December 17, 2023, Christmas Child: Open Your Present, Advent 4

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP:
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.

HYMN 219 What Child Is This
Chris Tomlin – What Child Is This? (Live/Lyrics And Chords) ft. All Sons & Daughters
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jroBAl3WW8

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational 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!

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 526 What A Friend We Have In Jesus
Alan Jackson – What A Friend We Have In Jesus (Live)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWu2HCJ92c

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 Child: Open Your Present
Text: John 1:1-14, Romans 8:14-17, Philippians 2:12 -15
Series: Christmas Past, Present & Future

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audio … Sermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world …

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HYMN 221 In The Bleak Midwinter
In The Bleak Midwinter – Holst – Tenebrae Choir conducted by Nigel Short
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBCYZ9jIJkI
or
David Phelps – In The Bleak Midwinter (Live)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MAdq1VjAlg

BENEDICTION 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.

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, as you know, is all about the Christmas child. And for many children, it’s also about opening your presents. And each one of us does have a present to open.

Our church sign – “Looking for a better life? Inquire within” – has inspired me now for quite a few months to say to the world that if you’re seeking a better life, if you’re looking for more love and joy and peace, like the sign says, inquire within. Because here in the church, we believe that we have an answer to what hurts in the world. And we have a mission to encourage people to inquire within the church, but also to inquire within our hearts because God has a better life for us.

And so let me tell you about the two doors. There’s a story told about the physicist Max Planck. When he died and went to heaven, St. Peter met him at the gate saying, “Professor Planck, this door over here leads to the kingdom of heaven, but this door over here leads to a discussion of the kingdom of heaven. Which door did he choose?”

Now, this is a particular problem for preachers and for theologians because we go to school, and we love those discussions about all the ideas in all the books. But the subtlety of the question is to simply remind us, you have a choice between learning about the kingdom of heaven and being in the kingdom of heaven. You have a choice between talking about books and ideas and actually experiencing it. And I’m sad to say there’s a whole lot of theologians and probably pastors, too … we would love to sit in on the discussion and learn something new.

Which inspired me to write a second part of this little parable. There’s a story told about the Chef, Gordon Ramsay… Now, you all know who Gordon Ramsay is, right? When he died and went to heaven, and that hasn’t happened yet, St. Peter met him at the gate saying, “Chef, this door leads to the dining room where lunch is being served, but this door leads to another room where the owner of the restaurant, the chef, and all the other crew, are arguing about what to do about lunch.” Gordon Ramsay loves a good argument. Which door do you think he chose?

And which door would you choose?
The reality … or learning about it and talking about it and thinking about it.

I’d like to tell you a very long story about Fred Craddock and Ben Hooper. Fred Craddock is probably the most famous teacher of preaching at the seminary level in the United Methodist Church. And he was teaching at the seminary in Atlanta sometime before 1957 when he and his wife visited a small restaurant in Tennessee. And small towns in the south are a little different than they are elsewhere. While they were sitting, a distinguished older gentleman came up to them and sat down without being invited and said, “Folks, welcome to our town. Who are you and where do you work?” And Fred Craddock said, “I’m a professor of homiletics at a seminary,” because he thought that would not be very interesting to the man.

The older gentleman said, “Oh, you teach preachers. Well, I’ve got a preacher story. Would you like to hear a preacher story?” And you bow to the inevitable when this happens.

So the man began to tell the story about how he was born to an unwed mother. The man who was his father would not acknowledge him. And as he grew up in a small town in Tennessee, other kids liked to tease him. They would corner him in the playground and say, “Who’s your father? Who’s your daddy?” And as a young man, he became very adept at using his fists to answer that question. But by the time he was 12 years old, he grew so discouraged, he just wouldn’t fight back. But he began to shrink back and be very shy and be very timid.

And a new pastor came to the church in town. And he would come to the church and he would sit in the back row. He would come in after church started and he would sneak out during the last hymn because he didn’t want to talk to any of those people who he knew were looking at him and thinking, “Who’s your daddy?” But week after week, he got so caught up in the new minister’s sermons that one Sunday he didn’t get out of church before the service ended. And the people began to push toward the back door to shake hands with the pastor. And he was unable to escape. And he came up to the pastor.

The pastor was about 6’4″ foot four, he leaned down, put his arm on his shoulder, looked him right in the eye, and of course, not knowing who this child was, he looked at him and he said, “Son, who’s your daddy?”

When some members of the congregation heard the question, they became deathly quiet, knowing just how embarrassed the young man was. But somehow, God gave the minister the right words to say. He quickly recovered and said, “Wait a minute. I see the family resemblance. You are a child of God. God is your father.” And he gripped the shoulder of the young man and said, “Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”

“That young man was never the same again,” the old stranger said. Whenever anybody ever asked him, “Who’s your daddy?” He’d answer, “I’m a child of God.”

The old gentleman looked at the preacher and the professor of preaching and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” And Fred Craddock nodded and said, “It certainly is.” The older man walked away. And as he was walking, he said, “If that new preacher hadn’t told me I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything.” After they ate, Fred Craddock asked the waitress, “Who was that older gentleman?” And she smiled and she said, “Everybody around here knows that man. He lives just down the road. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of the state of Tennessee.”

Who gave credit to God His Father for everything he achieved in life.

