A New Dawn

A New Dawn

January 03, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

We don’t often take the time to sit and watch the sunrise but when we do, we are often rewarded bountifully for our patience.  This is especially true if we are in a place where there is an unobstructed view to the east.  Recently, Patti and I went to South Carolina to attend our nephew’s wedding and on the way, we stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach in a room that faced the beach.  Getting up just a little bit early, making a cup of tea, and sitting on the balcony watching the dawn was almost as memorable a moment as the wedding.  The beauty and serenity of the sunrise, combined with the sound and movement of the surf, was a life-giving moment that fed my soul.

It’s a little odd that a sunrise can be so staggering because it happens every day.  Every day, for millions upon millions of years, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  It seems as if it should feel as ordinary as every other moment of every other day.  But every sunrise is different, and every sunrise, just like every New Year’s Day, is meaningful to us because it represents a new day, a moment filled with possibilities, a moment saturated with our dreams and filled with hope.  It is for exactly that reason, that dawn is often used in literature, biblical and otherwise, to represent hopes, dreams, and new beginnings.  And that is what we find as we read Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming messiah, a vision for the future that would, for hundreds of years, fill God’s people with hope.  (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.

Isaiah describes the coming of the messiah as if the entire world had been living in darkness and was now experiencing the dawn for the first time.  But rather than seeing the rising of the sun, the world would stand as witnesses as the Lord himself would rise over them and the light that they would see would be the glory of God.  Kings would be drawn to that light and they would bring gifts of gold, and incense as they bring praise and worship to God.

And hundreds of years later, we see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in Matthew 2:1-12 as the Magi see the glory of God in the heavens and follow his star to the house in Nazareth (not Bethlehem, because this was a year or three later) where Mary and Joseph and Jesus lived.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magifrom 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.

Just as Isaiah had said, the future ruler and shepherd of Israel had been born in Bethlehem, and after Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the Magi found them and again, just as Isaiah had foretold, they recognized Jesus as a king, worshipped him, and brought gifts of gold and incense.  But look at how they arrived there.  First, they stopped in the capitol, assuming that a king would have been born in the palace.  From there, they likely started toward Bethlehem, but we don’t really know that Jesus was there.  Since Joseph’s home had been in Nazareth, it seems reasonable to assume that they returned there after the census was over. 

But even if they had chosen to stay in Bethlehem, we would be right to ask how the Magi found them, but Matthew’s answer leaves us with even more questions.  Matthew says, “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.”  Listen to that again, “the star they had seen… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”  That’s the only explanation that Matthew offers.  But clearly, since stars, and even planetary conjunctions, simply do not, and cannot, guide us from one town to another, and certainly do not lead us to distinguish one house over another, we have no idea what it was that the Magi were following.  Except that in some way, they were following God.  And we see that every step led them to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies.

And the arrival of the Magi fulfilled one more prophecy that is a little less obvious, but which is of vital importance to you and me.  Paul recognized its importance, and explains it to the Greek church in Ephesus this way (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.

The arrival of the magi signifies the fulfillment of God’s promise to break out of the confines of Israel, to break out into the world, to adopt the Gentiles into God’s family as well as the Jews, and to become the rescuer of all humanity.  Paul says that the miracle that is revealed in the gospel is that the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers in the promise of Jesus Christ.  The arrival of the magi is indeed the moment of a new dawn, the beginning of God’s new work in the world.  It is at this moment when our families, and we ourselves, were invited into, and indeed adopted into, God’s family.  And, with the adoption of the Gentiles, we can easily visualize the vast number of nations, kings, presidents, prime ministers, and others around the world who have, and who now worship Israel’s king.

But why?  As impressive as it was, and as impressive as it still is, why did it happen and why does it matter?

And Paul provides the answer to that as well saying, “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.”

His intent was that now, through the church, the wisdom of God would be made known because it is in him, and through faith in him, that we have the freedom and confidence to approach God, to share our joys, our troubles, our sorrows, and our prayers with him, and to become, and to participate, in our new family. 

It is a new dawn.

And today our mission remains the same.  God intent, God’s mission, is for us to make the wisdom of God known to rulers, to authorities, and to everyone that has not heard the Good News.

Because it is, indeed, good news, of great joy… for all the people.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/t-yzH9sS9xs

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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

2021, Blessing or Curse?

2021, Blessing or Curse?

December 30, 2020

by John Partridge

Will this pandemic influenced, socially distanced, Christmas, and the following New Year, be filled with “good news of great joy” or feel more like we were hit by a freight train?  And I think that my best guess is, it depends.

