Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Than a Baby

Well, here we are, the day after Christmas. And I think I can safely say that all my Christmas shopping is done. And I learned an important lesson. I should have gotten Debbie those wiper blades I had my eyes on a couple of days ago, but I guess I procrastinated too long...again. Now, it's time to get the wrapping paper bagged, the clothes for our annual haj to Indianapolis packed, and the toys piled on one side of room. All the special services are done and even the specific day of celebration is history. Christmas 2009 is in the bank.

And as we leave this day, I think it's important for us to remember one very important fact: Jesus Christ came to be more than a baby. Now, I think this is something that we all need to keep in mind, because for some believers, Jesus never seems to leave the manger. In other words, he stays an infant in the straw, surrounded by lowing cattle and admiring shepherds. You see, he stays cute and cuddly, innocent and innocuous, someone who makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, the spiritual equivalent to a cup of warm cocoa. You see, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is for many Christians; therefore, it should come as no surprise that for them faith has more sentiment than substance.

And I’ll tell you, it’s for that reason, before we move forward, I think we need to consider why Jesus came. You see, as Isaiah reminds us, he came to save. Just listen to what he wrote: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. You see, Christ came to lift the yoke and the bar that weighs us down and to break the rod that's so oppressive to his brothers and sisters. He came to burn up the boots that crush our spirits and the clothes that have been soaked in the blood of the innocent. He’s the one who comes with divine authority and who replaces human hatred and intolerance and greed with divine peace, a new reality that’s a lot like a mustard seed: something that’s hard to see until you plant it and watch it grow. And that’s what I mean, when I say Jesus came to save.

But I’ll tell you, he did more than that, because he also came to challenge, to challenge some of those fundamental values and assumptions that we allow to dominate our lives. And you know, I think that’s something we see in the birth story itself. I mean, this description, its sheer simplicity, forces us to rethink how we define power and authority. But then, so does what Jesus said about his ministry, and I’m talking about when he said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and then later when he said, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Now this is what Jesus said, and if we accept it, it’s got to shake up not only our view of the world, but also how we’re called to live. In other words, it throws before us a challenge that we have to accept or reject.

Well, Christmas is over. But before we move on to the new year, let’s remember that Jesus didn't come to stay in the manger. Instead he came both to save and to challenge. You see, even on the day after Christmas, we can remember that Christ came to be so much more than a baby.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sermon: Who Is the Christ in Christmas

Luke 1:39-55 - 39And after Mary set out, in those days, he went into the mountainous country with haste into a town of Judah. 40And she went into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And it happened, as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped within her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit, 42and she called out with a great cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And how is it to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? 44For behold,
when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the infant in my womb leaped in exaltation. 45And blessed is the one who believed that there will be an accomplishment of what had been spoken to her concerning the Lord.”

46And Mary said, “My self magnifies the Lord 47and my spirit exults in God, my savior, 48because he looked upon the humble state of his slave, for behold from now all generations call me blessed, 49because the mighty one did great things for me and holy is his name, 50and his mercy is to generation and generation, to those who fear him. 51He showed might in his arm. He scattered the arrogant in the designs of their hearts. 52He pulled down the strong from thrones, and he exalted the humble. 53Those who are hungry, he filled with good things, and those who are wealthy, he sent out empty. 54He took in hand Israel, his son, remembering mercy, 55just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”


I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there’s a little movement that’s become popular this year, and it’s centered on the slogan that’s on the cover of the bulletin: Keep Christ in Christmas. Now, I first saw it on FaceBook. I had some friends, maybe even a couple of people from this church, send it to me as a cause I should support. And a couple of days ago, I was coming home from work and listening to the radio, and I heard a commercial talking about the exact same thing. As a matter of fact, I got an e-mail from a colleague just the other day who wrote Christmas as two words: “Christ” and then “mas.” Of course, to me, that sure seems to be taking Christ out of Christmas, but I’m not an idiot; I get her point.

