Saturday, April 10, 2010

2nd Sunday in Easter Sermon

I know it is Easter, but I want to take you back to another church season; that of Christmas. We all have our favorite Christmas movies: the Bells of St. Mary’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and so on. We could take time now to name about a few dozen without even blinking.

One of my favorite Christmas movies came out in the early 90’s and is called “The Santa Clause”. It stars Tim Allen as a business man who has Santa fall off his roof, making him the new Santa Clause. Him and his son get in the sleigh, help deliver the toys and end up in the North Pole.

At first, Tim Allen’s character Scott Calvin doesn’t believe any of this. Like most adults, he doesn’t believe in Santa. He goes along with it for the sake of his son but that is all. He fights tooth and nail all the changes taking over him; the weight gain, the cravings for milk and cookies, the beard that won’t go away. Throughout the movie he is reminded that seeing isn’t believing but rather believing is seeing. He soon comes to terms with that fact that he is the new Santa and the North Pole is real. He learns to embrace his new role.

Here in John, we encounter another moment like in the movie that takes a leap of faith. Thomas is faced with his doubt, better translated as unbelief. He does not believe that the figure standing in front of him truly is the resurrected Jesus. It can’t be. He is dead. He is in the tomb. There is no possible way someone who endured what happened on the cross could truly be standing in front of him. He needs to feel tangibly for himself that it is Jesus. He needs the nail holes in Christ’s hands and feet.

We all have a bit of Thomas living inside of us. We are people who need evidence to base truth on. We have heard the story of Thomas and in many ways we have all lived it. Each of us at one point or another in our lives have probably asked God to “show me a sign, Lord” or “Please God, give me some evidence that you are here”. It is a natural human response to want evidence to base a fact on. In moments of intense pain or times when we cannot sense God’s presence, it is not surprising we ask these questions.
And why wouldn’t we? We live in a world where "evidence" trumps faith. We send robots with cameras to the farthest ends of the universe so we can know for sure what's out there. We won't believe an assertion until a complicated mathematical equation says it's true. And anytime--anytime--there is a wall bearing a sign "wet paint," many of us will touch it just to be sure.

That is the world we live in. That is the way our brain works. We are taught from an early age that to believe, we must see. We are taught this with everything in our lives except when it comes to Jesus. There we are taught to change our way of thinking, to go against what has become the norm. That is not an easy thing to do.

Yet this is what faith calls us to. It calls us to believe with all our hearts our loved one will be healed. It takes us to the place of trust that even though money is tight now, everything will turn out just fine in the end. It encourages us to hope in the impossible, to trust in a God we cannot tangibly touch is there with us, guiding us along the way.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” This is what leaders and visionaries do. They believe in something bigger than themselves and they begin to act as if it is so.

We are called as the body of Christ to take that step of faith and trust in a God whom we cannot touch like Thomas did. We cannot put our finger in his hand or side and know that he died and rose from the dead. We are to believe in what we cannot see.

We are to believe that even though we are not presented with the physical, resurrected Christ we still encounter him on a daily basis. For he lives and breathes in each of us. Just as he blew the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the upper room, he has done the same for us as the church on Pentecost. While he does not stand before us today as the bodily resurrected Christ, he is standing before you this day. He is seated next to you in your pew. He is playing the organ during this service. He is being eaten and drank during Holy Communion. We are surrounded by the resurrected Christ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For Jesus is alive, he is resurrected. God is present all around us. What we are asked to do is to take that first step even when we don’t see the whole staircase. We are to remember that to see isn’t to believe, but believing is seeing. Just because we cannot see Christ as he was 2,000 years ago does not mean he isn’t here. The evidence is all around us, if we would just take the time to see through our belief.

I remember several years ago a person I know well was working as a nursing assistant. After watching a slow and painful death of one of her patients she told me she didn’t know how anyone could believe in a loving God after witnessing such a horrible thing. How could any God allow such a thing to happen? Obviously God wasn’t there.

