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A Grinchy Christmas

Oh NO!
My sister always said I was a Grinch,
but I never imagined 2020 would do it in a cinch.

No services to be held at our church,
but for the Christmas Spirit we still search.                   

This Christmas is different from those past…
Travel to visit family and friends? Not so fast.
Time with grandparent, aunt, uncle, and cousin?
These loved ones may not buzz in.
Favorite foods may too be lacking from the feast,
whether it is rolls, pie, or even the roast beast.

Shiny packages, short and tall,
Bright lights, big and small,
may be dimmer as is all.

Perhaps, you better not flinch,
for 2020 can also make you a Grinch.

If you will indulge me, may I share a story?
It tells of divine glory,
when God broke into our deepest, darkest night
with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

Mary, a young girl with a pure heart not to be ignored,
was asked to birth a son, Jesus, who creation adored.
Joseph was her husband-to-be,
but not the father of Jesus was he.
Jesus was the Son of God,
who among the ordinary would trod.

Mary and Joseph rode a donkey down,
across and through the desert, to Bethlehem town.
And then, the time came for the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to shine so bright.
Jesus was born that very night.

Nearby shepherds, strong and tough,
watching their flock by night were busy enough.
But, the baas of the sheep would hush
as the angels told of God born in human flesh.

These shepherds to Bethlehem they sped
until reaching the babe in a manger as the angel said.
They shared with Mary and Joseph the news
the angels proclaimed about Jesus, who was a snooze.

They pondered the words within their hearts.
What an amazing adventure God charts!

A babe born in a manger that night,
would shine with the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

On this deepest, darkest night,
this light continues to shine so bright.

These gifts wrapped in paper so shiny
may seem, well, oh so… tiny.

The first candle we light is Hope,
which helps us in the worse of worse to cope.

The second candle we light is Peace,
which encourages us to remain calm and squabbles to cease.

The third candle we light is Joy,
which reminds girls and boys
to enjoy more than their toys.

The fourth candle we light is Love,
which is more powerful than any on earth can dream of.

The final candle we light is Christ,
who came among us in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to sacrifice.

So you see, on this darkest night
the godly light of Christ remains oh so bright.

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But, I think that the most likely reason of all,
may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”*

Despite the most wonderful, awful ideas of the Grinch,
he could not steal Christmas in a pinch.

“He HADN’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!””*

Christmas doesn’t come from a store.
Christmas definitely means a little bit more!

Christmas is Christ entering in the deepest, darkest night
shining the divine light oh so bright.

“And what happened then? Well… in Whoville they say,
that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”*

May our hearts grow three sizes too, we pray. (Amen)

With our hearts so big on this day,
a prayer for the church, the entire world, and all in need will you say?

God of love, who is above, we give you glory.
May peace upon all the earth be your story.

Blessed Prince of Peace, may you rule all of earth with justice and truth.
May all the nations with your gift of peace sooth.

Blessed Son of Mary, who our humanity shares.
May the sick, dying, and suffering be in God’s merciful care.

Blessed Son of God, who is Word made flesh, please among us dwell.
May we reflect your light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so well.
(Amen).

May this night shine forth always and forever with God’s light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so bright.

Christ is born this night!
May divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love be a light
in Whoville, on Mt. Crumpit, and everywhere oh so bright!

*These are quoted directly from Dr. Suess’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’.

‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was created by Rev. Melinda Gapen.
‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was originally performed/preached on 24 December 2020.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Resources

 

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Light Dispels Darkness

If it had not been previously established, 2020 has been painfully blunt about the brokenness of humanity, our communities and nations, and the entire creation. This brokenness is a darkness, intensifying our sense of hopelessness, anxieties and depression, disappointments, and fears, while bringing forth the worse of our humanness.

This darkness embraces the hopelessness of a global pandemic increasingly impacting communities from small to large, from rural to suburban to urban centers. The hopelessness intensifies with each updated report of increasing positivity rates, confirmed positive cases, hospitalizations over-whelming the medical system, and ultimately deaths.

This darkness fuels unhealthy strife and enrages devasting conflict, instead of meaningful conversations and the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights movement, and those seeking equality and equity.

This darkness embraces a false sense of peace that too often seeks to maintain the status quo and its systematic injustices; protecting the privileged while causing harm to the under-privileged; and affording those with authority, power, and wealth opportunities at the expense of those without said authority, power, and wealth.

This darkness thrives in hatred, particularly the dehumanizing and demonizing of persons in order to justify a lack of compassion. Our polarizing extremes serve to increase tension until persons are divided and sorted based upon race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

This darkness dispels the divine light and diminishes our ability to recognize Emmanuel, or God with Us.

Joy is rooted in our ability to recognize God active in, among, through, and despite said brokenness and darkness, but it is challenging while existing during a deadly pandemic, civil and social unrest, and a financial crisis.

BUT, God is with us. God is acting in, among, through, and even despite us in all times and places.

Our Christmas story confirms God breaking into our brokenness unexpectedly.  