Of course, based on some of the other stuff I’ve heard, I think a lot of this is a knee jerk reaction against people who abbreviate the day by writing “X-mas,” something that really seems to set some folks off. And although I appreciate their passion, I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s misplaced and this is why. The letter that they call “X” is really not an “X;” it’s the Greek letter chi, the first letter in the title Christ, and that particular letter looks like an “X.” And you know, we see this “X” it in other places around the church and in other Christian symbols, like when it seems to cut across the bottom part of what looks like a big “P,” actually the Greek letter rho. You see, chi, rho are the first two letters in Χρίστος/Christ. Therefore, a lot of energy may spent on a misunderstanding.

But you know, even if this one letter isn’t the best thing over which to lose sleep, I tend to agree that it’s really important for us to keep Christ in Christmas. You see, from where I stand, for many folks within our society, Christ has taken a back seat to a lot of other stuff, in fact, to a lot of other people. I mean, it’s not hard to see that when it comes to how we celebrate Christmas, Jesus has taken a backseat to Rudolph and Frosty and of course Santa. And when he does, even though the name’s the same, the meaning is very different. And for that reason, I think it makes sense to make sure we keep Christ in Christmas, if not in name certainly in spirit.

Of course, as soon as that becomes our goal, a question immediately arises, one that every Christ-keeper is going to have to answer, and it’s really simple yet incredibly profound: who is the Christ in Christmas? Now that’s something I think we need to ask, because it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to say that we’ve decided to keep Christ in our Christmas if we have only a vague idea about who Christ is and what he came to do. And yet to be honest, that may be the way it is in our country now-a-days. I mean, just think about it, for most American Christians, who is the Christ they want to keep in Christmas? I’ll tell you something, if we really had the guts to ask it of ourselves and others, I’ve got a feeling we just may get more than a couple of different answers. I mean, give me a break, for a lot of believers, the child of Bethlehem never leaves the manger. My goodness, he never really grows up, does he? He just remains a baby: cute and cuddly, sweet and soft, demanding but basically harmless. And so long as you feed him when he’s hungry and play with him when he’s lonely and of course change him when he needs to be changed, man, you can pretty much do whatever you want, especially when he’s taking a nap. Now, I think that’s how a lot of folks see Christ.

But you know, even if they let him grow up, well, often he ends up looking more like an absentee landowner who spends most of his time in his mansion and has only a passing interest in the peons who’ve been left to run his estate or maybe like a self-help, feel-good guru of some kind of warm and fuzzy New Age philosophy or possibly like a less-than-honest politician who looks at the polls before taking a stand and who would never even consider rocking the boat or demanding anything that might damage his popularity or the sales of his book.

And that’s just four, I think there’s all kinds of Jesus’s out there. And whenever a new idea crops up, people just organize a new church so that no matter what you believe you’ll always find a nice, comfortable Christian home. And so, that’s why I think it’s a pretty good idea, before we run off and put bumper stickers on our car, I think it a pretty good idea to ask who is the Christ we want in Christmas?

And although, like I said a minute ago, there’s all kinds of answers floating around our society, some good and others that make no sense at all, when we open the Bible and take the time to read it, well, the answer seems pretty clear. I mean, just think about what Mary said, you know, during her visit with Elizabeth, right after the infant within her cousin leaped causing his mother to say, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the infant in my womb leaped in exaltation. And blessed is the one who believed that there will be an accomplishment of what had been spoken to her concerning the Lord.”

Now remember, after Elizabeth said that, establishing that Mary’s child was going to be something special, Mary let loose with a little song that really summed up not only what she was feeling but what God would do through her son. And this is what she said, “He showed might in his arm. He scattered the arrogant in the designs of their hearts. He pulled down the strong from thrones, and he exalted the humble. Those who are hungry, he filled with good things, and those who are wealthy, he sent out empty. He took in hand Israel, his son, remembering mercy, just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Now that’s Mary said, and isn’t that what her son Jesus did? I mean isn’t that how he described his mission when he read these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And isn’t this why he taught: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” No wonder he told his disciples that “...those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Now, that’s the Christ of scripture, and I want to ask you, if a guy running for public office said this kind of stuff, would you vote for him? I’ll tell you, if we take him at his word and avoid saying things like, “Well, that’s what he said, but he didn’t really mean it,” Jesus came to shake the structure of society at its very foundation and turn upside down all those little values and assumptions that have allowed people with power to feel comfortable from the beginning of human history. I mean, like it or not, Jesus wasn’t a conservative nor was he a liberal. According to Luke, Christ was a radical.