Not long after that, I sat next to a bedside of someone dying from a very painful cancer. It was a long, painful, and drawn out death. The family and I stood beside the patient, having prayer, along with the family telling him how much he was loved. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but to think about how very real God was at that moment. How much his presence was alive in that room.
That is the difference between faith and unbelief. It is the difference in the lens through which you view. For to look in on a situation such as a painful death with eyes of unbelief, all you see is pain and death. Through the lens of belief, what you witness is something far different. You can see past the pain and death and look at the same scene with eyes that see love and everlasting life.

This is the gift we are given in the resurrection. It is knowing that death is not the end. It is being able to believe and see the world through a whole different light. We can see the spring in the midst of winter. We can know and trust that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and that we too will experience new life. For to believe is to see that the grave is not the end. It is to know that we can proclaim Alleluia with hope and assurance. Amen.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday Meditation

It is a tremendous loss to have someone you love die. It is an even greater loss to watch your Messiah die. To watch as your hopes for a better future are shut down by the furious crowd crying out to crucify him. To listen to the words of judgment being spoken that you know are so unjust. To smell the stench of death as you inch closer and closer to Golgotha.

Yes, it is one of the most painful things we will face to lose someone we love. But to watch as your hope is being shut down as the one you believe came to save you from unjust persecution, hopelessness, trials, pain, and fear is something unmatched. For as you watch the one you call Messiah die painfully and unjustly is to watch any hope that love truly does trump evil fall away.

This is the pain felt by the disciples on that Friday. While words were spoken by Jesus, preparing them for this day, they were silenced by disbelief it could really happen. When words of hope were spoken that this was not the end, they were deadened by the crowds and hatred surrounding them. The day we call Good Friday was anything but good for the men and women who loved and followed Jesus. To them the world they knew with Jesus, and the world they knew prior to his coming, was now about to be lost. They believed they were entering a world that would never see love and hope again; a world worse off than ever before. They believed that what was happening to Jesus would also be the path they would soon take.

To try and imagine what it was like on that day is a task that is somewhat impossible for us to do. Like the reality of the situation was for the disciples on that day, we are too far removed from the truth of the real pain that was felt. We are unable to completely and without bias imagine a world without the hope and grace we experience today. We know the end of the story; to read and hear the words of the Gospel narratives on Good Friday without that knowledge is impossible.

Yet we try. We must try. For we as Christians need to attempt to experience the pain of that day. In attempting this great feat we are able to understand more fully the true sacrifice that the cross is. This is a way in which we attempt to not take what happened on this day, nearly two thousand years ago, for granted.

It is imperative we remember the pain. The pain Jesus felt as he carried that cross to the hill; his body ripped from his wounds, the sweat that covered him, the energy spent. We must remember the agony of the nails, ripping through his flesh and bone. We must remember the weight of his body pulling at his lungs and trachea. We must remember the hurls of insults, the lack of respect, the pain of knowing these are the people for whom you are dying. We must remember.

This is for us to remember, to force ourselves to open our eyes to, for it is us this pain is felt. It is for us that God came down to us in the form of a human. We are the ones Jesus the Christ is experiencing the pain for. We are the reason he was wounded. We are the reason he suffered. We are the reason he died.

Let us remember, take ourselves back to a time and a place of pain. A time that makes the losses we have experienced in our own lives, the ones that cause us the most pain imagineable, seem small in comparison to the death of our Messiah, our Christ. For without his pain, his suffering, his death…we would be without hope.
This is the truth of Good Friday. It is the truth we must face in order to continue on to tomorrow and Sunday. We must know and internalize the death of Jesus to see the truth of the cross. We must know it to understand what is to come. So take yourself back. Breathe in the message. Mourn like the disciples mourned. And remember this is not the end. Amen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sermon on Control

We all have a past. For some, they are pasts we can find pride in. For others, the past is something we would rather forget.

