“Life Can Be Like This”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 24, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Romans 12:9-18; Luke 1:26-38


    Our fourth Advent candle is celebrating Peace.  We all know the concept of peace more than we know how to acquire a sustained feeling of peace throughout our lives.  How can we even think peaceful thoughts with all the turmoil happening in the world?  This morning we are going to consider how that is possible.

    Jesus demonstrated sustained peace while he was fishing.  He had fallen asleep in the back of his disciples' fishing boat during a fierce storm that appeared to be threatening their lives. When his disciples awakened him, he said, "Why are you so frightened?"  (Matthew 8:24)

    Maybe we should ask ourselves the same question when faced with fearful moments. Just because we have what we consider a strong faith does not mean that frightening circumstances will not enter our lives with the potential to rob us of our peace of mind.

    During our Joys and Concerns time recently, prayers were asked for a woman who is getting married next Friday.  We were told that shortly after the couple chose their wedding date, the bride discovered that she was pregnant.  Later during that same day, her soon-to-be husband came home with news that he had just been laid-off from work.  Sometimes life can be like this.

    There was a similar experience thousands of years ago that became public knowledge to billions of people through the ages because the same thing happened to the mother of Jesus. (Luke 1:31) No matter how Luke sugarcoated the manner in which Mary got pregnant, Dr. Luke could not take away the fact that an unmarried woman was going to have a baby. 

    Mary's circumstance is one that would cause embarrassment in her community.  Mary could not hide the fact that she was pregnant, nor could she tell her friends, family and members of her community how it happened. Just think of how the following explanation would have been received:

An angel appeared to me and told me that God was going to cause me to become pregnant. The angel told me not to be afraid.  Further, the angel told me that my son will grow up to be a king much like King David, our ancestor, whose kingdom and rule would last forever. Before the angel left, this radiant being told me that nothing is impossible for God. So, I decided to cooperate as the Lord's servant. (Luke 1:30f)

    Who would believe such a story? When Joseph heard the story, he was not happy with this news and he almost broke his engagement with Mary.  The story, however, continued in the Gospel of Matthew where an angel came to Joseph in a dream. The angel communicated that, indeed, God had caused Mary's pregnancy.  The angel directed Joseph to name the boy Jesus. (Matthew 1:19f) When Joseph awakened from his dream, he married Mary.  (Matthew 1:24)

    No matter how we choose to understand this story, Jesus' identity as God's Son was set in stone for thousands of years. What is most intriguing is that Mary and Joseph exhibited the emotional stability generated by peace.  They experienced a private, personal encounter with a spirit-being that provided understanding of what had just happened to them.

    They believed that God had a plan and they were part of it.  This understanding is all that they needed to know to get through the turmoil of a challenging trip to Bethlehem, the over-crowded inn, the barnyard birth, receiving the gifts from three astrologers from Persia and then having to flee into Egypt.

    Just like Mary and Joseph's experience, there are so many events that take place in our lives over which we have no control. We could build the most magnificent home and yet have no power over an out-of-control fire from consuming our entire community as has happened to hundreds of people living in California. Life can be like this.

    Lois and I were turning right into a parking space at Lindo's several weeks ago.  I had my turn signal on and had started to make the turn into the parking space when a young cyclist sped between us and the space I was entering. I have no idea what prevented us from colliding.  It took the rest of the day for me to cope with what might have happened.  Life can be like this.

    Our daughter was driving to Florida yesterday to visit Lois' sister and husband who winter there, and told us that she saw the result of a horrible accident where a large coach motor home was on its side. It had split open and spilled its contents over the highway.  The accident shut down all three northbound lanes of traffic.  Life can be like this.

    Presently in the world, people are digging out from earthquakes and picking up what is left after a fierce storm came smashing into the Philippines.  Several dams gave way killing hundreds of people and creating horrible mud slides.  Hundreds of people are among the missing. People are fleeing their homeland as refugees because of warring governments.  Life can be like this for millions of people every year.  How can anyone find peace while living with such relentless, dramatic events taking place?

    There is no rhyme or reason for why disaster strikes unannounced in the lives of some people and not in others. This is just the way life is with no guarantees.

    So many people in the United States hope and pray to be a winner each time they buy a lottery ticket.  One jack pot exceeded half a billion dollars that was won by a single person.  Does anyone really know what instant wealth can do to people? The answer to life's issues for so many people, organizations and governments is their need for more revenues.   

    There is an author who has followed the lives of people after they gained enormous wealth by winning one of the lotteries.  He found winners in the midst of bankruptcies, divorces, divided families, lost friendships, and those who had to leave communities that they loved to escape the people who wanted them to share their wealth. One man said, "I wished to God that I had never purchased that lottery ticket. My life has been a living nightmare ever since I bought it." 

    There is nothing wrong with being financially independent.  However, there are a lot of people, after receiving instant wealth, whose winnings did not represent a blessing.

    Finding the path to experience sustained peace is well worth the search.  When we find such peace, we can greet every episode of life just as it comes.  We can extend the same open hand to misfortune as we can with good fortune.  Life is like this, and all during our lives, we will have many experiences where being at peace with life's events is such a blessing. 

    Life will remain unpredictable for everyone.  Our responses to our varied experiences will largely depend on the spirit in which we live.  Truly, finding the path to a sustained peace is well worth the journey. Mary and Joseph had found the answer.

    Trusting God for the outcome of all things, even when we cannot imagine how any experience will end, is what brings lasting peace to our everyday living.  A first step is taken when we make no judgment about what is happening. This is the challenging part of trusting what is happening. With practice, we can learn and bring consistency as an automatic response. 