And if we look to keep this Christ in Christmas, it’s got to change not only what we do on December 25th, but also throughout the year. I mean, if this is true, then we pretty much have to put aside all those plaster Gods we find comfortable worshiping and reject those weak and incipient anti-Christs who only tell us what we want to hear. You see, we’re going have to recognize that the baby grew out of the manger but instead of becoming a detached aristocrat or a spiritual Dr. Phil or a spineless politician, Jesus was a mover and shaker, who changed forever the way things are done and the future that we can expect.

And I’ll tell you, because everything thing changed, so must we. In response to the Christ of Christmas, and I’m talking about the Christ revealed in Scripture, I think we’ve got work to build a Christian community where we’re all on a level playing field. And we’ve got to look at those who have less than we as people who need our help not our judgement and neglect. And we’ve got to reach out to every man, woman and child with the good news of Jesus Christ based on their needs and not secular prejudices and acceptable social intolerance. In other words, as soon as Christ is secure as the center of this day, man, our lives have got to change.

I’ll tell you right here and now, I want to keep Christ in Christmas, but not because using the Greek letter chi as an abbreviation is a sign of disrespect. I want him there because without Christ all you’ve got is mas. But before we start printing flyers and t-shirts, I think we need to be clear about who Christ is. I mean, in my book, we’re not only wasting our time but actually doing damage to the truth if Jesus is anything other than the one revealed in Scripture, the one who came to change the way things are seen and done and the one who must change our values and opinions. You see, that’s going to happen when we’re serious about answering the question: who is the Christ in Christmas?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Remembering Our Brother - Richard Bails

Richard L. Bails
Born in Weirton, WV on Dec. 17, 2009
Departed on Dec. 17, 2009 and resided in Weirton, WV.

Visitation: Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009 & Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009
Funeral: Monday, Dec. 21, 2009
Cemetery: Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens

Richard L. Bails, 79, of Weirton, died Thursday, December 17, 2009, at the Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA.

Born on September 3, 1930 in Weirton, WV, Richard was a son of the late Dr. E.L. and Lillian (Hubbard) Bails.

With over 29 years of service, Richard retired from Weirton Steel Corporation where he worked in the railroad transportation department.

He served his country in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He was twice past president and treasurer of the Weirton Lions Club, where he received the Lion's most prestigious award "The Leonard Jared Award." Richard also served on the Lion's Club Eye Conservation Committee.

An avid sportsman, who loved to bowl and golf, Richard was a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton Steel 25 Year Club, American Legion Post 10, B.P.O.E. 1801, the Pleasant Valley Country Club, A.A.R.P., and a life member of the V.F.W. 2716.

Richard is survived by his wife, Shirley Lightner Bails, a son Larry Bails and his wife, Sandie of Weirton, WV; a daughter Debra Bails Parker and her husband, Buck of Cross Lanes, WV; one brother, Jack H. Bails of Yuma, AZ; one sister, Bernadine Harris of Bethlehem, WV; three grandchildren, Zak Bails, Jeff and Megan Parker; and several nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be 6-8 PM Saturday, and 1-3 and 6-8 P.M. Sunday, at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home 3219 Main St. Weirton, WV, where funeral services will be held 11 AM Monday, with Rev. Dr. Ed Rudiger, officiating.

Interment will follow at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton, where military services will be conducted by the American Legion Firing Squad and The West Virginia Honor Guard.

A Lion's Club memorial service will be conducted 1 PM Sunday in the funeral home.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Weirton Lions Club, 3534 Williams Drive, Weirton, WV 26062.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming in for a Landing

Now I don't know about you, but I feel as though I'm turning the corner and heading into the home stretch. And you know, that tends to happen when you enter the last week. Of course, I still have a lot to get done. As a matter of fact, I'm about at the same place I was a couple of weeks ago. There's still decorating to be finished, things to be bought, and presents to be wrapped. In fact, the only thing that I can say with certainty is that I've gotten all my baking done, at least all the baking that I usually do. I feel that instead of sprinting, I should break into a run.

