The Starry Manger


Today is the day before the day before Christmas, or Christmas Eve Eve.  Did you know that a Manger can be found among the stars? Here it is, right in the constellation of Cancer (which is visible tonight, if you have dark skies): Astronomers call it the star cluster M-44.  Here is a discussion of The Manger, or Praesepe, from Star Lore of All Ages: A Collection of Myths, Legends, and Facts Concerning the Constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, by William Tyler Olcott, founder of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO): Cancer is celebrated chiefly because it contains the great naked eye star cluster “Praesepe,” the so-called “Manger,” from which two asses, represented by stars near by, are supposed to feed. This cluster is known in English astronomical folk-lore as “the Beehive,” a name we do not know the origin of. This marvellous aggregation of suns presents on a clear night a dim misty appearance. It has often … Continue reading →

Source: The Starry Manger

The Star of Bethlehem (again!)


It’s a frequently-asked question…. and so, if you want to read some interesting thoughts about the Star of Bethlehem then I recommend you head on over to the Faith and Science resource site and check out that part of the Frequently Asked Questions! Star of Bethlehem Of course, you could also pick up a copy of Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial where we spend a whole chapter talking about it. … Continue reading →

Source: The Star of Bethlehem (again!)

“Christmas Eve, 1968”


For one brief moment on Christmas Eve, 1968, we on the earth began to understand our relationship in and with this universe. I have even used a copy of the recording of the reading from Genesis that Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders read as the orbited the moon that evening to illustrate that relationship. Earthrise - 1968 And yet, in that moment of enlightenment and understanding, there were those who felt it was highly inappropriate and possibly illegal for three astronauts to read the words of Genesis while watching the lifeless void of the moon and the darkness of space. The documentaries of that time tell us that it had not been a very good year and it probably wasn’t. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis in April and then, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June. The Democratic National Convention was a disaster in more ways than one and the sum total of violence throughout that year pretty well made sure that Richard Nixon would be elected on a law and order platform buttressed by the “silent majority”. It seems to me that, with the singular exception of the Apollo program, all 1968 did was set things in motion for where we are today. And with the landing of Apollo 11 the following summer, even our exploration of the universe began to shut down. In the years that have come and gone since we first saw the surface of the moon up close, we have moved backward from the ideals that lead us to seek knowledge beyond the stars. And the violence that threatened to tear this nation apart then has not left and, perhaps, is even more present today. So on this Christmas Eve, I hope that we will pause for a few brief moments to ponder the birth of a child born far away from His home in a time of oppression, then think about the possibilities that we saw when three men from Earth saw the surface of the moon and reminded us from where we came. Let us take the time today to make sure that the Christmas story is told and that we will work for peace and understanding in the coming days.

The Candles of Advent


I first published this on 24 November 2005. As I was preparing some thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, I thought about this piece. In looking at it, I saw a number of errors that I didn’t realize were in the post. So I have cleaned it up and am reposting it for this season.

This is the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the birth and coming of Jesus Christ. To celebrate each week of Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath. But what do the candles mean? There are a number of reasons but here is something to consider.

Lighting the 1st Candle

Advent begins in the darkness of the year. It is darkness both in terms of sunlight and in terms of our own lives. We see violence, poverty and oppression all around us and we wonder if there ever will be sunlight again. We wonder if the world is meant to ever see sunshine or whether we will always be trapped in the darkness that we experience. But we are reminded that

The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1: 2 – 4)

And John reminds us that

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1: 1 -3)

We light the first candle of Advent, not so much to relieve the darkness but to bring light into the world. We light the first candle not so God can find us but so we can find our way to God. It may only be one light in the vast expanse of darkness but it cannot be hidden in the darkness. We are able to begin Advent because we have the light and in the light we find God.