I was reminded this week of how we often find exactly the things for which we are looking.  We can watch same news stories and Republicans and Democrats will each hear entirely different things.  And each of those things will conform to the opinions and worldviews that they had before they watched it.  Scientifically, it’s called “confirmation bias.”  We tend to seek out views and opinions with which we agree, and even if we listen to unbiased reporting, what we hear is influenced by what we expected to hear. 

The same is true of much more mundane things.  I read a story once about an entomologist (you know, a guy who studies bugs) and his friend who were walking along a sidewalk in a big city.  Suddenly the man said, “Did you hear that?”  He stopped walking and started searching intently until he found a particular species of cricket in a crack in the sidewalk.  The friend marveled that the man had been able to hear a cricket chirp over the noise of the city, but in answer the entomologist simply pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it.  Instantly a half dozen people turned and started looking for the dropped coin.  Smiling, the man said, my coin was no louder than the cricket, but people tend to find the things that they are thinking about. 

I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I know that our biases shape our daily lives, and our enjoyment of it, in powerful ways.  Years ago, I had a coworker who saw the entire world as a terrible place that always seemed to be out to destroy her.  Every conversation with her was one in which she described all the accidents and missed opportunities of her recent past and never once included the any stories of her successes, or even stories of her young son.  Her focus on the negative entirely robbed her life of the joys that could be found in her everyday life.

And so, as we enter a new year, and as we continue to live with restrictions and precautions of this current pandemic, I urge you to be careful of your biases about how you look at the world.   If we are looking for crickets or dropped coins, we are likely to find the things for which we are paying attention.  If we look for sadness and disappointment, we will certainly find them.  But, if we look for happiness, good news, and positive influences, I am convinced that we are more likely to find those instead. 

If we look at the Christmas story with this in mind, we realize that Herod was always looking at the world to find the next person that might threaten his power and control.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, despite being biblical scholars, were always looking out for themselves.  But the wise men were looking for signs and the shepherds were looking for hope.  And so, when the star appeared in the heavens, everyone saw exactly what their focus and biases guided them to see.  The wise men saw a sign, the shepherds found hope, Mary and Joseph found answered prayer, Herod found a threat, and the religious leaders were so focused on themselves that they almost missed it entirely.

And so, as we enter this new year, whether we find blessings or curses in 2021 is almost entirely up to us, to our attitudes, and to our biases.  Rather than enter this new year searching for threats, or looking only for our own selfish interests, let us instead enter it as pilgrims in search of hope, faith, and love.  We are, after all, the ambassadors that carry “good news of great joy, which is for all the people.”  Despite the pandemic and its economic influence, despite our current, hyper-partisan political climate, despite our separation and isolation, if we are paying attention, I am convinced that there are, and will be, nuggets of good, silver linings, and pockets of joy that can be found.  Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the “good news of great joy” for all people, the hope of the world, and the Prince of Peace because whatever it is that we choose to seek…

…is almost certainly what we will find.

I choose to seek faith, hope, joy, peace, and love.

Will you?

Blessings,

Pastor John


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*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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Note: Recently, as he was going through our father’s files, my brother Steve came across a column that Dad had published in a newspaper in December of 1970. As we end our season of Advent in 2020 fifty years later, it seems just as important, just as relevant, and just as contemporary, as it was then.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Guest Post by Rev. Stanley Partridge

One of the most delightful stories told is the one by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle.  After his very long sleep, he returns to his native village which is supposed to be the most familiar place that he knows.  As was his custom, he goes to the tavern.  There instead of finding the face of King George on the swinging sign, he sees the face of a man whom he comes to know as George Washington.  Most people have enjoyed the story, but not everyone discerns the moral of it.  In truth, Rip Van Winkle slept through a revolution.

The American Revolution is dwarfed in comparison to the era in which we are now living.  The times of which we are a part is the greatest period of revolutionary ferment the world has seen.  Wherever we may turn, the fires of strife in one form or another are blazing, and far-reaching changes are under way.  Many political foundations which seemed so secure a few decades ago, are now shaking and sagging before our eyes.  The vast colonial empires, so familiar to the older generation, are now becoming an eclipse and who can tell the shape of the new world that is just emerging?

Tragically, too many people today are unaware or just do not care about this global war of ideas, and like Rip Van Winkle, they are sleeping through a revolution.  It was at a crucial point in the ministry of Jesus, that of the Sadducees and the Pharisees combined their forces against him.  They said to him, “Show us a sign from heaven that you are under God’s authority.”  Our Lord answers, “Why do you ask me for a sign? You are the experts in signs.  In the evening when the sky is red you say that it is going to be a fine day tomorrow.  In the morning if it is red and lowering you say we are in for a stormy day.  You know how to interpret the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”  They were like Rip Van Winkle too, in that they were asleep to the great potential of the man that was before them.  They knew all the “Tricks” of the Roman political games and missed the one who would tower above men of all history—unique, solitary, and majestic.

