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.

 

The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”

December 24, 2017

(4th Sunday of Advent)

By John Partridge*

 

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                           Romans 16:25-27                               Luke 1:26-38

 

 

How many of you watch football?

 

For many people in this area, football is important.  In Massillon, for some people it rises to the level of religion or fanaticism, or both.  So can you imagine what football season is like in a home where a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon is married to an alumnus of McKinley?  We know that these things must happen.  You can buy flags for your yard that are half Ohio State and half Michigan with the words “A house divided” appearing at the bottom.  But somehow, at least apart from football season, these folks have found common ground and a way to live, and love, together.

 

Likewise, this is one of the things that makes the present day European Union all the more amazing.  It wasn’t that long ago that my German grandfather fought in the trenches against the French and, historically, parts of Europe have been at war with one another almost continuously from 500 BC and intermittently at least as far back as 5000 BC.  To have arrived at a place where 27 or 28 of these nations not only get along, but have formed a common government that protects and serves their common interests is nothing short of amazing.

 

But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.

 

We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where King David decides that he should build a temple for the God of Israel but discovers that God has entirely different plans.


7:1 
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you

 

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

 

As King David relaxes in his new palace, he realizes how much God has blessed him and decides that God ought to have a house as nice, or nicer, than his own.  The prophet Nathan knows that God loves David and has supported David since he was a boy watching his father’s sheep but God has other plans.  God tells Nathan that David is not to build him a house and in fact, God insists that he never asked for house.  Instead, God intends to make David’s name even more well-known and build a nation where the people of Israel can live forever without being disturbed, and be protected from their enemies.  Rather than demand a house or a temple for himself, God intends to build David a house and a nation by promising that David’s family will rule over Israel forever.

 

But it didn’t take long before it appeared that God had forgotten his promise to David.  Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were ruled by David rejected his grandson Rehoboam and the kingdom was divided.  The ten tribes who splinter off become the nation of Israel and the two that remain loyal to David’s family becomes the nation of Judah.  But even that doesn’t last very long.  Twelve or fifteen generations later (about 300 years), both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and carried off into captivity where the ten tribes of Israel are lost to history forever.  The two tribes of Judah, those loyal to the family line of King David, eventually return and reestablish the nation of Israel, but after that time Israel is never truly independent and a Davidic king is never anointed as ruler over Israel.

 

It is interesting to note that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelite people continued to make an effort to keep track of who was descended from King David and one of these people, the Exilarch, was the leader of the Jewish people.  The theory was that one day Israel would again become an independent nation and the Exilarch would then be anointed as the King of Israel.  This position of Exilarch was maintained as a descendent of King David for hundreds of years but was finally lost to history around 1154 AD.

 

In any case, by the time that Jesus was born, the people were still hoping that God would keep his promise and raise up a descendent of King David to be their messiah, their rescuer and redeemer.  As we’ve mentioned before, most people thought that the messiah would be a military king that would raise an army, overthrow the Romans, and make Israel into an independent nation once again.

 

And after all of that, we arrive at the story contained in Luke 1:26-38.

 

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

God tells Mary that her son, as a descendent from the kingly line of David, would become the king of Israel, rule over the children of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end.  God was about to keep the promise that he had made to King David almost a thousand years earlier.  And, although that is a really big deal, it get’s even bigger when we realize something else that the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 16:25-27 where he says:

 

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Paul says that we are here only because of the message of the gospel and we have been given the ability to share the Good News of that gospel message to others.  Now, we finally understand the full meaning of the Old Testament prophecies that told us about the messiah that was to come and the King that would rule and reign forever.  But Paul also says that this understanding has come to us so that the Gentiles might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus become obedient to him.

 

And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.

 

The coming of Jesus not only represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David as the descendent that would rule over the people of Israel forever, but also the king that would welcome the Gentiles into that same kingdom.  Since God made a covenant with Abraham and created his Chosen People, humanity had been divided into two groups, “us” and “them.”  You were either a part of God’s covenant and a member of God’s chosen people, or you weren’t.  You were either a Jew or you weren’t and if you weren’t you were therefore a Gentile.  But the coming of Jesus changes all of that.  Jesus came not only to fulfill God’s promise to David, but also to rescue the Gentiles and thus invite the entire world into God’s kingdom.

 

Christmas is a big deal because this is the greatest merger in all of human history.  With the birth of Jesus, there is no longer any “us” or “them.”  There are no longer “insiders” and “outsiders.”

 

All of humanity has been invited into God’s family… forever.

 

We… have been invited in… and have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.

 

And that is worth celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Important Preparations

Christmas-tree

Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

As we enter December, we are also entering the season of Advent.  Advent, much like the season of Lent before Easter, is meant to be a season of preparation.

But what does that mean?

