Sermon for December 30, 2018
On Christmas morning, Jan and I woke up early. Both of the Christmas Eve services seemed to go well. We drove up to Flagstaff and arrived just in time for our two granddaughters to wake up and open their presents. Christmas is a special time when you are with children. Because we were with children we had another special experience. On Thursday evening we drove about 30 miles to Williams, AZ. We boarded the Polar Express train which is offered by the Grand Canyon Railway. Our experience was enhanced because it started to snow just as we arrived at the train station. It made the entire experience wonderful and a little more real.
The Polar Express is a computer-animated movie based on a book. The story is about an eight year old boy who isn’t certain whether he believes in Santa Claus. He is awakened on Christmas Eve and looks out to see a train stopped right outside his window. The train takes him to the North Pole where he meets Santa Claus. Santa gives him a bell which falls out of a hole in the pocket of his robe. The train returns him to his home. The next morning, he finds that bell from Santa under the Christmas Tree. Only those who believe in Santa Claus hear the bell ring. Sadly, his parents do not hear the bell because they do not believe in Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is not something we discuss in church but belief is. All of us believe in the baby Jesus. We believe that this child is God, Emmanuel, God with us. Some of us have had a special experience that makes it easy for us to believe. Others have a deep-set faith that keeps their trust in God alive. Some others question how all this could be.
Today, we get a second shot at listening to the story of the birth of Jesus. This time it is not the story of Luke with its description of the visit of the shepherds. Rather it is a description by John of the meaning of the birth of this baby. The narrative describes the faith of the author and is a faith that we are encouraged to share.
Each Sunday we use a set of Scriptural passages prescribed by the Episcopal Church. We almost always use the choices found in the Revised Common Lectionary. That set of readings is used by the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans and usually by the Catholics in the United States and Canada. The nice part about it is that you can speak to someone in another part of the country about your experience at church and you will be able to discuss the exact same passages in Scripture.
This week, the Episcopal Church goes out on its own. Most Protestant churches are reading about a visit of the Holy Family to Jerusalem when Jesus was a young boy. Jesus stayed behind talking to the teachers in the Temple and was found later by his parents. We, however, have decided to read the first chapter of the gospel of John. For me, it is a decision that we make to continue for one week with the coming of Jesus. So we have the opportunity today to still listen to Christmas hymns and to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus is the Word of God, Jesus is God. We hear that Jesus brings life to us. I have decided this morning to focus on words that are found at the end of the gospel, the idea that we are children of God. We often read that in Scripture but let’s consider for a few minutes how much that means to us.
It is the very coming of Jesus that makes us children of God. According to John, all that we have to do is believe in Jesus and he will give us the power to become children of God. This message is also found in the passage from Galatians today. It says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Once again, it is because Jesus came to earth that we have the opportunity to be children of God.
The passage from Galatians helps us understand the importance of being children of God. First, Jesus sends into our hearts the encouragement to call God, Abba. The word Abba provides a sense of intimacy or closeness. Abba describes the personal relationship that is available to us with God. It means we can call God Papa or Daddy. It means we can share things with our Abba that we would not be able to share with others. I know that some people in this congregation have or had difficult relationships with their father but I still hope you can picture the ease of relationship that this term is meant to give us. All of us can turn to God and share what is in our heart and God will listen. Jesus used this term himself when he prayed to God.
In Galatians, we also learn that we are no longer slaves or servants. We are not merely servants but we have been given authority in many things. We have authority over sin and the power to defeat the devil. We have a sense of confidence and hold our heads up because we are God’s family.
Paul also tells us that we are heirs. In Paul’s time, heirs got the lion’s share of the inheritance. Paul wanted us to know that what we will receive as God’s children is so grand and glorious that it is hard to imagine. God is so good and powerful that God gives this gift to everyone of us and each of us.
Paul wrote about our gift as children of God in Romans, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption”. Another gift of children is security. Servants are not certain of their status but children of God do not fear losing the relationship with their Father in heaven.
Paul wrote that “the very Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”. Paul suggested that we are testifying to our faith in God, the Spirit gives us confidence that our testimony, our faith pronouncement, makes us children of God. The Spirit stands beside us to help us remain faithful.
I know that some of you will question me on the next gift. I call it discipline. It sounds like a bad term. But I believe that God gives us some mild form of developmental reminders as a way to keep us on the straight and narrow path. God’s discipline is good for us. It is intended to help us, not hurt us.
We say that we are made in the image of God. As children of God, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We learn from him and we imitate his actions to the best of our ability. It makes us more like him. Sometimes we even share in the suffering that Jesus experienced because we are committed to be a part of his family.
More than any other gift we receive as children of God, I appreciate the fact that we have God’s unconditional love. God wants us to be successful in our faith. God will forgive us when we do wrong. God will be there for us in times of great difficulty. God will not leave us alone and afraid. It is the most wonderful of gifts we receive.
I hope that you appreciate this one more opportunity to think of the baby Jesus coming to be with us. I know that it is not the same as Christmas Eve when you visited the baby Jesus at the manger. But we still focus on the coming of God to be with us on earth. It is a special gift and an amazing commitment that God has made to us. Let us be joyful for this gift and let us give thanks to God for all that we have been given. Today, we remember that Jesus is the light of the world and the giver of life. And we remember that we are now children of God, through our faith and our baptism. We remember all that it means to be a child of God and we live in thanks and praise for all you have received. Amen.
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