R1: God of justice and peace, healing and comfort, we see all that is wrong and wonder where you are.
R2: We are a broken people, unable to work together for our common good.
R1: We are a suffering world. Nations are filled with conflict and violence. The earth cries out, longing for redemption, longing for a way home, a way back to you.
All: Our hope is in God’s goodness.
R1: We light the candle of hope that God will come into the world and create his home of comfort and healing. Light Hope Candle 1
R2: Prince of Peace, our spirits rejoice for you look on us with favor.
R1: You have filled the hungry with good things. Grace us to be instruments of your righteousness.
R2: We open our hearts to you – where you make your home.
All: Our peace is in Christ’s coming.
R1: We light the candle of peace because God breaks down divisions and creates a home for all people. Light Peace Candle 2
R1: God of joy, you have done great things for us. You turn our tears into laughter.
R2: You break through the clouds of despair and bring good news to your people.
R1: You proclaim that there is a way to reach home again.
All: Our joy is in Jesus, the beautiful baby boy.
R1: We light the candle of joy because God has rebuilt his home among us. Light Joy Candle 3
R2: God of Love, you created the universe and all that is in it.
R1: You weave into life a beautiful diversity from your infinite palette of creativity.
R2: All varieties of nature call us home to love all we meet.
All: Our love is found in the Lord in the manger.
R1: We light the candle of love for the One who makes his home among us. Light Love Candle 4
Sermonette Become a Manger (Home) for Jesus
Christmas is the beginning of the story of the Gospel, or the “good news”. The challenge of good news is to not get boring. Many publications and programs have tried to meet the public outcry for good news rather than bad and published only good stories. None of them lasted very long. Evidently, the good news people say they want -- they won’t buy. It is the noise of tragedy, destruction, discord, and dissent that people crave and pay for. As Paul Harvey says, “one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers”. That doesn’t make it more important, just more popular and attention grabbing.
So you see the challenge when wanting to get at the heart of Christmas. While it is filled with the scandal, tragedy, and violence, they are all sidebars to the main event. As someone said, “Let's face it: Good news can be boring. [say the following italicized word liltingly, sighingly] God is love. Mary is his favored one. Joseph is righteous. Jesus is a sweet little baby. We've heard the story so often, and we've seen the pageant so many times. It just doesn't get the adrenaline flowing anymore.” Is it any wonder that the world, and maybe we too, get more excited about all the secular hype that has been added to Christmas to make and keep it special – and that takes precedence over Christ, the Son of God coming to our world to make it his home and to live with us.
On the other hand, Roger Rosenblatt wrote, "I have never believed that life is revealed in its cataclysmic moments, its 'wake-up calls,' but rather in repose, when people go about the quieter business of being who they are. Journalists tend to turn to where the noise is. [We need to remember] to look where the noise is not. One can tell far more interesting things about a crowd at a picnic than a mob in the streets, or about someone … writing poems and performing in school plays, or just dreaming without a sound, than when murder [or terror makes someone or something] a 'national symbol.' [or political football]."
We heard this morning that God acts through ordinary people, often in less than ordinary times and places to do his extraordinary work. Babies are born all the time. They are born to rich and poor, in times of calm and in times of storm, in the middle or wars, and in times of peace. They are born in captivity and in freedom. They are born perfect and healthy, and they are born with a wide variety of challenges. UNICEF estimates that 4.3 babies are born every second of every single day. In the mere mass quantity of this activity, the news of birth could very easily become no news at all.
Back then, the movers and the shakers of the Roman world, if not tipped off by signs and rumors of a revolutionary king – even if that had heard about it, would have paid no attention to a poor unmarried couple having a baby in a barn. Maybe that is why the news was first delivered to ordinary shepherds working the night shift.
And yet, anyone who has ever been a parent, grandparent, or a sibling knows that with every new birth into your own family or extended family is not “no news”, it is dramatically life changing – every time. From that day forward, family dynamics will not be the same as before. And in Mary’s case, her whole world is turned upside down. The life she thought she was going to have is gone. She’s not married. She’s in shock. She’s a teenager. She didn’t get pregnant the normal way. Yet, as we learned this morning, she responds with joyful confidence. She has courage. The joy of the Lord is her strength, and Joseph stays with her and they move forward – to a stable, and a baby is born.
But this birth is about more than this particular family. It is about the turning upside down of the whole world. For through the birth of Jesus, God has initiated the restoration of the world redeeming it -- to make it livable -- for everybody. Through Jesus, God is making the world a place of welcome and nurture for all. In Christ, God makes this world his home.
Clearly it has changed history, it is celebrated everywhere. The hope of God’s salvation with its resulting peace, joy, and love is contained in this story. In this birth, a new world order is offered and the whole world is turned around, for God is with us in our world in ways he has not been since Eden; and the shepherds see, and tell everyone, and everyone is amazed at what they heard – because the people who they told knew this had the potential to impact their lives.
But as I was saying, good news… it can be broadcast …. everywhere, but people may watch it like we watch the news about a non-personal, non-item about strangers on the other side of the world – so far removed from us that if we weren’t tipped off by signs and rumors, we’d probably prefer watching commercials about the fingerlings, the toy finger monkeys that are so popular this year.
But by his birth and death God invites us, by believing in him, to become a part of God’s personal family, and just as the manger housed the Christ child years ago, if we allow it and give him room, he makes our heart his manger, his home. And if we allow it, then he is born into us, and we are born into God’s family – and anytime someone new is born into a family, it changes everything, the dynamics of living are different.
Knowing that it changes everything, will we open our hearts and let him settle into our lives again this year? Will we allow him to turn our lives upside down?
This news – this good news – is not the kind we can afford to ignore, but that we will want to heed, to react and to respond, for God is still appearing in our world – just as much as he did in the manger long ago. Pursue these places (not geographical) – not just to see – but to become the manger – to make our hearts Christ’s home. In fact, our only true home is in and with Christ – everything else is just temporary.
But not only to see and to house – but to share the news – because the manger isn’t just for me and just for you – it is for everyone. God is making the world his home, in Christ.
The Christ Candle Light Christ Candle
Will we, in practice, in the reality of day in and day out living -- recognize in our lives and world – the truth behind what we have already symbolically done – lighting candles honoring our hope for Christ, receiving the peace of Christ, celebrating joy in Christ and accepting love from Christ -- all flowing to and from Christ himself?
Know without a doubt that the great mystery of our faith is confirmed by the Spirit, seen by angels, and announced to the nations, believed in throughout the world: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who makes his home around - with - and in -- all who will welcome him.
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