Monday, December 27, 2010

The Sermon You Missed

Since we called off church on Dec. 26th, something I really hate to do, here is a copy of my sermon that I was going to preach if we had met. See, you knew I wasn't letting you off that easily. Blessings! Dave Nichols

The Word
Christmas 1- 2010

Four Sundays in Advent waiting, expecting, looking forward to the coming of the One. It’s like Lucy says in the Chronicles of Narnia. She and the others were looking into a stable and she said: “In our world, too, a stable once held something bigger than the world…”

On Christmas Eve we gathered, this place, filled with people singing our hearts out: “Silent Night”; “Joy to the World”. We lit our candles and went out into the night.

This morning seems like an afterthought really. Just a day after Christmas Day. Still singing carols and experiencing the glow of a light that shines in the darkness, we gather, maybe a bit worn by the journey to think once more about the meaning of all this.

It’s John who enters the story this morning giving high and lofty poetry to describe it.

Some scholars believe that this first part of the Gospel of John was in fact a hymn. We’ve always sing about the things in our lives that are too beautiful to describe, or explain. So, John sings:

In the beginning was the word
The word was with God
The word was God.
Nothing existed but the word
The same was in the beginning with God

The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth
We have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the father, glory.

To all who believed he gave power to become children of God.

First, THE WORD.

In the beginning was the word. The Greek word here is the Logos. Logos has a history of sorts among Greeks and Jews. Plato/Aristotle and others talked about the principle of wisdom. The Jews taught that there is such a thing as wisdom.

Not only that, but we know the God whom we worship as a god who speaks. He speaks words. John wants us to recall creation. In the beginning, God created…all things. He speaks and it comes into beings. God says: “Let there be light and there is light…” God’s word is alive and active.

It’s about communication, in part. Something as fragile as a word; something as thin as air passing over your voice box communicates the thoughts of your heart and mind.

Words give meaning to life or bring destruction to life. My mother taught me as yours taught you to say: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…” Well, we know better. Words do hurt and heal.

Or else, why does a person think carefully before saying: “I love you” or “I’m sorry”?

Words are about communication and creativity. Words create worlds. Words can create a world of judgment and criticism or words can create a world of love and acceptance.

God’s word is so full of life and purpose that his word does not go out without achieving what it is supposed to do. Out of the mouth of God, from the depths of God’s heart and mind, from the inner purposes of God, into the world, into this new creation, God sends another word.

Two: Flesh.

John says that this word became flesh and dwelt among us. The word behind “flesh” is the Greek “sarx” and points to carnal. Carnal, flesh, human. Flesh means all that you are I as human beings are.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us – this is the Incarnation. God enfleshed, wrapped up in skin- wrapped up in humanity. This is why the great Karl Barth could write a book called The Humanity of God.

God’s becoming human in Jesus means that all of our bodies and minds and personalities and relationships and hopes and dreams and the world are all important to God…What happens to human flesh matters; what happens in the world matters.

Have you read the book or seen the play: “The Best Christmas Pagaent Ever?”

It’s a story of a church Christmas pageant with bathrobes and handmade crowns. Six rather unruly children show up at church when they hear that they can get free snacks in Sunday School. And, horror of horrors, the Sunday School teachers give them parts in the Christmas pageant. It’s a very human portrayal of the story in the words of this family named Herdman. In one scene, the mother Herdmen is being told the story.

Grace Bradley reads the story: “and the angel of the Lord came upon them…”

Gladys Herdman says: “Shazaaaaaam”.

Grace says: “What?”

Gladys says: “Out with a vengeance in the darkness the mighty Marvel…”

Grace says: “Gladys I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Gladys says: “The Mighty Marvel in comics…”

Grace says: “No, this is the angel of the Lord…”

Gladys says: “Out of nowhere, right? In the black night, right?”

Grace says: “Well, yes, in a way…”

Gladys says: “Shazaaaaaam”

The Word of God became flesh and lived among us- full of grace and truth.

Third. Glory. John says: “We have seen his glory…glory as the glory of the only Son sent from the Father…”

You may remember that Moses, in conversation with God, asked God’s name, then asked to see God’s glory. No one has ever seen God, much less God’s glory. God says to Moses: “Stand in the cleft of the rock…I will pass by and you can see my backside…”

The backside of God’s glory. The wonder of God’s beauty. What do you see at Christmas? You see the glory of God. The Word made flesh lying in a manger.

The great preacher Phillips Brooks spent Christmas in Jerusalem and went to an impressive worship service that lasted several hours. Later, as he was winding down, he spent part of the evening on the hillside outside Jerusalem and he looked out at Bethlehem, a small town. He saw Christ there and wrote: “O little Town of Bethlehem…” and said; “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.”

There is no place so dark or so small or too ordinary, or life too troubled, or too insignificant that God cannot come…

Paul Sherer asks: “What is the glory of God?” He says: “The majesty that had nowhere to lay its head; the grandeur that was meek and lowly; the beauty that had neither form nor comeliness that we should desire him, the splendor of a lonely wanderer, weary and footsore, with nails through his hands and feet…”

He says: “I have found in and through him all the God I want. Nothing less than that. All that I know of God I do not say that I have learned from him. I say that I have seen in him. I say that I have seen it in him. And when I celebrate the day of his birth, I celebrate the day when God made himself so manifest men and women have not been able to get away from him…”
Paul Scherer, Love Is a Spendthrift, New York, Harper, 1961, pp. 16-17.

