Mystery Revealed!

Mystery Revealed

January 06, 2019*

Epiphany

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 60:1-6              Matthew 2:1-12                     Ephesians 3:1-12

 

Have you ever read mystery stories?  Honestly, there was a long time during which, although I was an avid reader, I never had any interest in reading mysteries.  But at some point, I took a class that studied the genre of mystery stories for a required credit in English literature.  For that class we were required to read, and study, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a dozen others.  But in studying this subject, we learned a new word that stuck with me despite being a word that is a little uncommon.  We learned the word, “denouement.”   Here’s an official definition.

Denouement (pronounced Day-noo-mawhn)

noun: denouement; plural noun: denouements; noun: dénouement; plural noun: dénouements

The final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together, and matters are explained or resolved.   The climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.

synonyms: culmination, climax, conclusion, solution

What this means, at least as we discuss mystery stories, is usually the part of the story where the detective calls everyone together and points out the guilty person, or explains how the mystery happened, and clears up all the confusion that the reader has been wrestling with during the story.  This is usually the climax of the story and from then on, most of the story is just housekeeping and explaining how everyone lived “happily ever after.”

But by now you’ve noticed that this morning’s message is entitled, “Mystery Revealed” so I’m sure some of you are wondering what that’s all about.  In reply, I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while because before I get to the end, it will all become clear(er).  We begin 800 years before the time of Jesus in the writings of the propher Isaiah where we hear these words that describe the Messiah that was to come (Isaiah 60:1-6):

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you  and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,  and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Even in such a quick reading, we can immediately see several things that sound familiar to us from the Christmas story: a messiah that brings light to the world and dispels the darkness, nations that are drawn to toward the light of the new messiah, wanderers, expatriates, and captives that return to Israel from afar, kings of other nations who worship him, and who send gifts of gold and incense.  And we see the fulfillment of many of these prophecies in the coming of the magi in Matthew 2:1-12.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Nations came to the light of his star to worship him and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And while all of God’s lost children have yet been repatriated into Israel, we remember that Jesus often said that his mission on earth was to rescue the lost sheep of Israel. And if we continue reading the scriptures, we also find Paul’s explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ as it relates to Isaiah, Jesus, and the coming of the magi in Ephesians 3:1-12.

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Paul says that the mystery of the messiah was revealed to Paul, and the mystery is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been invited back into the family of God.  And once this mystery was revealed to us, then we realize that we can see that revelation from the beginning of the Christmas story.  We realize that the genealogies of Jesus, found in the gospels, show us that Mary and Joseph came from a family that welcomed in foreigners and strangers, and we realize that the story of the magi is a story about gentiles and foreigners being among the first worshippers of the newborn messiah king.

The revelation of Paul, the mystery that is revealed, is that not only is the Christmas story a beautiful story, not only is it “good new of great joy” but that the messiah Jesus came “for all the people” and it wasn’t just all the Jewish people or for all the descendants of Abraham.  The story of Christmas is good news of great joy for all the gentile people, and that means all of us.  The arrival of the magi in the Christmas story is the part of the story where we show up.  While the shepherds were the Jewish outsiders, the magi are the aliens, the strangers, the ultimate outsiders.  This is one of the reasons that the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas in January, today, at Epiphany.  The arrival of the magi is the part of the story that includes us, it is the gentile denouement, the climax of the story where everything is revealed. 

Epiphany, and the arrival of the magi, is the part of the Christmas story where we are invited in and where we become a part of God’s family.

Epiphany means that Christmas isn’t just a Jewish story.

It’s our story.

And we are invited, in fact, as the church, we are commanded, to tell the world so that the story of Christmas, and the love of Jesus Christ, can be everyone’s story.

How’s that for a Christmas present?

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Hope in a World Falling Apart

“Hope in a World falling Apart”

December 24, 2018

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                       Titus 2:11-14                                      Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Several of our readings this evening come from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah lived in a world that was falling apart.  Writing from the land of Judah, at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day, Isaiah watched as Judah’s own leader, King Ahaz, chose to stand with the Assyrian empire instead of his neighbors in Syria and his brothers of the northern tribes of Israel.  Despite Isaiah’s warning, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and their brothers.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would turn on them.  And, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah prophesied about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

These were dark days, but Isaiah wrote about a light that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies, warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a rescuer would come from God, a rescuer who would have the authority to bring about never-ending peace and who would establish his kingdom, not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.  Isaiah’s message was a message of hope.