These searching words of Jesus, “You cannot interpret the signs of the times,” apply to us also, for there are many on business, industry, politics, economics, yes and even the Church who can read most of the signs of our times but cannot see, or refuse to see, what is obvious.  How long can the world seek for PEACE and refuse demands for “clean air” and “pure streams” and a better living environment when the only god they know and have known is a god created in man’s image.  This age of materialism calls us all to bow down to its demands and has lulled us into a peaceful sleep of lethargy.

Our greatest need today is to begin to bridge the yawning gap between our profession of belief in human freedom and justice and our lamentable practices that discredit us in the eyes of the world and one another.

This is the season of Advent, a time when we again take time to remember that there was a man who came to bring to the world a new lifestyle that wasn’t meant to be encumbered with the trivia of life.  He comes to bring to us the things in life that want most but won’t turn to him to find.  He comes bringing peace, love, joy, and contentment, but we go our merry way attempting to find peace, love, joy, and contentment in any other place than in him.

Here is a goal for all of us: To follow in the footsteps of Christ our Lord who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, who kept loving men who hated him, who died for men who were unworthy of his sacrifice.  But you see, he released a Spirit in the world that alone can draw people together in the bonds of human love and peace under the over-arching care of an eternal God.


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* 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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Named by Destiny

Named by Destiny

December 27, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 61:10-62:3                               Galatians 4:4-7                      Luke 2:22-40

There are certain events in history that become defining moments of whole nations, or even entire eras of history.  Some completely unknown, ancient person dared to experiment with the chemistry of molten metal in an attempt to make brass harder.   And, without ever realizing it, their success ushered in a new era of technology and warfare that we still refer to as the Bronze Age.   The coronation of Queen Victoria effectively named a hundred years of history, style, and culture that is still referred to as the Victorian Era.  In 230 BC, Ying Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, conquered the remaining states nearby in the fall of 221 BC and unified what became known as the empire of Qin, or more commonly in English, China as it has been known for the last two thousand years. 

At 5:30 am, on July 16, 1945, 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, on the barren plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range, the United States Department of Defense triggered the explosion of a single device that released 18.6 kilotons of explosive power and marked the beginning, of what has been known ever since, as the Atomic Age.  There are many such moments that define history and many smaller moments that define each one of us.  We also find these moments in scripture.  These are moments that define generations of people, and ages of time.  In Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, the prophet of God looks forward to a day that will become a turning point, and a defining moment, for the nation of Israel, for the entire world, and for all of us thousands of years later.  Isaiah said:

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Isaiah sees a day in his future when God changes the destiny of Israel.  God will dress the people in new clothing like a bride and groom are prepared for their wedding, and the entire nation of Israel will be lifted up, glorified in the eyes of the world, and vindicated after all her years of suffering and ridicule at the hands of nations like the Philistines, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others.  Isaiah sees a moment when all the nations of the world will bow down to Israel’s’ king and Israel will be so transformed that even its name will be changed to reflect its new destiny.

And then, in Luke 2:22-40, we see a moment that, however small it may first appear, is a defining moment for two senior citizen clergy persons, for one poor family from an unpopular village, and that moment became a light, a beacon, that is seen still today as a transformative moment in history for millions of believers.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismissyour servant in peace.  30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

God had promised Simeon that he would live to see the birth of God’s promised messiah.  For reasons that he may not have understood, he was drawn to the temple to serve with his tribe even though he could have been excused for his age.  And, at the moment that he saw Mary and Joseph, and took their baby into his arms, he knew that God had kept his promise and marveled at what God was about to do, and how this tiny infant was going to change the world.

And it didn’t only happen once.  Anna was a prophet and had lived in the temple since she had been widowed many decades earlier.  And she too, for reasons unknown to her, was drawn to the place where Simeon was with Mary, Joseph, and their baby.  And upon her arrival, she knew exactly who Jesus was, and who he would become.  This was a turning point in history.  Anna knew that from that moment on, Israel, and the world, was going to change.  God was beginning the process of redefining history just as Isaiah had seen and had prophesied. 

But two thousand years later, those moments still matter.  It wasn’t just the naming of a new age, or the birth of a new nation, or the discovery of a new powerful technology.  It was something much more than that.  Something far grander than that.  Something more pivotal to the lives of everyday people like us and in Galatians 4:4-7 The apostle Paul writes to explain it to his church this way:

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Paul says that the impact of the messiah Jesus on history is much more than the fulfillment of prophecy or keeping God’s promise to two elderly clergy persons.  The impact of Jesus’ arrival means the offer of transformation to ordinary people like us.  It means an invitation to be dressed as though we are on our way to our own wedding, renamed, adopted as children by the creator of the universe, and loved so intimately that we call our creator “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.”  We were transformed in that moment two thousand years ago.  Because of that moment, we are no longer slaves but children of God and heirs to the kingdom of the creator of everything.