Honestly, an easy way to think about it is the same way we think about preparing for many other things during this time of the year.  We know that winter is coming, and with it our usual mix of snow, ice, and cold weather.  And so, in preparation, many of us have spent time digging our winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and other things from the backs of closets.  We’ve stocked up on salt for the driveway and made sure that our snow shovels and snow blowers are ready to go.  Similarly, we have begun preparing our homes for Christmas by pulling our decorations out of the garage, attic, basement, crawlspace, or wherever else we’ve stored them since last year.  And we’re making plans to bake cookies, make candy, bake pies, and whatever else needs done to make us feel “ready” for the arrival of Christmas day.

Some of us, and I am one of them, need this time.  It is sometimes hard for me to feel festive at Christmas.  I drift more easily toward “humbug” than to “Ho ho ho.”  And so to prepare, I deliberately try to listen to Christmas music, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other classic Christmas specials that we grew up with, along with various Hallmark Christmas movies on television.

But Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.

Advent is about our heart condition.

Advent asks us to think about whether or not our hearts are ready to receive the Christ child at Christmas.  Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the greatest gift that God has ever offered to us.  And so, for four weeks, we are offered this season of preparation.  This is a time for us to consider the condition of our hearts.  To read, and to listen to the stories of scripture, to fellowship and sing with others and, just as we are preparing our homes, to prepare our hearts so that we will be truly “ready” for Christmas and the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity.

So consider this an invitation to the season of Advent.  Come with us on a journey together.  Let us spend time worshipping together, singing together, and studying together.  I invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Perhaps to pick up an Advent devotional and have a few moments of daily quiet time alone with God.

You wouldn’t dream of being snowed in this winter without coats and hats, shovels and salt, and a pantry full of food (with a few cookies and fudge).

You want to be prepared.

The Savior of the world is coming.  God’s greatest gift.

Please take the time to prepare your heart as well.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

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In Him… You

“In Him… You”

December 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 64:1-9              1 Corinthians 1:3-9                           Mark 13:24-37

 

Today we begin the season of Advent, a time of preparing ourselves, and most importantly, preparing our hearts, for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.  Traditionally, our Advent scripture readings include passages from the prophet Isaiah because contained within his words, are prophecies that tell of the messiah that is to come.  But today, as we read Isaiah 64:1-9, we not only see the prophecies of Isaiah’s future, but also a record of the prayers of his people:

 

64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

 

Isaiah tells of the messiah that is to come by remembering the prayers of the past, prayers that God would come to earth once again as he did in the time of Moses, prayers that God would rescue his people from their sin, prayers that God could find a way to forgive them for all the ways that his people had offended him, and prayers that God might be able to shape them, as a potter shapes clay, into a people that were worthy of him.

 

What we might find to be interesting about this is the similarity between these words of Isaiah, and the words of Jesus that we find in Mark 13:24-37.  Here, rather than looking forward to the arrival of the baby Jesus, the messiah born in Bethlehem, we instead look forward to the second coming of Jesus, a day of judgement rather than a day of rescue and forgiveness.

 

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

 

Much like Isaiah, Jesus tells of the day that the messiah will come, but this time he describes the second coming instead of the first.  And in this prophecy, Jesus warns God’s people to be on guard, to keep watch, or to be ready.  Like Isaiah, Jesus warns the people of God that they must be worthy of the one who has called them.

 

This warning to keep watch, or to be ready, is critically important to us, not only as individuals as we face judgement, but to all of us as a church as we attempt to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ from day-to-day.

 

Why?

 

In just a few words found in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul explains it this way:


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

First, Paul reminds the church that the grace of God has been given to us in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Second, it is in him that you have been blessed, or enriched, with all kinds of speech and with all kinds of knowledge.  There is no spiritual gift that we are missing as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  We have everything that we could possibly need in order to do the work that we have been called to do for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus himself lends us the strength that we need to stand firm so that we can stand before God on judgement day and be declared blameless.  We know these things because we know that God is faithful and has called us into fellowship with his Son, Jesus.

 

But there is something else.

 

Paul also says that in God, you have been enriched in every way, you have been blessed in every way, with all kinds of speech, and with all kinds of knowledge, and in this way God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  Let me repeat that.  In this way, through the use of our gifts, God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  What Paul is saying is that through the faith of God’s people, and through the actions of God’s people, the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed and confirmed to the world around us.

 

That is the burden that we bear as the church and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  It is through our faith, and it is through our actions, every one of us, that the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and to the world.

 

That is the heart of what Paul means by “In him, you…”

 

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, let us take a long look at ourselves.  Let each of us ask, “Does my faith reveal the truth of the message of Jesus to my neighbors?”  “Do my actions reveal the truth of Jesus to the world?”

 

It is in asking, and in truthfully answering, these questions that we might keep watch, prepare ourselves, and be ready for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

 

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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.

 

More Than a Man

superman“More Than a Man”

December 25, 2016

(Christmas Day)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 52:7-10                                 John 1: 1-14                                     Hebrews 1:1-4

If you’ve ever watched the 90’s television show, Walker Texas Ranger, and even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of Chuck Norris.  Because of his various appearances in movies and on television, Chuck Norris developed a reputation as a tough guy but with the advent of the internet his reputation expanded to mythic proportions.  There are hundreds of jokes about how tough Chuck Norris is.  Jokes like:

Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.