Seven hundred years later, as that same country was occupied by foreign armies, God’s people were similarly well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, bloodshed, and death.  In that time, angels appeared in the skies over a band of shepherds and declared that the day prophesied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.  But, like Isaiah and the shepherds, we too live in a world that seems to be falling apart.  Like them, we are also too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be never-ending peace, as Jesus Christ rules over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But we also remember the instructions of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

Yes, we live in a world that seems to be falling apart.  But we remember that in Matthew 4:16, Jesus said: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

The world that we live in today, much like the world of Isaiah, often seems to teeter on the brink of chaos and disaster.  Every day seems to bring more bad news, or at least more news of death, destruction, and mayhem.  But something changed between the time of Isaiah and today.  Two thousand years ago, two unmarried young people found shelter in a barn and watched as hope entered the world.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, we know that his work falls to us.  The mission of Jesus Christ has become the mission of his church.  The mission of Jesus Christ has become our mission.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, peace, and yes, hope, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job. 

But it is possible. 

If we work together.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

 

 


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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Scandal of Christmas

Note: This was originally a Facebook post back in 2014 and I’ve repeated it there occasionally, but I thought that it was also worth sharing here.

 

We’ve made Christmas pretty with twinkly lights, shiny decorations and well dressed characters in the nativity but we forget that Christmas was and is a story of scandal.

A baby born to poor, unmarried parents who were themselves descended from prostitutes, foreigners, adulterers, murders, and the absolute WORST king that Israel had ever had, a man who was describes as more evil than Israel’s enemy the Ammonites.

His birth was announced to shepherds, people at the very bottom of the social order. The rich, the important, and the popular were excluded.

Everything about the story is aimed at reminding us that God uses the weak, the small, the outcasts, the unpopular and the people that others call failures to do his greatest work.

The coming of the the Messiah was not the triumph of the establishment, but an invitation to everyone who has ever felt like they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or just simply not “enough.”

The scandal of Christmas is that God came to earth to invite us all, regardless of wealth, race, popularity, nationality, or even goodness. He came to redeem and transform us, at his expense, so that we could *all* be invited into his house.

Never forget the scandal of Christmas because it was that very scandal that invited us in to become sons and daughters of God.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

 


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Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Are You Too Busy for Wonder?

shopping-centerWe’re busy.

All of us have calendars full of events that keep us busy, and this is especially true during December as we prepare for the Christmas season.  We have Christmas parties for church, work and social clubs, invitations from friends, open houses, gift exchanges, family get-togethers, and all of that piled on top of our regular schedules for work, school, and church.

It gets to be a lot.  Almost a burden.

Sometimes, for our own sense of peace and sanity, we need to be careful about which invitations we accept.  If we are to appreciate and enjoy the holiday, we need to find some balance and time for quiet reflection.

But amid all this busyness, we might also remember that in some ways, life wasn’t all that different two thousand years ago.  People were busy.  Just living their everyday lives, doing business, working jobs, raising children, growing crops, preparing food, and all sorts of ordinary, mundane tasks filled their schedules.  And their busyness caused almost everyone to completely miss the most amazing thing that ever happened in the history of the entire planet.

In the second chapter of Matthew we hear this story:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Despite the predictions and prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, despite thousands of years of expectation, despite generations who prayed for the Messiah’s arrival, despite knowing where the messiah would be born, despite the writings of Daniel that gave a good indication of when the messiah would come, despite a collection of professional theologians and priests who dedicated their lives to the study of these scriptures, still they missed it.

Perhaps it’s because they were too busy.

Certainly, God’s messiah arrived differently than anyone expected.  Who would have imagined that the savior of the world would be born to a couple of poor people from the distant countryside?  Who would have guessed that the official birth announcement would be entrusted to a bunch of sheep herders on a hillside?  Who would have believed that a king would be born in barn or a cave, and put to bed in a feeding trough?

As we hear in Luke chapter 2:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

It was unexpected.

But how much easier was it to ignore amid the busyness of everyday life?

I know that you have things to do.  I know that you have Christmas cards to write, family to visit, cookies to eat, and gatherings to attend.  But don’t let your busyness cause to make the same mistake that the world made two thousand years ago.  Don’t get so caught up in your activity that you forget to remember the story.  Don’t forget to appreciate the blessings of the unexpected.  Don’t forget to appreciate the coming of the Prince of Peace. 