Of course, I don't think I alone in feeling as though having another week would be nice. I recognize that we're all busy. But you know, we should be careful not to let the "busyness" cause us to forget the focus of this day. Christ represents the beginning of Christmas; therefore, I believe we need to fight to keep him at the center. But in so doing, we also need to be clear about what Christ came to be and to do. And so, on the last Sunday in Advent, we'll consider exactly who the child of Christmas was and is. And I'll tell you, that's important to brave a few snow flakes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sermon: Easy to Follow Instructions

Luke 3:7-18 - 7Then he said to those who came from the crowds to be baptized by him, “Offspring of serpents, who pointed out to you to flee from the future wrath? 8Now bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and don’t start to say among yourselves, ‘As a father, we have Abraham;’ for I say to you that God is able, from these stones, to raise up children to Abraham. 9But already even the ax is lying upon the root of the trees. Then all trees that don’t bear good fruit are cut out and into fire are cast.”

10And the crowd began to ask him saying, “Then what should we do?” 11And he answered and said to them, “The one who has two tunics, let him share with one who doesn’t have, and the one who has food, similarly let him do.” 12And even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13And he said to them, “Nothing more than you’re commanded collect.” 14And those in the army also asked him saying, “And we, what should we do?” And he said to them, “You should extort nothing and you shouldn’t accuse anyone falsely, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15And because the people were waiting and they were all debating in their heart concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, “I myself in water baptize you, but a person is coming who is more powerful than me, who’s sandal thong I’m not worthy to loosen, he himself will baptize in Holy Spirit and fire, 17whose winnowing shovel is in his hand to clean thoroughly his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff will be burned up in fire unquenchable.” 18Then also with many other appeals he brought good news to the people.


Now, this morning, I’m going to make a special request, but you can relax, it’s not from y’all. No offense, but it’s to someone much more important than anyone here this morning. In fact, in the minds of the faithful, he’s someone who literally transcends time itself, someone who sees all and knows all, one who’s coming is, for much of the our world, the true reason for this holy season. And of course, you know who I’m talking about: Santa Claus, right? And with him in mind and with all of y’all as witnesses, I’m going to make a request of the big guy: that this year he leave Maggie only toys with easy to follow instructions, and please, written in English, not Korean. Please.

You see, I really feel that I need to make this request, because I’ve got to tell you, some of the things he’s brought in the past, my goodness, they had instructions that are way above me. I remember, I guess it was three or four Christmases ago, he left this “My Little Pony” water park. I swear it had five hundred pieces, and they all looked pretty much the same. And on the instructions, they had all these dotted and dashed lines going through and around lettered pieces stamped with letters so small you needed a microscope to figure out what they were. And if you couldn’t understand the English directions, that I swear must have been written by someone for whom English was a second language at best, there was always the Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and some other one that was pretty much unrecognizable. I guess it was Esperanto or something like that. I’ll tell you, it was not a pleasant experience. And for that reason, I’m humbly asking Saint Nick to bring stuff with easy, and I mean, really easy to follow instructions.

And I don’t know about y’all, but there are times I’d like ask the same thing from God, but not about toys. I mean, when it comes to living the Christian life, I’d sure like some easy to follow instructions too. I mean, give me a break, this is pretty hard stuff. But it’s like not there’s no body telling us what to do. Man, sometimes it seems like every minister and his brother is telling us something different you know, that we should be doing, and even though some of the stuff is so shallow and empty of meaning that it involves little more than making a couple of vague promises, they change from church to church. The “what’s” a mess.

And then, there’s the “how,” I mean, how am I suppose to give my life to Jesus? Well, does that mean I have to change jobs, change friends, change my spending habits, change my socks? Does that mean I have to change what I eat or where I go or whom I’m with? Man, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m suppose to give my life to Jesus. That’s the how, right?