For all of us, there are things we have done in our pasts that bring us shame. I remember well the things of my past that though I would like to forget, still haunt me. One situation occurred as a child. When I was in elementary school, I was a very shy child, and like most 8 or 9 year olds, longed to be accepted. One of my neighbors and childhood friends was very unpopular. She was picked on ruthlessly by the children in our school. Yet I never stood up for her. In fact, I would sometimes laugh along with the other children. Later in the day I would apologize and tell her I didn’t mean it, but yet the next day I would still do it, so as not to be picked upon myself. I still regret my behavior to this day, and even when we correspond now as adults, that childhood past still haunts me.

The season of Lent in the church is one that offers us a unique opportunity. It is a time for us as the body of Christ to journey towards the cross. This is a journey which is to take us, lead us, in a time of reflection, journeying through this life from cradle to grave.

No one in this world knows how long our journey will be. We do not know what challenges will arise along the way. Some may face the ghosts of their past, calling them to reflection, confession, and repentance. Some of us may battle the pain of illness, whether it be physical or mental. We may journey through the challenges of broken relationships or past abuse. We may be faced with realization we must deal with the heavy load we bear financially. This road from cradle to grave brings with it many past or present hurts that we would rather not deal with. We are faced in this journey with the realization that life has and will continue to bring us situations that are beyond our control.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians echoes this truth. He writes to the people of Philippi from prison, reminding them and us of the importance of perspective. We are told that we are to gain perspective by reflecting on our past, present, and future, and how they can come together at any given moment.
Paul is speaking from a perspective that can understand the struggles people may face with their pasts. When we look at my example and Paul’s past, there is a laughable gap between their severity. We know of Paul’s past from his account in the book of Acts. He was one of the greatest persecutors of Christians in his time. He was known to torture and kill any followers of the Way, the name for Christianity at that time. He would harm women, child, and men, all because of their profession of faith in Christ.

Paul does not shy away from acknowledging his past to the people he is writing to. He knows that through reflecting on and acknowledging his past, it makes his claims and boasts as a Christian even more authentic. Paul is able to reflect on the sins of his past, yet embrace with pride the things which he has and continues to do that is for the Gospel. His words are considered more honest and real, and people listen to him, because he is able to boast of the Gospel while acknowledging that he once was one that caused harm to the church.

In Paul’s writings, he takes time to compare himself to his opponents. He acknowledges that once they were his peers, and then states that the things he did in his past count for nothing. While he does not say that as person in the past he had no value; what he is saying is that what matters is the here and now. He is putting his life’s journey into perspective.

His perspective has changed. The things he valued in the past no longer have meaning. Once, Paul valued power, riches, and control. While he hasn’t disengaged himself completely from his past, as he still counts himself an Israelite, and he is still quite zealous with his behavior…he no longer seeks the things that do not matter. What has changed is his standard. For you see, Paul no longer evaluates his life based upon what he has or how much power he has gained; For Paul, that standard is now his understanding of the life pattern established by Christ.

Paul now views his life through the lense of the cross. He recognizes that faith and service are what constitutes as a way in which to evaluate ones life. Paul knows that the things of this world will happen and are beyond our control. What matters is not that they happen but how we respond. Do we respond through selfish means in order to gain, or do we respond with faith, hope, love, and hearts that serve. Do we respond through the lense of the cross?
Paul acknowledges in his letter to the Philippians that the future has as much impact on our present as does the past. We can easily become trapped in the despair of the past, making us feel as though our faces are against the wall with no where to turn. In contrast, hope in the future can help us to press on towards the unknown. Indeed, our present is shaped from what we have experienced and what we have to hope in.

As we hear in Philippians, Paul had great hope in the future. His writings are surrounded by words of encouragement and hope in the promise of the resurrection and life in Christ. This shaped how he faced the present and helped sustain him in the present, urging him on towards the future.

As we face this life, we can learn a great deal from Paul. While there are so many things that we face that are beyond our control, we can know that living in this present reality is a part of the journey. While things may have happened in our past that we are not proud of, they are a part of our journey towards the cross. We can use those experiences to help shape how we deal with the present. We can look towards the hope of the future, knowing the promise given by Christ that we will receive the prize, we can have hope and trust in the resurrection of the dead.
This hope, and this encouragement we receive from Scripture, can help us to face those things which are beyond our control. In our Gospel reading, the disciples and all who loved Jesus were learning of what was to come. They refused to accept that indeed Christ was going to die. While they didn’t want to accept the fact that they could not control the bad things from happening to Jesus, there was hope to be found, there was comfort that was offered.