In the beginning was the word
The word was with God
The word was God
He was in the beginning with God
Nothing was made that was made without him

The word was made flesh and dwelt among us
We saw his glory, glory as of the only son of the Father…

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bethel Family Christmas

This is my Christmas letter to all. You know how some families send out these letters each year catching you up on what is going on with everybody. The Bethel Family is ready for Christmas.

Advent was, as usual, fun and exciting. On the first Sunday we put up Chrismon Tree and wreathes and an Advent Wreath. The music turned to expectation: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus…” Come indeed. After this, parties started happening everywhere. Classes and circles ate and shared time together.

The next Sunday, we gathered in the Fellowship Hall for our annual Special Education Christmas. We sang carols with our friends and shared an unbelievable feeling that something was afoot among, even among us, that we could not quite get a handle on.

In addition to the other services of Holy Communion and preaching, we had the Children’s Presentation at 10:55: Star of Wonder. Our children outdid themselves, obviously the result of careful planning and rehearsing by Dale Fischer.

Parties and more parties. Then, the next Sunday, the Youth and Adult Choirs blessed us with “Winter Grace”. It was an incredible mix of scripture and music. Everybody came one way and went home another, moved by the experience.

Handbells, wonderful Organ music by Pamela Smithey, and each week we sang more and more carols.

Last Sunday, we turned our hearts to Matthew 1:18-25 and watched and listened and Joseph and Mary worked it out being guided by angels and dreams. Four Sundays of expectation and waiting bring us to the place of celebration.

We had a wonderful staff party and sent letters to all who lost loved ones this year. The first Christmas is always the hardest. It all happens in a flurry of activity as we move closer to Christmas. The color on the altar is purple which reflects the penitence and preparation of Advent. We prayed all the more: “Come, Lord Jesus…” We know, you see, that in God’s good time, Jesus will come again to make things right, to finally put it all to rights.

This last week before Christmas everything settles down around here a bit. A few people drop by to leave us sweets and to be sweet to us. We are so grateful for this family. We get busy getting three weeks of bulletins ready, since the time between now and the new year is short. We get three sermons ready for Christmas Eve, The first Sunday after Christmas, and the first Sunday of the new year.

I usually plan out the preaching and worship for six months in advance; so, last week I put together plans for January. I’ve worked on plans for the other five months but need to pick out hymns and other things. I will get to that first thing after the new year.

We wait around here this time of year for the rest of the pledge cards to come in, although some will not get them in until next year. We wait on the end of the year giving to the church to see where the budget will stand. We pray a lot about that and other things around here, especially this time of year.

We are always able to do what we need to do, what God is calling us to do, because of the faithfulness of so many who love Bethel and love God. I am sure that the end of this year will be no different. We will end the year as we lived it: blessed to be a blessing.

Advent/Christmas in our family at Bethel is like a joyous party. We hold each other close while saying goodbye to others. We welcome new people who add a special grace to the family. We sing and pray and worship and serve. And underneath it all, we feel it. Something is breaking forth again, something that we cannot get hold of- something (God) that gets hold of us.

In a few days, this church will be full of people and we will celebrate the coming of Jesus in a manger. We will behold the glory of the Lord. The thing about Christmas is that God comes in a baby and you just can’t get away from that. Thanks be to God!

Merry Christmas!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Wonder

Last night we had our Child Enrichment (Day Care) Christmas presentation in the sanctuary. As always it was a time for lots of music and giggles. The children came through the door to the sanctuary looking for the ones who were there for them. The Parents, Grandparents, and others were looking at the one they came to see. After some rousing carols we went downstairs for pandemonium and Santa Claus. It was a wonderful time.

Today I had chapel for the day care and we sang carols and prayed. Again, lots of giggles and smiles and hugs were everywhere to be seen.

I just checked the weather forecast: snow and sleet tonight, they say. It’s a fun time of year. We give gifts and share time together. When my mother was alive, and we lived in other places, we would meet her at the mall and get right in the middle of it all, especially when the children were little.

Christmas is the time for memories: a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans outfit for me and my sister; a BB gun; pajamas and socks. Papa, granny, and mamma…

There was the Christmas when Betsy had to have a Barbie car. Mary called all over creation looking for one. I heard her calling: “Do you have a Barbie Chevette…?” When she hung up she asked my why everyone was laughing at her. I said: “Honey, Barbie wouldn’t be caught dead in a Chevette. She drives a Corvette.” There’s quite a bit of difference between a Chevette and a Corvette.

There was the Christmas when we had to find a Cabbage-patch doll. Who invents these things?

Now, some would do away with all this, saying that it’s all nonsense. But, we have to be careful here. After all, Christmas is about surprise, and wonder, and gifts, and love, and all the rest. Christmas is about all the silliness that a baby brings.

Look at children this time of year or any time for that matter and you see the wonder of life, its beauty and surprise.

In the movie, Joseph grabs his wife Mary off the donkey and carries her around looking for a place stay for the night. In the darkness, a baby cries and Mary and Joseph are filled with wonder.

In all the busyness and stress, let your mind go to that story again. See a young teenager with a baby in the straw, her husband standing near, angels, animals and a lot of other impossible stuff. It’s Christmas. If your Christmas has no wonder and magic, if your Christmas has nothing impossible about it, then it’s not really Christmas.

It came to pass, in those days…and there was a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest…” Glory indeed!

Dave Nichols


Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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About Me

A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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