And why am I doing it? Well, I guess it’s to get into heaven or maybe to be more blessed which also means more successful at work and home or maybe to heal my sore hand and the gap that’s developed between my sister and me. It sounds a little like a multiple choice test: is it A or B or C or maybe it’s D, all of the above. Man, I don’t know why. And although I know we have the Bible, give me a brake, the one I use has one thousand, five hundred, seventy-eight pages, and no index in the back. That’s almost as long as the directions for the “My Little Pony” water park. Easy to follow instructions, I think not.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason I believe we can be grateful for what John the Baptist had to say in this passage from Luke, and I’ll tell you why. Right here he gave them and gives us a Reader’s Digest version of the Christian life, sort of a Christianity for Dummies, something for which, speaking for myself, I’m sincerely thankful.

I mean, just look at what he taught and notice that he told us exactly what the Christian life is all about, and he did it by giving two clear commands. You see, after calling the crowd a bunch of son of snakes, first, John said, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Now, since the word “repentance” literally means to change one’s mind or thoughts, what John was challenging us to do was to change the way we think. In other words, instead of saying to ourselves that God loves us because we’re so good or that we’re good because we obey most of the commandments, at least the important ones, or that we’re certainly not as bad as those sinners over there, I mean, instead of assuming that no matter how I put it, I can do it by myself, repentance may mean saying to myself and to God, “I can’t: I can’t be good or obedient enough, because I’m a sinner too.” Maybe it’s like recognizing that the first step in one of those twelve step programs applies to me, “that I’m powerless and my life has become unmanageable;” therefore, I need help. You see, I think that’s repentance.

But more than that, John said we need to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” which means this change in attitude and perspective is not to be kept private, you know, between me and God, hidden away from the world. Man, it’s got to be seen in the lives we live and the relationships we build. That one thing Christians need to do.

And second we should never “say among [ourselves], ‘As a father, we have Abraham.’” You see, for John, I shouldn’t see myself as more important than I am. In other words, I just can’t assume that I’m something special, because Abraham is my father. Therefore, maybe I shouldn’t assume I’m on the inside, because I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior. Man, trusting in Christ is the first step, not the last. And maybe I shouldn’t assume that I’m a spiritual big deal, because I’ve been a member of this church my whole life or because I’ve had family member here since the ark hit dry land. I’m telling you, if God can turn stones into Jews, he can do the same thing to born again believers and fifty-year members. And I sure can’t assume that I’m better or more spiritual than you because I’m clergy; I’ve known more than a few ministers who sure seem to have more in common with rocks than people. For John, bear fruit and don’t assume, that’s what Christians do.

But you know, he doesn’t stop there; he also says how to do it. I mean, when the crowd asked, “‘Then what should we do?’ ...he answered and said to them, ‘The one who has two tunics, let him share with one who doesn’t have, and the one who has food, similarly let him do.’” In other words, how can we live the Christian life? It all seems to come down to one word: share. Share what we have with others. Share with folks who aren’t as fortunate as we. Share, but not just when we have a lot; even if we only have two, share one. Man, that’s how you do it.

But just in case we can’t figured it out, John got specific. And when he talked to the tax collectors and soldiers, I’ll tell you, they was just about as far from the kind of people who would feel especially close to God as you could get. In fact, think about the lowest profession in Weirton, triple the negativity, and you’re about how tax collectors and occupying soldiers were viewed. And yet, these dregs of society still came to John, and John told them how to respond. And you know, it’s amazing, he didn’t tell them to quit their jobs, instead to do them honestly and humbly. Now, I wonder if we would say the same thing to people we don’t like and who have jobs of which we don’t approve. Probably not, then we couldn’t talk about and look down of them, right? No, according to John, when it comes to how, anyone can respond to Jesus Christ.

