wanted for a long time. But for the life of me I could never have imagined a three year old girl who is not mine telling me that she loves me and meaning it. I don’t know how to be a Father, or a husband, or a pastor, or anything else I need to be, but I know I have Father in heaven who loves us so much that he sent us His only begotten Son, and I pray My Father in heaven will teach me everything I need to be the man I need to be. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).