December 31, 2023, Christmas Future: Towards Our Own Happy Ending, New Year’s Eve

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.)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

HYMN 454 Open My Eyes, That I May See
Hymn – Open My Eyes That I May See performed by The Riverside Choir, NYC
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7e8dq6xx4k

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 405 Seek Ye First The Kingdom Of God
Seek Ye First – Maranatha! Music [with lyrics]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsBpM9IcBts
or
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God (with Call To Worship) – Malibu Presbyterian Church
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHfzAJS7IRc

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 Future: Towards Our Own Happy Ending
Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 6:31-34, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11-14
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

Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Matthew 6:31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or’What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … 11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

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HYMN 418 We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder [Live) – Ann Downing, Greater Vision, The Nelons, The Ruppes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDJ0WTebhSc
or
Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band – Jacob’s Ladder (Live In Dublin) (Dixieland style)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrOLgWhisVU

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

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about Christmas Past, and how everyone was yearning for Jesus to come. We’ve been talking about Christmas Present when Jesus arrived. Chapter one of the Christmas story! And we’ve been talking about how that changes the Future, from then till now, but also changes our future going forward. Why? Simply because Jesus is here and now anything can happen. Anything can happen, and we are moving forward step by step. As in the 23rd Psalm, we are following our Shepherd through this life, because Jesus is with us and we’re moving towards our own happy ending. Now, whatever that happy ending might be as you would define it, for each person it might be a little different. And it’s also how we would define the happy ending for us as a church. Moving forward, what would the future look like? Please understand this. We can have hope in that happy ending because Jesus is with us, and that leads me to something that is both fun and embarrassing to talk about.

I’ve mentioned it quite frequently, and that’s my addiction to Hallmark Christmas movies. If you’ve ever seen a Hallmark Christmas movie, well, then you know what I’m talking about because every single one of them is almost exactly the same. But so far, I haven’t stressed what is the big thing, which is that you can trust … if you spend time watching a Hallmark Christmas movie, it doesn’t matter what they’re fighting about, and it doesn’t matter that grandpa’s Christmas store is going bankrupt, and it doesn’t matter that that New York City boyfriend is going to break up with you. Or that the Hallmark boyfriend who sells Christmas trees for a living and only makes $12 a year. It’s all going to work out … because the main reason why I love a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I think why everyone does, is there’s always a happily ever after.

Now, you know what’s really interesting? I’ll be watching them with Kim and I’ll take my eyes off the screen and they’ll kiss each other and I’ll look back and all of a sudden … it’s over. And I’m like, “What happened?” Well, they kissed and that was it.

Now, here’s the thing. I know it’s happily ever after, but I’ll bet there were still some fights and grandpa’s store still had some troubles because, in life, there are always sequels. But what we like most is that hope of a happy ending.

And friends, Christmas present, Jesus with us. That’s our present, Jesus with us. We have the strength we need, and we are empowered to move forward step by step toward a happy ending for us … in our neighborhood, right here as the year goes by – and that’s what I want.

And I think Howard Thurman summarized the happily ever after ending so beautifully with these words:

“When the song of the angels is stilled, the first Christmas,
when the star in the sky is gone, the first Christmas
when the kings and the princes and the wise men are back home, the first Christmas.
when the shepherds are back with their flock, the first Christmas,

the work of Christmas begins.
(Sometimes when you see this poem, it says the real work of Christmas, the true work of Christmas. People like to change these words to try to bring them up to date. But see, friends, this is the true work of Christmas. It’s going on now for 2,023 chapters and it’s still going on. Because the true work of Christmas is:

To find the lost, to heal the broken, and to feed the hungry.
It might include giving them some winter coats, which they desperately need. The true work of Christmas is to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among others, and to make music, to rejoice, in our hearts.

Friends, if that happened, I think we would call that a happily ever after! Or if real problems get solved and resolved, it’s a happier ever after. And that’s what we want. Now, even though that’s what we want, consider how Jesus does it. You have read this little poem, One Solitary Life on Christmas Cards for many, many years. And you know how it begins with the fact that Jesus lived a very humble life, never went to college, never led an army, was rejected and hung on a cross and died and came back to life.
But the author reminds us when we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely Picaune, meaningless, minor influence on humankind compared with that of this … one solitary life. And friends, the news media today makes certain that we’re aware of how terrible life can be these days. But I simply want to guarantee you that the cruelty and the evil of the world today is almost nothing compared to the cruelty and the evil that was normal on the day when Jesus came into this world. Jesus Christ has forever changed the world that we live in.

And here’s the thing that needs to sink in. We just prayed this a little bit earlier. Lord Jesus, be born in us today. Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. And you know how he works now? He works through people like you and me. And for all these 2,000-plus years, that’s how the happier has happened. Because Jesus Christ works through people like you and me. And that will be true in this new chapter in the history of the church that begins tomorrow, January 1, 2024. Jesus works through people like you and me.

Let’s take a quick look at that. Now, after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled … no need to wait … and the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s ready. What’s the kingdom of God? Well, we pray it every week in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is ready to happen. So we need to repent. Whatever it is that we need to change our ways, we need to change them. And we need to believe the gospel – that with the help of Jesus Christ, day by day, life can be happily ever after, or at least happier ever after. That’s the work of Christmas that is still going on.

In Matthew chapter six, it tells us what the goal is: Therefore, do not be anxious saying, “What shall we eat, or what shall we drink?” Those of us who are forming New Year’s resolutions, they may be more like, “What shall we not eat? What shall we not drink?” and, of course, “what shall we wear?”