It is because of that moment that we are who we are.

It is because of that moment that we are invited to become the people of God’s imagination and vision.

It is because of that moment that God is at work transforming us into something greater than we can ever ask or imagine.

It is because of that moment that we can call ourselves, Christ-ians.

And now it’s up to us to live, and to love, as if that destiny matters.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/eoPqCgB0YFs

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Light of the World HAS Come

The Light of the World *Has* Come

December 24, 2020

Pastor John Partridge

(Note: This is the text from the meditation shared at our Christmas Eve service. You can find the video of that service here: https://youtu.be/PCIT75HQFAk)*

As unusual as this evening has been, we attempted to make it as normal as possible under the restrictions and our desire to keep one another safe during this global pandemic.  I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to email us and tell us that you were coming so that we could light a candle in our sanctuary for you.  And I want to thank everyone who volunteered to help with our Advent wreath, or read one of our scripture for this evening, music team and our choir who sang extra songs, the volunteers that set up all our luminaries, or to recorded themselves lighting a candle, or for any of the other things that were needed to record, assemble, and edit this Christmas Eve service.  I especially want to thank Bob Wallace for his herculean efforts at video editing.  As much effort as it was to record dozens of short, socially distanced video clips, it was a gigantic task to assemble those short videos into one, understandable whole.

But beyond the thank-yous of the evening, is the importance of the message.  As we have come together in this virtual gathering for Christmas Eve, I hope that you will all remember that the message of the angels was that they had brought “Good News of great joy for all the people.”  The Shepherds watching their flocks were blinded by a great light and heavenly choirs announcing the arrival of the light of the world.

That’s why we came tonight to sing songs of celebration.  And that’s why we lit candles and passed them, as much as possible, from one to another. 

The light of the world has come.

But the light of the world didn’t come into the world so that we could read about it in a book.  That light was the Good News, indeed, good news of great joy.  And that good news was shared by the shepherds in the field, and the wise men who visited, and by everyone who had heard the story.  That good news was shared, from one person to another, until, two thousand years later, someone shared it with you.

The light of the world has come.

And that light isn’t just something that we read about in a book.  That light goes out into the world this evening.  You carry that light. You carry that good news.  The message of Christmas is that just as the light has been passed from one generation to another, and just as it was given to you, you must pass that light forward to the next person, and to the next generation, just as the flame of the candles was passed from one person to another.

The light of the world has come.

We have come here tonight, and we have heard Good News of great joy that is for all the people.

Let us go out from this place and share that good news with the rest of the world.

Merry Christmas.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/q5ywQknu4os

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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Passing the Joy Test

Passing the Joy Test

December 13, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11              1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;       John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is probably no surprise to anyone to hear that we are living in an unusual time in history.  But what I mean in saying such a thing, is that we are living in a time when we can see the freight train coming.  We are as an American society in the twenty-first century, very much in the position of the damsel Nell Fenwick who has been tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash and is desperately hoping for the arrival of Dudley Do-Right to come and rescue her.  We can see the freight train of rising virus cases caused by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year gatherings and we can anticipate the terrible consequences but there is little, or nothing that we can do to stop the train.  The only things that we can do… is hope.

But, as unusual as this might be, it is not unique in history.  As I have mentioned in recent weeks, the prophet Isaiah lived in just such a time.  In about 700 BC, Isiah and the people of Israel watched as the Assyrian Empire grew in power, influence, and military might and the Assyrian King Sennacharib had already brought his armies to the gates of Jerusalem.  Through God’s grace, Israel was saved, but Isaiah knew that those armies would be back, that Israel and Judah would be captured, marched to Babylon, and held in captivity for seventy years.  They saw the train coming down the tracks, they could anticipate the terrible consequences, and they were tempted to despair.  But, as difficult as it must have been to hear about God’s judgement and the impending destruction of their nation, because Isaiah also prophecies their eventual return to Israel and proclaims Israel’s rescue and the coming Messiah, Isaiah’s message is ultimately a message… of hope.

Even though they saw the train coming, and they knew that hard times were coming, they knew that God cared about them and that God had a plan to rescue them.  We hear a part this message in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:

61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah, we hear a message that we will hear again from John the Baptist, and we hear a message from a God who loves justice, and who loves and cares for his people.  And that message, given to a people who watched as the freight train of the Assyrian army grew ever closer, shined like a beacon on a dark night and for hundreds of years, through invasions, captivity, destruction, suffering, sorrow, and death, this was a place where they could find hope.