What we are told in this lesson is to not simply look at the small picture of our pain and suffering, but to look at the larger scope. While Jesus’ death looked hopeless to the disciples, it was not. While the pain had to be felt and the suffering had to take place, there was hope to be found in that moment. This is our journey from birth to the grave. This is the gift of this Lenten season, for we are reminded to open our minds and hearts to the bigger picture. The grave is not the end. Suffering does not last forever. Joy is to be found beneath the cross. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Surgery Info

Hey everyone, sorry for being so out of it in terms of blogging. My life has been eaten up by jaw problems and work. If you have not been following my other blog, there is a lot of info on my upcoming surgery. Please visit: for more info.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Little on Life

Here is an update from my other blog (link in previous post). I thought I might as well share it on here since this has been a larger part of my life lately. I recently went to my first consultation with my new oral surgeon at John Hopkins.

Other than this, things are going fairly well. We had a great Christmas. My mother was in from Alaska for the last month. My sister Jamie also joined us for two weeks. It was great to have a house full of people and made the holidays so much fun.

Both congregations are doing well. It has been difficult to keep up with work when my jaw has been doing so poorly. Pain management hasn't been so great, so I am having to learn how to balance things. It hasn't been easy but I am learning. I really feel God is testing me in new ways and I am growing from it. Looking forward to a calm period in life any day now though... :)

Alright, here is the update from the other blog. Hope you are all doing well. Promise to keep the updates coming more frequently from now on!

I apologize that it has taken so long to post about my appointment. The past few days I have been extra tired. It's been exceedingly difficult to maintain my schedule with the fatigue.
By the time I would sit down to post, I would fall asleep!

The hospital was much larger than I expected it to be. While I had visited before, I never actually went inside. This would have been a good idea, as it took much longer to make my way through than I anticipated. It would a good thing I arrived early because by the time I made my way from the parking garage to the oral surgeons, I only had five minutes to spare! It took about 20 minutes to walk from my car to the appointment. Amazing!

They did a panoramic x-ray which I expected. I hadn't had one done in a number of years so it was good to have a new one done. I was glad I had brought so much of my medical history with me, including a written report from my ENT, the original write-up from my accident, and a list of all the medications and treatments I have had over the last few years. It was much longer than I had realized but shows just how much treatment i've really gone through.

What we have found so far is that the condyles of my jaw are flat with bone spurs on them. The condyles are supposed to be rounded so this is not good news but is to be expected with the length of time I have had TMD and the clenching/grinding I have been doing for 22 years. They also found I have signicant myofascial problems which we already knew. We will not know much else without an MRI.

The appointment was about an hour long. There is little hope for conservative treatment due to the fact i've already done almost everything there is to do. They do not want me using the NTI splint anymore because it is doing more damage than good. The doctors (there were two) prescribed 800mg 3 times a day of motrin plus a new muscle relaxant (skelaxin) to see if it will help. In a couple weeks i'll go in to make a mold for a new mouthpiece to wear 24 hours a day. They are hoping this will help a bit.

If this doesn't work they will do athrocentesis. This is an outpatient procedure where the doctors go into the jaw laproscopically, clean out the joints and look around to get a better picture of what is going on. While they do this they inject steroids into the joint. If this doesn't work we will move forward with surgery.

The surgery we are planning on is twofold: The doctors will round out the condyles to give them a normal shape, hopefully prevents the discs from getting lost again. They will then attempt to get the discs back to where they belong. If the discs are too far damaged, they will remove the discs permanently.