The book of Luke has the Christmas story with the shepherds and the angels. The book of Matthew has the Christmas story with the wise men. And the book of John has the Christmas story about what it all means. John chapter 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, and all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The light in the distance that’s shining is the light of Jesus Christ. And from Christmas past on to today, we want to move toward the light.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him. Yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home and his own people received him not. Jesus was born, and his parents laid him in a manger. And no one knew. No one knew. Of course, until the angels told the shepherds because God wanted people to know. That’s Christmas Present. No one knows what’s possible.

But as we look to the future, we discover a gift: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… The word Emmanuel means God with us … full of grace and truth, and we have beheld His glory. Glory is of the only Son of the Father.

Last week, I said to you that God loves your neighbor and God has changed the whole world. Because what Jesus taught us about loving our neighbor, we are still practicing that – maybe not as perfectly as we could – but what Jesus taught people to say and be and do has changed our entire world for the better and is still at work. And so I said to you, “Look among the presents under your Christmas tree.” And, of course, I mean this symbolically … because whatever God is giving you this Christmas is most likely something that God wants you to deliver to your neighbor. And so if you’ll imagine God putting gifts under your tree, presents, a lot of them will be for other people. They will be for your neighbor and you are the one who gets to make them happy as you deliver them.

But something I want to remind you today is that each one of us also has a tree in our hearts and a present under it with our name on it. And the present from God is simply this: you have the power to become a child of God. And that will change everything in your life, everything, because it’s still true today how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts, including your heart and my heart, the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming. But in this world of sin where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Perhaps each one of us has a different story of how and when the dear Christ entered in to our hearts. I think for Ben Hooper, I think it was the day when he was 12 when the pastor said to him, “I know who you are. You’re a child of God,” and it changed his life to know that.

But we do have to ask ourselves a question, we wonderful church-going Bible-reading, praying people, have you opened your Christmas present from God or are you settling for being a part of a discussion group about God?

Have you settled for being part of a group of people singing hymns and listening to sermons or have you entered into the Kingdom of Heaven?

Now, this is a little bit ridiculous, but something that every child knows is that if somebody gives you a present, you open it, right? You open it right now. But adults are kind of weird. A celebrity gives you a Christmas present, maybe Elvis, and you think to yourself, I’m going to put this over the fireplace. And whenever somebody comes to visit me, I’m going to point it and say, “See what Elvis gave me?”

There are people who are collectors. And if you’re a collector, I don’t mean to make fun of you. But if you’re a collector and you buy a rare beanie baby – a little stuffed toy – you won’t let children play with it because it would decrease the value of it. You won’t cut the tags off of it because it’ll decrease the value of it. You want to put it up on the wall for people to look at, but you never use it for what it’s intended for. God gave you a gift to be a child of God. It’s time for us to move from discussing what that means to living it.

Other people illustrate it this way. You’re looking at a check for $1 million. The tag says, “To me from God,” and $1 million. And so what do we do? We could spend all day long talking about what we could do with $1 million.

We ought to have a discussion later today. What could we do with $1 million?

What could we do? Here’s the reality, friends. You can’t do anything till you cash the check. What could you do in your life with the help of God? What could you do in your life with the presence of Jesus? What good could happen in your neighborhood, in the community where you live, if you cashed the check? And instead of talking about it, began to live in that new reality?

And the sad thing about most churches is we’ve become so used to talking about what God could do … instead of doing it. Sometimes we just don’t get around to living it. But it all comes back, friends, to this, please: open your present. Accept the power that you have to be a child of God.

One of the most beautiful verses of the New Testament – and in fact, it’s a Christmas story all in itself – is a single verse: . John 10:10, “I came,” Jesus said– and that’s a Christmas story. Here’s the reason why Jesus says He came: I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. Not just talk about it or make plans about it or read books about it. But to choose the door where they actually live a beautiful, abundant life that’s possible when we are children of God.

Friends, maybe you opened your present and became a child of God long ago. But in a sense, we open it every year when we acknowledge that being a child of God makes a difference in our life.

Well, Pastor Dave, I don’t know how to open that present. It’s all tied up tight. And I think it has a password… Well, friends, if you’re not sure what the password is, here’s the password: You pray a prayer, and the present that God has for you opens up and begins to live in you.

And that prayer can be as simple a prayer as anyone could wish to say. But here’s the version that I say. Remember the Centering Prayer? The very first part of it, and the very last part of it, is a password that opens up what the life of being a child of God is like. 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. And the rest of what opens up the Christmas present in our lives are these words, “I am a sinner. Please be my shepherd, my Savior, and my Lord. Amen.”

And if you pray that prayer, the present that God has for you to be a child of God will open. Sometimes, it opens slowly. But as you keep praying, you will see a difference because you’ve chosen to go from the room to where people talk about God to the room where people spend time with God.

Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, I thank you for all the amazing and interesting ideas. I thank you for all the truth that we learn about you when we think together and talk together and study together. But help me, Lord, and help everyone with me, to remember that you have offered us more than ideas. You have offered us a relationship. You have offered us a relationship that’s described in the song What a Friend We Have in Jesus. And so, Lord, I pray that You would move each of us in this new and coming year more deeply into that truth of what it is like for us to literally and truly have Jesus as our friend. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. 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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