Bigfoot claims he saw Chuck Norris.

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks under the bed for Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris threw a grenade and killed 50 people… then it exploded.

There once was a street called Chuck Norris, but the name was changed for public safety because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.

The Angel of Death once had a near-Chuck experience

At one point, Google even got into the act.  For a while, if you typed “Find Chuck Norris” into their search box, the first answer that you got back said, “You don’t find Chuck Norris.  Chuck Norris finds you.”

If you believed even a fraction of these, you would believe that Chuck Norris was the greatest human being to ever live and was, in fact, something more than human.

Of course he isn’t, but by now the jokes have taken on a life of their own and there are websites that have collected hundreds of them.

But why is the pastor talking about Chuck Norris on Christmas morning?

Because something much more impressive than even Chuck Norris happened on Christmas Day some two thousand years ago.  More impressive still, we remember that the buildup for the arrival of Jesus began many hundreds of years before he arrived.  In Isaiah 52:7-10, written more than seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet wrote about the Messiah that would come.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah said that the messiah would be so amazing, that even the feet of the people who carried the news of his arrival, and the arrival of peace, would be considered to be a thing of beauty.  The news of the arrival of the messiah would be news of peace, salvation, rescue, and joy.  So great would be that news, that people living within the ruins of the city of Jerusalem would spontaneously break into singing.  And Isaiah goes on to say that on that day, God would bring comfort to his people, bring rescue to Jerusalem, reveal the strength of God to every nation, and every corner of the world would witness the salvation and rescue of God Almighty.

That, my friends, is a pretty big buildup.  An event like that would be spectacular.  Certainly, nothing ordinary, no everyday, common event, could ever be misunderstood as the day that Isaiah describes.  Whoever the messiah would be, must be… more than a man.

And of course, during Advent, and last evening at Christmas Eve, we have been reading the stories of Jesus’ birth from the first three Gospels.  But this morning I want to read the story of Jesus’ arrival from the words of his Disciple John, who told the Christmas story in a very different way. (John 1:1-14)

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John wants to be sure that his readers understand that Jesus was not just a man, and not that Jesus was an extraordinary man, and not that Jesus was an incredible, even legendary, human being.  John is insistent that this is not a man of legend like Chuck Norris.  What John insists upon is that Jesus was not just more than a man, but that Jesus was, in fact, God in human flesh.  John says that Jesus existed from the beginning of time, was with God, and was God, that Jesus was the creator of the world and everything in it, and that Jesus was the light of the world that could not be overcome by darkness.

In contrast, John the Disciple also describes the coming of John the Baptist and describes John the Baptist as a man, sent by God.  This man, John says, came to be a witness to the light, but was not, himself, the light.

John is very clear.  Jesus, the promised messiah, was more than a man.  He was God in human flesh.

And then in Hebrews 1:1-4, Paul shared his understanding with us, saying…

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

I studied this passage because I wanted to understand this better.  I wanted to make sure that I understood its meaning, and I discovered two things that are of great importance.  First, scripturally, when a passage like this declared someone an heir, it is not used in the future tense.  What I mean by that is when Jesus is called an “heir” it does not mean that he will inherit all things because the word “heir” directly describes ownership.  That means that Paul is not saying Jesus will inherit all things, but that Jesus has already inherited all things, already owns all things, and already rules over everything and everyone in the entire universe.  Second, Paul says that Jesus sacrificed himself in order to purify us and then sat down at the right hand of God.  Clearly, Paul is not trying to say that God is a physical being with hands, but is using a common analogy that everyone would understand about the courts of princes and kings.  Someone who sits on the throne is the ruler and the one who sits at their right hand is the person who has been singled out in the entire kingdom and given honor, power, and authority above all others and is second to the king alone.

And so, Isaiah, John, and Paul are all speaking with one voice and declare that the Messiah is someone who is much more than just a man.  He is the one who will reveal God’s strength to the entire world, the one who was present at creation, who created all things, who was, in fact, God himself, and who, after putting on human flesh and sacrificing his own human life to purify and rescue all of humanity, sat down at the most honored position in all of creation.

The conclusion is inescapable.  Isaiah was just a man, John the Baptist was just a man, John and all of the other disciples were no more than men, Paul was just a man, even Chuck Norris, however legendary, is just a man, but Jesus was much more than just a man.  Jesus was, and is, the creator of all that is, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and it is Jesus who sits at the right hand of God and rules over everything that exists.

John was absolutely clear about his conclusion from the very first sentence of his gospel and wanted to make absolutely certain that we understood exactly what he meant.

John’s Christmas story is different than the stories that are told in the other three gospels.  Instead of telling about mangers, and angels, and shepherds, and wise men, John’s Christmas story sounds like this.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

 

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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.