Pastoral Messages | December 21, 2017

The Christmas season is filled with wonderful music. With a few exceptions, I love it all, and I delight in taking it in almost everywhere I go this time of year. I enjoy the music coming through the loudspeakers at the mall, I look forward to long drives where I can settle in and listen to songs that have been my favorites for years, and I wish I had time to take in more concerts.

This past Sunday, many of our middle and high school students at St. Paul took to the streets of the Quad Cities to share the joy of Christmas music in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and at a few private homes. There’s nothing quite as simple or gratifying as Christmas caroling. There’s no rehearsal needed, and heart-warming smiles from those we visit are almost guaranteed. But the best part is not singing for others. What I love the most is when the folks we visit with our tunes sing with us.

One of my favorite theologians is Sam Wells. He delivered a Christmas sermon several years ago where he pointed out that most of us approach this season and day thinking about what we can do for others. We want to get a perfect gift for someone, donate food or clothing for those in need, or create the perfect holiday experience with meals, etc. for our family and friends. Wells says we’re often disappointed, because we’re using the wrong preposition. Christmas isn’t about for, it’s about with. After all, the good news isn’t just that God is for us, but that God is with us.

I know that in the days ahead, I need to think less about what I can do for others and what others can do for me. I need to think more about how I can be with others. One of my favorite Christmas traditions at St. Paul happens on our last night of confirmation in December. During our closing worship, all the kids and sponsors gather around the piano as Pastor Sara plays and we all sing “Silent Night.” There are no microphones, we can see one another’s faces, and we are very much with one another as God is with us. May there be a moment like that for all of us this Christmas.

Ryan Bailey, director of faith formation

2 Comments on “With”

  • David DeWit

    December 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Being and doing things WITH others surely is one of life’s greatest blessings – at Christmas or at any time. Those who can recall times of their lives when that did not seem possible especially appreciate that blessing. Thanks, Ryan, for making a good point.

  • Ronda Bird

    December 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Yes! That’s the perfect way to think of the Christmas season!!! Thank you for this messsge, Ryan!

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.