And then, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, Isaiah’s vision becomes reality as John the Baptist announces the imminent arrival of Jesus.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John proclaimed that the time had finally come for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that while he was not the messiah that God had promised, that messiah was already standing “among” them.  After hundreds of years and many generations, the prayers of Israel’s people were being answered.  God’s rescuer and redeemer had arrived, and the hope of the people was transformed… into joy.

Well, at least it did for some of them.  John rejoiced, as did many of the people, but not everyone.  It was the people that Isaiah had talked about who found joy in the coming of the messiah.  It was the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, those in mourning, the grieving, the people who suffered from injustice, robbery, and wrongdoing, it was the outcasts, the least, and the lost who rejoiced.  But the wealthy, and those whom the system served, and whose success had been tied to the success of the system saw the coming of the messiah as a threat to their success and to their way of life.  This disconnect between the haves and the have-nots grew until it exploded into violence, crucifixion, and death in the Easter story as the system struggled to maintain the status quo.

And later, long after the resurrection of Jesus, the church remembered the lesson of joy and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and gives them these words of instruction:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Rejoice always.  Find joy in the story, in the message of Good News, and in the prophecies of God.  Give thanks, at all times, for the things that God gives you, even when those times are difficult.  Do not cast aside the prophecies and promises of God just because you think that God is taking too long, or that there is too much pain, or too much suffering, or that your circumstances are too hard.  Instead, test the prophecies of God to find the truth.  Test them against what you know about God.  Hold on to what is good because we know that God is good.  Reject every kind of evil, because we know that God is never found in any kind of evil deeds.  Our God is a god of peace who is always faithful and who always keeps his promises.

In some ways, our joy is a test.  The coming of Jesus was intended to upset the apple cart and to disrupt the status quo.  We are called to rejoice in that disruption and not be so married to our success, to our wealth, our culture, and to the status quo that we become like Israel’s leaders and reject Jesus simply on the basis that his existence will be disruptive and make our lives more complicated.  Secondly, we are invited to test all of God’s prophecies because we know that God is always good and so we know that what God wants for us is good and that we can reject anything that is evil as not being godly.

The coming of Jesus at Christmas is intended to bring good news of great joy.

Let us rejoice.

But let us remember to find joy in the right things.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/0s49_c1xx5E

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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Caring for Your Christmas Heart

Ohio has now raised our county’s COVID-19 alert level to “purple, or level four.  We are now, more than ever, feeling threatened by the pandemic as this invisible virus threatens to overwhelm doctors, hospitals, caregivers, nursing homes, and even the coroner and the county morgue.  Many of us had already felt isolated and alone, and now reason, good sense, and caution urge us to retreat even further from human contact.  We are staying in contact with our families and friends by mail, by telephone, social media, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and anything else that we can think of, but there are no handshakes, hugs, or kisses on the cheek but we can feel our hunger for human contact gnawing at us.

Our holiday traditions are being upset, upended, and overturned at every turn.  Certainly, no one has seen such an unusual Christmas season since the Spanish Flu swept around the world, twice, in 1917 and again in 1918.  Our company Christmas parties, as well as traditional gatherings at church, social clubs, service clubs, scouts, school, sports teams, and other groups that we normally enjoy, are probably all cancelled and, as a result, we’re spending more time at home than we have since we were in diapers.

But how will we use this time?

Some of us have rediscovered crafts and hobbies that we had left behind years ago.  Many have rediscovered a love for the outdoors and for anything that can be done, away from crowds, outside of our homes.  Stores were sold out of fishing tackle and kayaks for months because everyone was trying to get out on a lake somewhere.  And I’ve heard stories that this might be a banner year for Christmas lights because everyone had time to dig things out of the attic and put them up.

But what will you do for your heart?

I’m not talking about walking or running, or any kind of cardiovascular exercise.  In the middle of our physical isolation from other human beings, I’m talking about doing what we can to prevent spiritual isolation.  In a normal year, and in a normal Advent and Christmas season, we can often rely upon our patterns of living, our habits, and our traditions to help us feel Christmas-y.  Even if we aren’t regular in attendance during the year, we often return to church in the fall, or at least after Thanksgiving, so that we can get into the spirit of Christmas.  We know that seeing the church decorated for Christmas, hearing the music, and singing the songs of Christmas stir something inside of us that we need to be stirred.  I have often been deliberate in listening to Christmas music after Thanksgiving to help me feel less like Scrooge and more like Bob Cratchit.  At church we can rely upon our Sunday school teachers, our pastor, and even our friends wearing festive sweaters, to help us feel a stirring in our souls and a closeness with God?

But all the tools that we have used throughout our lifetimes are being taken away from us as we stay home and insulate ourselves, and others, from a virus that wants to do us harm.  And so, what will we do to feel Christmas?  What will we do to feel a familiar stirring in our souls?  What will we do to draw closer to God without parties and Christmas carols?  What will we do without seeing the decorations at church, or hearing the pipe organ, seeing a parade of ugly sweaters, or lighting a candle on Christmas Eve?

