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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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Christmas Spirit

Christmas is not a day.

According to the church universal, Christmas is a twelve-day season beginning on Christmas morning.

And yet, the Spirit of Christmas should be within our homes, minds, hearts, and souls 365 days a year.

Advent was the hopeful anticipation and expectation of God arriving into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation with the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Christmas is the celebration of said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love busting into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation. And yet, this Christmas we were reminded said sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness remains as we heard word of an intentional explosion in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.

Again, Christmas is not a day. Christmas is technically a season.

The Christmas Spirit should be cherished daily by each person, each critter, and the entire creation for divine Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and God in human flesh and bone is not only born in a specific time and place, but in every time and place.

The Christmas Spirit ignites our ability, willingness, and desire to share said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in and despite the sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness within ourselves in mind and soul, our homes, our communities, our nations, and the entire creation.

The Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in, among, though, and despite the ordinary.

Joseph and Mary were Israelites and practitioners of Judaism, per cultural and religious custom these parents brought the newly born Christ child to the temple. This was ordinary.

Simeon was a devoted and righteous man, who desired to lay eyes upon the Messiah, or Christ.
Simeon was in the temple. This was ordinary.

Anna was a widowed woman, who often spent time in prayer in the temple. This was ordinary.

And yet, the Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in extra-ordinary means.

Mary was a young, unwed, virgin girl in first century Palestine. This is extra-ordinary.

Joseph was a well-respected man, who the angels persuaded to not dismiss Mary and to raise this divine child as his own. This is extra-ordinary.

Simeon is enabled to recognize Jesus as the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and the Messiah.
Simeon proclaims that this child is the long-awaited salvation of Israel AND the gentiles.
Gentiles were the uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans. This is extra-ordinary.

Anna is a female. Anna is an elderly, vulnerable widow. And yet, Anna is a PROPHET.
Anna is stirred from her prayers. Anna recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. Anna begins to prophecy.
This is extra-ordinary.  

The Christmas Spirit is indeed the extra-ordinary bursting forth through the ordinary, but take a moment to note how the narrative ends:

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Wait! WHAT?

The Archangel Gabriel announced Mary will birth, nurture, and love the Christ child, named Jesus.

Joseph is visited by an angel who assures him to trust Mary about her sexuality and to marry her.

Mary visits Elizabeth, whose unborn John (the Baptist) leaps with joy at the unborn Jesus.

Mary sings the Magnificat, which praises God and embraces the ‘Grand Leveling’ or ‘Grand Reversal’.

Mary gives birth to God Incarnate, God in human flesh and born, in a lowly manger.

The Shepherds are visited by angels who encourage their travel to said lowly manger.

Simeon recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Christ or Messiah.

Anna, the prophet, prophesized about the life and public ministry of Jesus as the Christ.

Despite ALL of this, the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to their home in Nazareth. The Holy Family returned to their ‘life as normal’, well the new ‘normal’ with an infant.

Similarly, we often pack away the Christmas Spirit was the Christmas decorations.

We fail to recognize the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ.

We fail to reflect, to shine said Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation.

As the Christmas Spirit is packed away until next year, our lives return to ‘normal’.

Similar to children, we choose to not be on our best behavior until Christmas is approaching again.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to be Christ to others.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to even recognize Christ in others.

And so, may this year be different…

May we leave the Christmas Spirit out.

May we hold the Christmas Spirit in our hearts and souls.

May we put the Christmas Spirit on display in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

May we shine the Christmas Spirit upon ALL people, at all times, and in all places.
Amen.

Scripture was Luke 2: 22-40.
Originally preached 27 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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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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Jesus: Rebellious, Refining Light

It has been 40 days since Christmas.
It has been 40 days since the birth of Jesus the Christ.

It has been 40 days since the light of hope, peace, joy, and love bursted into our existence in the darkness of hopelessness, conflict, despair and anguish, and hatred and fear.

And yet, our ordinary daily routines have resumed.

The Advent preparations of our hearts and lives are a distant memory.

Those 12 days of Christmas have been celebrated and packed away.

This Time after the Epiphany, its lightbulb moments are dimming while flickering but once a week.

I imagine that it was similar for the newly formed Holy Family:
Joseph, Mary, and of course the infant Jesus.

According to the Catholic tradition, Joseph was a widower with children born of his previous union.

But as we know, Mary was a first-time parent. Perhaps within these 40 days, Mary was miraculously able to establish a routine and is a natural at the ‘parenting’ thing but I am confident that she is mentally, emotionally, and physically drained beyond exhaustion.

Yet, Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day after his birth, per Jewish custom.

And now, Jesus is presented in the temple on the 40th day after his birth, per Jewish custom. The presentation was essentially a return of the first-born son to God, who had claimed the first-born sons of Israel (current and future) during the original Passover in Egypt. The parents offered to God a prescribed sacrifice, due to the limited resources of the Holy Family their sacrifice was two turtle-doves or young pigeons.

The mysterious and awe-inspiring divine experience of Advent and Christmas are a memory. Our ordinary routines have resumed. Yes, even for the Holy Family.

But, within their Jewish custom, divine revelation would once again amaze Joseph and Mary. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Growing and Becoming

Our gospel this morning is familiar to most of us.

It is the only story of Jesus in Scripture between the visitation of the Magi (approx. age 2) and his baptism (age 30) in the Jordon River by his cousin, John the Baptist.

Jesus is 12 years old. His parents and him had journeyed to Jerusalem for the annual Passover. They would have traveled with extended relatives, loved ones, and friends…
it would have been a large mass of people heading into the big city together.

The age (and number) 12 is significant in Scripture.

On December 23rd, I shared that Mary (Jesus’ mother) was given to the temple in service of the Lord (age 12) to fulfill Anne’s promise to God.

Similarly, Samuel had been given to the temple in service of the Lord at a young age to fulfill Hannah’s promise to God. Samuel at age 12 was “called” by the Lord.

Jesus is in the temple at age 12.

Although 12 is young in our culture, during the Biblical era it was essentially early adulthood. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2019 in Sermons

 

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