One. God choose a young, engaged but not married, Israelite girl named Mary in first-century Palestine to birth the incarnated God, the divine in human flesh and bone, into our broken, dark world.

Two. God assured Joseph, her older and well-respected fiancée, to trust Mary about her own sexuality, to dismiss the reasonable doubts of their community, and to proceed with their pending marriage.

Three. God encouraged Joseph to father, nurture, teach, and love this Christ Child as his own. He did.

Four. God proclaimed the birth of the Savior, Messiah, Christ Child to lowly, rough shepherds.

Five. God did not awaken those traveling for the census, the inn keepers and Bethlehem residents, or even the elites who all slept peacefully, unaware that night.

In addition to God being unexpected, another theme emerges in the Christmas story.
It emerges in the experience of the lowly shepherds to the elite wisemen who have not yet arrived.

It is within our Advent and Isaiah scriptures. It is reflected in various religious and cultural traditions, as well as in nature, at this time of year. The theme is LIGHT.

Light has come into our broken humanity, communities, and entire creation to dispel

  • Hopelessness;
  • Unhealthy Strife and Devastating Conflict;
  • Hatred;
  • Dehumanizing and Demonizing Persons;
  • Being unaware of Emmanuel, God with us; and
  • Beyond.  

It is the light of hope. True hope dispelling hopelessness by trusting in God to provide the needed insight and wisdom to those whose education and knowledge, training and experience can guide individuals and communities through a global pandemic while developing effective, safe treatments and vaccines.

It is the light of peace. Honest peace dispelling unhealthy strife and devastating conflict through meaningful dialogue and action resulting in sustainable equality and equity. As Martin Luther wrote:

Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke about the arc of history might be long but it bends in the direction of justice.
Honest peace embraces the truth and arcs towards justice through ‘Good Trouble’.

It is the light of love. Unconditional, agape love dispelling polarization and hatred that divides, sorts, dehumanizes, and demonizes persons who may look, speak, think, belief, act, or love different than ourself. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives a ‘New Commandment’ which is to love one another as Jesus first loved his most intimate disciples, knowing we would be different and that was the point. This love honors all life as sacred by seeking justice and equity, acting with compassion and mercy, while tending to and serving all persons but especially the under-privileged and vulnerable.

It is the light of joy. Real joy dispelling hopelessness, anxiety, depression, disappointment, and fear enough to enable our awareness of Emmanuel, God with us, who is always and forever active in, among, through, and even despite us unexpectedly in hope, peace, and love.

The Christ Child is born! The Light has come! The Light is returning!

May the light of the Christ Child be born
in our hearts, souls, homes, communities, and the entire creation
this night, every night, and beyond.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 9: 2-7; Titus 2: 11-14; and Luke 2: 1-20.
Originally preached on 24 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Ordinary Holy Night

Welcome to the holiest night of the year…

and yet at first glance, it might seem ordinary.

Once upon a time, the entire world was covered in darkness that allowed hopelessness, injustice, corruption, oppression, misery and hate to flourish within its shadows.

Until our story begins with a young, pregnant, engaged but not yet married woman named Mary traveling with Joseph to Bethlehem per government census. They were Israelites, whose land was occupied by the Romans.

As the Gospel according to Matthew wrote, Joseph had reasonably questioned Mary regarding her condition and claim to not engaging in the necessary activities with him or another man. Joseph came to believe Mary after an angel appeared in his dream assuring him to take Mary as his wife and shared God’s plan for redeeming all humankind and the entire creation. But, I imagine that doubters remained who whispered to one another about Mary, Joseph, and this baby. I also imagine God did not send an angel to each doubter.

Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, the couple is not able to find a room for the night and I would imagine with a little hesitation but with gratitude accepted the offer to stay in a stable.

In the fields that surrounded Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their flocks as was normal.

I imagine that the night sky was darker than dark polka-dotted with beautiful but distant stars offering little light for them and their sheep.

But on this ordinary night, God would use these ordinary people, place, and event for a holy drama. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Pondering Mysteries: Mary’s Story cont’

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Merry Christmas!

We know why we are gathered tonight. We are here to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

I had some of you in church this morning while some were not there, but my sermon does build upon this morning. Therefore, I will do a brief re-cap.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent is always Mary being visited by the archangel Gabriel.

Although all angels are massagers of God, Gabriel is the supreme massager and therefore if you have a message that MUST be delivered… he is your angel.

Saint Anne, mother of Mary, was unable to have children. She prayed to God, who enabled her to conceive and give birth to her daughter. When Mary was a young child, she was returned to the Temple in the service of God under the religious authorities. When Mary was about 12-14 years old, the religious authorities decided she needed to leave the Temple and fulfill her obligations as a wife and mother before (potentially) returning to Temple service. BUT, they could not let her become engaged to any man and underwent a process. Mary would become engaged to Joseph, a widower.

This is where the Gospel accounts begin Mary’s story with a visit from Gabriel, whose message is that she will conceive and give birth to the Christ (the Messiah).
That is a job that I would not want.

This evening, we find Mary and Joseph in a manger, but a LOT has happened between Gabriel visiting Mary and now. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermons

 

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