Don’t panic.

Remember that while your church may not be doing things in the same way that we’ve always done them, we are trying to bring Christmas to you in other ways.  At Christ Church we decorated the church so that you can see it in our videos and we’ve already begun recording portions of our Christmas Eve service and invited you to record yourself so that we can all “see” one another, our Sunday school classes are meeting online via Zoom, and we’re doing whatever we can to make Christmas as normal as possible. 

But that may not be enough.

Many of those folks who bought kayaks discovered that to get across the lake, you may need to paddle a bit, and sometimes paddling can be hard work.  Likewise, although your pastor, church staff, and volunteers are doing what they can, much of what you feel at Christmas is up to you.  But that’s always been true.  When I started to feel too much like a Humbug, I knew that it was time to start listening to Christmas music.  What will it take to move you from Scrooge to Cratchit?  What will it take to stir your soul?  What will it take for you to draw closer to Jesus this Advent and Christmas?

Just as we bought board games, kayaks, and fishing equipment in the spring, we may need to invest something of ourselves this Christmas.  For me, it may be listening to Christmas music and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  But it will also mean joining with our church family on YouTube and singing hymns, sharing communion together on Zoom, and opening my Bible to the book of Luke and reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time.  Be prepared to go out and do whatever it is that you need to do to stir your soul and draw closer to Jesus this Christmas.

As much as we are starving for human contact, our souls are starving for closeness with Jesus.

Don’t push away from his fire and allow your soul to grow cold like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Do whatever you need to do to stir your soul and draw close.

As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us… every one.”

Merry Christmas.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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 and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!


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Reframe, Restart, Re-imagine

As I write this, we are less than two weeks from Thanksgiving.  When you read this, it will likely be almost, or already, December and we will be counting down to Christmas.  We, both individually and collectively, have been trying to manage, and cope with, the constantly changing restrictions on our lives brought on by the Coronavirus since March.  And the latest resurgence and new peaks of COVID-19 are forcing change on us yet again. 

As I met with our Worship Committee and our staff, I had hoped to find a way for us to hold on to some of our Advent and Christmas traditions.  We talked about a drive through service, and even began designing a Christmas Eve service that would travel from station to station, in small groups, through the church and still light candles in the sanctuary.  But with the latest surge in virus cases, and the newest recommended restrictions, I doubt that we will even be able to do that.  Instead, we will pivot, again, and try to find a meaningful way of celebrating Christmas Eve together while we are apart. 

Few of us imagined a Christmas quite like this one in March and, if we’re honest, we’re having a hard time imagining it now.  But as we rush toward the end of what has probably been the strangest year any of us has ever seen, we also struggle to imagine what the new year will bring us.  We have hope that new vaccines will successfully conclude their clinical trials, be approved, and begin distribution but, at this point, we are told that widespread availability probably won’t happen until mid-summer.  Sigh.  That means we probably should prepare ourselves for Coronavirus to dampen our plans for yet another Easter.

But a new year still encourages us to image a new beginning.  A new year now, as always, presses us to reflect on the year we leave behind and envision a better, brighter, bolder, future.  Perhaps this year, more than ever, we look forward to leaving 2020 behind and hoping for something better.  But as we do, let us also grapple with what lessons, however difficult, that we have learned. 

I believe that this pandemic has taught us, or at least boldly reminded us, that “church” is not a building and “mission” is not what happens inside of that building.  We are learning that “community” and “family” are bigger ideas, and stronger ties, than just the people with whom we can shake hands each Sunday and we are finding ways to stay connected to the people we care about, the people in our church family, and the people in our communities in other ways.  We are learning that the “reach” of our church, and our worship, is bigger than just the people who show up in person, on Sunday morning and we are learning, I hope, how to reach out to, and to connect with, the people around us in ways that we hadn’t considered before.  We are already seeing “new faces” in our church that have joined us on the internet and haven’t yet attended a single “in-person” worship service, and despite not having what we might have, a few months ago, considered to be an essential element, they now consider themselves to be a part of our church.

And so, as we hurtle toward the end of one year and the beginning of the next, I hope that we will continue to reframe our ideas of what some of these words mean.  For some of us, words like church, mission, outreach, community, and even family will never be the same even after things return to “normal.”  As we grapple with these new meanings, and with our new knowledge, and yes, new skills, let us also continue to re-imagine what we could be, what we can be, and what God is calling us to be as individuals, as a people, and as a church.  Clearly, the situation that we have is not one that we wanted, or even one that we ever imagined, but I am certain that through it, God is trying to teach us something incredibly valuable…

if we are willing to listen… and learn.

