Sermon Options: December 19, 2021

September 2nd, 2021


MICAH 5:2-5a

When the wise men told Herod the Great that a new king had been born within his realm, he was deeply disturbed because he knew of Israel’s tradition of expectancy—and he considered it dangerous. When he asked his advisors where the new king was to be born, they turned to our passage from the book of Micah for an answer. The book of Micah is part of the prophetic heritage of the people of Israel. It can teach us a lot about the dynamics of expectancy.

I. Expectancy Grows Out of a Combination of Memory and Belief

When people remember that good things have happened in the past and believe that the One who made those good things happen is still at work in the world, then they can face each new day of life with expectancy. The passage from Micah suggests that Israel should look to Bethlehem for a new messiah, because the great King David had come from that town. The central theme of the prophetic message is that the God who had acted to save his people in the past will also work to save them in the present and in the future. Are there memories and beliefs in your life that can generate expectancy in you?

II. Expectancy Is Not Always Welcomed

People who are beaten, who have given up, find expectancy annoying. It challenges their complacency. It keeps them from being comfortable in their cynicism. Those who want to exploit or oppress others also find expectancy threatening. Herod had good reason for finding the idea of the birth of a messiah threatening. The first three chapters of Micah, like so much of the prophetic literature in the Bible, is full of condemnations of such oppressive practices as he had employed in his reign. Have you ever felt resentful or annoyed when someone else insisted upon taking a positive, expectant attitude toward some situation in which you were both involved? If you have, maybe you had better ask yourself why.

III. Expectancy Gives People the Ability to Persevere and to Keep On Trying

The belief that something has happened that will eventually make things better can give us a hope to hang onto. The prophets gave the people of Israel such a hope, and it sustained them through years of defeat, exile, and suffering. In her book Legacies, Betty Bao Lord tells the story of a Chinese businessman who was imprisoned in his own office for years during the persecutions of China’s great cultural revolution. He was able to persevere because each day he could look out between the boards that had been nailed over his window and see a little vermilion kite. He knew that his young son was flying it there to let him know he was not forgotten. He held onto life as he had once taught his young son to hold onto the string of a kite, because he knew someone outside waited faithfully. Someone cared. Can you remember ways in which expectancy has enabled you to persevere? How great is the hope, how great is the perseverance, that can come with believing that the eternal God remembers you and is working for your good! When you recognize the saving work of God actually happening in your life and in your world, expectancy will prepare you to enter into the new possibility. (Jim Killen)


HEBREWS 10:5-10

When the text begins with a “therefore,” we ask, “What’s the ‘therefore there for?” In this case, the “therefore” serves as a bridge over which we travel from the writer’s argument in verses 1-4, to his resulting conclusion in verses 5-10. He states that the old sacrificial system existed only to remind us of our sins and was totally insufficient to deal with the depth of our sinfulness. “Therefore . . . Christ came into the world” (v. 5).

Because of the inadequacy of burnt and sin offerings (v. 6), Jesus bowed his will to the will of the Father and became the eternal, once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v. 10 NIV).

Made holy? To that we are tempted to say, “I believe that he died for me, but me—holy? How can I be holy when I can’t even be good?” To which God responds: “You are right, you can’t.” But he can make us so, and already has. The word holy means to “be separate” or “to be set aside.” God makes us holy. It is totally his work. Already, he has “separated” us as believers.

I. God Separates Us from the World

As God’s children, we are called to live a life that is distinctively different. We are to live moral, upright, spirit-filled lives that reflect the character and nature of Jesus. This does not mean that we ever attain a moral perfection or that we live in an ivory tower existence far removed from reality. We shall always have our frailties and be in constant need of confession, repentance, and faith. But it does mean that we are to be separated from the world’s standards of judgment and measurement and be attuned to God’s.

God’s ways are not the ways of the world. He says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. If we seek to find our life, we will lose it, but if we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. To be the greatest, we must become the slave of all. To be “separate” means that we seek to play our life to an “audience of One” and to be salt and light that reflect God’s glory.

II. God Separates Us for His Service

Just as Jesus came to do God’s will, we are separated to do his will and be Jesus in the world. Our talents, time, and potential are placed at his disposal. Just as Jesus found his ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction in doing the Father’s will, so do we (v. 9). God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible or even the uncommon. He expects us to do the common with an uncommon fervor. As Major Ian Thomas is fond of saying, “God is not so much concerned about our ability as he is concerned about our availability.”

