Scripture Focus: Matthew 2:1-12
This week, we travel back a bit in Matthew. Last Sunday, we read of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s escape from Egypt. Today, we look at the visit of the Magi—a visit that has been added to and added to over the centuries. But when we add names, and numbers, and ideas of the star to the story, we risk missing out on the true meaning of this passage. Matthew, in this reading, is telling us that God is opening the Kingdom to everyone! The Magi, most importantly, represent the Gentiles around Matthew’s audience. There are vital lessons in how we worship, how we express ourselves to God, and how we can more fully live a life of faith in Jesus Christ found in this passage. So when we forget about trying to determine what exactly the Magi followed, how many actually made the trip, and who exactly they were, we can better understand the miraculous teaching from Matthew.
This past Sunday, December 22nd, we had our Lessons and Carols service. It is always a moving service filled the Scripture and some of our favorite hymns! The very first Lessons and Carols service dates back to December 24, 1880, and it was held at Truro Cathedral in the United Kingdom.
Christmas Carols has only recently started to be sung in churches; before that, they were only sung at homes. In 1916, Brown University held its first service of Lessons and Carols, and has continued this tradition every since. However, the popularity of this service really started in 1918, when it was held at King's College in Cambridge. The new dean had served as a military chaplain and was concerned that the Great War (World War 1) had hardened the peoples' hearts against religion. He decided that this service would be a way of bringing Christmas back to the church. It was very successful! Then the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) began broadcasting the service on the radio in 1928, and followed by airing it on television in 1954. Now, it is traditionally pre-recorded in early or mid-December , then broadcast on Christmas Eve. If you haven't seen it, take a couple of hours this Christmas season and check it out online!
This week, there was no sermon because we were graced with the children's pageant, and as you can imagine, it was great! However, in case you want to continue through the Advent passages, I'd like to offer my reflections on the lectionary readings this week (Isa.35:1-10; Ps. 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Luke 1:46b-55; Matt. 11:2-11)
The Old Testament, Epistle lesson, and Gospel lesson continue in the preparation for the coming Messiah. You may remember that John the Baptist is seen preparing the way for the Lord, and the passage from Isaiah is about the prepared path. This passage brings good news to the oppressed and hope and new life to lifeless deserts. Isaiah reminds us that God has not given up o the original purpose for creation. Simply put, you better watch out, you better not pout--God is coming to town! But the good news is that with God, no one gets coal! We are all presented with the gift of God's grace and new life. The Epistle lesson this week comes from James, who reminds us that we must be patient as we await the coming Messiah. As farmers wait for their crops, we must be patient and strengthen our hearts. Finally, we are given Matthew 11:2-10 as the gospel reading. While the other two readings are about the road prepared and patiently waiting, this reading defines the expectations of the Messiah. When asked by John the Baptist's followers if he is the Messiah, Jesus tells them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." We are only two weeks away from Christmas, but we are also 2000 years into the new life in Christ. May God continue to offer blessings to each and every one of you as we patiently wait for the second coming of the Messiah!
Despite how we often envision Advent and Christmas as a calm and peaceful season, John the Baptist brings a different idea to the coming of our Lord! Out of the wilderness, dressed in camel's hair and a leather belt--and eating locusts and wild honey--he tells everyone listening that it is time to repent because the Lord is here. For us, today, it is easy to misunderstand this call to repentance as simply offering a confession, asking for an apology from God, and then moving on with our lives, as if nothing happened. But when we do that--we miss the real purpose of repentance, which really means to have a change in heart and mind. We can take this time of preparation during Advent to really think about the ways we can make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But Remember, this isn't some resolution for the New Year! God continually gives us the chance to make these changes--we don't have to quit if we mess up on January 3.
Each year, the first Sunday of Advent begins with an apocalyptic text from one of the Synoptic* Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This year, Year-A in the three-year lectionary, brings us Matthew's version of the importance of being watchful for the return of Christ. A fascinating part of this passage is that it contradicts our commonly held beliefs of the "end times". While the Left Behind series, and many others like it, point to a rapture of the faithful, Matthew tells us that the faithful will be the ones left behind to do the work necessary for bringing about God's Kingdom. As we read these words, it is important to remember that living a faithful life should not be motivated by fear of judgment, but because we have been given the wonderful gift of a life in Christ. Forget worrying about when the day will come. Instead, let's focus on what Matthew is famous for telling us to do--feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and welcome the stranger. When we stop worrying about the final days and stop acting out of fear, we will be able to open our hearts and live the grace-filled life God offers to each and every one of us.
*The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is largely distinct. (SOURCE: wikipedia.com)
Here we are! The end of the Christian year, and at the end of the lectionary cycle, year C. And much to our surprise (or, at least to mine!) we find ourselves facing Christ on the cross. At the end of the year, we are suggested a reading from Good Friday. The notion of Christ as King is always a difficult one with which to come to terms. We all know Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, but when we are faced with our Messiah on the cross, we struggle with how to deal with the idea of a crucified ruler. But, as we see in the reading, there is no better passage for Christ the King Sunday than the one that ends with Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” On the cross, Jesus refuses to save himself because he is saving all of us—inviting all of us into Paradise with him. Hallelujah!
image by: Cerezo Barredo
s you may have already noticed in the few sermons on this page, and something that will eventually be very clear—I believe in a loving and forgiving God that never stops offering us grace. So when we get to passages like this—in which Jesus is telling of the destruction of the temple and the many horrors to follow, it can be a struggle to find that same grace. Almost as frustrating are the attempts by various people and groups to try and prove the end of the world is here! Apocalyptic passages throughout the Bible are not meant to be read literally into our world. If they were, I’m sure the apocalypse would have happened several dozen times by 2019. But we still want to find that message of grace, that message of love, from God in this passage. And it is there—you just need to listen to find out what it is!
“What happens when I die?” There are few questions that are more universally understood as what happens to us after we die. No matter your answer, the idea that the world keeps spinning and suddenly you cease to be, is a scary notion! In our passage today, Jesus is questioned about the resurrection. While Jesus does not paint a picture of heaven or any afterlife, we do hear him argue that the resurrection is real. Jesus is in the midst of being questioned by the Pharisees, and after stumping them about paying taxes, a group called the Sadducees decide to question him about the resurrection. It is important to note that this group does not believe in the resurrection, so they offer Jesus an absurd situation, and Jesus responds by proving the resurrection is real, and he uses the only texts the Sadducees accept as truth.
Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
While the lectionary* only had Luke 19:1-10 as the gospel reading for this week, I felt that it was important to also read the other passage, Luke 18:18-30, about the rich ruler. Looking at these two passages together gives us meaningful insight into how God’s grace works in our lives. We have these two people, opposite in every way, especially in their response to grace. As I thought about these passages, I realized that an important message for this morning is that of grace, and how we respond. We do not have a say in who receives God’s grace: God offers grace to each and every one of us. Our only role is to determine how we respond.
*A lectionary is a systematic list of scripture readings for use in daily prayer, Lord's Day worship, and other occasions. Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
Rev. CHRIS HOUTZ
Welcome to the pastor’s blog! This page will have sermons uploaded so you can listen to them whenever you want, and I will add a brief reflection on the text, the sermon, or a little bit of both. My hope is that you will be able to see that the Bible can still speak to our world today, and that we can always find a note of God’s grace in any passage, whether it is one of the most well-known and beloved passages, or one of the most difficult readings to grasp.