I pray that, years from now, rather than mourn over the things that we lost during the pandemic of 2020, we would instead rejoice over the things that we learned, and what that new knowledge, and that new understanding, allowed us to achieve.

Blessings,

Pastor John

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Strategic Retreat

Strategic Retreat

December 29, 2019*

(First Sunday after Christmas)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 63:7-9                          Matthew 2:13-23                               Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Shortly after our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was fighting for its life.  The British had landed an overwhelming force on Long Island, defeated the American patriots in Brooklyn, and had nearly 9,000 of Washington’s soldiers trapped against the East River.  British General Sir William Howe prepared to lay siege to the surrounded Americans and was intent on annihilating them to the last man.  But, as General Howe prepared his offensive, General Washington and his troops rounded up all the boats that they could find and, as silently as possible, even using rags to muffle the sound of the oars and maintaining their campfires so to deceive the British, the Americans ferried their army across the river in the dark of night on August 29, 1776.  At sunrise, many remained on the Long Island side of the river, but God, or luck, was on Washington’s side and a dense fog masked the final stages of the withdrawal.  In the end, all 9000 colonists and nearly all their equipment was successfully evacuated, and they lived to fight another day.  Continental officer Benjamin Tallmadge later wrote, “In the history of warfare I do not recollect a more fortunate retreat,”  (This story from History.com – https://www.history.com/news/7-brilliant-military-retreats)

Sometimes, when faced with an overwhelming enemy force, the wisest course is not to stay and fight, but to run away to fight another day.  In those cases, and history records many of them, it is not cowardly to make a strategic retreat.  We find such things even in scripture.  But first, we once again remember the prophecies recorded by the prophet Isaiah.  But in this passage, Isaiah not only writes about the messiah that was to come, but about the deeds that he would do, the emotions that he would have, and the connection that he would have to the heart of God’s people.  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah says that it was the actions of God for which he was normally remembered, but also that God had done these things because of his kindness, and compassion.  As the savior of his people, God was distressed when his people were distressed.  God rescued and redeemed his people because of the mercy that he had for them and the love that he felt for them.  And those feelings continue even as the messiah arrives upon the earth.  In Matthew 2:13-23, as the messiah begins God’s invasion of our world, we hear the story of God’s greatest strategic retreat.

13 When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is all good stuff but remember that Isaiah said that God was remembered for the deeds that he did, and for things like kindness and compassion.  So, as we think about the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, I want to particularly listen for two things: First, listen for what people did and second, pay attention to what emotions they must have felt. 

At the beginning of our story, I’m just going to guess that Mary and Joseph were tired.  This part of the story doesn’t immediately follow the Christmas story and could happen as much as two years later.  So, as we begin, Mary and Joseph have made a home in Bethlehem, or elsewhere, and are raising a toddler.  But Joseph is still a faithful man of God who both hears from and listens to God.  This is important because when God comes to Joseph in a dream, Joseph pays attention.  Now, I’m willing to grant that this was probably no ordinary dream, but still, how easy would it have been for Joseph to simply write it off as the result of some bad fish, or something he ate the night before? 

But Joseph immediately understands that this dream is from God and he immediately understands the importance of it.  He awakens Mary, in the middle of the night, they wrap up the baby, and apparently without even saying goodbye to their neighbors, family, and friends, they left town.  In two sentences they’ve gone from just being a couple of tired parents, to being terrified and fleeing for their lives because the King and his entire army want them dead. 

Herod, who was emotionally unstable, and who, at the very least, suffered from severe paranoia and who had no qualms at all about committing the vilest atrocities in order to remain in power, is incredibly angry.  Herod realizes that the Magi saw through his “I just want to worship him” act and is furious that they left the country without telling him where the baby was.  But, because Herod is both paranoid and a cold-blooded killer, he sends his army to Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child that was two years old or younger.  If Herod can’t be sure which child the Magi visited, his plan is to just kill all of them.

It is easy to understand that this mass execution of babies terrorizes the entire village and has every mother in the town out in the streets weeping and mourning just as the prophet Jeremiah has foretold hundreds of years earlier.  And then, several years later, Herod the Great dies, and the areas over which he had ruled were divided up among several of his sons.  When that happens, God once again calls upon Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is time to come home.  But even as they journey back, they hear that one of those sons, Herod Archelaus, who by some accounts was even more cruel and despotic than his father, is now the ruler over Judea, which included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  With that news, Mary and Joseph are once again afraid for their lives and for the life of their child, so they choose to bypass Bethlehem and make their way north instead to the area of Galilee and Nazareth which was ruled over by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great.

But so, what?  Why is any of that important? 