Our busyness will only make us tired.

Don’t allow your busyness to drown out the wonder of this moment.

Take the time to remember the story.

Take the time to be thankful.

Take the time to appreciate the gift, and the blessings, that we have been given.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 


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Foreigners or Family?

“Foreigners or Family?”

January 07, 2018

(Epiphany)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Ephesians 3:1-12                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

Since this is the beginning of a new year, let’s take a moment to be introspective.  Let’s take a look deep inside of ourselves. Over the past month or so we’ve discussed the idea of “us” and “them” a few times and we’re going to touch on that one more time today as well.  And so, the question I want you to consider is this: who in your life is “the other?”  Perhaps if you are a college educated person with college educated parents, “the other” is a person who works a blue collar job for an hourly wage.  But if you are a blue collar, union member from a long line of union members, then maybe “the other” is someone who wears a tie to work every day in some high rise building downtown, or in New York or some other big city.  Maybe “the other” person is a CEO, or a multimillionaire, whose job, and entire lifestyle is really more than you can even imagine.  Or maybe your life has been mostly comfortable and “the other” is a homeless person who is so unlike you, and unlike your life’ experiences, that you can’t even imagine how they got there or what it must be like to call a little spot under a bridge “home.”  Many of our families have been living on this continent for so long that we have no idea what it’s like to be someone who was born somewhere else and immigrated here or who has moved here temporarily on a work visa.  In many places that I have lived, and I imagine that this area isn’t terribly different, I knew people who had never left the county they were born in, and quite a few who had never been anywhere outside the state of Ohio.  For them, “the other” can often be people who travel or almost anyone who has come here from Texas, or California, or somewhere else, especially those who have come here from another country.

 

Think about who “the other” might be for you.  Who is it whose life, and whose life experiences, are so vastly different that yours, that you have a hard time understanding the things that they do, how they act, the choices that they make, the things that they like and dislike, and who they are as a person?

 

Who is it that is so different from you that you can barely imagine having a conversation with them, let alone consider the possibility that one day you might be friends?

 

Got it?

 

Now, keep that person in mind as we consider our scriptures for today, which is Epiphany, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men.

 

We begin once again by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:1-6 where we hear these words…


60:1
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

 

Isaiah writes of a time, in the future, when God’s messiah would come and the entire world would rejoice, bring gifts, and bring praise and worship to God.  From our side of history, we take this for granted, but in the time of Isaiah, and up until the coming of Jesus, Israel was God’s chosen people.  God had made a covenant with Abraham and it was only his family that had a relationship with God.  In order for other people, or other nations to worship Israel’s god, they had to come to Israel and to her temple, and worship there.  In order for them to follow God and to have a relationship with him, they would have to be circumcised (at least the men, obviously) and become practicing Jews, but in order to be a practicing Jew, it was necessary to make occasional visits to the temple to make sacrifices and to celebrate holy days.  While people from other nations occasionally came to faith in Israel’s god and converted to Judaism, it was fairly rare.  For the most part, the people of Israel considered foreigners to be “the other.”  Israel was “us” and everyone else was “them.”  Hundred of years had passed since women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba had converted to Judaism, but even though they belonged to the genealogy of King David, they were still referred to as Gentile women.  Gentiles and foreigners were always “the other.”

 

This is one reason that Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that breaks with tradition and includes five women (women were rarely, if ever included in official genealogies), three of whom were foreigners and Gentiles.  From the beginning, Matthew makes sure that his reader understands that the thing that God is doing is not limited to men, or even limited to the nation of Israel.  And then we come to Matthew 2:1-12, where we hear about the coming of the Wise Men.


2:1 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

A great deal can be said about the coming of the Magi, but for today it is enough to point out that this is exactly the beginning of what Isaiah was talking about.  Foreigners, Gentiles, people who were clearly “the other” came to Israel from a distant country rejoicing, bringing gifts, and bringing praise and worship to God.  Just as Isaiah had said, “the other” was being invited in.  Two weeks ago, I talked about outsiders who were invited in.  These were people like the shepherds, people who technically belonged but who, for the most part, lived on the fringes of society.  But the Magi are an entirely different class of outsiders.  These aren’t people from the family of Abraham who had taken a bad path, or who smelled bad, or who were cast aside because they were poor, or even because they were unclean, the Magi were totally outside.  The Magi were never a part of God’s covenant.

 

They… were never… us.

 

Until now.