90% of cases of TMD do get better with conservative treatment. The doctors said they would have expected to see mine respond better by this point. I will admit, I hold little hope for mine to get better without surgery; maybe i'm just too much of a pessimist at this time and place in my life. I think i've just been through too many treatments to have hope anymore. When the doctor wrote out the prescriptions I just kind of rolled my eyes. I've been doing NSAIDS and muscle relaxants for so long, why would a higher dose do any good? Oh well, you just go with it and make them happy. He told me it is to look good for insurance. He said most of these steps are too look good for insurance, and because most cases do get better. He also said though that no doctor ever expects to see a jaw look like mine at 29 years old. So I guess i'm just the weirdo. :)

My physical therapist encouraged me to call the doctor back after my appointment to ask for trigger point injections. He felt the motrin/muscle relaxant therapy was not enough for me. Since I would have to wait three weeks before seeing the doctor again, he didn't want me to continue hurting. My PT feels the muscles are too tight to be relieved through pills and I really need the injections. So, I called hopkins up again and have an appointment for the 13th. They wouldn't let me leave a message for the doctor to ask if he would be willing to do the injections. All I was able to do was make the appointment. I hope the doctor is willing to do it, otherwise it is a wasted 6 hours of driving. Oh well, here's hoping! The shots don't sound pleasant, but if it helps relieve the pain for a while, it is a good thing.

Overall, the appointment was amazing. He is a tremendous doctor, considered I guess the #1 in Maryland and one of the top in the nation. He treated me with a lot of respect and listened so well. I've never felt so validated in regards to my TMD and I really feel like i'm in good hands. It is the first time I know there is some direction with this and I have hope that maybe one day I won't be in pain. Just having that hope makes it all worth it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2nd Sunday of Christmas Sermon

Before I post my sermon, I will share with you that I do now have a second blog. I was planning to keep this other one anonymous, hence it being completely separate. After much prayer however, I felt it may be beneficial to share it with you. This other blog is solely about medical. It is not glossed over at all and can be rather depressing which is another reason it is separate. I didn't want this blog to be about that. I am possibly approaching a surgery or two (hopefully only one) to deal with something I have been semi-privately faced since I was a child. If you would like to follow this journal, the site is: I created this site as a way to start journaling my feelings and to possibly connect with others. I've never really talked openly about it so it has been quite healing already...and I only started it a couple days ago! Anyway, if you want to read it, I would love your prayers. If not, I don't blame you. Again, i'm not my normal bubbly self on it. Alright, here is a sermon for you.

Love to you all. I promise i'll post a real update on here soon. Sorry for being so cut off lately. I will catch up with all of your blogs soon. Miss you all and thank you for staying in touch!

As our world watched the ball drop over Time’s Square a few nights ago, ringing in the new year of 2010, there were shouts of joy, hugs, resolutions, and auld lang syne sung from coast to coast. New year’s is often thought to be a time to reminisce about the good times of the year past, and a time to resolve to make the new year that comes about one that will be even better. We resolve to lose weight, watch our finances, be better parents, attend church more.

As I’ve listened to the news over this last week, I’ve heard almost a sense of urgency to ring in this new year. The sense of bullet proofness we once had as a country seems to have been shattered a bit. As we recently felt the threat of terrorism touch us again, fear has rung within hearts and within the media. The economic stability of our country has been shattered as financial institutions fail, the Dow tanks, and oil prices have escalated.

I recently read the statistic that sadly psychiatric hospitals nationwide are reporting that admissions have more than doubled due to people suffering extreme stress about home foreclosures, job losses, and plunging stock prices.

People around us are looking for something to hope in, to trust in as the year ahead emerges. As this new year begins, I have heard more people come to me asking for prayer that this new year will be better than the last one; saying it has to be better than the last one. Their hope, their faith, is depending on God bringing them some good news in this new year of 2010.

The storms of 2009 were too much, the weight of the losses, those that were economic, those of health, of loved ones, and the many other kinds that come sweeping along overwhelmed this year and overwhelmed their hearts.

In the Gospel of John, we are given truth, we are given hope, and we are given a promise. We are given the truth that has been with us from the beginning of time. In his opening statement, John starts out with the phrase that says, “In the beginning”. It opens this way just as Genesis does for a purpose. For in the beginning was the Word, Logos. In greek, Word, or Logos, can mean many things. In fact, it’s definition takes over 60 pages to define.

