Being around small children as they discover the world helps us to see the world the way that they see it, to set aside our skeptical, world weary cynicism and rediscover… wonder. After a few dozen laps around the sun, it’s easy to forget how amazing our world really is. But in the company of a child that is seeing the world for the first time, we rediscover how amazing butterflies are, or a weed fighting for survival in the crack of a sidewalk, a chick hatching from an egg, or a million other things. When they see it, point to it, and marvel at it, we suddenly remember how amazing those things really are as well.
And thanks to last month’s stewardship campaign, the people of Christ Church were able to experience something that was very similar. As a part of learning about Extravagant Generosity, everyone was asked to return cards asking them to “name a person who made a spiritual difference in your life,” or “What do you love about your church,” or “What is God asking you to do?”, or “Name one hope for our church in the future.” And, while not everyone participated, the answers helped all of us to see our church through the eyes of others. After years, or dozens of years, of membership, it’s easy to fall into a routine and see the church as the “same old – same old.” But reading the answers, and seeing the things for which others were grateful, helped all of us to rediscover church that otherwise seemed so familiar. In a way, all of us were able to rediscover church.
We remembered how extraordinary our worship services are, how much we love our Sunday school classes, Sunday sermons, small groups, being surrounded by people of faith, the encouragement of others, the friendships that we’ve made, the spirit of service that infuses everything, the way that our friends have become family to us, and even the opportunities that we have to work together making peanut brittle, working on Habitat projects, and other things.
One week we were asked to think about what God was asking us to do. That was harder. We had a more difficult time thinking about, and answering that question, and fewer people did. But the answers that came showed that God was, and is, at work here and calls us to a renewed commitment to help others, serve others, give of our time, our talents, and our presence, and to be in tune with the needs of others.
And finally, we were asked to name one hope that we had for the future of our church. Not surprisingly, some of us hoped that we would see better attendance, more members, more youth, more children, but we also hoped for more opportunities to pray, to do good in our neighborhood, and to be of service to others.
First, I want to thank everyone for having the courage to think about, and write down, their answers to these questions each week. But also, I want to thank you for helping me, and for helping each other, to rediscover church. We hope that more people would find faith in Jesus, and we hope that more children, youth, and adults would come here. But why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t anyone want to come here? There are so many things that make our church special, vital, and important that many of the people that we know would love to be a part of it, and would undoubtedly be blessed, strengthened, and encouraged by it. Of course, Christ Church would be a blessing to the lives of others. If only they knew what they were missing.
So, why don’t we invite them?
As we have rediscovered the gifts and blessings that our presence at Christ church is to us, it seems more obvious than ever that we would be selfish to keep it to ourselves. People need what we have. Many of the people we know are desperately searching for the sense of belonging, the purpose, the family, and the other blessings that we found at Christ church. What we have is so good, and so important, that we have an obligation to share what we have with the people around us. You’ve show us how much you love our church, you’ve told us.
Now go and tell your neighbors, your friends, and the people around you.
We have here is far too good to keep to ourselves.
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Out of Darkness
December 24, 2021
By Pastor John Partridge
Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah told of a messiah that would bring light to a people who walked in darkness, a savior that would bring light, joy, freedom, and the end of violence, a child that would bring endless peace, justice, and righteousness that would last forever. After hearing Isaiah’s words, generation after generation watched for the coming of the Messiah. The promise of God’s rescuer and redeemer was ever-present in the minds of the people of Israel, and even more precious, during times of hardship and suffering. And so, after a civil war that divided the country, and the arrival of an occupying Roman army, as well as a burden of taxation and mistreatment at the hands of the Romans and their (often corrupt) tax collectors, the people were starved for good news and dreamed of the day when the Messiah would rescue them and change the world.
And then, as we heard in the story of Luke, on a dark hillside, probably in the springtime (because that’s when shepherds and their flocks would have been in the mountains), darkness is overcome by the light and the glory of God. It isn’t difficult to imagine that in a world where candles and oil lamps were the state of the art, the lighting of an entire hillside was a terrifying experience. But the message that they shepherds heard was, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” The light had come. Darkness was being overthrown. The Messiah had arrived.
And when the angels had left them, even without instructions, the shepherds knew exactly what to do.
The people had been hoping and praying for this to happen for eight hundred years. Especially now, with the Roman occupation, the people needed to hear, they needed to know, because this was indeed “good news of great joy for all the people.” The shepherds knew that they couldn’t keep this news to themselves. They needed to go, immediately, with haste. They hurried so that they could see this miracle for themselves and so that they could share the good news with everyone that they could find.
But what does it mean for us two thousand years later? Of course, it is still “good news of great joy.” It is still news that gives us hope for a future, and an eternity, filled with light, joy, freedom, and peace. But what else? As Paul writes to Titus in Crete, he describes the arrival of Jesus this way (Titus 2:11-14):
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Paul says that the arrival of Jesus brings salvation and rescue to all people, but that Jesus also came to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, vice and worldly passions and instead live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness. The Messiah, Paul says, sacrificed himself so that we could be rescued from sin and made into a nation of people who are purified and eager to do good.
Every year, we meet at this time to remember. We spend weeks celebrating the season of Advent, singing Christmas carols, watching Christmas specials on television, listening to Christmas music, decorating our homes, and whole neighborhoods, having Christmas parties at work, at home, at school, and at all sorts of clubs to which we belong. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This is, of course, good news of great joy for all the people. There is every reason to remember and celebrate. But let’s not forget God’s purpose. Let’s not forget the reason that Jesus came was not just to rescue us from sin, but to train us to turn our backs on sin, immorality, and the worldly passions that our culture passes off as normal. Instead, Jesus calls us to live lives that are filled with self-control, righteousness, and godliness. Jesus sacrificed himself so that we, the church, could be transformed into a nation of people who are eager to do good.
Let us never forget that the angel said that this was “good news of great joy for all the people.” Not just the Israeli people, not just the Jewish people, not just the Christian people, but for all the people. And so, our mission, the mission of the church and of every person in it, is to remember the shepherds; to go out from this place praising God, sharing this good news with everyone that we can find, and doing everything that we can to become a people who are eager to do good.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.