Lighting the 2nd Candle

We light the second candle of Advent first out of fear but then out of joy. We are fearful because it is still dark and we are still uncomfortable being in the darkness. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, the beginnings of Advent bring fear.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 26 – 38)

Mary was fearful because she knew how society would react upon hearing that she was pregnant. Joseph, soon to be Mary’s husband, was also worried because society would not approve of Mary being pregnant before the completion of the marriage vows. But angels told both that everything was going to be alright and that there was nothing to fear. Joseph understood and stood by his wife to be. Mary exalted in her joy and said

Mary’s Song

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1: 46 – 55)

Mary and Joseph were not the only ones to first fear and then rejoice in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. The first to hear of Jesus’ birth that night in Bethlehem were the shepherds in fields outside the town.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 1But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2: 8 – 20)

So just like before the angels told Mary and Joseph about the birth of Jesus and they proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, so too do we experience fear in the darkness of the times. But our fear turns to joy because we know that Christ is being born in Bethlehem. Like the angels, we exclaim our joy in this event. So we light the second candle in joy.

Lighting the 3rd Candle

The third candle is the light of discovery. The shepherds left the manger and went to tell others. And while they were doing so, there were others who sought the new-born child.

The Visit of the Magi

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2: 1 – 2)

We light the third candle because we know others, like the wise men of the east still seek the Christ child. They have heard the Good News first told by the shepherds and they seek to find the child, just as the wise men did. But discovery is never easy, especially in the darkness of the world. So we light the third candle to bring light into the world, knowing that in the light truth will shine and in the truth, people will be set free.

Lighting the 4th Candle

We light the fourth candle in celebration. Now the light, once so feeble and perhaps overwhelmed by the darkness, glows brightly. We remember the words of John, who wrote

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1: 5 – 9)

Like John the Baptist, we now go forth proclaiming the coming of Christ. In lighting the fourth candle, we now proclaim the birth of Jesus the Christ child is soon to be. We have completed our four week journey and preparation, so we can begin celebrating. With the light of the fourth candle, we can see much clearer than we could a few weeks ago. Like Mary and Joseph, we began this journey in darkness with fear, but our fear turned to joy because we know what the birth of Christ really means. Like the wise men who were guided by the star in the east so too have we been guided by the light of the candles. We come seeking to find the Christ child. So we light the fourth candle in celebration.

Lighting the Christ Candle

Over the past four weeks, we have lit the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Each week the light of the Advent Wreath has grown brighter. And now the circle is complete. The four candles of Advent remind us and direct us towards the center candle, the Christ Candle. Just as the Christ Candle is the center of the Advent Wreath, so too should we make Christ the center of our lives. In lighting the Christ Candle, we are bringing forth a light that is so bright that it cannot be extinguished. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we bring light into a world of darkness; no longer is the world a place of fear and darkness because fear and darkness cannot survive in a world of light. As we celebrate Advent and Christmas this year, let us take the light of Christ, that light that abides in our hearts and allows us to light the four candles of Advent, out into the world. We take the Light of Christ out into the world to bring the Good News that the sick will be healed, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear and the oppressed will be set free.

The One Gift


This is the message I gave on Christmas Eve (24 December 2001) at Walker Valley UMC.  The Scriptures that I used were Isaiah 9: 2 – 7, Titus 2: 11 – 14, and Luke 2: 1 – 20.

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The three most dreaded phrases of today’s society are probably:

  1. "One size fits all."
  2. "Batteries not included."
  3. "Some assembly required."

Giving gifts at Christmas may be one of the hardest things to do; for though we know what we want to give, sometimes the technology gets in the way. Sometimes, in the process of giving a gift, we forget why the gift was given.

The people of Isaiah’s time were looking for a new king, someone to bring them out of slavery and despair. The Israelites of that time were about to be enslaved by the Assyrians and they desperately wanted a king to lead them to victory. But the promise of the prophecy was not for a king but rather a child. Granted this child would hold all the authority in the world, as the titles that were to be given so indicated. But it was still a child and no child could ever hope to lead a kingdom.

And when the prophecy came true, with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, it didn’t seem quite right. Though Bethlehem was the city of David and this child was of David’s lineage and thus heir to the throne, what king is born in a stable.