It means so much more than the simple written word. It means so much more than logic. It means so much more than God’s word incarnate, Jesus Christ. In fact, I could preach on this one complex word Logos for days on end and not get to the heart of what God’s logos means to us, but thanks be to God I will not do so this day. But know this truth; God’s Word, God’s Logos, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the word made flesh, was present in the beginning of time, actively creating the world, the birds, the waters, the air, the animals, humanity. God’s word, Logos, came down to earth and became human out of love for creation.

It is important for us to understand this word Logos, because the Word, the same word who has been loving us and creating us since the beginning, came down to earth to save us from our sins by dying on the cross and rising from the grave, and still comes to us to bring us hope. The word, God’s Logos, has not left us.

The word of God is still very much alive. The word is the light that shines in the darkness. It is the message that we receive as we enter this Epiphany season. The word of God offers us hope as we hear it read each and every time we open our scriptures. Each time we hear it said, The word of the Lord, we are reminded that indeed, the word of the Lord, God’s Logos, the word made flesh, is alive and present in our midst. God’s logos, is offering us hope as we enter this new year.

Here, in today's scripture passage we hear this hope echoed in John. Did you know that this very passage, the opening chapter of John, is a nativity story? Certainly, we do not hear about a manger. There is no Mary riding in a donkey, there is no Joseph, no star in the east or shepherds watching over their flocks by night.

But what we do have is the logos, God’s word made flesh, God’s word incarnate, God’s love being birthed into this world through human flesh. God became just like us, hands and feet, dirty diapers and all through the Christ child so that we can become like him. In Jesus, we are able to see the face of God, the hope and promise that we are cared for, we are loved, we are forgiven.

Just as the logos comes to us in scripture, he comes to us in the waters of baptism. As we are reminded in the words of Paul this Sunday, God has adopted us as his children through the water and the word. We are made a part of God’s family through the word made flesh, through Jesus Christ. God comes down to us in this act, through the logos. We are sealed, we are marked, as his own.

The logos is alive and well in Holy Communion through the elements of bread and wine and through the word. Through the element and through the word, we know that Jesus Christ is indeed present and we are fed with his body and blood. Through the logos, we know that God comes down. We know that we are fed for the journey, to share the good news that the word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ forgives our sins and his grace is sufficient.

We can know that through us, God’s people, the word, God’s logos, is alive within this world. We are called the body of Christ. Jesus tells us that we are members of his body, here to spread his word throughout the world. We have been called and sent to continue keeping his word alive. We are entrusted with his message. We are part of what keeps the hope alive. We are a part of his promise. We are a part of the promise to reach out to one another during the difficult moments in each other’s lives. We are one of the many ways in which God does come down for one another. We are bearers of the good news to one another. We are the ones who can bring hope to the hopeless and joy to the one in sorrow.

As the Christmas season passes and we enter the new year, it is easy for us to forget the Christmas message. It is easy to walk passed the newborn king and neglect the message that God came. While we know that God has come, what we often do not let sink into our hearts is that the God who has come still comes. The newborn king in the manger is not left in the manger. The newborn king who grew into an adult and died on a cross was not left on a cross.

The logos, the word made flesh, still comes. As we enter this new year of 2010, let us remember the good news we can trust and hope in; the promise that we have assurance of. Let us remember the word made flesh, that has been with us since the beginning and will never leave us. For he is a light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Amen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon

There are many words used to describe this time of year. Within our culture people will tell you that Christmas is their favorite holiday. When asked to describe how one experiences this season, they will tell you it is filled with “happiness”, “contentment”, “laughter”, “memories”, “busy-ness”, “warmth”, and so on. One of the words I hear most often used to describe this season, especially within the church realm is joy.

When you look up the word joy, you will find Webster defines it as “the emotion evoked by well being, success, or good fortune”…you will also see a secondary definition listed stating that it is a “state of happiness or felicity”.

