Saturday, January 03, 2015

Jesus is Not the "Reason for the Season"


What follows is a rough manuscript of the sermon I preached this past Christmas Eve at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York, a Spirit-filled church where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It's on the Saint Luke's nativity story, Luke 2: 1 - 14. Finally, you can find video of the sermon at Messiah's brand new website!

God's peace,
Pastor Dustin

So, is anyone here a fan of Saturday Night Live? Until a few months ago when I started spending most of my Saturday evenings writing the sermons which I tend to procrastinate about finishing throughout the week, I definitely watched the show pretty frequently… its pretty funny. I still occasionally get to see a few of the skits posted online though, and there was one a couple weeks ago that went pretty viral… you might have caught it. The skit was simply called “Church,” and it was a spoof commercial advertising how your annual trip to church on Christmas Eve to make your parents’ happy was going to be really different this year, because the local church, this place called Saint Joseph’s was planning on “going full throttle with their one night only Christmas Mass Spectacular!” That’s right… Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular! As the commercial begins to explain over the sound of blaring electric guitars, the main reason for Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular being so rocking this year is due to the presence of “all your church favorites,” all the folks who make Christmas Eve at Saint Joseph’s extra special.

Most of the rest of the skit goes on to showcase all those church favorites, the epic cast of characters who make Saint Joseph’s an especially rocking place to be. There’s Mr. Drubbler of course, who enthusiastically wants to shake your hand while sharing the peace, despite having the most incredibly sweaty hands possible. Then there’s teen soloist Bethany Opsal, who’s up in the choir loft singing it out for the Lord with soulful passion, “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path! Huh!” Now if that’s not enough to get you excited, there’s Saint Joseph’s pair of exhilarating liturgical readers: twelve year old Ryan Welty who stands up in the pulpit in the hot, itchy Christmas sweater his mom made him wear and starts proclaiming the Word despite clearly not wanting to at all… “and lo, the angel Gabriel appeared unto Mary murmur murmur murmur” and forty-four year old Colleen Chapin who in a bright red festive suit jacket with lots of Christmas flair really, really does want to read this year… “This is reading. From Paul. To the Corinthians!” And whoa, my sisters and brothers, I might be a bit partial, but if you really want to have your mind blown, there’s good ol’ Pastor Pat. Now Pastor Pat might half fall asleep during worship, and he might chant really off-key and at constantly changing speeds… you know something like “all glory be to God the Father all mighty, for everrrr and everrrr,” but, he’s always got at least one incredibly soft sermon joke up his sleeve, to which the congregation of course will politely respond with an incredibly soft chuckle. And finally, after being awed by Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular, you might even have a chance to sneak a peak into Pastor Pat’s house, and see that he’s even got a table in there, just like everyone else has a table in their house! Whoa!!! Radical!!!

Now, of course, this SNL skit was an absolutely hilarious exaggeration of what church on Christmas Eve looks like, but there are some a couple really important truths in there too. For the many folks who only make it out to worship on Christmas Eve, and its awesome to have some of you here tonight with us by the way, this SNL skit probably serves as a legitimate indictment of what many churches have become in recent decades… these sort of antiquated, backward thinking communities, where goofy people do goofy things each and every Sunday that are hard to understand and then in turn often don’t embrace folks who might look or act or love in a different sort of way. On Christmas Eve, it might feel nice to go to church, or at least it’ll make Grandma happy, but otherwise, why would one ever want to wake up early on a Sunday morning or miss watching the big game for something like that? This, my sisters and brothers, is a legitimate point, a while I don’t think it at all describes our Spirit filled congregation, its a common concern that all faiths communities in our day and age definitely need to take seriously.

The even more important truth that the SNL skit perhaps inadvertently emphasizes though is also one that is at the heart of Saint Luke’s message for us tonight, in this place, in twenty-first century Schenectady. Every year, in a bid to turn folks away from all the gift buying and over consumption of the holiday season, you always hear folks exclaim, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” Who here’s heard folks say that before? Yeah, quite a few of us. Well, my sisters and brothers, I want to humbly submit to you this holy night that those folks, though certainly having good intentions, are completely wrong. Those folks are completely wrong. Jesus is certainly at the center of what Christmas is all about, absolutely, but no, Jesus is not the reason for the season. The good news God proclaims to us tonight through Saint Luke’s words is that the reason for this season that celebrates Christ’s continual birth into the world, and the reason for church, and the reason for all the hymns and rituals and prayers and coffee hours and potlucks and confirmation classes and service projects is people, the reason for the season is people, all people. The reason for the season, the reason for God’s continual, constant breaking into this world through Christ, is that guy with the really sweaty hands and the kid with the itchy sweater and the overly enthusiastic choir member and even the pastor who isn’t that funny and always chants off key. The reason for the season, the reason for Christ’s constant birth into this world, is you. The reason for the season is you, whether you’ve shown up here at Messiah every week for decades, or whether this is your first time and you’re looking for a new faith community to call home or whether you only show up once a year to make Grandma happy. The reason for the season is you! The reason for the season is you! The reason for the season, and Christ’s constant birth into this world to be with us is you and you and you!

We always tend to talk about Mary and Joseph tonight, but let’s focus elsewhere in the story… just look at what that angel says to the shepherds, “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 “good news for all people” the angel’s going on about is a much bigger deal than a Savior being born to Joseph and Mary. It isn’t that a Savior is born to the people of Israel. It isn’t even that a Savior has been born to God as the Father. While all those things are indeed true, the good news for all the people that the angel proclaims to the shepherds and to all of us, this holy night, my sisters and brothers, is that a Savior is born unto you! A Savior is born unto you! This holy night, and indeed every night, whether celebrating with family after a phenomenal year or battling with anxiety and depression, A Savior is born unto you! Whether all the talk about birthing and babies that happens around this time of the year brings up hard memories of struggling to conceive or whether you’re the proudest, happiest parent in the world, a Savior is born unto you! Whether you’re missing a loved one or have been looking for love in all the wrong places or are surrounded by family this evening without a care in the world, a Savior is born unto you! A Savior is born unto to you, to me, to all of us, to save us, to free us, to bring new meaning to our lives. Indeed, you are the reason for the season, you are the reason God is breaking into our lives, tonight, and each and every night, in liberating love. You are the reason for the season. Merry Christmas, and amen!

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

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