 

In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains just how dramatically, and earth-shatteringly radical and important this really was.


3:1 
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

Paul’s message is that with the coming of Jesus, the Gentiles are now not only welcomed into the Temple, but are adopted into God’s family as co-heirs with Israel, members of one body, one church, and one people.

 

For almost everyone in Israel and Judea, everyone who was Jewish, and everyone who worshipped Israel’s God, the Gentiles, more than anyone else, had been considered to be “the other.”  While shepherds, prostitutes, and even those that collaborated with the enemy like tax collectors, and half breeds like the Samaritans, were considered to be aliens and outsiders, they at least had some connection, however distant, to the family of Abraham.  But the Gentiles were the ultimate outsiders.  They were completely outside the family of Abraham.  They weren’t Jewish at all.  They had never belonged.  As much as Israel admired King David and King Solomon, and even though they looked forward to a King that would come from David’s royal family, they still considered women like Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba to be Gentiles and outsiders.  Despite converting to Judaism, despite marrying into the family, despite worshipping Israel’s god, and despite being the matriarchs of one of Israel’s greatest families, they were still thought to be “the other” because they were foreigners.

 

But both Matthew and Paul are very clear that the coming of Jesus changed all that.

 

With the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, there is no longer anyone whom we can consider to be “the other.”

 

The most ‘other’ outsiders that existed had not only been invited in, they had been adopted as brothers and sisters.  And not only were they adopted, they were included as equal in God’s inheritance, co-heirs with God’s chosen people.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no longer anyone that we can think of as “the other.”  Not the rich, not the poor, not the educated or the uneducated, not city people, not country people, not blue collar or white collar, union or non-union, well to do or homeless, and not American, immigrant, or foreigner.

 

There are no longer outsiders.

 

There is no longer anyone that we can call foreigners.

 

There is only…  family.

 

And Paul says that, as the church, God has given us the mission to make sure that everyone hears the story of Jesus, and feels like family in the church.

 

In this New Year, let us resolve to be that kind of a church.

 

 

_________
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

The Lesson of Grace

“The Lesson of Grace”

December 24, 2017

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 9:2-7                            Titus 2:11-14              Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

 

 

Reading #1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

 

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

 

 

Reading #2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

 

Reading #3 – Luke 2:1-7

 

2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

 

 

Reading #4 – Luke 2:8-14

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

 

Reading #5 – Luke 2:15-20

 

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

 

Meditation:

“The Lesson of Grace”

 

Isaiah announced to Israel that the coming messiah would bring light into a dark world.  The coming of the messiah would bring joy and peace not only to Israel, but to the entire world and his rule and reign would never end.

 

Luke tells us the story about how the messiah arrived on earth to fulfill the promises that God had made to his people through the prophets of the Old Testament.  This story tells us about “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” of the world, and not just for Israel or for the Jewish people.

 

Our last scripture reading for the evening comes from the book of Titus.  This is one of Paul’s short, pastoral letters that was written to his missionary assistant, Titus (obviously), whom he had sent to share the gospel of Jesus Christ on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.  Here, Paul reflects on what the coming of the messiah, Jesus,  means to us today (Titus 2:11-14) saying…


11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

 

Paul describes Jesus as the grace of God in human flesh, God’s agent of salvation and rescue for all people everywhere and not just to the people who live within the nation of Israel or only to the descendants of Abraham.  But to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus and listens to his voice, we learn how to become better than we used to be.  Listening to Jesus and following his teaching draws us closer to God and allows us to put immorality behind us.  No, we aren’t likely to be perfect any time soon, but each day we learn to increase and improve our self-control so that we can become better and live in a way that honors God.  We are each a work in progress.  We are called to struggle every day to become more godly, more upright, and to have hope in the future because of Jesus.

 

We exchange gifts during this season of Christmas because we remember the gifts that the Magi brought from afar and gave to Jesus, but more importantly because we remember that Jesus gave his own life as a gift so that we could be rescued from wickedness.  It was Jesus’ sacrifice that made it possible for us to be better than we used to be and it is only through that same gift that we can have hope that we will be better tomorrow than we are today.  Because of Jesus, we look forward to the day when God will wash away all of our imperfections and we will become truly perfect, and truly pure, and walk through the gates into God’s house as adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

 

We have done nothing to deserve God’s mercy.

 

We can never do anything to earn such an indescribable gift.

 

And that is why Paul describes Jesus as God’s grace in human flesh.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.