Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why are you here?

(This sermon was preached Christmas Eve 2010 at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN) 

Why are you here tonight?

What brings you to 6900 Kingston Pike and Messiah Lutheran Church?

Are you here out of habit? Going to church on Christmas Eve is…just what you do? Are you here out of some obligation…to your spouse or child or grandchild…or, because your parents made you come…or because it’s what your family does, your family always goes to church on Christmas Eve?

Why are you here?

Maybe you’re here because you want to be here. You’re here because Christmas is exactly what it says it is, the Mass of Christ, that time we set aside to worship Christ, the Son of God at his birth?    

Or, maybe it’s some sort of combination of habit and obligation and desire to worship.

Or, is it mostly because you’re genuinely looking for something?


What are you looking for?

What are you expecting to find here?

Are you looking for answers…something to give you meaning and purpose for your life and the life of the world…something to enrich your life?

Or, maybe you’re simply looking for a little hope, comfort and joy because the usual sources just aren’t cutting it anymore?
What are you looking for?

What are you expecting to find here?

Are you here expecting to find…God…the ground of all being, the creator of the universe, THE source of meaning and purpose, the one who can provide real and lasting hope, peace, joy and love?

Boy, that would be great wouldn’t it? If God was actually here, with us this night, if we could see, hear, touch, taste his presence…if we could receive some sign, some confirmation that the myth of God was actually true? 

But, just saying that out loud sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?

If there were a God—creator of everything, stars and planets in this vast universe, quarks and nuclei in the micro-verse, and everything in between—why would he be here? Why would he ever be here, down here on earth? Present here in our lives? Why would God be here tonight?
There’s a story in the Hebrew scriptures of a King Ahaz who ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah during a time of great fear and upheaval. Ahaz, also questioned God’s existence, or better yet, God’s faithfulness. But God, because God has always loved his people, God came to Ahaz anyway, through a messenger named Isaiah. And God said to Ahaz through Isaiah, Ask me for a sign. Ask me anything. I don’t know why, but Ahaz said no, "I will not ask. I will not test the Lord" And you know what God did? He gave Ahaz a sign anyway. Isaiah said to Ahaz, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:10–16)

Interestingly, and contrary to the way we Christians normally hear that text, the Hebrew does not project this sign into the future. In the Hebrew, Isaiah is pointing to the present, to a woman about to give birth as witnessed in that day by Ahaz and Isaiah. And, it’s in the miracle of that birth, in the woman striving in labor, in the love shared between this woman and her son, and in the witness of faith that this woman gives in naming the child Immanuel, which means God is with us, that Isaiah points and says here is your sign. In this woman giving birth, you see a sign of our God who has also been laboring to birth a people, who shares his love with this people, who is and has always been faithful, our God who is Immanuel, God with us.

Now fast forward some 700 plus years to another woman laboring in pain to give birth. As she labors, a messenger comes to a group of shepherds, a group mind you who were the non-religious, the outcasts, a group who had no reason to look for a sign, they were just there because that’s what shepherds do. But God gives them the message and the sign anyway. To the shepherds the angel, the messenger says: 
"Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:9-12)
 Here is your sign, the angel said that night.
Now fast forward some 2,000 years. Here is your sign, the messenger says this night: a child born for us, a child, Jesus, Son of God, who is Savior and Lord.

I know…it sounds ludicrous just saying it.

If God is really creator of all, couldn’t he do something a little more impressive, something bigger, something that would leave no doubt?

Then again, maybe this child, born to a young poor woman, this child lying there helpless and vulnerable in a manger of straw, maybe that is actually the most impressive thing God could do…because it is so foolish, so scandalous.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, 
"The essential meaning of all things came down from the 'heaven' of myth to the 'earth' of history. In so doing, he emptied himself…That is [in coming down we see] the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man;…what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol becomes small, [vulnerable, tangible]--no bigger than a [baby lying in a manger.]” - C.S. Lewis from "Is Theology Poetry" [additions—mine]
Have you come here tonight expecting to find…God…the ground of all being, the everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, the source of meaning and purpose, the one who can provide real and lasting hope, peace, joy and love?

If that’s why you’re here tonight,’ve come to the right place.

God is now here, actually here, with us this night. We have received a sign, confirmation that the myth of God is actually true. And we can see, hear, touch, taste signs of his presence…

In a child born for us, and in his words of forgiveness, hope, peace, joy and love, God is now here.

In water washed over us as grace and forgiveness, claiming us as God’s children forever, God is now here.

In bread broken and wine poured out bringing forgiveness, life and salvation God is now here.

In peace shared from God and between us, God is now here.
In this community of believers, the body of Christ, the church—even in its brokenness, its doubt, and imperfection—God is now here.

And why, you might still be wondering, why would God be here?
Because God has always loved his people, always loved his creation, always loved you.

And whether or not you are here tonight seeking God….be assured, tonight in Christ, God has now come here…seeking you…to love you, to forgive you, to give you the meaning, hope, peace and joy that only God can give. And God promises to keep coming down here…the myth of heaven to  the earth of your daily life…to be with you…to be with us…forever.

Look around you this night. Here is your sign…that God is now here! 

In Jesus name. Amen. 

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