But the kingdom that was to come through Jesus was not the earthly kingdom that so many desired. Rather it was the kingdom of heaven that Jesus sought to bring. It was a kingdom that could only come if the child was born to and among the people, not in some royal nursery. It would not have been possible for Jesus to achieve his kingdom any other way.

We should always note that shepherds were the first of the community to be told of Jesus’ birth. This was a sign that this new kingdom was not to be like other kingdoms. For shepherds were among the lowest in society and so to tell them first was a sign that things were not going to be the same. The child was a king, as the angels proclaimed, but he was king among the people, not above them.

And Paul reminds Titus, in the passage that we read this evening, that Jesus came to this world, not simply to lead us but to show us how to live. How not to just speak of a world of peace and justice but lead lives which would bring about the peace and justice that is needed in this world.

Isaiah spoke of the removal of the yoke that would come with the new king. Paul reminds us that by giving himself on the cross, we were redeemed from all iniquity; that our future was secured by his actions and sacrifice.

At a time when the world is at its darkest, both literally and figuratively, we are reminded that Jesus was born into this world so that we would live. The one gift that comes this evening comes when we come to the table, celebrating not only his birth but also his triumph over sin and death through his resurrection.

On a night when a child was born among a middle class family in a small Middle Eastern town, there was a celebration of the birth of a new King. Perhaps they did not realize at the time what the significance of the gift was that they received that night. But tonight in a small New York village church, as we again celebrate that birth we have come to realize that we were the recipients of the greatest gift of all. As we come to the table, we renew the presence of Christ and the gift of everlasting life in our lives; as we leave tonight we carry with us the light of Christ, no longer a people in darkness but a people who, as Isaiah wrote, now walk in the light.

Punch Cards and the First Census


This is my message for the Christmas Eve service at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church in Putnam Valley, NY.  The scriptures for this message are Isaiah 9: 2 – 7, Titus 2: 11 – 14, and Luke 2: 1 – 10. 

It was a communion service but I choose not to include the communion as part of the service itself; instead I brought the elements from my home church (Fishkill UMC) and provided the table for thought and contemplation.  (I am sure that I put this together from references on-line but I don’t remember where I got them.)

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Christmas Eve, December 24, 2003

Communion

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.

Our communion tonight is not solely a communion service but also an opportunity to remember the presence of Christ in your life. We begin by taking a few moments for preparation and confession.

You may come to the table when you are ready but you are first asked to prepare and think about this time and this moment.

A Time of Preparation

This Christmas we celebrate with all those who chose to discern the meaning of the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Scriptures, Jesus speaks of a Kingdom of God that is coming to pass.

This will be a Kingdom where men and women are honored for their inherent worth and dignity. It will be a Kingdom where the poor and rich alike know justice, equity, and compassion. It will be a Kingdom where people are encouraged to spiritual growth in a community of believers.

In this Kingdom, human conscience becomes the doorway to the spirit. In this Kingdom people choose to share their goods freely. In this Kingdom, peace abides among people of difference. In this Kingdom, the interdependent web of all existence is honored because it rests in the loving arms of God.

Jesus talks about this Kingdom of God that is in us and around us. He invites us to enter this Kingdom and be blessed.

Remember the words of Jesus which speak of the way of blessedness:

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

During this time of celebration and joy, we also need to take time to remember those who cannot celebrate or for whom there is no joy. Again, we remember the words of Jesus:

I was hungry and you gave me food.

I was thirsty and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

I was naked and you clothed me.

I was ill and you came to me.

I was in prison and you visited me.

A Time for Confession

Can we acknowledge that in our lives there have been times when we have spoken or acted carelessly or intentionally to harm others? Have we hurt those we love and care about? Have we ignored the needs of our neighbors? Have we hurt our environment? How do we lead our lives? Can we live in a way that brings blessing to ourselves, our neighbors and our community?

Christmas is a time of change. We honor the birth of the Christ Child and we embrace hope and the power to heal. Let us take this time to reflect, confess, seek forgiveness and resolve to change.

A Time of Communion

The elements for communion were blessed by Rev. Peggy Ann Sauerhoff of Fishkill United Methodist Church. On this evening when we celebrate Christ’s birth, let also remember those who carry out his ministry.

You are invited to come to the altar rail at your calling. The communion table of the United Methodist Church is open to all those who seek Christ.

All that is asked is that you come truly and earnestly repenting of your sins, walk in love and charity with your neighbors and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking henceforth in His Holy Ways. Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort and make your humble confession to almighty God.

You may come to the table whenever you are ready, remembering that on that evening before his death, Jesus took the bread of the dinner, broke the bread and blessed it, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

And when the meal was done, Jesus took the wine and blessed it, saying, "This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

It is the remembrance of these mighty acts through your Son Jesus Christ that we know offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us and confirm the mystery of faith that though Christ has died, He also risen and He will come again, bringing peace to the world.

A Time of Prayer

We give thanks for this communion time – a time to reflect on the meaning of our lives and how we are with those we love and those we do not love. This is a time to reflect on how we could change if we need to, and how by our words and deeds we could usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We are reminded of and thankful for the sacredness of common things, the grapes and the wheat, which have sprung from the earth. We are reminded of and thankful for the many invisible connections that give our lives meaning.

Let us give thanks for this evening of communion and preparation. We are called now to love and sacrifice. May we walk the path of righteousness and blessing.

AMEN

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Christmas Eve, December 24, 2003

The message

What do the following companies have in common?

3M

Alcoa

Arco

BP

Esso

IBM

Nabisco

Sohio

Texaco

To avoid the problem of having you think about this throughout the sermon, I will give you what I think the answer is. Each company’s name is an abbreviation or acronym of the original name of the company.

Company today

Company then

3M

Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing

Alcoa

Aluminum Company of America

Arco

Atlantic Richfield Company

BP

British Petroleum

Esso

Standard Oil

IBM

International Business Machines

Nabisco

National Biscuit Company

Sohio

Standard Oil of Ohio

Texaco

Texas Arabia Company

Each company started with another name but over time went to a more convenient or easier name. There are probably some very unique stories in each of these companies and much could be gained by looking at how they were developed.

For example, Charles Hall was a professor of Chemistry at Oberlin College when he developed the process for refining aluminum ore or bauxite into aluminum metal. He approached the owners of the Wellington Machine Company (located near Oberlin College) about investing in this new process. They were not interested; so Dr. Hall took his process to another group of investors in Pittsburgh. This second group ultimately formed the Aluminum Company of America or as we know it today, ALCOA. With the profits that he gained from this endeavor, Dr. Hall was able to leave $10 million dollars to the general education fund of Oberlin College.

Even though, as a chemist, I find the story of Charles Hall and his discovery interesting it is how IBM, or International Business Machines, was created that relates to the Gospel tonight. I do not think that any of us living in the Mid-Hudson valley can say that we are not affected by the actions or decisions of IBM. It is just that we may not recognize how that is.

As a doctoral candidate, it was necessary for me to declare a foreign language. Had I been working on my doctorate in the 1880’s or even in the 1960’s rather than the 1980’s, I would have had to study German, French or some other traditional written or spoken language. But because it was the 1980’s, I was able to use FORTRAN as my language. Now FORTRAN is an acronym for "formula translation" and it was a computer code developed to help scientists write computer programs. Interestingly enough, just as the study of Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages as a requirement for advance study has gone by the wayside, so too has the study of the early computer languages. Remember the "Millennium Bug", the threat that all of our computers would revert to January 1, 1900, when the clocks rolled over on December 31, 1999? Part of the problem then was all of the code written in the early days of computers was written in a language long forgotten by computer programmers today.

The results of computer programming today, the word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mail applications that we take almost for granted today didn’t exist then (and I am talking the late 60’s and early 70’s). Everything done in the way of computer programming then required a skill that is long forgotten, typing punch cards.

In the early days of computer programming, punch cards were the bane of programmers. You wrote out your program and then went over to a typewriter console and typed in your code, putting one line of code on a single punch card. You then ran the program to see if you typed everything correctly and then finally ran the program to get your experimental results. If there were errors, you had to retype the punch card for each line of code that you had to change. And you also had to check for those wonderful little pieces of punched material that might not be torn from the card after punching the code, the "hanging chad". Do you think that the problem of counting the votes in the 2000 election was a new phenomenon? All of us who ever typed in punch cards knew there would be problems with that method.

