Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joe the Carpenter

Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent. Brad greeted us and reminded us about the message Elsa gave last week about Mary. Today, Brad would be presenting the birth and life of Jesus from Joseph's point of view.

Announcements chiefly centered on the times for next weekend's Christmas services. Our Christmas Eve service will be at 4:00 p.m. next Saturday. Christmas day there will be no Sunday school and we worship here at 10:15 a.m.

We also sang Happy Birthday for Don Bodin who turned 89 today.

Darlene's rendition of The First Noel was heart-warming and a fitting intro to our time of worship and the singing of carols. After the offering and prayers, Elsa read from Matthew 1:18-25 and Ed Newman sang Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Pastor Brad then stepped forward wearing a carpenter's belt heavy laden with tools to deliver the message.

Joe the Carpenter

Actually, Brad didn't really preach this morning. He play-acted a role, the story of Joseph based on the Haddon Robinson's sermon titled The Neglected Joseph Davidson, which begins...

I think I had better introduce myself. My name is Joseph Davidson. Many of you already know me. I've been hanging around Christmas for a long time. But I suspect that you do not know me very well. Sometimes I feel a bit like the father of the bride in a wedding. Nobody notices him, but he has to pay for the whole affair. I know that you enjoy celebrating Christmas, but I want you to know Christmas cost me a great deal. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

Robinson's creative approach to telling the age-old story can be read in its entirety here. But to really enjoy the full impact, Brad's live "performance" is something not to be missed for the freshness and life he brings to it.

It's good to be reminded of the struggles, the doubts, the pain and confusion, the rough circumstances that were all part of the real story which sometimes gets overlooked in the comfortable surrounding of our modern world. The fresh approach is a tool to help us get through our preconceptions to the earthy realities we often miss. Joseph was real person. Mary, too. And God, creator of the universe, became a baby. When you see a nativity scene or a creche, remember, it really happened.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary’s Song

On a brightly lit winter's morn we assembled again here at New Life Covenant Church in Saginaw. Brad greeted us with his usual "Good morning" and noted that it was the Third week of Advent
Announcements Today
1. This afternoon is our Christmas program at 4:00 p.m. followed by an International meal.
2. We've adopted a family through Salvation Army to help them enjoy a fuller Christmas. Those desiring to contribute, bring your things by Wednesday. Wrapped if possible, but not necessary.
3. To those baking Christmas cookies for St. Louis County Jail… let Ruth Anne know if you are baking cookies. We need them by Tuesday a.m.
4. Next Saturday there will be a family Christmas event… caroling for shut-ins followed by soup and sandwiches, then a bonfire.

After Darlene's introit Brad read to us from Isaiah 2:4 and lit the third Advent candle.

4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Our praise and worship time consisted of singing hymns and carols selected by the congregation, always appreciated at this time of year. The offering was taken and then we read from Isaiah 64:1-4, 8-11

After a time of prayer Elsa Holmgren was introduced to deliver today's message.

Mary’s Song
Elsa began by sharing how she's spent a lot of time thinking about the story of Mary, stimulated in part by an article by Scot McKnight which appeared in Christianity Today:

There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.

Another Mary—the Blessed Valorous Mary—wears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it.

Elsa took the nativity figurine of Mary and was studying it this week, noting how the Mary's gaze was directed toward the Child Jesus. So, too, Mary's words draw our focus to Jesus in her first exclamations after learning about the Lord's purpose for her.

What kind of God would choose Mary of all people? She was the first to receive the amazing news of this coming king, visited by Gabriel. (Luke 2:26ff) It is a grand proclamation with sweeping cosmic news that came to a 14 year old girl who had no status in society… ethnically wrong group, poor, living amongst a people waiting for deliverance from a foreign power.

By the world’s standard, Mary may have been the smallest person in the world that God could find. In terms of social stature and importance she was, in the grand scheme of things, equivalent in significance as plankton in the ocean. From a poor family in the humble estate of nobody.

Upon hearing Gabriel's announcement that she would conceive and bear a child who is son of the Most High God who would ascend to the throne of David and rule forever, Mary ran to her cousin Elizabeth's house and exclaimed,

“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

All this was laying the foundation for a key point that Elsa strove to make. That is, to understand what the Gospel is, it helps to recognize what kind of Gospel it is not.

