Sermon December 19, 2021: Christmas in the Neighborhood (Advent 4)

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If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video:

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/658225758

Screencast-o-matic: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/crlqV3V2H53

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with this prayer:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!

HYMN Silent Night
Hillsong – Silent Night – Lyrics
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNpiQwgStNA

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer

Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help.
I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life.
Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not.
Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature.
Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted.
Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood.
I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord.
Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Away in a Manger
Away in a Manger – Kid’s Version w/ Lyrics
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2ULTkNmIEY

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Christmas in the Neighborhood
Text: Luke 1-2, Matthew 1, 22:36-40
Series: Christmas Story Connections – We’re In This Together

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Saturday Video AudioWesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

Luke 1:34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Matthew 1:20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”… 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him …

Luke 2:6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

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HYMN O Come All Ye Faithful
O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL – The Gaithers w/Vestal Goodman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xn6JQdefEEM

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

BENEDICTION: Please recommit your life to the service of Jesus as Lord with the words of The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

Christmas in the neighborhood: You and I all have a neighborhood. A lot of times, our neighborhood is made up of memories of the past, because we moved away from where we’ve grown up. But we live surrounded by people that we care about. They don’t always live close to us as they once did. But we all have neighbors.

Nonetheless, as I expressed earlier in the prayer, there are some problems developing with Christmas because, as you know, over the past five, six, seven, eight years, the way we talk to each other has become more and more angry and divisive. I am 66 years old, and I have to tell you, I’m aware that there have always been disagreements … but it seems that there are more disagreements now than ever before. And in addition to that, we are all being more disagreeable than we ever have before. And then you take that and you drop this whole COVID pandemic on it, and friends, we got a problem. We have a problem with getting along with each other.

But there’s something that I know that I want to tell you. We have had this problem before. In the year 2000, Robert Putnam, Harvard sociologist, released his book Bowling Alone with research that indicates that we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures.

I first heard of this in 2004. I was listening to the radio when the news was announced that the average man in America used to have something like 3.2 friends, and that number has now dropped to 2.7. We’re disconnected. We’re split apart when we should be coming together. We are people who become aware of — there’s illness over here. There’s poverty over here. This family doesn’t have enough to eat. And all we find ourselves saying is, “I didn’t notice. I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware.”

I always like to say, “It’s not gossip if you tell the pastor … because the pastor needs to be praying for people.” But it’s astonishing how often some terrible thing happens and I sadly find myself saying these same words, “I didn’t know. I didn’t notice.”

But there is a hope. You’ll see the quote on the screen. Putnam identifies that the number one connector, the primary builder of social connections between people … is the local church. Consequently, the decrease in connection in our society is both a cause and a result of the decline of church participation in America. We are dealing with the result of this. But friends, there’s hope. We are a part of God’s solution to this because a church effectively connects people with each other.

And connection with each other is what we yearn for at Christmas. You can always tell because you start to see it on the television, especially in my house – it seems that the only channel that works is the one showing the Hallmark Christmas movies. Nonetheless, they cheer me up. Don’t they cheer you up? Because they’re all about people remembering how valuable home is. In one way or another, as the title shows there, it’s time for you to come home for Christmas. And so these movies lift up the way small towns are at their best. People know each other. People care for each other. People notice when somebody’s hurting. And we need that at Christmas because connection is something that God made us to yearn for. We don’t want to be abandoned and alone, and forsaken.

We want to feel connected, and so we tell these stories of connection at Christmas. All of a sudden, you’ll start to see them on Facebook. Here’s one I saw this week. The USS North Carolina Battleship Christmas, 1943. The chaplain onboard, Everett Wuebbins, I hope I’m saying his name correctly, collected $5 from every sailor onboard and a piece of paper with that sailor’s home address, the names of their children, and the name of their wife. And he bundled it all up, and he sent it all to Macy’s Department store. In the letter to Macy’s, he requested that Macy’s put together a Christmas package for each of these children and mail it to them.

Well, Macy’s went one better. They invited all these children to come to New York City, and they received their gifts as a part of a huge party, and they had someone film every child opening their gift. They had someone film every child waving hello to Daddy in the South Pacific.

Now I have one friend who says that this is a myth. It might be, but I can tell you that Chaplain Wuebbins is buried in Flanagan, Illinois, which is a wide spot in the road north of Bloomington and east of Peoria. He’s from Illinois. So I have a great hope there is some truth to this story.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to mention they flew the film to the battleship so all the daddies could see the children opening their gifts. And the men literally played it over and over all night long. Some part of this story might be an exaggeration, but the point I want to make is it rings true. Because when we hear a story, whether it’s true or not, whether it’s something to encourage us or something that happened exactly as the story goes, those stories at Christmas give us examples of what it means to be a neighbor and to love your neighbor and they comfort us, and they reassure us. I put several others on the Church Facebook page. I’ll probably continue because this is the main truth: We tell these stories at Christmas to remind ourselves of how wonderful it is to have neighbors that care for us. Those stories encourage us to be that kind of neighbor.

And if we’re feeling particularly lost and alone and abandoned, those stories remind us that neighbors around us might make up the difference.

This is the heart of what God is talking about and what you could call the commandment of connection.

Jesus was challenged, “Teacher, what’s the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” This is the highest priority for any Christian person. And then Jesus says this, “A second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” On these two commandments, all of what God wants from people are summarized. You actually can see it out here on the church sign, “Jesus first, Others loved, Yourself too.” That’s the recipe for JOY.