And finally, the why, why do we do what we do and why do we even care how we do it; well, that’s here too. Just listen to John: “I myself in water baptize you, but a person is coming who is more powerful than me, who’s sandal thong I’m not worthy to loosen, he himself will baptize in Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing shovel is in his hand to clean thoroughly his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff will be burned up in fire unquenchable.” You see, when you get right down to it, there’s only one reason for living the Christian life and it centers on that person who’s birth we’re going to celebrate in a couple of weeks, and I’m talking about the one who’s death broke the power of sin and who’s resurrection offers us hope, the one who baptized his people with Holy Spirit and tongues of fire on Pentecost. Just like he’s the reason for this season, he can and should be the reason for everything we say and do. That’s why we respond.

I hope Santa is as kind and as loving as I hear, because if he is, he’ll only leave toys with fewer than a dozen pieces and that are easy, and I mean really easy to put together. But even if it doesn’t work out that way, thanks to John, I have a much better grip on how to live my Christian life. You see, I know what to do: to bear fruit and to not see myself as more important than I am. And I know how to do it: simply to share what I have with others and to conduct myself in a way that’s honest and humble. In fact, I even know why I’m doing it: because Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born in Bethlehem and the whole world changed. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I call easy to follow instructions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Dramatic Discovery

I hope y’all are having a great week. Now as most of y’all know, I generally use this mailing to introduce you to the topic I’ll be preaching on Sunday. But something happened a couple of days ago that was so dramatic that I felt that I needed to share it. I made a discovery that has already changed my life right now and will continue to change it as I move into the future. You see, I discovered that Hallmark ornaments were and are made for artificial Christmas trees. And how did I make that discovery? Well, that’s the dramatic part.

You see, on Sunday, Debbie, Maggie and I decided to buy a live tree, just like the ones I remember when I was a boy. We set it up Tuesday, during “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and we started to decorate it on Wednesday. But right from the beginning, I knew we were in trouble. Most of our ornaments are from Hallmark, and I guess so long as I was putting them on a tree with metal branches I never noticed how heavy they were. But on a natural tree, each one made it sag. It looked depressed. But we were getting them all on, until I hung one that showed the wicked witch melting, and I guess the weight was too much and the tree came down. Ornaments were every where; water was all over the floor; and I was mad. How dare that tree let me down! Needless to say, the evening was shot. And if I was really selfish and let it, so could the whole Christmas season.

And that seems to be the way it is with life in general. Little things happen all the time. People say things that upset us. Situations frustrate us. Problems knock us down. And if we let them, they can so dominate our lives that we lose sight of what’s really important: loving God with everything we’ve got and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And I think that's particularly true during this season of Christmas. It’s really sad if we let anything distract us from celebrating the birth of our savior.

Sometime this weekend I hope to put up the old artificial tree just like I’ve done the last eight years. And even if it’s not exactly like what I remember, as a family, it’s sure something that Maggie, Debbie and I can gather around as we look forward to the big day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sermon: In Less Than Three Weeks

Luke 3:1-6 - 1And in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and the tetrarch of Galilee was Herod, and Philip his brother was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, [the] word of God came upon John, the son of Zachariah, in the wilderness. 3And he went into the whole countryside of Judea, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4as it had been written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
A voice of one who calls in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
make straight his beaten path.
5Every ravine will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled
and the crooked places will be straightened,
and the rough ways smoothed,
6and all flesh will see the salvation of God.


This morning, I have good news and I guess you could say a little bad news. Which would you like to hear first? O.K., let me give you the good news: Christmas is in less than three weeks. And we all know what that means: strung lights and baked cookies and wrapped presents. Pretty good, right? And now the bad news: Christmas is in less than three weeks. And we all know what that means: lights have to be strung and cookies have to be baked and presents have to be wrapped. Pretty scary, right?

Isn’t it amazing? It’s the exact same news: Christmas is in less than three weeks! And for some of us, this news may get worse and worse the closer we get. Of course, I hope nobody here really sees Christmas, and I’m talking about the birth of Jesus, as anything close to “bad news.” My gosh, for humanity, it’s really the best news of all. Still, considering all the stuff that has to get done before the day comes, well, December 25th seems more like a deadline than a cause for joy.

