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.

 

Should We Cancel Christmas?

cancelledOver the past month I have read a number of discussions regarding how churches are dealing with Christmas.  Some churches, for reasons of their own, are cancelling services on Sunday the 25th because it is Christmas Day.  This happens every few years and I am always a little mystified as to why churches would be closed.  To my way of thinking, Christmas is a great moment of celebration for the church, second only to our celebration of resurrection at Easter (which is always on a Sunday morning).  I can’t imagine missing the opportunity for the church to celebrate that moment together.

Many churches celebrate a Christmas Mass or have a Christmas worship service every year.  Many more have a special celebration of Christmas Eve that ends at midnight so that they can ring in the Christmas morning.  I suppose that it is only a matter of convenience that more of us don’t do the same.  And so I don’t really understand the thought process that goes into cancelling church on this amazing day of celebration.  I understand that many of our volunteers as well as many members of our congregations will be celebrating Christmas morning with their families.  But many of them have that conflict every year during our celebration of Christmas Eve.   Before I was called into the ministry, our own family often skipped Christmas Eve services in order to be with our family as they celebrated.  That never stopped any of our churches from holding Christmas Eve services and I really don’t see the difference with a Christmas Day Sunday.

In on recent conversation on a friend’s Facebook page, the discussion on this subject became a little heated with some folk throwing out words like “pathetic” and others claiming that the logistics of holding services without some of their key volunteers was too complex.  In any case, here is what I posted:

Wow. There’s no need for any of us to get so riled up. I don’t know any of you, or your experience in the church, or what you churches are, or have been, like. But from where I sit, there just really isn’t a good reason to cancel church for anything, on any Sunday, that isn’t safety related. Fire, break in, smoke damage, ice, those things, though unusual and thankfully fairly uncommon, are reasons to cancel church. I’ve had to cancel our services when the parking lot was so ice covered it was more suitable as a skating rink and we genuinely feared that the only way to keep our octogenarians off of it was to cancel.

Now I admit that I have also been witness to some enormous gaps in understanding between tiny churches, medium sized churches, and all the way up to mega churches. I don’t pretend to understand the logistics needed for churches that worship thousands each Sunday, but I’ve led worship in places where 30 was a decent week and others where 2 or 3 hundred was the goal for Christmas Eve.

That said, from my point of view, I and my staff work every Sunday, every week, including the biggest holiday of the year, Easter Sunday. Working on Sunday’s and holidays is, and should be, expected for church staff just as it is for nurses and a great many others. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard. Volunteers are something else of course. I expect that some of our usual folk won’t come on Christmas Eve every year because they’ll be with family. I assume the same will be true of Christmas Day. And so, while I can’t imagine NOT having a service on Christmas Day, I do expect there to be some difference in scale. Not as many folks will come, not as many volunteers will come, no one will likely want to come as early or stay as long as long. So we’ll work around that. If there aren’t nursery workers, the nursery will be closed. We probably won’t have Sunday school, or the second of our two worship services. We took a poll several weeks ago, and virtually all of them said they’d prefer to come to the early service and go home.

I’ve had Christmas Eve services in a blizzard where we barely had twenty people, and at that, only because half of them came from a single family for the baby baptism. This Wednesday we tried celebrating a Blue Christmas, which was new for us, and we didn’t do a good job of getting the word out.

Four people came.

My pianist, Janet, and I had worship with them anyway.

And so yes, we’ll be open on Christmas morning for anyone that wants to come. If its hundreds, hallelujah. And if it’s four or five, God bless ’em we’ll have church. It might be small and cozy, and it might lack an accoutrement or two, but we’ll worship the Lord together regardless.

And yes, as always, I’ll be at Trinity Church on Christmas Sunday morning at 9:30 am and we’ll have church for as many, or as few, as can make it.

Wherever you are, however you choose to celebrate, may you all have a very Merry Christmas as we all, together, celebrate the birth of the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

Season Meets Reason

cow

“Season Meets Reason”

November 27, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5                        Romans 13:11-14                               Matthew 24:36-44

The other day, Patti and I were traveling along the freeway when traffic suddenly came to a complete stop.  We immediately wondered what had happened because normally, even in the worst of construction zones, traffic keeps moving at least a little.  But this time we stopped dead and we were there long enough that I put the car in park.  As we sat there, we guessed that it might have been an accident and, sure enough, once we started moving again we saw two cars, a tractor trailer, and a police car all blocking the right lane.  Thankfully, even though there was a baby seat in one of the cars, everyone seemed to be okay.

As simple as it was, this common experience reminds us of the ripple effects of human events.  Traffic backs up because there was an accident.  Railroad gates drop because there is, somewhere down the line, an oncoming train.  One event causes another, and sometimes those ripples cascade far into the future.  We live here in North America because men like Amerigo Vespucci, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Jacques Cartier, Hernando de Soto, John Cabot, and many others dared to cross the Atlantic and explore the New World.  What they did changed the world, and the ripples caused by their actions continue to impact our lives today.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, and begin the season of Christmas, we often talk about Jesus being the “reason for the season.”  We recognize that a huge part of our entire world has set aside time, religious or not, to celebrate this particular season of the year and we know that a ripple that enduring has to have had a cause.  But what we often miss, is that the reason for Christmas started long before the birth of Jesus, and the ripples caused by those events continue into the future, and impact our lives, far more than we appreciate.