And what I wanted today was to remind you of the Christmas story with regard to these commandments and with regard to neighbors. An angel comes to Mary and says, “You are going to have a baby who’s going to be the Messiah.” Mary asks, “How is this possible?” And the angel basically says, “God will do it. With God, nothing is impossible.” Verse 38. And here’s how Mary responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

That’s a very fancy way of saying a phrase that Jesus said a lot. “Thy will be done.” Would you mind saying that phrase with me? Thy will be done. And in fact, every time I say, “Thy will be done,” will you say it right after me? Thy will be done– Thy will be done –is what we say when loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind comes first.

And what comes right after it is to love your neighbor as yourself. Because Joseph is wronged in this, and he considers whether he should divorce Mary. And an angel appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, you be a neighbor to Mary.” Now the angel didn’t say it exactly like that, but that’s what it means. “Take care of Mary. Take this baby into your home. Raise this baby as your son. It’s the right thing to do.” And when Joseph awoke from sleep, verse 24, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. In other words, Joseph said, “Thy will be done.” (Thy will be done.)

And so Joseph takes care of Mary. He is a patron and a protector. And they make the difficult journey to Bethlehem. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.

Now, we have a very human tendency to look at the behavior of people in Bethlehem with a very judgmental eye. Could not room have been made in a hallway someplace for this woman about to give birth? But Mary and Joseph find themselves in a stable.

We really don’t know the details. Whether the innkeeper said, “I have a nice, clean stable,” or whether they actually snuck into it unaware, with the innkeeper not even knowing. You see, Mary and Joseph are homeless at Christmas. There are people around us who are homeless at Christmas. But this is a part of the Christmas story. That people are unkind to each other at Christmas.

And then the beautiful and wonderful news that a savior has been born is brought to shepherds who are watching over their flocks by night, out in the countryside. The angel of the Lord appears to them. The glory of the Lord shone around them and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” That’s the good news.

What happens when this good news comes to the shepherds? I can imagine, if I was — I was a security guard when I was in seminary. I can imagine some security guards looking at each other and going, “That’s weird.” Someone else is bound to say, “Should we make up an incident report for that?”

But here’s what these shepherds immediately decided. They heard about a baby being born. “We need to go.” Now, I can imagine not all of them went because somebody had to watch the sheep.

But they immediately realized, “We’ve heard this news about a baby who will be the savior of the world.” And we think that’s why they’re going – for a theological reason. Is it possible that what they also heard was, “There’s a baby that’s just been born in a stable and they need our help”? Maybe that’s what they were thinking.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste. And they found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.

So ponder this for just a moment. The shepherds are coming to see Jesus, but every step they take brings them closer to Mary and Joseph. The shepherds are coming to Jesus, but before they are done Mary and Joseph are going to be blessed as well because Mary and Joseph find some new neighbors. You’ve heard me say this before. I think the shepherds invited them to come to stay with them in the fields. I think the next night, Mary and Joseph were having roast lamb and watching the stars with the shepherds. The shepherds took them in when no one else did.

But perhaps that’s because the angels pointed out someone who needed a neighbor.
And the shepherds realized, “I can do something.”
And so the shepherd said to God, “Thy will be done.”

You see, if you’re truly coming closer to Jesus, where you will find Jesus is among people who are in need. If you’re really, truly coming closer to Jesus, you are likewise going to find you’ll be coming closer to other people.

You know who those people are? Those people are your neighbors. And God wants you to love them. And as you truly love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, you are going to be more and more likely to notice your neighbor and be aware of what’s going on around you, “God has done wonderful things to help this neighbor. This neighbor needs help. This house, where my neighbor lives, is full of happiness. This house, there’s sadness,” and we will become aware that we need to do something because the closer we are to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the more important it’s going to be to us to love our neighbor as ourself.

We talk about conversations with God, that’s prayer. But conversations with God allow Jesus to live in us. As you talk to Jesus, Jesus becomes a part of your life. Well, in the very same way as you have conversations with your neighbors, and you have prayer and conversations with God to help your neighbors, your neighbors also become a part of your life because of conversations. And all of a sudden, Jesus begins to live in your neighborhood because he’s in the relationships that you have with your neighbors.

This is a saying that comes from the Methodist movement. John Wesley never actually said it. But in many different ways, he said all of these words. And it became a motto,

“Do all the good you can
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.”

And this became a goal of the early Methodist people.
But we have this very human tendency to think that the person who most needs our help is someone who’s very far away. Because, certainly, there are homeless people in our small town … but we feel that there is greater suffering among homeless people somewhere else, let’s say, St. Louis or Austin, Texas. And when God asked us to love our neighbors, sometimes that means that we should let our love flow all the way to Austin or somewhere far away.

But the literal interpretation of this, for every single one of us is this: “In your own neighborhood, not very far from you, among people you already know – You already know their name. There are neighbors who need your love.”

And if their problems are not as bad as those in some big faraway city, you know what that means? If their problems are not as bad, this makes us more able to do something to make a difference in our own neighborhood. And not to do it sometime far in the future, but right now, as soon as we can, to let our eyes look over our neighborhoods and look at our neighbors and say,

“Lord, where are the happy people? Thank you for their happiness.”
To look and to say, “Lord, where are the people in need, and how can I help?”
Oh, and one more thing we say when we pray: “Thy will be done.”

Lord Jesus, help us to be the people who say, “Thy will be done,” help us to be the people who love you with all our heart, soul, and mind and strength, and help us, Lord, to be heavenly-minded in a way that makes an earthly difference. Every single one of us here, Lord, knows someone who is in need, perhaps of nothing more than simply a kind word or an encouraging smile. Lord, help us to be that person who smiles. Around us, Lord, there are people who are hungry. But they’re hungry for love. And what they need is a plate of Christmas cookies. Lord, help us to be that person who shows kindness when the people around us, our neighbors need kindness. Lord, help us to notice our neighbors and respond as a loving person would. And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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