Friday, December 26, 2014

This Year's Christmas Sermon: "Into Heaven"

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. 

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” 15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. (Common English Bible)

“Into Heaven,” Luke 2:1-20

It’s something as Christians we are told not really to do if we want to be prudent and responsible, even though we are here tonight worshiping a homeless savior whose first earthly gifts were from wise men giving him gold: we are told not to give money to homeless people.

Except that recently, one fellow did.  A chunk of money, too: a cool $100.  And here’s what happened next, as reported by NBC News:

Josh Paler Lin…thought he’d try a social experiment: Give a homeless man money, then follow him in secret to see what he’d do with it.

And sure enough, the man’s first stop was at a liquor store.  He emerged with a bag and took it to a nearby park.  Well, what did you expect, right?

Wrong: Once at the park, the man pulled food from the bag and shared it with his fellow homeless.

“My heart was crushed,” Lin (said).

After witnessing what the homeless man, whose name is Thomas, did with the cash, Lin approached him on camera and explained that he’d been following him.  He apologized and gave Thomas more money.

Thomas said that he’d quit his job to take care of his sick parents, then lost his family home after they died.  He said he (has) been on the street for four months.

Lin decided to take action, setting up a crowdfunding page to raise money to help Thomas get off the streets.  Donations thus far have topped $50,000.

“People think I changed his life,” said Lin, who maintains the video was not staged.  “For me, it’s completely the opposite.  I feel that he changed my life.”

And as of tonight, Christmas Eve, the crowdfunding campaign for Thomas has raised nearly $80,000, from over 4,000 separate donors.

It has been a long, roundabout road towards a home for this brother in Christ, Thomas…but it is a road he will soon arrive at the end of.  And that is what we all have to look forward too, because as followers of a homeless savior born in a barn and placed in a manger because there was no crib for Him, we too, are, in a manner, homeless.  We await for our eternal homes in heaven.  But we have so much more left to do here, along that long, roundabout road towards home.  It was C.S. Lewis who wrote it, in Mere Christianity: “For the longest way round is the shortest way home.”

And it is this belief that keeps me from sheer, unadulterated envy of the angels, the heavenly hosts, who appear to the shepherds to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth.  I mean, these guys get to swoop in, sing their little song, and swoop right back into heaven before you can say, “We all want some figgy pudding,” leaving the shepherds—and the rest of us—to have to muddle our own separate ways to Bethlehem to gather ‘round the manger.  How very thoughtful of them.  You think they could’ve given those poor shepherds a lift, at least.  Angels have wings, after all.

But maybe giving those poor shepherds on the hoot owl shift a boost would defeat the whole purpose.  After all, you’d also think God could have dropped a divine Garmin or somesuch in the laps of the wise men to help them hoof it over to Bethlehem sooner as well, and He didn’t.

And maybe that is because the journey towards Christ is something that cannot be skipped over, or hurried, or rushed.  That journey, no matter how long or dangerous or arduous, is very much a necessary one for each of us to have to take.  It is a journey that we must take, no matter the cost, whether that cost is $100 to a homeless man, or $80,000 to help him piece his life back together.

I mean, can you imagine Thomas’s experience being a part of your own journey to Christ?  Having your own job and a family home and seeing all of it get swept away simply because you did the noble thing and cared for your parents as their journeys towards heaven were nearing completion?  And then see it return because you did the noble thing again and used this gift of money not for yourself, but for other people in as desperate need as you?

That is why we have to make that journey ourselves on Christmas.  That is why there cannot be any other way.  No shortcut, no disregard for speed limits, no cutting in line will get us to where we want to be faster.  Only trust in doing the right thing, for the right reasons, will ultimately ever do.

Which is what Christmas is, I think, really supposed to remind us of.  God sees the hurt and trouble His world is in, and not only does the right thing, but does the MOST right thing possible: giving us his child, His son, His own substance made flesh.  God could not possibly have done more right by us in this gift of a newborn Savior.

And so, in turn, we are meant to not just do right, but to do the most right by God and, by extension, by one another.  For that is what makes this journey into heaven most worthwhile, and it is what makes this trip towards Bethlehem go the easiest and the quickest.

So where are you on your life’s journey towards God?  Are you just starting out on this journey of faith, have you been going along the road for a while now but also know you probably have much further to go, or has this a journey of your whole life’s making?  No matter your answer, though, none of us have arrived all the way there yet.  We’re still muddling along, all of us, together.

So when you go home from here, from the Lord’s house to your house, and you gather around your tree with your families and friends and loved ones, please, I ask of you, lend an ear to what these angels are saying in the most fleeting of moments between their entry into earth and their return into heaven:  Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth, peace among those whom God favors.”

Because Luke continues: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.  So they went with haste…”

And so should we all.  Alongside the shepherds, and the wise men to come, alongside all people to gather ‘round the manger to ask, “Newborn Christ, here I am.  What is it you are calling me to do?”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
Christmas Eve 2014

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