    Our trust in God allows us to show up in every episode in our lives with a loving spirit that reflects healing and peaceful attitudes.  Any other response may create extreme spiking joy that cannot last or may create fear and inaction.

    One of my favorite Christmas stories concerns an old, cantankerous man that lived on the edge of a rural village.  He hated people to such an extent that the entire community knew it and stayed clear of him.  He was truly the personification of a Bah-Humbug Ebenezer Scrooge that Charles Dickens described in his creation of A Christmas Carol.  

    A month before Christmas, word was leaked into the community that the old man had suffered a major wound from his chainsaw.  It took hours of surgery to repair the gash on his leg.  In fact, had it not been for the courage of a surgeon to perform a risky procedure, he would have lost his leg.

    The president of the Methodist Youth Group at a church in town was a high school senior. Becky was a mischievous risk-taker.  She talked the others into engaging in a highly dangerous mission. No one could know. Becky proposed that the group cut and split enough fire wood for Mr. Scrooge, since he was no longer able to cut his own. They would stack the last chord on his front porch after they filled his normal wood cribs along the side of his house.

    On the weekends, the kids gathered with their parents' chainsaws and cut an enormous amount of seasoned oak and ash.  The plan was to gather at 2:00 in the morning two days before Christmas and begin their stacking.  Everyone set their alarms and gathered at the site of the cut wood.  It was bitter cold.  With their wood carriers in hand, they trudged back and forth until the wood was quietly stacked in several wood-cribs along the windowless side of the old man's house.

    The tedious part was to put the final cord on his front porch.  They were almost successful. There was no wood-crib on the front porch that would have supported the logs. The kids did not know how to stabilize the logs. The pile gave way and made a sustained, crashing sound that must have vibrated his entire house.

    The porch light came on and the old man limped outside with a flash light and his shotgun.  Becky yelled out, "Please don't shoot us!  We are kids from the Methodist church.  We wanted you to have firewood for the winter."  He shined his light on the wood and yelled "Get out of here!  I don't need any help from anyone!"  The kids ran for their lives.

    Now, fast forward to Christmas Eve. The pastor had just collected the offering near the end of the service.  The back door opened and in came the old man using a crutch. He was carrying his shotgun.  A hush fell over the congregation, the choir and the pastor.  Time seemed to stand still for everyone in the church. No one knew what brought him to the church.  The youth group members had kept their secret.

    He walked down the aisle and handed his shotgun to the pastor.  He turned around and was visibly shaking.  Tears were streaming down his face. He choked out these words:

I came tonight to say thank you to your children who gave me more winter firewood that I could possibly use.  I responded by ordering them to leave my property. When I went inside my house, I sat down and cried and cried and cried when I realized what your children had done for me. I am a mean, old man. I have never felt that anyone loved until tonight. I had not prayed in a long time, but I sat there and asked God to forgive me for my being who I am for so long.


Then a miracle happened.  A warm sensation settled over me and I heard words form in my head that were not my thoughts. "On Christmas Eve, get your butt down to that church service and you thank those kids! While you are at it, thank your surgeon for saving your leg." 


When God talks to you like that, you'd better listen.  Kids, I am truly sorry for being so ugly to you and I ask for your forgiveness. I cannot begin to thank you enough for what you did for me in the bitter cold at the wee hours of the morning.

    Following the service, Becky's family invited the wounded gentleman to come to their home for Christmas dinner. He could not believe that forgiveness would come with such an invitation.  As word spread of this event throughout the community, the healing energy of peace molded and shaped new attitudes for many people.

    Life can be like this when we trust God for the outcome of all things.  That youth group showed up and entered an extremely hostile environment never anticipating the outcome that eventually happened which resulted in healing for an entire village. Our job is done by showing up and bringing love into a circumstance that needs it.  This is what Jesus did by choosing to come into our world.

    Remember the passage from Paul that I used to open the service:

Jesus had the same spirit of God within him, but he never tried to be an equal with God. Instead of his own free will, he gave up everything that he had enjoyed and took on the nature of a servant.  He became a human being." (Philippians 2:6f)

This is what Jesus was calling everyone in the world to become.



We are grateful, O God, that you created us with the ability to live in peace.  When Mary discovered that she was with child, she became filled with fear. Once she was told the meaning of her pregnancy, she exclaimed, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said.”  How grateful we are that you have equipped us with the ability to find purpose in some of our worst nightmares. Experiences of hurt can become opportunities to express our love.  Our moments of uncertainty can eventually become sources of our inner-peace.  Amen.



Our days have passed far too quickly, O God, and we find ourselves entering our sanctuary for the final Sunday of Advent.   We count every moment a blessing if our walk through these four weeks has helped us to create more thoughtful responses toward others.  We thank you for all the angels-in-the-flesh who have made this journey with us.  Our congregation is small but so was the one that Jesus collected around himself.  Much can be done by those who gather here because you are in the midst of us.

We thank you, God, for your faithfulness to us.  Thank you for giving us Bethlehem, a memory that helps us to remember our focus in a world where nothing is permanent.   Your spirit came to us in a form that very few recognized.  Your spirit entered our world and became a carpenter.  Jesus gave all of us a new way of defining ourselves, not by our circumstances or station in life, but as your sons and daughters.

Still the troubled waters of our minds and hearts with the touch that heals and brings peace.  Awaken us from perceptions that prevent us from seeing miracles and from preoccupations that have made task masters out of the hurts and disappointments that have come our way.  You came to set all prisoners free, and we gladly accept your coming to us with great joy.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .