“Now is the time for Joy!” Advent Message, Christmas Around the World & Pageant

12/17/2017
Advent 3

“Now is the time for Joy”

Advent message on 1 Thessalonians 5:15-24
Christmas Around the World
Pageant

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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“THIS IS WHY WE SING” an Advent Reflection on Isaiah 61:1-4 on the 5th anniversary of Newtown

Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

__

Today is the fifth anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

 

I wonder what it might feel like tonight, these five years later, to hear God speaking

Good news to the oppressed,

Binding up the brokenhearted,

Liberty to the captives,

Release to the prisoners.

Five years ago:

Families lost children.

Children lost friends and teachers.

Many people lost their innocence as death, darkness and despair

struck its violent blow, and continues to encroach upon us everywhere.

___

And yet the prophet proclaims a word from the Lord –

A day of reckoning…is coming.

Comfort to those who mourn…is coming.

A garland of out of the ashes of lament…is coming.

Rebuilding out of the rubble…is coming.

The Savior of the nations…is coming.

___

I remember that day quite clearly.

It was a Friday. Tammie and I were out doing some shopping on a day off while the kids were at school.

We went to pick-up the kids, and Joanne Rocco (the Principal of South School) stood outside to greet each family. She carefully explained to each of us of the procedures the school had put into action. Her administration told teachers to keep their nerve and go on with the day. Teachers had not discussed the news with students. It was her view that families would be able to talk about it at home as they saw fit. We were also urged to remain calm as parents when we saw our children and not say anything among ourselves until we got home. A tense and uncertain situation was handled incredibly well, and Principal Rocco’s poise was tremendous during that time.

That evening at church we were hosting singing recitals for a local music studio in town. The director addressed the families who had assembled and simply acknowledged the tragedy and said, “This is why we sing.” Simple. Yet powerful.

I was there hosting the event, greeting people at the door (as I do). The Bishop called as I stood outside, asking how I was, did I know anyone affected, and how he could be helpful. Newtown was not far as-the-crow-flies from New Canaan but at least 45 mins away by car. We didn’t have any nearby ELCA congregations to Sandy Hook, but I heard from two of my pastor colleagues (who lived in Shelton and New Haven) who had decided to drive up to Newtown and walk around in their clerical collars and talk to people.

In the days that followed the Newtown shooting, I had heard of the Lutheran Comfort Dogs from Illinois had arrived that connected with the LCMS congregation in town – Christ the King Lutheran Church. [These Comfort dogs were a ministry of Lutheran Church Charities, led by Tim Hetzner who happened to be the Christian Education Director in the congregation I grew up in as a child, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine, IL. Small world.]

The Sunday that followed was morose. We lit the paschal candle and prayed. We joined the lament from around the country and the plea for better protections of our schools, had discussions about gun laws and mental illness. And like most of us – even these five years later – had few answers that we could come to consensus upon, other than our sense of helplessness.

This is why we sing.

In town the First Selectman Rob Malozzi called for a meeting with the town clergy and a few of us participated. We would hold a prayer service on the town green with candles the following Saturday evening. Hundreds of people showed up on that cold, starry, snow-filled night, as we read from scripture, stood with our candles, prayed and we sang.

Tonight’s Advent hymn is “SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS COME.” It is an ancient song written by St. Ambrose of Milan in the Fourth Century, later translated by Martin Luther into German in the Sixteenth Century. Luther’s version was later translated into the English version we now have. It is a powerful confession of Christ’s Divinity, written in a time when who Jesus is, and was and what he could do was in question – which in our time is a pertinent question also. It also gives words to our desperate plea for God’s intervention when our world seems so dark and divided and full of despair that God would not forget the promise to deliver us.

This is why we sing.

It is a declaration of faithfulness –

When injustice, cruelty and violence seem to have a tightening grip upon us, to remember the tune that the Lord’s favor is coming soon.

This is why we sing.

It is also a beautiful Advent melody to remember that it is not we who save ourselves, or we who can construct a better plan that will all work out, or develop better politics that will bring everyone together, or fulfill the hope for a better world for ourselves.

This is why we sing.

It is God who declares: Good news is coming, binding up is coming, liberty is coming and release is coming, and it will arrive far better than we could ever provide for ourselves.

This is why we sing.

Luke tells not only the story of the manger that is coming (Luke 2), but also the Savior’s ministry too (Luke 4). Jesus pulled out the scroll in the synagogue, proclaimed these words of the ancient prophet to be fulfilled now in his arrival – to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captive and the imprisoned wherever we are.

The Savior of the nations comes not just metaphorically from the stories of old, but is realized in his suffering and death on the cross, and made ours by new life that bursts forth from the grave – as much in his time as his own. In our remembrance of tragedy, and in the fear and sadness we cling to years later; with his Divine Presence, he arrives with another word.

Only then can we listen and remember exactly what it is we are waiting for this Advent season as the air fills our lungs, as our diaphragms start to move, our vocal chords begin to vibrate and songs burst forth that we may not have even considered were possible.

This is why we sing.

And maybe then we can keep at the work set before us and not grow idle  – bringing comfort to those in morning, nurturing the new life that grows out of the ashes, and building up new things out of the rubble around us – because deliverance is on its way, and we are promised that destruction, death and darkness never have the last word. Not ever.

But first we wait. We pray. We listen. We cry out in hope.  And we sing. AMEN

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“Click” – An Advent Letter to My Congregation, 2017

(An advent letter sent to the people of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Old Saybrook, CT Dec 6, 2017)

Advent blessings to you and Merry Christmas!

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

I’m not afraid of the dark, but I don’t like it very much.

As I write this I sit alone in my living room and it is very early in the morning. It is dark.    It is still. The family is still sleeping upstairs. The coffee timer has yet to begin its brewing process and the only light at all is emitting from the device on which I am composing these words along with the street light peering through closed blinds.

Our family is still recovering from our getaway to Europe at Thanksgiving and our body clocks are still making adjustments to being us back to “normal.” Many mornings in our home since our return have begun with a four on the clock and we are still dozing off around eight o’clock at night. It seems like these dark days are darker and longer than other Decembers any of us can remember. That is why I am up so early this morning, sitting in the darkness, wondering when or even if Light will come.

The news cycle is full of scandal, violence and darkness at every turn, bearing witness to people not only behaving badly but cruelly and inhumanely to each other. We feel so helpless at countless human tragedy and loss of life as the darkness tries to force its way upon us. Our politics has become so vile and contemptuous that good people on either side of the aisle cringe in disgust and walk away angry. It becomes more evident to me each day that evil is not only present in our world but casts its shadow over all of us to keep us afraid, uncertain and suspicious of one another. Speaking just for myself, sometimes I wonder if there can be any end to it before darkness consumes us all.

Yet, our Advent hope is to wait with quiet expectation that God will deliver us and that the Light of Jesus will indeed shine both on us and in our world. We receive the promise that “The Light will shine and darkness did not overcome it.” Yet, in these darkened times I think we all grow skeptical if we will ever see that Light again.

Click.

The timer turns on the lights on our Christmas tree and my living room has a renewed beauty and brightness. There is a focus and a draw to the room now as my eyes cannot help but fixate on those tree lights even though the shadows are still lurking around me.

Maybe that is how Jesus comes.

I used to think “The Light shining in the darkness” would arrive like the Big Bang erupting out of the vast emptiness as God called forth this universe with a powerful shout — “Light!” I’ll still hold onto that image as I consider the cosmos around us, but this morning I wonder if God isn’t up to something a little more subtle and dangerous among us as these dark days encroach upon us.

The Light that is coming may come like the tree lights now making this space shine in its beautiful simplicity. There is a stillness here now that both calms my spirit and bolsters my hope for the future. At Christmas we celebrate the Light coming as the vulnerable child in a manger appearing to shepherds hidden in Bethlehem; not as a powerful warrior set ablaze on the mountaintop so that everyone would see him destroy his enemies. A self-aggrandizing power-play would be the thing darkness would do. Instead, the subtle Light of the manger illumines our lives in a gentler, kinder and more nurturing way, eroding the darkness’ foothold upon us so that we rise to reflect its radiance. Like those shepherds before us – fully embraced with the warmth and beauty of an undeserved love freely calling us into relationship – we shine too. When we do, darkness cowers; exposing its cowardice by what it will never understand – grace, mercy and peace.

In these days that grow ever darker before Christmas, I invite you to look for the Light that shines around you in subtle ways. Share that Light with your loved ones and friends. Talk about it and help others discover it calling and embracing them too.

Remember when you get discouraged: Light is coming!

When it does, God’s grace, mercy and peace will ‘click’ a new reality of Christ’s Light in you.

PGS

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“Time for Good News” a sermon on Mark 1:1-8

12/10/2017
Advent 2

Sermon on Mark 1:1-8
“Time for Good News”
Now is the Time, Part 2

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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“COMFORT IN THE DAYS OF ABUSE AND EXILE,” an Advent reflection on ISAIAH 40:1-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These days feel more like days of abuse than days of comfort.

The abuse of power.

The abuse of influence.

The abuse of wealth.

The abuse of position.

The abuse of trust.

The abuse of the truth.

The abuse of emotions.

The abuse of one another’s bodies.

The abuse of the land.

The abuse of the past, present and future.

___

Abuse causes isolation, exile and fear.

This is a tense and turbulent time, and many feel lost and alone, discouraged and defeated, dismissed and left-behind. It is easy to think that the end is nigh, or that at the very least the bottom is ready to drop out, and it is hard to know who to talk to about it, how to think about solutions, or what to do to make it better.

Maybe we can’t.

But what God promises us tonight is the opposite of abuse. It is comfort. Divine comfort. God breaking into our exile comfort.  Comfort breaking in by the One who is coming kind of comfort.  A promise that withstands all the things that wither and fade – even when it is we who are fading.

I can’t help but think today (December 7) of those who withered and faded 76 years ago at Pearl Harbor on this day of infamy – which must have felt like the end was upon them, in the death and destruction around them, in the end of innocence and a re-positioning how we relate to the world and what we are willing to fight and die for. How quickly we forget that memory and abuse that too.

Tonight I also think about – Those who have mustered up the strength to confront their abusers, those who haven’t and those who look the other way.

Those who are not welcome in their own home or homeland or have been forced away in violence.

Those who today flee from burning communities in California.

And those still linger in exile and isolation months after storms wreaked havoc upon them.

 “Comfort O Comfort my people” says your God. – as the prophet cries out in the wilderness.

These words first came as an announcement that exile was ending. That God would soon be leading them home. These words meet us now and shout out  to all who are in exile. That Comfort – not exile –  is God’s way.

Our Advent calling is to prepare for a new exodus as the reign of God draws near.

One of the things I am constantly reminded of – as the days grow darker and we all grow more weary, as we see so much pain and abuse of everything we hold dear and sacred, is the world in which Jesus entered was not that different from our own.

It was full of abuse. Full of destruction. Full of exile.

But Jesus came to:

Heal the broken. 

Include the outcast. 

Encourage the weary.

Forgive the sinner. 

Confront the abuser.

Speak truth to power.

Give voice to the voiceless.

Die for the many. 

Raise the dead.

And inviting all of us to enter that reign around us – calling us into a new community of comfort, hope and peace.

This message from the prophet reminds his followers of every age (in Advent and always):

 To comfort one another in our times of grief.

 To bind up each other’s wounds when we feel broken and we can’t carry on.

 To meet those who are living in exile when everything else has been ripped away and their world is on fire.

 To lead each other on the road God gives us ahead – as windy pathways are made level and straight.

To know ultimately that our Life Together is not ultimately about us.  Our lives are not about when we wither or fade. Our lives are never about what others might do to us.

Our lives are about Christ – who comes to set the prisoners free.

Whatever exile you may be facing – know that Christ is near – and calls us all. HOME.

“Comfort, oh comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem,
    but also make it very clear
That she has served her sentence,
    that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!
She’s been punished enough and more than enough,
    and now it’s over and done with.”

Thunder in the desert!
    “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
    a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
    level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
    clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
    and everyone will see it.
    Yes. Just as God has said.”

A voice says, “Shout!”
    I said, “What shall I shout?”

“These people are nothing but grass,
    their love fragile as wildflowers.
The grass withers, the wildflowers fade,
    if God so much as puffs on them.
    Aren’t these people just so much grass?
True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade,
    but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.” (Isaiah 40:1-8 THE MSG)

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JOLLY OLD SAINT NICK (min msg)

St. Nicholas of Myra, 12/06/343

For more on St. Nick, click HERE

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“Wait for the man on the cross” an Advent sermon on Mark 13:21-37

12/03/2017
Advent 1

Sermon on Mark 13:21-37
(Now is the Time!, Part 1)
“Wait for the Man on the Cross”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

David Lose, In the Meantime:

http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/advent-1-b/

http://www.davidlose.net/2017/11/advent-1-b-a-present-tense-advent/

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