It is an interesting commentary that in the process of some thirty years we have gone from punching computer code in line by line on a series of cards to developing and producing thousands of lines of code on the screen of a desktop computer. We forget that the idea of punch cards has been around since the early 1800’s and was the basis for the founding of IBM.

Herman Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which was to later become International Business Machines. At that time, the data gathered from the United States Census was too complicated to be easily tabulated. It was thought that the data for the 1890 census was going to take over ten years to analyze. Through the use of punch cards and the tabulating machines Hollerith invented, the time for the analysis was reduced to six weeks. The rest, they say, is history.

Punch cards have actually been around since the early 1800’s and were used in the automation of weaving. Workers, not surprisingly, rioted when this change was implemented since it caused a loss of their jobs. When Charles Babbage designed the first mechanical computer or "analytical engine", he included punch cards for input and output purposed.

We don’t remember this history because we are also too familiar with the warning not to bend, fold, or mutilate the punch cards. Punch cards are too impersonal, changing our identity as a person into a number. Like the weavers who rioted against the automation of the weaving process, we rebel (or at least we should rebel) against the notion of losing our identity.

And it was the same for the people in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. The whole purpose of the trip to Bethlehem was because Augustus had commanded that all people return to the city of the ancestors for the census to take place. It was a census for the sole purpose of taxation. And taxation by the Romans was easily the most offensive thing that could be done to a Jew. The census and resulting taxation took away the identity of the Hebrew people. It was bad enough that the country was occupied by a foreign power; it was insult over injury that they had to pay for the occupation.

I think that it is very possible that we can identify with Mary and Joseph. Treated as if they were simple numbers in a census taker’s notebook, they get to Bethlehem only to find that there is no place to stay. It is not fair to say that they slept in the stable that night because they were poor; in fact, they were probably a typical middle class family of that time. As a carpenter, Joseph was not necessarily the blue-collar worker that we envision today. Rather, he was more of an artisan and more well off than many others.

No, the reason that there was no room in the end that night was based more on the fact that literally everyone and their cousin was in town and there were no rooms available. It wasn’t just Mary and Joseph that had come to Bethlehem; it was anyone in Israel whose ancestral home was Bethlehem and whose lineage traced through the House of David. Jesus was not born in solitude and loneliness but in the midst of a "family reunion".

And when we see that the birth of Christ was announced to the shepherds in the fields outside the towns, we can begin to see that this was just not another birth. If there was a lower class in Israel, it was those like the shepherds. Their very occupation put them at the bottom of the social ladder. If Mary and Joseph were lost in the madness of the crowds coming into Bethlehem that night, shepherds and other farm laborers were lost among the crowds of daily life. Not only were they just numbers on the census rolls, they were lost to society.

When we see the birth of Jesus in terms that we are familiar with, we can see that this was a special birth. To the Romans, this new family was just a set of numbers. But to those in that town that night and even now here in Tompkins Corners we can see the birth as Isaiah prophesized some 2500 years ago.

Christ’s birth brought light into the darkness. Christ’s birth was a statement that we as individuals in this world are more than just a set of numbers in somebody’s book of life. Christ’s birth should be seen as a personal statement from God, that we are not forgotten and not just a number amongst the countless peoples of this earth. We are reminded that Christ came to this world, as Paul wrote to Titus, "for us". And our response should be to show others the same love that Christ showed for us.

Christ came to this world at a time of darkness and oppression. He came at a time when many people were cast aside by society because of who they were or the work they did or some other trivial reason.

Christ brought light into this world so that the forces that caused the darkness would be driven back. Christ’s birth brings hope back into this world; Christ’s birth brings peace back into the world.

Christ’s birth is a reminder to us that God does truly care about us. In the book of Heaven, we are more than simply lines on the page or numbers to be counted. Christ’s birth is also a reminder that our lives are more than holes in a punch card or lines on a census taker’s notepad; to God, we are his children and He will do what is needed to save us.