We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Generations before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God himself will live in Jerusalem, rule over the earth, and judge disputes between nations.  In those days, weapons of war will be reshaped into instruments of agriculture, and the world will finally know peace.

Isaiah not only saw the coming of the Messiah that we celebrate at Christmas, but also the messiah’s ultimate rule and reign to which we still look forward.  The ripple in time that we celebrate at Christmas did not begin with Jesus, and in fact did not begin with Isaiah.  What we remember when we read Isaiah is that the birth of the Messiah was God’s plan from the beginning of time itself.  All of creation was leading up to that moment, and continues to look forward to the ultimate conclusion of God’s story.

We all know the Christmas story.  We will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks remembering the stories about angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East.  But while remembering the characters is important, we must also take time to remember that such a pivotal event in human history didn’t happen by accident.  The birth of Jesus, God’s Messiah, Savior, and rescuer of all humanity, happened for a reason.

In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells the disciples about the day of his return.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus reminds his followers, that his birth, life, death and resurrection were just the beginning.  Just as God’s people had looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah for thousands of years, we now look forward to his ultimate return.  And as we look forward, Jesus warns us to be prepared, to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus’ warning is two-fold.  First, we must keep watch for his coming and second, that we must be prepared for his arrival at all times because he will come when we do not expect him.  But what does it mean to “be prepared” for his arrival?  Honestly, it’s the same message that God has been telling his people since the very beginning.  In Romans 13:11-14, Paul puts it this way:


11 
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reminds us that “being ready” is all about the way that we live our lives every day.  If we believe that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we believe that his purpose for coming to earth was to live, die, and rise from the grave to pay the debt for our forgiveness, then our belief must not just be an abstract idea that we carry around in our heads, but a belief that is lived out every minute of every day.

The coming of Jesus was an event that sent ripples through time and that event was a part of God’s plan that began with creation itself.  While we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we love to decorate our houses, our churches, shopping centers, and office cubicles, but if we fail to decorate our lives by living the way that Jesus taught, then all the trees, all the presents, all the worship services, and all the other trappings of Christmas are no better than wrapping tinsel around a cow pie.

At Christmas, it is vital for us to remember the reason for our celebration.

Jesus did not come to earth so that we could buy presents and decorate trees.

Jesus came to earth to transform lives.

Jesus came to transform my life.

Jesus came to transform your life.

And so, the best way that we can “decorate” for Christmas is to live every day of the year as if Jesus was real, as if we knew for certain that he was coming back tomorrow.

The best gift of Christmas is for each of us to actually do the things that Jesus taught us to do.

God’s gift to the world at Christmas wasn’t just a baby in a manger.

God’s gift to the world is a world full of followers who live like Jesus everyday.

 

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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.

A Reason For Rejoicing

“A Reason for Rejoicing”
December 24, 2015
(Christmas Eve)
By John Partridge

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

Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Today we say things like, “It was as if someone had flipped a switch.” Or talk about how “a light went on” when we discover great new ideas or hear news that might transform our lives. That is exactly the idea that Isaiah was trying to communicate. A light would come into the darkness and the world would be transformed. Joy was increased, people celebrated as if it was Thanksgiving or the end of a war, people threw off the burdens that had weighed them down, soldiers retired and burned their boots and their blood stained clothes. It would be a day of unimaginable celebration and it came because a child was born who would be a Mighty God and the Prince of Peace.

And for eight hundred years the people of Israel remembered God’s promises and they waited… and hoped.

And then, as we read in the gospel of Luke, God came to earth as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill, toward men.” (Luke 2:1-20)  The shepherds rejoiced at the news and went into town to see for themselves and as they returned, they glorified God and lifted up praises for the things that they had seen and heard.

It was a moment that changed the world.

The creator of the universe came to earth and put on humanity, became one of us, so that we could be rescued, saved, purified, perfected, and made fit for heaven. God came to do what we could never do for ourselves, he came to sacrifice himself so that we could be transformed and, through his power and sacrifice, made good enough to enter into his perfect home.

In Titus 2:11-14, it says…

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.

God came to earth so that he could pour out mercy and grace upon the earth for all people.

It is the coming of Jesus and his sacrifice for us that teaches us to say “no” to our culture, to say “no” to the corrupt desires that pull us away from God, and that gives us the strength to live lives of godliness. Just as Israel did before the coming of the Messiah, today it is our turn to wait… and hope. But as we do we remember not only the promise, but we also remember the reason for our hope.

Jesus, the Son of God, the rescuer of all humanity, the creator of the universe, who put on human flesh and sacrificed himself so that we could be rescued from ourselves, purified, and transformed into something greater than we could have ever imagined.

Tonight we remember that night long ago, that silent night that brought joy to the world.

Tonight we remember… not just a baby in a manger.

We remember that tiny baby gave all of humanity… a reason for rejoicing.
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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 http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.