December 3, 2023, Christmas Present: Horizontal, Advent 2

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 230 O Little Town of Bethlehem
Chris Tomlin – O Little Town Of Bethlehem (Live)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqwe97RJ-bg
or
Gaither Vocal Band – O Little Town Of Bethlehem
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwfkGj51S2c

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 Blest Be The Tie That Binds
Blest Be The Tie That Bind. Four-part singing led by Bill Gaither, Atlanta, 1998
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUUE9agdb_A

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 Present: Horizontal
Text: Luke 2:6-18, 10:25-37
Series: Christmas Past, Present & Future

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

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SERMON NOTES

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.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” 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. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead … 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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HYMN 246 Joy To The World
Joy To The World (Joyful, Joyful) [Live From The Chosen] Phil Wickham
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vnB8xAqzjE
or
Joy To The World (Live At The Helix In Dublin, Ireland/2013) – Celtic Women
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDmIddF7DfQ

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

Last week, we talked about Christmas past and the centuries of yearning that people had for Jesus to come. Today, I want to shift our attention to Christmas present. And I want to suggest that a good word for Christmas present is horizontal Christmas because we’re told to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s vertical. But we’re also told to love our neighbor as ourself and to love one another. And of course, that’s horizontal. But here’s something else about Christmas that may not have occurred to you.

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts 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.

Christmas, the first time and really quite often, Christmas comes to us silently, almost as a very quiet surprise, Christmas arrives in our midst.

One of the signs that Christmas is coming is around Halloween, we begin to be able to see Hallmark Christmas movies. I would like you to know that Hallmark Christmas movies are a tradition in our household. I love happy endings. And I’ll be honest with you, sometimes life is difficult and I need a happy ending. But let’s think for just a moment about Hallmark Christmas movies because they are talking about a horizontal Christmas. Because a Hallmark Christmas movie is about loving your neighbors and being in a place to where everybody cares.

Now, if you’ve never seen a Hallmark Christmas movie, let me explain the plot to you. It’s always about a career woman who is too busy for love, but she has to move all of a sudden to a small town where a handsome local bachelor teaches her about the true spirit of Christmas. It starts to snow and they kiss. And there’s a dog. Now, I love the little sidebar there. That script there is just so perfect. It’s a satire, but it’s still true.

The Hallmark movie woman says this to herself. “I have a high-paying job in New York City that I love. And Christmas isn’t that important to me.”
And her best friend says, “Honey, you need a man.”
Her dad says, “Come home to our small town. We are suffering. We do not have a baker to bake Christmas cookies for our town Christmas festival.”
The woman says, “Okay, Dad.”
And there in the small town where she grew up, she meets a man who says to her, “I harvest maple syrup for a living, and I make $2 a year.”
And the dog wags the tail.
And the man says, “Will you marry me?”
And the woman says, “Let me think about it.”
But then after Christmas enters her heart, she says, “I’ve decided that I hate my city job and I’m going to bake cookies here the rest of my life and be in love.”

Now, friends, there’s something about that that speaks to our hearts. But the thing I’d like to point out today is that this is what we all hope a small town will be like. And this is what we all hope we will be a part of, which is to be surrounded by people, even though they’re not related to us, but that love each other like a family.

Now, since I live in a small town, since I love living in a small town, since I love living in a small town to where I don’t lock the doors of my house every time I walk out the front door, so many different things than living in a big city. I really like that image of a small town that Hallmark Christmas movies bring to us every Christmas season because it’s a horizontal view of Christmas. Not a whole lot of talk about Jesus and Jesus dying on the cross and other things because the movie makers try to appeal to so many different people, but it’s definitely about the horizontal meaning of Christmas.

Here is a horizontal meaning of Christmas in a small town. Christmas passed so long ago. The innkeeper may be a devout and holy man, but we just don’t have room for a woman in our inn. We can’t put a bed in the hallway or in the corner of the dining room. We just don’t have room. I hope everything works out all right. The implication, to me, in the Christmas story is that Mary and Joseph didn’t really have permission to stay in the stable. They just did the best they could. This is not the kind of small town that appeals to me!

But what is Christmas like in this present day in a small town, in fact, all over? Unfortunately – and I’m probably the worst example of this – this is a photo of Christmas present all over our nation today – four people in a row, staring at their cell phones and not looking at each other A couple of times this past week – and I don’t mean to embarrass her – my beloved wife has reminded me that when we’re talking, I should put my phone down. So please understand this: this is every bit a sermon for me as much as it is for anybody else.

I am astonished that if I go to a search engine to search about something, you know what it displays for me? There’s a whole list, pages long, of gossip about celebrities. And I want to tell you, folks: in all honesty, I don’t want to hear more about Britney Spears’s problems. Honestly. And even more than that, half the gossip is about politicians and their troubles so we can feel sorry for them. I don’t want to hear about that. But the sad thing about this picture for me is that I miss old-fashioned gossip, and what I mean by that is this – and by the way, it’s true, friends – it’s not a sin to tell gossip to the pastor because then he could pray for people!