Our challenge this evening, as we depart to be with our family and friends, is to remember God’s love for us and to show that love to the others we might encounter on this journey. Just as God does note count us as numbers, so too are we challenged to treat others as God treats us. So too are we challenged to walk in peace with the "light of the world."

Why All The Shouting?


If you have been following my postings, you may have noticed that I have been posting sermons/messages/thoughts from the years that I served the United Methodist Church in the Mason City, TN, area, the Neon, KY, area, Walker Valley, NY, and the Tompkins Corners UMC in Putnam Valley, NY. I haven’t figured it all out but when I get them my sermons (which cover the year from 1997 to 2005, the year I began blogging), I will work on some sort of catalog to link them all together. 

December 24th can be a challenge for the preacher and the lay speaker.  Because if it falls on a Sunday, as it did for me in 2000 and 2006, it is both the Fourth Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve.  But Christmas Eve is a night time event so the morning belongs to Advent and the preparation for the Birth of Christmas falls for later that day. 

In 2006, I was asked to cover the services at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY.  The message for that day was posted as the 4th Sunday in Advent for that day at “Words of Christmas” but because the church does not have a regularly assigned pastor, the challenge was also to present thoughts that related to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well.

The first time this ever occurred for me was on December 24, 2000.  That morning we had held our usual Sunday Services and had celebrated the 4th Sunday in Advent (I posted these thoughts last week at “It’s The Little Things”)  That evening we returned to church for a Christmas Eve service.  The following is my Christmas Eve message for that evening, 24 December 2000, at Walker Valley UMC (Walker Valley, NY).  The scriptures for this message are Isaiah 9: 2 – 7, Titus 2: 11 – 14, and Luke 2: 1 – 10. 

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The problem with the birth of Jesus is that it is in the wrong place. Kings are not born in mangers but palaces. Kings are welcomed into the world with the fanfare of trumpets, not the soft looing of cattle.

But Jesus was more than just a King. His presence in this world was to be more than a simple ruler of people. And if he was to meet the goals of God’s plan, if he was to hold all the titles that Isaiah gave him, then he couldn’t be born in a palace.

The society of Jesus’ time was sharply divided by religious, economic, and social lines. Everyone knew their place and what they could and could not do. If Jesus had been born in a castle or with great fanfare, he could never have reached those whom most needed to hear his message of salvation, promise and hope. And that is as true today as it was some 2000 years ago. For Christ to be a part of our lives today, he had to be a part of our lives back then.

It should not be surprising then that the first to hear of his birth where those considered by society outcasts or, at the least, marginal. By the nature of their occupation, shepherds were considered sinners and outcasts. For the birth of Jesus to be announced to them was an important note in telling the world that this kingship would be different from all others imagined.

It is also interesting to note that among those who knew that Jesus was born were the three wise men from the east. Acclaimed scholars in their own right, they had come to know that Jesus was born through their own studies. Scholars among the Jews seemed to have missed this important prophecy. And by telling others outside the boundaries of Israel and Judah, God said that all were welcome, not just a select few.

Everything about Jesus’ ministry was meant to show people that God loved them and that their social or economic status counted little in that regard. At a time when the society around them closed its doors, Jesus opened the doors to the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus ate a meal, he ate with those whom society considered outcasts. Those who opposed his ministry accused him of eating with tax collectors and sinners. In polite society, that just wasn’t done.

The communion that we celebrate this evening is a continuation of those meals of fellowship that Jesus ate. Just as his meal were open to all, so to is this communion. No one asks if you are a sinner or a saint, no one checks your membership card to see if you belong in this place. All that is asked is that you come with an open heart.

What Jesus did was change the view of the world. No longer was salvation and redemption outside the reach of people. No longer was darkness dominant in the lives for whom hope and promise were long gone.

Jesus showed that God’s grace was for all, no matter who they are or where they came from. For us this day, the birth of Jesus’ is a sign that God cares for us. That is what all the shouting is about.