III. God Separates Us unto Himself

Holiness is not a code of conduct or a set of practices. It is a personal relationship to the living Jesus Christ who died for our sins. We conduct our lives in and through that personal relationship to him. We are a part of God and God is a part of us making us whole and holy. Peter Gomes said, “To be holy is to be out of sync with the world and not out of balance with God.”

The old fable may say it best. An ancient kingdom faced a dilemma when the grain crop became poisoned. Anyone who ate the grain became insane. Faced with extinction or insanity, the wise king made a wise decision. He said, “We will eat the grain and we will suffer the results. But we will set aside a few to follow a different diet. That way there will always be some who know that we are insane.”

In this often mad rush of busyness and preoccupation with material things we call Christmas, could there not be some who are different? Could there not be some who show the world love and generosity in the name of One who came to give his all? (Gary L. Carver)


LUKE 1:39-55

People like Christmas for a variety of reasons. The family gatherings, the heart-warming music, the decorations. For children, receiving presents plays a significant role in their fondness for Christmas. But at heart for those of us in the church, our pleasure in Christmas is rooted in our love for the Christmas story, the story of the birth of Jesus.

But not everyone loves that story. And sometimes the people who dislike it the most understand its meaning the best. The Christmas story—and the Christmas event behind it—is not a placid and harmless happening. To the contrary, Christmas is not safe. The reason it is not safe has nothing to do with the traffic hazards around the malls, harmful toys for children, or the possibility of Christmas tree fires. Christmas is not safe because the Christ Child is not safe. He came not only as a promise but as a threat. Most of us have gotten so comfortable with Christmas because we have not seen Christ’s coming as a threat as well as a promise. But Mary saw it, and it made her sing.

I. Mary Longed for a Better World

Just as we experience Christmas as safe, we tend to think of Mary as timid. She is usually portrayed as a pleasant and compliant figure rather than a defiant one. Meek and mild, humble and quiet—that’s the Mary Christmas pageants and Hollywood movies give us. Not often are we provided a glimpse of a Mary who has a vision of a revolutionary world sparkling in her eyes or a passion for justice throbbing in her heart. But that is the Mary of the Bible. The woman God chose as the one to bear Jesus, the Savior, recognized the ugliness of inequality. She was incensed by the brutality of oppression. Mary longed for a better world.

II. Mary Recognized God Was Bringing a New World

It was sometime after her encounter with the angel that Mary went to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. By that time Mary had begun to consider how the birth of this baby, the promised Savior, would affect other people besides her. The prospects were thrilling. When Elizabeth declared to Mary that she was blessed among all women for being chosen to give birth to the Lord, Mary couldn’t contain herself. She began singing a visionary song of a changed world. With the power of a God-inspired protest singer, she belted out the words,

my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

In tones more likely to shake her hearers than to soothe them, she sang of God and the promised Savior.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Not everyone who has called Jesus their Lord and Savior can sing Mary’s song. Many prefer a tamer tune. But there have been people who through the centuries have sung her song in their hearts, if not always on their lips. Though they live in the misshapen and unjust world of the present, by the power of God they envision a just world to come and they sing God’s future. That kind of song is subversive. It calls into question the present world order. It speaks of new possibilities. It lifts up the spirit of people who have been brought low.

In 1973, in Santiago, Chile, the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was toppled by the forces of General Pinochet. Pinochet put in place a rule known for its horrible and oppressive methods. During the overthrow, 25,000 people were crammed into a sports stadium and detained at gunpoint. Periodically, individuals were taken out to be tortured and abused. All hope for justice seemed to be battered to pieces.

Among those huddled in the stadium was a popular Chilean folk singer, Victor Jara. He had managed to bring his guitar with him. There in the midst of the brutality and abuse, he began to play and sing. He lifted his voice against the violence and destruction that was being imposed upon his people. The crowd hushed in order to listen to his songs, songs of courage and hope. His songs helped them to see beyond the pain and defeat of the moment to possibilities yet unrealized.

The soldiers knew his music was undermining their fear-inspiring work. They confronted Jara and declared, “If you don’t stop that song, we’ll cut off your hands.” Victor lifted his eyes to theirs and kept playing his music. They carried out their threat and chopped off his hands. The soldiers laughed at him and taunted, “Now try to play your guitar.” He couldn’t play. But again he began to sing. He continued to sing out his heart, sing of his vision of a better world. The furious soldiers stopped him only when they took their guns and shot him.

But even that did not stop the song. The people who heard it remembered. Throughout the time Pinochet and his forces ruled Chile, the oppressed people sang the song of Victor Jara.

Mary sang because she knew that the child she was to bear would change the world. When and how it would change, she did not know. But heart by heart, life by life, community by community, the change comes. (Craig M. Watts)

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