Go Tell It On The Mountain Luke ,16-18 December 1, 2013 Rev. D2

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1 Go Tell It On The Mountain Luke ,16-18 December 1, 2013 Rev. D2 I love this time of the year. When I was young, it was fun when my parents would take us shopping and there d be those mechanical toys in the store windows of places like Macy s and Lazarus. It was magical. When our daughter was young, we would always go down to see the Zoo lights and listen to the Carolers. That was Christmas! It all started right after Thanksgiving. This year I saw Christmas decorations up in stores as early as the end of September. Every year I cease to be amazed at how early Christmas begins. This year as you know, some stores opened up as early as 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day for the Christmas Shopping craziness so that the rest of the world can get involved in the Christmas season. It used to be known as Black Friday, but now I guess we ll have to call it Black Thursday! I don t know about you, but I got to this weekend, and I said, how can it be Christmas already? It just doesn t feel like Christmas yet? But, don t we say that every year about this time? And the truth is, of course it doesn t feel like Christmas yet because the season that you get ready for Christmas is the season we call Advent. It s the 4 weeks, the 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve. Advent is the season when you re getting your mind and heart ready for Christmas. Today is New Year s Day according to our Christian calendar. It s the First Sunday of Advent! Of course it doesn t feel like Christmas. We haven t done anything to prepare yet. So, our culture announces it by doing such things as lighting the lights in Ruhiley Park and at the Zoo and with the official opening of the shopping season. And this is what the opening of the shopping season looks like (Show Christmas Shopping photos) You can see the joy on people s faces as they try to punch and shove each other in order to be the first one into the stores. This is how our culture gets ready for Christmas. And at this same time there are people in churches everywhere who begin to lament the fact that we ve lost Christ in Christmas! We look around and see that things are not like they used to be. It used to be that children used to sing Christmas Carols in schools, but now they have to sing secular songs.

2 2 We re fortunate that our community still allows our school choirs to sing Christmas Carols, but not so with most school districts across our country. It used to be that 3-4 radio stations played Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas and now I think it s just 1. It used to be that at all the city hall s, there d be a Nativity Scene set up out on the lawn, but not anymore. It used to be the store clerks would wish you a Merry Christmas, but now they re instructed to wish us a Happy Holiday. So, in all of these things, we find ourselves feeling a tad bit unsettled about the fact that secularization has taken over Christmas. Instead of the Christmas season, it s the Holiday season. But, I have a different perspective on this now. For as long as I can remember, the culture has been actually telling a watered down version of the Christmas story anyways. I was thinking this week about the fact that this is our story. This is our defining story! I m not expecting the employees at Wal-mart or Target or K-Mart to tell our story for us. It s okay if they want to borrow our story. But, I m not expecting City Hall to tell our story for us. I m not expecting the public schools to tell our story for us. I m not expecting the radio stations to tell our story for us. This is our story! So, if people are going to hear the Christmas Story it s not going to be at Wal-Mart or Target anymore. It s going to be that you told them the story! You see, we re the ones who are called to tell the story! My hope today is to help prepare you for this Season of Preparation which is known as Advent, so you can have the best Christmas ever. I want to encourage us to be modern day angels! You will recall that last year I told you that the Greek word for Angel is Angelos which means Messenger. I want to encourage you to be modern day messengers who tell the story of Christmas. And I want to encourage you to modern day shepherds. So, let s turn to that wonderful story in Luke 2.8 of what happened on Christmas night after Jesus was born. In that region, (That means around Bethlehem) there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Now, this is an interesting way to begin the story.