Make no mistake, it is important, but before I explain why, let’s first look at something that we find in Hebrews 2:10-18.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews wants to be certain that we understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering.  It is the suffering of Jesus that reminds us of his humanity and what assures us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  He says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”  And he goes on to say that “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  And finally, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  The writer of Hebrews is insistent that the humanity of Jesus is not only important, it is vital, critical, and indeed, the whole story falls apart without it.

And that is also exactly why it’s important to focus on what Mary and Joseph did, and the emotions that they felt.  Too many times we hear people write off parts of the gospel message or discredit important parts of Christian faith by saying that Jesus wasn’t completely human in one way or another.  Some say that Jesus was only an idea and not a real person, or that he was only a spirit and not entirely a creature of flesh and blood, or that he was partly God and partly human and that’s the only reason that Jesus was able to live a perfect and sinless life. 

But none of those things fit with the story of scripture.

The writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we understood that, and so did Matthew.  Matthew takes the time to tell the story of this strategic retreat so that we understand the people in it and the emotions behind it.  Mary and Joseph were poor, but they were also people of a deep and devout faith and trust in God.  And not only did they know the struggle of daily survival and living, they understood fear.  When God told them to run, they didn’t wait until morning and say goodbye, they ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  The idea that King Herod wanted their baby dead, and maybe them as well, was terrifying.  Everyone knew the horror that Herod was capable of.  There were no mixed messages about Jesus in the minds of Mary and Joseph.  They knew that he was a human being in every respect.  A baby that wet the bed, a toddler that forgot his shoes and wandered off when you weren’t watching closely enough.  They knew that Jesus wasn’t godlike.  They knew that Jesus didn’t have any godly power that would protect them from Herod’s soldiers.  They knew that Jesus was no vaporous spirit, but that he was 100 percent flesh and blood just like them, and just like us, in every respect.

And because he was, he is able to help us.

Because he was human, he became a merciful and faithful high priest that made atonement for the sins of his people.  Without Jesus’ humanity, he would not have been able to rescue us.

But he was and he did.

And the unrelenting, overwhelming fear of Mary and Joseph is proof of Jesus’ humanity.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Because He Did, We Do.

Because He Did, We Do

December 24, 2019

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

MEDITATION:

In case you somehow didn’t notice, this is Christmas Eve.  But so, what?  Why do we come together and retell the story every year?  Why does it matter?  Why do events that happened more than two thousand years ago matter to us in the twenty-first century at all?  I mean, isn’t it just a nice story that we tell children?  Why should a bedtime story be so important? 

But it does matter.  And yes, it does matter to adults and children alike.  And what’s more, not only is it worth repeating, and not only is it foundational to our faith, this story demands something from us.  Because we are the people who walked in darkness and saw a great light.  We are the people to whom a child has been born.  We are the people who have been rescued, by him, from sin and death.  We are the people who have been put under his authority, and when we accepted Jesus as our rescuer and savior, we chose to follow him and obey his commands.

So, what is it that Jesus requires of us?

We all know that’s not a simple question.  We read scripture at home, and we come to church every Sunday, and sometimes more, so that we can study together, and learn together and help one another to do understand and to do what Jesus wants us to do.  But for tonight, let’s listen to the words that we find in Titus 2:11-14, where we hear this:

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.

Salvation and rescue have been offered to all people.  And because we are the people who said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of rescue, then we are called to say “no” to ungodliness and instead live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives even if, and even when, the world around us preaches that God is dead, and it’s okay to do anything that feels good.

Titus reminds us that Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be redeemed from a life of wickedness and evil, and so that Jesus could be at work purifying us so that we would be eager to do good.

Although it is a beautiful story, we don’t just celebrate on Christmas Eve because it’s a beautiful story.  We celebrate Christmas Eve because it is important for us to remember what he did and for whom he did it.  The Christmas story is the beginning of God’s invasion of the earth as he works to reclaim his people and call them back to him.  Jesus didn’t just come to save some random shepherds, a handful of disciples, and a few others.  Jesus didn’t come just to fulfill the promises that God gave to the Jews through his prophets.  Jesus came to rescue all of us.  Jesus came to rescue humanity.  Jesus came to rescue everyone.  Christmas brings a message filled good news of great joy for all the people.

But the work of telling all the people about that good news isn’t finished yet.

If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of two things.  First, that we are called to live as if our faith is important.  To live the way that Jesus lived.  To set aside the wickedness that is so common to the world and to live godly lives of purity.  Simply put, we need to look like, and live like, Jesus.  And second, because Jesus came to rescue all the people, and all the people haven’t yet heard his story, we must be in the business of making sure that they do.

Because Jesus did, we still do.

We love the Christmas story.  It’s awesome.  It’s far more than just a children’s bedtime story.

It is good news of great joy for all the people.

Every one of us should go out from this place and make sure that everyone, that all the people, hear that good news.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

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.

 

 

 

 


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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.