December 23, 2009


The problem with major feasts is that they are so easy to over think. So far, I've written two Christmas Eve sermons that would probably get me an A in some random and useless seminary course, but for the pulpit at St. Paul's in Foley they will not do. So today, I'm returning to the thing that got me through seminary - its only a lot of reading if you do it. Which is to say I'm throwing out the research and returning to the story. Keep It Simple Stupid.

What strikes me for tomorrow evening is how ripe this text is for the four-pages sermon.

1) The problem in the text is simple. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem to be counted a Roman census. They are going at the whim of Augustus (who calls himself the son of god) so that his tax policy can be assured to keep them poor and powerless. Top that with the fact that it has been hundreds of years since the prophets made their promise of a Messiah, and 1st century Palestine is a very very dark place.

2) The problem in our world is pretty simple too. Two wars, financial uncertainty, health problems, kids with addictions, pirates, poverty, depression, etc. Top that with the fact that the last hundred years have brought about such technological advances as to force us into a keep up with the Jones' lifestyle that promises to keep us poor and powerless. 21st Century America is a pretty dark place. (This doesn't even touch the issues of extreme poverty in Latin and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East).

3) The hope in the text is also simple. The angel choir and the great multitude sings the praises and tells the good news. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all people." For in the city of bread a savior is born who is Christ the Lord; one who will feed us with his body and blood until he returns again with power and great triumph to restore all things according to God's perfect plan. Those who live in darkness have seen a great light because today, a child is born and hope has been restored.

4) The hope for our world is also simple. God became human, was laid in an animal's feed trough, lived in the nitty-gritty of 1st century Palestine, worked with his hands, and invites us into the messiness of life too. As Keith said a couple weeks ago, "God can do anything, but he doesn't do everything." He came to earth in ultimate weakness, a baby boy in an oppressed nation, and changed the world. Now, as we await his return, he empowers us to continue the work of setting all things right, of turning the upside-down right-side-up.

It is the same theme that our Sunday congregation has heard from me over and over again, but maybe this year our Christmas crowd needs to hear it. God comes in darkness and shines the light of hope. It doesn't happen all at once, but through his people the world is slowly but methodically being returned to the fullness of its created goodness.

Merry Christmas friends, and may God continue to bless you in the new year.


bigbozman said...

This sermon is great but I have to disagree with you that past sermons would get an a and not much else. The Ricky Bobby sermon is how I found you and your treatment is killer. keep thinking outside the box. keep making contacts to culture, whether current news, film, etc. Great job man!

spankey said...

Thank you bigbozman,

I loved the Ricky Bobby sermon too. The sermons that I wrote this year, but threw out were the ones that don't seem to be worth preaching. anyway, thanks for your kind words, merry Christmas.

brian said...

Are you seriously suggesting that places that are more religious are becoming better off?
I would gently suggest that you compare high religious practice places, like Alabama, with places that aren't so devout, like Vermont. Or compare Somalia with Sweden, Mexico with British Columbia.
My take on religion is that its one true miracle is making people run twice as fast and at best stay in the same place, if not go backwards.

Brian said...

Brian, I don't see where Steve is suggesting the world is better off in places with more religion. And of course we're too late to change anything he preached for Christmas.

I do challenge you to look at places that have had a faithful group of people who are seeking the very truth Steve proclaims in his note that Jesus came to a messy world to transform it. And, in the title of the post to keep it simple.

To to see where keeping the message simple has impact visit and read up about what's happening in the Philippines or Newark NJ or Hawaii.

Or you could look into the Sentinel group www.sentinelgroup.or and see what's happening in the 350 cities where transformation is occuring globally. Some of the particularly remarkable stories come from Cali, Columbia. If these stories don't increase your faith and that of people you share them with...

Try the quieter ministry called Frontline Ministries where leadership teams impact and change cities by getting leaders focused on Jesus.

The remarkable things God is doing in all these places is because the faithful get past the complications we add, often religion, and repent until we're in line with the fullness of God's will expressed through whatever part of the community will obey.

Oh, and if you want a personal story, I have one where churches got past their divisions and let God take a couple thousand dollars and a few hundred people to make a school district the best in the state despite a $32 million budget cut. Of course it might be easy to dismiss this occurance as one of these more religious places since it happened in the Southern US with less than 25% of the county's churches.

Brian Smith - presently serving in Virginia