3 3 God sends the angels to announce the birth of the great king, the long awaited messianic king, the savior of the world. God sends the angels to the shepherds to tell the story. If you were reading this story in the first century, You would have been shocked by this part of the story. It would have actually been scandalizes. You would have expected that God would have sent God s messengers to King Herod to announce in the courtroom of the king that a king had been born. Or at least to have blown the shofar horn in the Temple courts to announce to the Sadducees that the long awaited messiah had been born. But, God doesn t send the angels there. In fact, the angels don t go to the Pharisees who were the pious rabbis at the time or to the Essene monks out along the Dead Sea. They don t even go to the Herodians who were the wealthy and educated upper class in Jerusalem. God sends the angels to the night shift shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The reason why this was scandalizes was that the shepherds were considered the bottom class of society during the first century. They didn t own property. And they grazed their sheep on other people s property which was an irritation. They were not considered trust worthy. And therefore, they were not allowed to testify in courts of law. So, when God goes to announce the birth of the Messiah, who does God send the angels too? It s to these low income, uneducated, lower class shepherds, that s who! And not just to any shepherds, but to the night shift shepherds who were the lowest of them all. I love this about God! The text is telling us something about the nature and character of our God here. God sees the world and people differently than we tend to see them and value them and measure them, right? The scripture says that God exalts the lowly and humbles the proud. That s the nature of God. That s what we see in the story. When Jesus was born, he was essentially born in a stable, which was a first century parking lot because there was no room in the inn. His crib was the feeding trough for the animals. And he was wrapped in stripes of cloth instead of nice baby clothes because his family was poor. And they didn t have anything else. That s how God came to us. So, in the story, we see several things that are important.

4 4 In my multiple trips to the Holy Land, I learned a few things about the shepherds. And what I ve learned is that they are known for their hospitality. They have received me and open their homes to me as a complete stranger. They may not have much, but whatever they have It s yours if you re willing to come in and spend some time with them. Here s what I want you to think about for a second. Today s sermon is about preparing you for Advent and the Christmas season. And during this season we tend to have more visitors and guests come to church. What I know about you is that you want to be friendly, welcoming and caring for people. I don t think any of you get up in the morning and decide to be rude, unwelcoming or uncaring. But, in order to demonstrate radical hospitality, you have to be intentional about it. And what I know is that we tend to come together for church and we tend to sit by the same people every week. And we talk to those same people and then there are people who sit around us and maybe they sit in some body else s seat who normally sits by us and we aren t sure how we feel about that? We see people, but because we don t know them very well we re hesitant to open up and speak to them. Yeah, I know we have a time of greeting at the beginning of the service, but beyond that, we tend to stick to ourselves or to the people closest to us. And I want to tell you that doesn t work when you re a church that wants to care and reach out to people who may not have a church home and you re inviting them to come. If I haven t ever been to church or at least been to church in a long time Do you realize how much courage it takes just to park in our parking lot and walk through our doors for the first time? And then there s this room full of people and I don t know anybody and I haven t been to church in a long time and nobody really talks to me or seems to care about me except for those few seconds of greeting at the beginning of the service Am I coming back? Probably not. It doesn t matter how good the sermon or the music is, if the people didn t demonstrate to me hospitality and welcome. I m not coming back. You see, when you go to sit down somewhere and someone says: O, you can t sit there, that s so and so s seat. I m pretty sure that the person that says that doesn t mean any harm by it. They re just used to sitting by their friends. It s just what you do. But, if you re showing up for the first time and you really don t know anybody, what that feels like is: You re not welcome here.