But, friends, the point is, don’t be anxious. For the Gentiles, people who have no spirituality seek all these things and are constantly anxious about them. But believe and remember this: your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Verse 33, So here’s the promise: “But seek first God’s kingdom. Seek first God’s righteousness “ – and by the way, you can translate that word as wholesome, seek God’s wholesomeness, seek God’s healthiness and wholeness – “and all these other things that people are anxious about, all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” – and I think that’s a beautiful way to say happier today and then happier the next day – “Let each day’s trouble be sufficient for the day.”

And here’s the other important thing about how God does this. Now, there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. If you would look at that there are a few things you would see. First of all, it says, “To each is given.” So when you look across the room and say, “Well, God can’t use me because I can’t sing like so-and-so,” or, “God can’t use me because I can’t play a musical instrument like so-and-so,” or, “God can’t use me because I can’t preach a short sermon like Pastor Dave always wishes he could preach” … to each is given. There is some way that God has prepared to work through you, to manifest, to show up, to be visible in this world so as to benefit others for the common good.

And there is a fancy word for this on the screen there. It’s called differentiation. There was one time in your life when 23 chromosomes from your father joined 23 chromosomes from your mother and became a single cell. And then that cell became two cells. This is where identical twins come from because, you see, those cells are still identical. And then two cells become four cells. And then four cells become eight cells.

And you know what happens? As life goes on and you grow, each one of those cells becomes different. Some of them become eyes, which allow you to see. Some of them become ears, which allow you to hear. Some of them become the heart, which beats. But as people grow up, all the cells become more and more different. And so Paul says to us, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

God works through our differences. And however it is that you’re different, it’s an advantage.

Now, we’re still trying to figure out how God will use that terrible temper that some of us have. We’re still trying to figure out why God has to put up with sermons that are sometimes too long. We’re still trying to figure out a lot of things. But the fact is that the scripture says very directly, “When the Lord Jesus Christ lives in you, the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that helps people.” And you need to figure out what that is. For some of you, it might be the gift of making delicious cookies. And if it is, you should make cookies, and you should find someone who needs them. Not all of us need cookies, but some of us do. If your gift is writing little notes that show love on cards, you should be doing that because that’s where the Holy Spirit shows up. If your gift is fixing things that are broken, I guarantee you there are people who need the skills you have with tools. Everything about how God made you has a purpose to bring good.

And just in case you wonder why you can’t sing like an angel or preach like Paul, like one hymn says, verse 11 points out: all of these ways that the Holy Spirit shows up are inspired by one in the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills. So you go ahead and make out your resolutions to be a better singer. You go right ahead. You go ahead and make out your resolutions to become a better cookie maker but the plain fact is this: is there some way that you were born a star? And whatever that is, you want to let that light shine because it’s going to benefit the world.

This picture is a piece of factory machinery in China. It makes silk out of thread. Once upon a time, the factory in China could not get this piece of machinery to work right. They had imported it from the United States, where a lot of factory machinery comes from. So they had an engineer fly over from the United States, and he listened to the machine as it worked. And he walked up and down that row and he listened carefully. Then, he asked for a Phillips head screwdriver. And he went to one place and they turned the machinery off. He went to one place and reached the screwdriver into the machinery behind all of those wheels and tightened one screw. Then he counted off the wheels, went down a certain number, reached back in behind the machinery, and tightened a second screw. Then he went all the way down to the other end and tightened a third screw. And he said, “Try it now.” And all of a sudden, it worked perfectly. And he said, “I’ll send you a bill.” He flew back to the United States and sent them a bill for $10,000. The factory manager said, “We will not pay you $10,000. All you did was tighten three screws. I want to see an itemized bill.” It’s very likely you’ve heard this story before. It’s an old story.

The itemized bill came and it said, tightening three screws, $1 per screw.
$9,997: knowing which screws to tighten.

Friends, that’s the manifestation of the Spirit in you. Other people will do their best, but there’s something about you that is just that good. And the rest of us are also good, but we’re just not that good. So when Jesus comes into you – Lord, be born in us today – something special is getting ready to happen.

And that leads me to this other comment from theologian Howard Thurman which we normally see at Easter time but it’s true now too. Thurman served as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University from 1932 to 1944 and as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953 to 1965 (Wikipedia). And these are his words to the students who are praying, “What shall I do with my life? What shall I study? What career shall I undertake?” And Thurman says this,

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Friends, what the world needs is people who come alive. And the Lord Jesus Christ will begin to come alive in you and grow in you. And you will find that even under the worst conditions, you can bloom. You’re supposed to bloom where you’re planted because the way that God wants you to come alive is just as beautiful as this flower blooming in the desert. What the world needs is people who have become alive.

Because when people come alive, the Lord Jesus Christ can care for people through them. It may be your arms around this little girl in the picture, or someone else who needs comfort. But the Lord Jesus Christ is holding them and loving them through you. What the world needs is people who have come alive. That’s where the happily ever after comes from. But what it means for them to come alive is that Jesus Christ is alive in them.

And you see, here’s the truth about happier ever after. C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than anything that we leave behind.” You see, that’s what hope means. Whatever we may leave behind, there are far, far better things ahead as people come alive and work and live toward a happier ever after.

And so this is the prayer that makes that happen, that expresses the desire of Jesus Christ to live through you. And I would like to ask you to pray it with me, except if you see those bold italic words, I would like you to say them when we get there, say them loud.

Lord Jesus, as we turn to you in prayer this day, I ask that you would make each of us an instrument of your love, a means of your grace, an instrument, Lord Jesus, of your peace. And because you live in us, I ask, Lord, for each of us, 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.

Oh, divine master, grant that I may not so much seek for me 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 is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. Lord, may these words describe the sort of person we are in this new year. Lord, may these words describe the sort of Church we will be in this new year. 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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