In those days, there was the gospel of Rome. In Rome's "Gospel" the Emperor was "the power." A system of roads and governance brought a form of peace to the civilized world which was under Roman rule. But in the true gospel, the Good News was that the son of God was an actual savior who would bring true peace…

It is interesting how God chose the powerless to shame the powerful…. And Mary’s song reflects the subversive nature of the Gospel: “God is on the throne and will crush all the Caesars.” Implication: A new king has arrived.

The Gospel of Rome says we have to wear the right clothes, have the right things. The true Gospel says we are not slaves to the Gospel of Rome. Jesus transforms us into heirs to the Good News… the path to Christ’s kingdom is to give up on the Gospel of Rome.

Not only did God become a baby, but He became a baby of the lowest of the low in social stature. He was a man of no reputation… and Isaiah writes of him, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isa. 53:2) All this is in stark contrast to the Gospel of Rome, focused on success, power and a winning smile.

Elsa stressed the importance of rejecting the world's value systems. Only by the grace of God can we have the strength to reject the Gospel of Rome. "Repent of Rome and run back to Him. Our God is not tired of forgiving."

In closing she reiterated that we have a glad invitation to reject the Gospel of Rome and Rome’s rat race… to embrace the Gospel of freedom, meaning and life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Consolation and Hope

During Advent there have been special services during the Sunday School hour. The turnout was strong downstairs preceding the service, and fun. Once we were assembled in the sanctuary, Brad greeted us with his traditional "Good morning!" and reminded us that it was the second week in Advent, the season of anticipation for the coming of light.

Two important announcements
If you are planning to make cookies for people in jail, we'll need your cookies by the 15th. Contact Ruth Anne for details.

Also, next Sunday will be out Christmas program with dinner, starting at 4:00 p.m. Children who are to be in the program should come to the church next Saturday morning to practice from 10 a.m. till noon.

Darlene helped us transition into worship with another nice introit. Brad and Elsa led us in three hymns after the lighting of the second Advent candle. The offering was followed by Leonard's reading of Isaiah 40:1-11. Then Brad took the pulpit and shared from the Scriptures.

Consolation and Hope

Pastor Brad began by reading to us from Hebrews 1:1-4.

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

"When people speak about something with extraordinary importance," he said, "they give us cues." For example, when a teachers says, "This will be on the final," the students takes notes. And when watching TV, when a flashing red bar goes across the bottom of the screen declaring, "Weather Alert" you know it is a message to pay attention to.

This passage underscores that the birth of Jesus into this world was something important. In the past, God spoke through prophets, but here now is a new thing. God speaks to us through his son. Not only is the son the radiance of God's glory, but He is "the exact representation of His being." Jesus is God's ultimate declaration to the world: "If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus."

So what do we see when we look at Jesus. God's entrance into human history was not in a palace, rather it was in a stable, and the infant --God of very God -- was laid in a feeding trough for cattle.

There's much misunderstanding about Jesus, Brad said. But it doesn't have to be. We need to slow down, be still. God doesn't slam a gavel to get our attention. He speaks in a quiet way and we have to listen. Take time to be still and read your Bible. Study the Gospels, what Jesus says and does. Jesus, who was God in human form, lived among us.

Brad then asked us to imagine that God was in the room. He said to imagine the person next to us being God in bodily form. Then he asked us to imagine what must have gone through the minds of Mary and Joseph and those who knew who He was.

Why would God come to a family in a remote part of an obscure country who were an oppressed people? Why not come in a more glorious manner?

In an attempt to answer this question, Kierkegaard once shared a parable about a very great king who fell in love with a common woman who was not royalty. She was a peasant girl, dressed in rags. If he attempted to bring her to the palace to show all his wealth and power, she'd be scared and run away. So he thought and thought, and finally it occurred to him that if he left his throne, removed his crown and set aside his robes, he could approach her as a peasant and perhaps win her heart by declaring his love for her.

To some extent this is the story of Jesus, who thought about these ragged creatures whom he'd made. "How do I tell them that God loves them? How can I keep them from being overwhelmed?" And there was a way. The Bible puts it like this:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

God traded a palace for a hovel.

Who Jesus really was and is goes far beyond these stories alone. Isaiah writes,

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

God speaks in quiet nudgings. And He speaks to us through His Word when we still ourselves.

Here we see Jesus is not just a wise person, but a Wonderful Counselor. A Prince of Peace... and an Everlasting Father who will always be there for us.

"We need to quiet ourselves and listen."

After the message we celebrated the Lord's Supper by singing and sharing "A Carol Setting for Holy Communion."