5 5 None of us mean to be that way. It s just that we re not being intentional about being the other way. And when we re not being intentional about extending radical hospitality, then these kind of things happen. I want us to be the kind of people that when people come through our doors we invite them to join us for coffee or tea after the service. And we learn their names even if we have to write it down on our hands in order to remember it. When someone sits in somebody else s seat it d be nice if you said: I m so glad you re sitting there today. It s nice to meet you. What s your name? Then, begin to connect with them! I think the reason why God went to the nightshift shepherds is because they were the people who were most likely to open their arms wide and leave their sheep in order to go see a baby who was born homeless. And to love that child as though it was their own and to celebrate. That s the first thing I wanted us to notice about the sheep and the shepherds. Secondly, I want us to notice why God picked out the shepherds in the first place. And basically, I think it s because God is concerned about the nobodies, the poor, the weak and the least of these. The common theme throughout the Bible is that God cares about the underdog. So, when God announces the first Christmas, The first Christmas celebration happens among the poor shepherds out in the fields who were nobodies. So, if we re going to observe Christmas, somehow our Christmas celebration ought to be about bringing good news to the poor and bringing joy to people s lives whose lives might be joyless up to this point. Because that s what God did on that first Christmas. We do many wonderful things around here at Christmas. We support the Christmas Cheer Program. We support the Angel Tree Program. We serve at the hospitality Tent during the Parade of Lights. We support many worthy causes from to year. I remember last year we read the book entitled: Advent Conspiracy, as a congregation. And I preached 5 or 6 sermons on the topic. What it was all about was rediscovering the real meaning of the Christmas season. One of the things we challenged you on last year was to consider giving in your special Christmas Eve Offering an amount equal to what you spend on all of your Christmas gifts that you plan to give to your family and friends. I don t know about you, but the challenge for me each year at Christmas is: What do you buy for people who already have everything they want? What more are we going to go buy that they can t buy for themselves?

6 6 Ever since we did that study series, Debbie and I began scaling back what we give to each other and to our families and we are giving an amount equal to what we re spending on ourselves and our families to our Christmas offering. We tell our family members what we re doing so that they understand. You know what it has done for our Christmas? It has forced us to simplify what we spend on ourselves. And it has also led us to a richer and deeper appreciation for Christmas. You may not be able to do that this year, but maybe you can take a step toward it. It might just change how you celebrate Christmas. Let your kids know what you re doing so perhaps they too can gain a deeper understanding and reclaim what Christmas means and is supposed to look like. The reason we do this is because we think Christmas is at least in part about announcing good news to people who may not have much to celebrate. STORY of David Wilson: You see how this works? It s interesting what David Wilson did for his wife. He made up a homemade gift certificate and gave it to his wife. He said: I just want you to know that your Christmas gift this year was that I paid for all the Layaway gifts at K-Mart this year. I hope you re okay about that? The news reporter interviewed his wife and she said: It was the best Christmas present ever! I m really proud of my husband because he really got what it s all about. The newspaper reporter went on to summarize the story and said: God s messengers are everywhere! Remember the Greek word for messenger is Angelos or Angel. God s angels are everywhere. In everyone who lives the message of the Jesus story and anyone who finds a way to make light shine in the darkness is one of God s angels. Can I ask you a question? Are you making light shine in the darkness anywhere? Because that s part of what it s all about! Jesus said you are the light of the world! Let your light so shine before others that they might see your beautiful deeds and give glory to God in heaven. So, that s the second thing I want us to learn from this story. It s God s concern for the poor; And it s the invitation for us to celebrate Christmas the way God celebrated the first Christmas.

7 7 And that leaves my third and final thought that I want us to learn from this story. Now, the angels announced to the shepherds the 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. (Luke 2.11) Those 3 titles for Jesus: Savior, Messiah and Lord Those are big titles which we re going to come back to on Christmas Eve when we ll try to understand what it means: For unto us a Savior who is the Christ the king and our Lord who was born? We re going to spend the next 4 weeks reflecting upon that. But, I want you to hear what happened next. The shepherds left their flocks and they went to Bethlehem and they found in that barn, that stable, the baby lying in a feeding trough just like they had been told. And then Luke goes on to tell us: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke ) From this point on in Luke s Christmas story, there s no more angels. So, the angels came and they announced the good news to the first group of humans. But from that time on it was the human s responsibility to tell the good news to other people. The shepherds went and they told everyone what they had seen and heard and people were amazed by this. And they went home after telling that story and they rejoiced and praised God. There was joy in their lives after they had told the story of Christmas! Let me remind you of what I said earlier: I m not counting on Target and Wal-Mart to tell our story. I m not counting on city hall and the public schools. It s our story. It s our responsibility. They re not the shepherds and the angels. We are the church! If anybody is going to hear the Christmas story anymore, it s going to be because you told them! This is our mission! We have to go tell somebody what Christmas means to us. We have to tell them the good news. And I realize that this requires a certain measure of courage and reflection on your part to ask yourselves: How does Christmas make a difference in my life? How would my life be different if Jesus had never been born? Think about that

