"The Divine Mirror"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2006
Then Tuesday, a number of us will enter once again the grid locked parking lots of our shopping centers at the earliest possible hour to get next year’s Christmas cards at discounted prices, make our exchanges and put a few more charges on our credit cards because of products labeled, “special purchases.” We will press forward as we busy ourselves for whatever New Year’s celebration we intend to experience and we will launch ourselves into 2007 for yet another cycle of life-patterns. Some of those patterns we will choose, others, however, will be thrust upon us.
Has anything changed about us since last Christmas Eve? Have we honestly wanted to change? Tonight, are we only celebrating the birth of a baby or are we also standing in awe of a being that was trying to help his listeners grasp with their minds and hearts a source of consciousness that would always remain invisible to their physical senses? I promise you this: How you answer these questions will determine the pace of your spiritual evolution.
Many theologians and believers associate the purpose of Jesus coming into our world with his dying on a cross -- almost to the exclusion of what he inspired during his three years of teaching. Something about him changed the lives of complete strangers long before his ministry became a threat to the authorities. What was this humble carpenter reflecting to those strangers that made him so attractive and made them want to change who they had become?
Do we remember Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus? The two had lunch. After that very brief encounter Zacchaeus said the most amazing thing to Jesus. “I will give half of my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.” Think of it. What would inspire the desire in you to give away half of your belongings?
We remember when the authorities brought a woman to Jesus whom they had caught in the act of committing adultery. They had planned to stone her to death. After Jesus dismissed the crowd with, “He who is without sin cast the first stone,” I have no doubt that he helped the woman to her feet. He said something like, “You are a very beautiful young woman. Do not let men define you as an instrument for their pleasure. Go, and allow others to learn about the beautiful spirit that lives inside of you.”
There was the blind beggar sitting by the side of the road. Jesus said, “What do you want of me?” He said, “I want to see again.” How many of us had great intentions concerning the quality of our integrity and character and we took a detour into places we knew we should not go? We would give anything to see again because there was a time when life’s goals and purposes were clearer than they may be at the moment. Jesus restored his sight as he could ours.
There was the woman seeking healing who snuck up behind him just so she could touch the hem of his garments. A Roman officer came to Jesus because his daughter was dying. A prostitute washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Nicodemus, a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus and sought his wisdom. That wisdom changed his life. The list of people is very extensive. What was Jesus mirroring to these strangers that made them want to change the direction of their lives? We are here tonight because of the birth of a baby who grew up to become the greatest change agent for human life that the world has ever seen.
If we have not grown or evolved, as we would have preferred, what is it that we are forgetting? If we did not have the power within us to live the way Jesus taught, there would have been little point to his ministry. How easily we forget the power of our choices, that we are the only captains of our ship and that we are the principle drivers of how our perceptions interpret our experiences.
No matter how many times we review the Christmas pageant in our minds as we have done tonight, or thrill when our children participate in one, we can leave the church forgetting to incorporate within our lives the calm, peace and confidence displayed by Mary and Joseph during their very challenging journey to Bethlehem and their rejection at the inn. They had no idea that history would record their story. Both had focused their minds on remembering the words that had been spoken to Mary concerning the nature of her baby.
On Friday, I was coming back from Asbury Methodist Village, having taken my Dad to a doctor’s appointment. I was 50 minutes getting to Rt. 270, a trip that normally takes ten. You may recall the rain. Many people were leaving town for Christmas. Every entrance to Lake Forest Mall was choked with cars coming and going into the traffic pattern where I was sitting.
I watched repeated light changes where no cars could move. Inconsiderate drivers would enter the intersection on the green light and sit there after the light became red, preventing the movement of the cars in the lanes going in the other direction.
Because I remembered what I was going to say to you tonight, I became more the observer than caving into my own frustration with other drivers. My memory served me well. WGMS was providing me with unparalleled sounds of Christmas. We can remain intentionally peaceful and undistracted when our environment is testing the quality of our discipleship. Yet we have to remind ourselves repeatedly who we are.