In considering the Christmas celebrations we hold in our homes, surrounded by the presents, extravagant meals we bake, and the decorations that adorn our tables, shelves, and walls, the joy we experience from these things work well within Webster’s idea of what joy is. This kind of joy does indeed bring about some sense of success and happiness to our lives.

Where Webster tends to falter however, I believe, is when we come upon the story of that Christmas eve so many years ago. When the angel appeared to the shepherds on that night and proclaimed, “do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” For here, in this story, we learn about a different kind of joy. It is not your ordinary kind of joy, it is great joy, proclaimed to us from the highest realm, from the messengers of God to the ordinary people, sharing the good news that a savior has come.

For you see, the problem with Websters idea of joy is it has a hard time getting past the realm of something that is self-induced. Within our culture, we scramble to make our own joy, to find our own joy. This is why so often walmart parking lots are full, Christmas parties are abundant, and the bars are always packed…people are trying to find real, pure joy.

Real joy, true joy, is not something we can make ourselves. It is not found under the Christmas tree, in driving out to do our Christmas shopping. We don’t find it in the hundreds of goodies we get to eat throughout the season or even in the Christmas specials we watch on television. While we can find some form of joy in these activities, how long can it last? 15 minutes? An hour? When the television goes off, when the last cookie is eaten, or the last gift is unwrapped, we will again find ourselves empty and void, with the little high worn off and will be reminded that self induced joy is not the real thing.

The real joy that we receive is not a product or even a byproduct of something. It is not a spinoff of something or the generic brand; it is indeed true and authentic. It is why we are all gathered here on this evening. It is the reason for the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds.

True joy is a gift, given to us simply because of our loving God. It is the good news humanity had been waiting for, longing for, or as scripture says, “groaning for like a women in labor pains.” We had been anxiously praying for the coming Messiah, the savior who would free us from our sinful selves.

This was something we had learned overtime was the kind of joy we could not do on our own. Humanity had learned the hard way that this was not the self-induced kind of joy; it had to be the real thing. We needed to wait for God’s help, for we were fully dependent upon his grace. And so we waited, anxiously, yearning, for the day that the Messiah would come and bring us the true joy, the real thing. And finally, it had come in the form of a baby in a manger.

For you see, this is real joy. It is something that happened to us, to humanity. It wasn’t because of something we achieved. We didn’t do anything to earn it. We didn’t do anything that was deserving of the Christ child. Jesus’ coming was solely a gift, given to us because of God’s love. The joy we experience is our response to the gift that we have received.

We are joyful because we know the bad news. We know that without God’s love, without this Christ child, there is no way we could free ourselves from our sin. We know that we are in bondage. The reality that without Jesus coming, we would be condemned to death is something we all face. Knowing the truth of our situation makes the situation so much greater. It makes the joy so much greater.
The birth of Christ is a story that is about joy, true joy. It is about joy at its purest form. When we understand the joy of Christ’s birth, it brings about a greater understanding of what joy means in other areas of our lives. At the birth of a new child. When we go in for medical tests. At the death of a loved one. At a birthday celebration. At the homecoming of a grown child. At an Easter celebration. At Sunday worship. At a gathering of friends. As we sit down for dinner.

We can understand real joy during good and the bad times, the large celebrations and the small ones, in a new light. For Christ is with us in all times and in all places, and his birth message is given to us all.

For Christ’s joy is for everyone to experience because the good news of great joy is for all the people. The Savior, Jesus Christ, is for everyone. Not just those of us who are sitting here this evening but those who are not in worship as well. Not just the reverent, but the irreverent, too. Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous.

It is important for us to understand that God’s message is for all of us, in all times and in all places. The real joy Christ brings is for everyone. If you believe you’re beyond help, know the real joy that the Christ child is the helper of those in need of help. If you believe you’re past grace, know the real joy that the Christ child has given to you his grace. If you believe you’re out of hope, know the real joy that the Christ child has come to restore your hope. If you believe there is no way out of your situation, know the real joy the Christ child has come to take you by the hand and lead you home. Amen.