And the reason I think is pretty obvious, right now we’re in preparation mode, aren’t we; that’s the situation that we face. I mean, in less than three weeks, we’ve got to get all the decorations out. We’ve got to get all the baking done. And we’ve got to get all the present bought and if necessary, sent. Now that’s the situation in front of us, right. Sure it is. And for that reason we have a lot to do, some of us more than others. I mean, we better start hitting the malls or maybe the internet, because those gifts aren’t going to buy themselves, and that’s only if we already know Aunt Mae’s size or if Uncle Phil still collects baseball cards. And when we start wrapping, good luck finding the Scotch tape not to mention to the paper we bought on sale last year. And I have no idea when we’re going to have time to bring all the Christmas stuff up from the basement. And if I were a betting man, I think it’s even money that we won’t do what we’ve talked about for the last few years, and instead of getting a live tree, I’m going to drag up the metal trunk and pipe cleaner-like branches of the cheap artificial tree I bought in 1998. And I haven’t even talked about untangling the light. And of course, there are literally dozen of cookies just begging to be baked, and I haven’t even mentioned the other turkey you bought at Thanksgiving and put in the freezer that’s going to be hard as a rock in the freezer on Christmas Eve or the ham that’s still over at Krogers. You see, all this stuff needs to be taken care of in less than three weeks.

And because of that, there’s really no surprise that a person told me the other day that he feels like he’s just staggering to Christmas. Like we talked about a little bit last week, all these activities can really become distractions and if we’re not careful, they can either drain our Christmas spirit or drive us to the egg nog.

But you know, all that’s going to change in about nineteen days, won’t it, because the time of preparation will be over. I mean, whether we’re ready or not, Christmas will be here. And regardless of who got what and in what size or when it was mailed or how it was wrapped, the presents will be out of our hands, and we can relax. And so what if all the decorations didn’t get up and you can still see the letters on the tape that’s wrapped on each branch that matches the letters stuck to the metal trunk tube and for another year, it doesn’t smell like pine, the house will look pretty festive. And who cares that most of the cookies will come from a box and the ham from a can, on Christmas day, man, it all tastes good.

And although we’ll still be busy, the busyness will be different. I mean, instead of pushing the petal to the metal, we’ll be collecting torn wrapping paper and we’ll be making some phone calls and in general, we’ll be kind of chillin’ until it’s time to go to the daughter’s for dinner. You see, because the situation will change on Christmas day, our attitude and actions will have to change as well.

And I’ll tell you something, I think we can say the exact same thing about the coming of Jesus Christ. I mean, as we can see in the passage we read this morning, back in the day, they were in preparation mode. My goodness, back then, the world was really a pretty sad place, a dark place with people content either to do whatever they pleased or to wallow around in guilt and shame. And in their world, there were haves and have nots, people who because of birth had everything while others could do nothing but look up. The mighty sat on their thrones and the lowly begged for the crumbs that fell from their tables. And hope, man, that was just a word that may have had a meaning but no relevance. My gosh, for what could the people hope, that things could change. I don’t think so, that was a pipe dream. Instead all they could expect was more of the same, and just endure until...

You see, that was the situation when John stepped on to the stage to fulfill prophecy and to become “a voice of one who calls in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight his beaten path.” You see, it was the job of this son of Zachariah to prepare the world for Jesus. And so when he proclaimed “...a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” he was telling people that the time was coming when, on one hand, they would be held responsible for what they were doing; therefore, they needed to change their ways, they needed to repent. And yet on the other hand, he was also telling them that forgiveness would possible and that God was ready to wipe the slate clean. And when he pointed toward the one who would fill the ravines and level the mountains and hills, the one who we straighten the crooked and smooth the rough, he was announcing that the time was coming when the old system of uppers and lowers, those who are high and always would be and those who are not and always would be, he was announcing that this system was on it’s last leg. You see, someone was coming who would level the playing field and create a community where, using the words of Paul, there would be “ longer Jew or Greek, ...slave or free, ...male and female; for [we will] all [be] one in Christ Jesus.” And in this new world, people would see “the salvation of God.” They would see that their ultimate destinies were in his hands. And they would see that since it was nothing they worked for and earned, the hope was as eternal as God himself. You see, John’s job was to prepare the people for the first Christmas.