One of the greatest fears of a mother is that her child will experience an emotional meltdown while she is in a grocery store. This happened at 2:30 p.m. to a woman whose child had missed her nap. The little girl was sitting in the grocery cart screaming, crying and hyperventilating, a behavior that was attracting considerable attention from other shoppers. The mother kept saying, “It’s okay Jennifer. We are just coming into the grocery store for bread, milk and honey. In a very short time we will be home again.”
It so happened that a noted author and child psychologist was in the same store. He was captivated by the remarkable calmness of the woman during her child’s major upset. He listened to her mantra, “It’s okay Jennifer. We are just coming into the grocery store for bread, milk and honey. In a very short time we will be home again.”
As good fortune would have it, he found himself in the same check out line as she so he introduced himself. He told her how much he admired her calm, soft reassuring words to her upset child. He asked, “How old is Jennifer?” She said, “I am Jennifer.”
How many times we have been spared major mistakes in judgment, or an over reaction to situations where people were responding with selfish attitudes because we remembered the person Jesus said we are capable of being. “Do this in remembrance of me” is the message entwined in our preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Nothing about Jesus’ ministry matters to the world community if we fail to remember his invitation to become messengers of his likeness.
Yes, we celebrate a birth tonight, but we also celebrate a way of life that has the potential to change the world. Think of the humble roles played by Mary and Joseph who had zero visibility on the world stage of major human events. Think of the Shepherds, who were on the last rung of the ladder of social status. Think of the Persian astrologers who came into history and then vanished forever. The story of which they were apart started a spiritual chain reaction that will change the world.
Listen to the words written by poet, Helen Steiner Rice.
We cannot all be famous or be listed in “Who’s Who,” but every person great or small has important work to do.
For seldom do we realize the importance of small deeds or to what degree of greatness unnoticed kindness leads.
For it’s not the big celebrity in a world of fame and praise, but it’s doing unpretentiously in undistinguished ways the work that God assigned to us unimportant as it seems that makes our task outstanding and brings reality to dreams.
So do not sit and idly wish for wider, new dimensions where you can put in practice your many good intentions, but at the spot God placed you begin at once to do, little things to brighten up the lives surrounding you.
For if everybody brightened up the spot on which they’re standing by being more considerate and a little less demanding . . .
This dark old world would very soon eclipse the “Evening Star” if everybody brightened up the corner where they are.
Jesus had an incredible way of reflecting even to strangers who they had the potential to become. Disciples or angels in the flesh are nothing more than people who mirror to others the way life could be for them if they chose differently. Jesus did overcome the world. So can we. Discipleship is not about being good; it is about radiating goodness in everything we do. However, we first need to remember what Jesus mirrored to us with his own life and then follow his lead. Merry Christmas!
Eternal God, who of us can come into our worship experience this evening completely free from life’s numerous distractions. We have found the place in our familiar pews knowing that other people who have life concerns that loom as large as our own are sitting around us. And while the title or label we give to our personalized concerns may change from person to person, all of us know uncertainty. We know what it is like to be overcome by life’s unpredictable circumstances. Yet, also we know what it feels like to be loved by you.
This Christmas Eve we are united in the celebration of our faith. There is no other community in the world like a church family that stands on its hope and stares adversity and our feelings of vulnerability in the face and declares, “There is nothing here that God and we cannot handle together.”
You, O God, have expressed your love in a form that is very clear. Through Jesus you have declared for all eternity that we are loved and that there is nothing powerful enough, not our beliefs or disbeliefs, not our mistakes in judgment, not our attitudes or decisions that will change or dilute the strength of that love. This evening, bless our sense of community with your profound presence. If the scales of self-absorption cover our vision, cause them to fade. Spare us from building the barriers that prevent love from coming in and shining through the windowpanes of our lives. May we not leave our church tonight, strangers to the peace that walking with you instills in us. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his listeners to say when they prayed . . .