Sermon Options: December 24, 2017

November 24th, 2017

Christmas Hope

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

David was a man of action. He had defeated Goliath and had outlived King Saul, succeeding him on the throne. David defeated all Israel's enemies, made Jerusalem his capital, and built a palace lined with cedar. He developed a bad conscience because God was still being worshiped in a tent. David told the prophet Nathan that he wanted to build God a temple. The Lord said no—instead, he would establish the house of David. There is a play on words here: instead of building God a house, God would establish David's house (dynasty) forever.

I. Our God Is a God of Grace

Consider what the Lord did for David: "I took you from...following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel" (v. 8). God enabled him to defeat all his enemies.

The Lord gave him a great name—still honored after many centuries (v. 9). Despite David's sin, the Lord was gracious to him. He was not rejected. Think how much we owe to God's grace this Christmas. He has blessed us beyond anything we could deserve. He has forgiven us and given us another chance. He sent his Son and his Holy Spirit to pay our debt and to guide us. Celebrate the graciousness of God.

II. Our God Is a God of Hope

This passage has been a seedbed of hope for both Jews and Christians. King David's descendants ruled from his throne for four hundred years. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., this passage became the source of messianic hope—that God's anointed would establish his rule on earth. Christians saw that hope fulfilled in Jesus.

We celebrate the fulfillment of this divine promise at Christmas. Jesus was born to establish the kingdom of God on earth. David's descendant rules still, "and he shall reign forever and ever—hallelujah!" Christ is our hope, the anchor of our faith.

Ours is a universal faith, not limited to one place such as a Temple in Jerusalem. Christ is present every place in the church of God the Holy Spirit. The church is a living temple. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Avoid a "cathedral psychology" this Christmas—giving the devotion due God to a building. We worship not a place but a person. We are to serve the One worthy of all honor and glory. (Alton H. McEachern)

What a Mighty God We Serve

Romans 16:25-27

Paul ended his Epistle to the Romans where every sermon and every Christian writing should end: in thanksgiving to God for what God has done. In this doxology, Paul acknowledged several truths about the work of God.

I. The Power Behind God's Work

Paul wrote of God who is able (v. 25). The idea of God's adequacy is a common theme in the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesians that God was able to do greater things than we can ask for or envision Eph. 3:20) . Jude declared that God was able to keep us from falling or stumbling ( Jude 24). Paul reminded the Corinthians that our adequacy was not in ourselves but in God (2 Cor. 3:5) . To the Philippians, Paul gave the assurance that the God who began his good work in them had the power to complete that good work ( Phil. 1:6) . Behind the glorious gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Romans was a God who was able.

One of the most famous sermons in American history was Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." He suggested, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." On the same theme, John Donne, one of the noblest of all English preachers, wrote, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: but to fall out of the hands of the living God, is a horror beyond our expression, beyond our imagination." Without God, we are nothing. With God, we have adequate provisions for life, for he is able.

II. The Purpose of God's Work

Paul's mind worked so quickly that at times his words could not keep up with it. That appears to be the case in this doxology. The key idea in these phrases cascading from the pen of the Apostle is found in the "mystery," which "is now disclosed." Paul explained in his Ephesian letter that this mystery was God's plan to include Gentiles as fellow members of the family of God ( Eph. 3:1-11). This is the universalism of the New Testament—not the declaration that everyone will be saved but the declaration that everyone can be saved. From the time of Abraham's call (Gen. 12:3) , God's purpose has been to include all humankind in his eternal family. However, each person must respond by faith to the offer of grace.

Alexander MacLaren expressed this truth concisely in his statement: "One thief was saved upon the cross that none might despair; and only one that none might presume."

III. The Product from God's Work

What happened when this gospel was proclaimed to the world? Paul explained in the final phrase in verse 26. When the gospel was proclaimed, people responded in faith and obedience. With the gospel, the first disciples turned the world right side up. With the gospel, Paul conquered the Roman Empire. With the gospel, Martin Luther ushered in the Reformation. With the gospel, John Wesley captured England for Christ. With the gospel, Billy Graham has brought light to the world. If we are faithful to do what we can do, then God will be faithful to do what we cannot do.

When a simple Christian woman shared the gospel with a young boy dying in the hospital, he was touched by the simplicity of the message. "Say it again," he whispered to the woman. She repeated her earlier litany, "God made you. God loves you. God sent his Son to save you. God wants you to come home with him." Johnny looked into her face and said, "Tell God, 'Thank you.'" When Paul concluded his Roman Epistle with a repetition of the mighty acts of God, he responded in the same way: "Tell God, 'Thank you.'" (Brian Harbour)

Angel Etiquette

Luke 1:26-38

The writer of the Gospel of Luke has a fondness for angels. They instruct, announce, guide, and protect. The appearance of these visitors, these aggelos or "messengers," produces a standard response from the human community: fear, doubt, and an awe-ful wonder. The normal manners of conversation and community are always turned upside down in these holy/human encounters. One of the church's tasks in this celestial season is to review the handbook for angel etiquette: Holy Scripture.

I. Proper Greetings

Luke's Gospel describes Mary's response to her visitation as "perplexed" (v. 29). Small wonder. All the normal rules for conversation are broken in the first thirty seconds. The carefully preserved distinctions between strangers and all of the gender roles have been reversed in the words, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!" No wonder Mary "pondered what sort of greeting this might be" (v. 29). There was no socially approved pattern for this response. She was in the middle of a conversion conversation, a dialogue that no one could dictate or predict.

II. Calendar Sins

If Gabriel's first sentence broke the conventions of human speech, then the next announcement threatened the conventions of human behavior. At the very least, Mary would be guilty of calendar sins, a pregnancy prior to the proper time and season. More unnerving than the disregard of human timetables for newly engaged couples was the angel's declaration that God's time was now to be measured in human life cycles. Immortality putting on mortality broke all the conventions of time. A human birth would mark the cosmic calendar. Centuries would have a birthdate to count on, if and when Mary agreed.

III. Only the Impossible Required

One sign of good manners is the observation of limits. A well-mannered person does not insist on the impossible, at least not with perfect strangers. In a Gospel filled with concern for the poor and the marginalized, those who represent the unable, the basic rule of moderation is broken. The power of this good news is that God is able. An older woman and a young girl will soon be comparing notes over their pregnancies. The only human etiquette required here is a radical "Yes!" to a holy possible end. This is the creed behind the creeds: God is able.

IV. No Time to Think Twice

Angels seem to operate with a kind of wild patience. All the human/holy encounters in this Gospel are over in a flash, or at least that's the impression that the Gospel writer leaves. Perhaps that flashpoint quality is not universal, but it seems as if Mary has little time to make a forever choice. Perhaps the minutes not only seem like hours in the presence of a member of an angelic host but actually are hours. Perhaps the visitation lasted centuries, at least on Mary's part, but the handbook, the Scriptures, seems to indicate that encounters of this kind are the heartbeat kind. It's over before she knows it or at least can explain it.

What Mary does, she does quickly. She agrees to a lifelong relationship to the holy, and the length of that life is in eternal terms. What she does is magnificent: a free-willed human being beginning a brand-new text of holy/human manners. (Heather Murray Elkins)

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