But I want to be honest with you. The sign coming into Kinmundy says, I believe, “Population: 700,” right? And I, the pastor, I don’t know half of what’s going on. I don’t know two-thirds of what’s going on. But I do know this, there’s some happiness maybe over here, but there’s not happiness over there. But I don’t know. I’m out of touch with what’s happening in my own small town, and maybe you are too. I want to pray for people who are sick to become well, but I don’t know who’s sick. I want to pray for couples that are in conflict, but I don’t know who those couples are. I want to pray for children who don’t have everything they need, but I don’t know who they are. So here’s our Christmas present. We’re not quite at the Hallmark level yet. We are not aware of the troubles people have.

We’re out of touch with what’s happening in the lives of people around us. Because, friends, some people, this is what they’re going through. People are feeling overwhelmed by the garbage in their life. They’re having a bad day. But the real concern I have is whether you and I are aware, whether you and I notice what people are going through.

Because certainly, as Mary was giving birth, people did not know. Luke 2:6, And while they were there in the town of Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, laid him in a manger. Why? Because there was no place for them in the inn.

Now, there’s a little bit of dispute among scholars, but the ones that I trust tell us that the estimated population of Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born was probably around 600 people. So you know what that means is we’re the big town compared to Bethlehem. But one of the things about the Christmas story that I hope sinks in is, when Jesus came, no one noticed. They were all so busy with their own things. No one knew how silently the wondrous gift is given.

But God is not willing to put up with that, friends. And in that region, there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them. Now, the word angel is translated and means a messenger from God because God has a message. And the baby is born and God looks around and says, who is awake? Who is paying attention? And out here, surrounding the sheep are a bunch of sheep security guards. Basically, that was their job. The Angel of the Lord appears to them, and the glory of the Lord shows 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 claws and lying in a manger.” And down in the corner of the picture there– it’s kind of tiny. It might be hard to see it. It says, “Bethlehem Holiday Inn.” Now, let me ask you something. Behind the inn is the garage where the horses, the vehicles for all the people staying at the inn, are staying. Let’s imagine you’re a shepherd, security guard, a couple of miles out in a field, and an angel says, “Hey, there’s a baby in a manger.” How long do you think it would take you to find a manger in this town? The shepherds are going, “Okay, well, who’s got a stable in town? This baby’s probably over at Ritter’s Auto Repair or at Johnson’s Garage or something.” But the angels told the shepherds what they needed to know, “Here’s where the baby is.”

And the interesting thing about the shepherds, as they listen to the angels singing and praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest on earth, peace among men with whom he is pleased–“ the interesting thing about the shepherds is when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds looked at one another and do not say, “Let’s go back to sleep.” And they do not say, “Let’s mind our own business.” And they do not say, “We’d get in trouble if we left.” But they say, instead, “Let us go. Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” When they find out something, it is a call to go do something. And so they go. Maybe not all of them, but they go.

And the scripture says they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And you’ve heard me say this theory before. My theory is this, the day after Jesus was born, that night, they were having lamb and camping out with the shepherds. You see, it’s my theory that the angels brought the shepherds to be the family that Mary and Joseph needed in this time. And friends, if we’re awake, if we’re willing to notice, the angels will draw our attention to where we’re needed.

This political cartoon, this editorial cartoon, is by Steve Breen and is published in the San Diego Union Tribune, and it’s very haunting to me. A father and his young daughter are walking through a public park, probably not that unusual in San Diego. And over on the side by a brick wall, there is a family laying on a blanket, a baby, and a mother and a father. And the daddy walking with his daughter says, “No, honey. That’s not a manger scene.” But it could have been – but it was real.

Way back in 1543, Martin Luther preached in a Christmas sermon: The inn was full. “There are many of you who think to yourselves, if only I had been there, how quickly I would have been to help the baby. Why don’t you do it now?” Martin Luther says. You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve your neighbor. For what you do to your neighbor in need, you do to the Lord Christ himself. And Jesus says that plainly in Matthew 25 if you want to look it up.

Because you see, God told us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, but also to love the neighbor around us. And beyond the neighbor living right next to you is another neighbor. Because you see, the neighbor of my neighbor, of my neighbor, of my neighbor, is still my neighbor. When we begin to think horizontally, God’s love flows out to all kinds of people. And if we care and if we pray, we are connected to them by our prayers. C.S. Lewis said it very beautifully. He said, “Next to holy communion, next to the holy sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” It is a holy thing to love your neighbor. And a little bit of kindness can mean a lot in this season. So I want to encourage you, as the angels draw your attention to someone, do something to touch their hearts. Certainly, at the very least, pray.

And consider the healthiness of our horizontal Christmas this year. Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas present this year, 2023. Are you ready as God calls you, as you hear from the angels, to be a neighbor at Christmas to someone? I don’t know the way it is under your Christmas tree, but what we’ve always done under our Christmas tree is there are presents and there are names on the presents. This present is for this person. This present is for this person. Please consider … if Jesus Christ put presents under your Christmas tree, don’t be surprised if you find that it’s your neighbor’s name on the present. Friends, what your neighbor needs most in this Christmas year is a neighborhood. A neighborhood where people care about each other.

Please pray with me: 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. Come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. Lord Jesus, help us to be inspired by the shepherds. Help us, Lord, to be inspired by the first Christmas. Help us, Lord, not to walk past a person who reminds us of you. But Lord, remind us to be a good neighbor in this Christmas season. 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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