Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What to Expect at Christmas

Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2013
© 2013

In John Grisham’s 2001 novel Skipping Christmas (which became the 2004 movie Christmas with the Kranks), Luther Krank convinces his wife Nora to skip their usual Christmas and go on a cruise since their daughter, Blair, is in Peru with the Peace Corps. Their neighbors are outraged that they are not going to participate in the expected block decorating competition. Unexpectedly, Blair phones from the Miami airport on Christmas Eve to announce that she is bringing her Peruvian fiancé to meet them and experience their Christmas celebration. Comedy arises from the scramble to meet altered expectations. The rediscovered joy is capped by giving the cruise tickets to the Scheels, neighbors who have just learned the wife has given a 90% terminal diagnosis.
Half-way through Advent, Joyful Sunday asks us how our expectations of Christmas affect our joy.
Expectations are we would see as normally happening. Yet when those expectations aren’t met, it can bring joy too. On Thursday, I wanted a breakfast burrito so I went to a restaurant and went through the drive thru and there was a bit of a wait but I got up to the window and the employee told me that the car before me had paid for me. I expected to pay but it brought a bit of joy to learn of someone paying it forward and pushed me to do the same for someone else.
Isaiah 35 concludes with the promise of “everlasting joy” (v. 10), which is repeated in Isaiah 51:11 and 61:7. The image is of pilgrims on “the Holy Way” to celebrate God’s redemption.
We are pilgrims looking for signs of God’s redemption on our path. The more distressed we are by injustice and corruption, the more we expect God’s vengeance with terrible recompense (v. 4) and miss the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame leaping, the speechless singing (vv. 5-6).
But Advent prompts us to examine our expectations for Christmas so we can be surprised by Jesus every day.
Matthew 11:2-11 compares John the Baptist’s messianic expectations and the people’s expectations of John.
Norm: When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him,
Regina: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 
Norm: 4Jesus answered them,
Regina: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Norm: 7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John:
Regina: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John was very radical, relentless and single-minded in his pursuit.
He lived on what some would consider last resort measures. Yet people were drawn to him and yet he always pointed to the one that came after him.
Jesus questions the people about what are they really looking for and might us to lead to what are we looking for.
 Jesus’ description of John builds on people’s expectation that he was not like Herod. John was not a fickle politician wavering with popular or powerful opinion. He was not self-indulgent in dress, diet or dwelling. They expected a word from God for a fresh start in life.
But held in Herod’s prison, John wasn’t sure what Jesus was the Messiah he expected. Where was the “vengeance with terrible recompense?” Jesus quoted the next line from Isaiah 35 to refocus the expectations on the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame leaping, the speechless singing.
Advent prompts us to examine our expectations for Christmas so we can be surprised by Jesus every day.
Isaiah 35:3-4 describes us as we wait, for Christmas and God’s redemption. When our expectations seem unfulfilled, we recognize our weak hands, fearful knees and fearful hearts.
We are deep into the journey of Advent now and there are many temptation and challenges that distract us. Like there are only nine shopping days left. But we must remain the path and remain expectantly focused. Isaiah speaks a word to the many of us that are distracted and just seem lost: Hope is on the way!
Anathea Portier-Young, Old Testament professor at Duke Divinity School, says “fearful heart” is literally “racing heart.” She asks us to consider what sets our hearts racing? Advent says to us, “God is here. Restorative justice in on its way. Expect God’s response!”
When our expectations are misplaced, our hearts race with impatience and anxiety. St. Vincent do Paul said, “Whoever is in a hurry delays the work of God.”
In January 2007 The Washington Post reported the reactions of commuters to a violinist playing at a D.C. Metro station. Thousands of commuters walked by without noticing. Some stopped to listen briefly and a few through a couple of bills in the open violin case. What they didn’t realize was this was world renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Without paying $100 a seat to hear him in Boston’s Symphony Hall, people didn’t expect to see Joshua Bell.
What did we all expect when we came to church this morning? What did we expect to see, feel and hear?
Did we come expecting to find Jesus?
What cues do we need to break through our expectations for Christmas to recognize Jesus?
In the Christianity Today blog her-meneutics, (December 9, 2013) Liuan Huska wrote about her expectations as she waited for the birth of her first child. “I am increasingly aware of the darkness of this world into which I am bringing my child. … My instinct is to do everything in my power to keep out of danger.  … Our God did what every mother would shudder to do. He sent his child directly into the heart of evil with no protection, save faith, hope, and extravagant love.” She quotes Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination, “Only when we face the darkness and allow ourselves to grieve that something new can emerge.” And Christian educator Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness, about broken, fearful, racing heart of Isaiah 35:4. “A broken heart is not necessarily a bad thing. … [It may be] something broken open, like a crack in a seed about to sprout. … My heart can break open into a greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.”

Advent prompts us to examine our expectations for Christmas so we can be surprised by Jesus every day.

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