8 8 So, you can tell your story to other people. This is how every one comes to faith in Christ. Every single one of you who is a follower of Christ You re a Follower of Christ because someone told you about Christ Maybe it was your Grandma or Grandpa, Your Aunt or Uncle, Your Mom or Dad, Some friend of yours who invited you to VBS, Or to a Church Camp or to a worship service. But, somewhere along the way there was a human being who actually said: Why don t you come with me? Are you able to think of that person s name who s responsible for you being in church today? Because I can think of several people in my life. One of them was my Grandmother and my parents who took me to church and to VBS. But, I also remember several other significant adults in my life who were my youth counselors at my church and a teacher in my high school who introduced me to Jesus Christ. And what they couldn t see at the time was that I would receive a call into the ministry. They couldn t see that one day I would go to college and meet my wife though a Christian dramatic and musical touring group on campus and that one day I would marry her. I seriously doubt that on the day they introduced me to Jesus that they knew I would pastor churches who not only introduced thousands to Jesus Christ, but whose ministries have touched and changed countless lives. I know that you are intelligent and creative people. You re farmers, teachers, business people, volunteers, home-makers and I bet you could come up with some creative ways to introduce new people to Jesus. I can guarantee you that it isn t going to be Target or Wal-Mart, or City Hall, or the radio or the public schools, it s you! You, Jesus said, are my witnesses! So, I want to encourage us this year to do 3 things. I want you to write down something on your bulletin and take it home with you. The first thing I want you to do is answer this question: 1) Here s what Christmas means to me. I want you to complete that sentence in 140 characters or less. How many of you are on Twitter? How many of you have Facebook? How many of you send ? How many of you know it s the 21 st century? I want to encourage you to post your answer to that statement and you can say:

9 9 My pastor challenged me today to write down what Christmas means to me in 140 characters or less. So, when you post that people will immediately know that you go to church. And then you are telling the Christmas story in your own words. Here s three examples I posted earlier this morning: Christmas: Love, Hope, Life, Light, Mercy, Grace, Joy, the birth of my King. Christmas: No room in the Inn, born in a barn, Nightshift shepherds come to see a homeless child. Christmas: Savior, Messiah, Lord, King, Word made flesh, Emmanuel, O Come let us adore Him. If all of us who Tweet, Facebook or , or if you re old school and you re preparing a Christmas Letter, if you include This is what Christmas means to me in your letter, and if we all sent our message out to at least 25 people before midnight tonight, we will have shared the Christmas Story with at least 3,000 people today! 2) I want you to think about your Christmas Eve Offering and how that extra gift will affect the lives of many here in our community. 3) I encourage every single one of us to find at least one friend who we could invite to church this Christmas Season or to Christmas Eve. We can all do that. We may never know, but one life might be changed because you took the time and mustered up the courage to have the conversation and then to invite them to come. That s what I want us to hear from this story today of the Angels and the Shepherds. As we go to prayer today, I invite you once again to place your hands palms up on your lap and pray these words after me. Just offer this as your prayer to God today:

10 10 Lord, help me to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Help me Lord to care for the least of these. To offer them good news of great joy. Use me to extend hospitality to the stranger. Help me to reach out to my friends with your love this Christmas. Lord, I thank you for every person in this congregation. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon them. I pray that you would give them visions and dreams today of how they might reach out to their friends and to their community for you, that together, we might proclaim the good news of great joy for all people.

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