But that was back then. Now, things have changed, things have changed for us, because the day arrived. Jesus was born. The Lord came. And because of that, those old, dreadful attitudes and feelings, well, they’re just not appropriate any more, are they? I mean, if we know that Jesus came to offer both and direction and forgiveness, there’s no way we can feeling either rudderless and confused nor overloaded with guilt and shame. And if we believe that because he came, as Mary said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; he filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty,” in other words, if we believe Jesus turned on its head the structure of the world and the way things have always been done, there’s no way we can feel either enslaved or envious of those who we think are above us or judgmental or dismissive of those on whom we look down. And I’ll tell you, when we truly see the salvation of God, when we know that our lives are in his hands and that he’s going to lead us into the future, how can we have anything other than hope and joy. You see, with the coming of Christ, our attitudes have to change.

And I’ll tell you, so do our actions, and I’m talking about what we do each and every day. I mean, given the forgiveness he’s already given us, I’ve got to believe, if only as a sign of gratitude, we’re going to want to do what he’s called us to do. And I think we all know what that is: to love both God and neighbor. But more than that, since Jesus came to level the playing field, in other words to bring a new spirit of equality, how can we continue to separate and segregation people based on prejudices that lead to a atmosphere of intolerance, something that’s just, plain not valid any longer. As a matter of fact, if Jesus filled the ravines and leveled the mountains, if he straightened the crooked and smoothed the rough, than maybe we need to do the same. And finally, if we really believe that the salvation of God is a reality right now, man, you tell me how can we not share that tremendous good news with others. How can we not want the people we love to know about this? And how can we not do everything we can to get this message across? I’ll tell you, our actions have to change.

In less than three weeks, Christmas will be here. All the preparation will be done. And we’ll have the chance to celebrate what should be one of the best days of the year. But you know, in a real since, Christmas has already come because the Son of God entered our world about two thousand years ago. And for that reason, the world changed and so must our attitudes and actions. You see, when it comes to the arrival of the good news, brothers and sisters, the time of preparation is over.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Passing of Betty Bundy

Betty Lee Bundy, age 88, of Weirton, WV, passed Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at Weirton Medical Center.

Born on March 3, 1921 in Wheeling, WV, she was the daughter of the late Henry Borst and Dora Englehard Borst.

Betty was the wife of the late Albert Peter Bundy.

She was a member of Cove Presbyterian Church. Betty was a graduate of the University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY with a Masters Degree in Education. She retired as a school teacher in Martins Ferry, OH.

Betty is survived by her son, A. Thomas Bundy, M.D. of Hilton Head, SC; granddaughters, Melissa Marlene, Sarah Ann, Monica Lee, and Michelle Lynn; and sister, Ruthedda Knollinger of Elm Grove, WV.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by daughter, Paula Bundy in 2002, and sister, Wilda Pryor.

The family will receive friends on Friday, December 4, 2009 from 6-8pm at Steel & Wolfe Funeral Home, Inc., 380 Penco Road, Weirton, WV.

Funeral services will be on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 10:00am at the funeral home with Dr. J.E. Rudiger officiating.

Burial will be at Greenwood Cemetery, Wheeling, WV.

21 Days

Today, December 4, is extremely important. In twenty-one days we’ll be right in the middle of Christmas day. Which means all the stuff we’ve done to prepare for the holiday must be done. It has to be, simply because you can’t prepare for something that’s already happened. Of course you can try to pretend, but that doesn’t change the fact that what's past is past. It’s sort of like recording a game to watch later. Although you can pretend that it hasn’t already been played, it doesn’t change the fact that one team has already won and the other has already lost. And any time you want, you can switch over to Sports Center or check the internet for the final score. You see, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a holiday or a game, you always hit a point when the time of preparation ends. And when it does, we need to change, both what we feel and do.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about Sunday during our worship service. We’ll look at a passage from Luke that identifies John the Baptist as the one who prepares the way of the Lord, a the mission will shape his life. But that applies to him. For us, the prep time is over, because the Lord came; therefore, we face a new and transformed world, one that has got to effect our emotions and behavior.