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Sermon Illustrations for Christmas 1 (2017)

Isaiah 61:10--62:3
One of the greatest comebacks in baseball history was by the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Boston and their rivals, the New York Yankees, played for the chance to go to the World Series. The Red Sox looked like they were to be humiliated by their greatest rivals, as the Yanks won the first three games of the best-of-seven series. The Red Sox found themselves trailing by a run in the ninth inning of game four. It looked like it was all over for another year. But an amazing stolen base by Dave Roberts helped him score a tying run. David Ortiz then smashed a home run for the Red Sox in extra innings to win the game. In astonishing fashion, the Red Sox won the next three games in a row to make it to the World Series, where they went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games. It was a time of celebration in Boston, and the legendary “Curse of the Bambino” was broken.

As a baseball fan, I remember that series. I also recall the celebration that went on in Boston. Years of frustration were washed away in an amazing comeback. As joyous as that time was in Beantown, I don’t think it holds a candle to the celebration noted in the text for today. The Servant speaking here is talking about the day Zion will be restored by God. On that day “the nations shall see your vindication and all the kings, your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” The prophet was foretelling a day when the people of God would know vindication and be honored again. It would be an amazing celebration!
Bill T.

Isaiah 61:10--62:3
As I write this I’m thinking about the week after Christmas, trying to take into account the fact that our climates may be different. If you live in the American Southwest you may still be tending a garden or trimming rose bushes. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, it is scant nights after the longest day of the year. But I expect it will be cold in northern Indiana, and possibly snow-covered. It will not be a time for yard work.

But even so, things are happening. The bulbs we deliberately planted in the fall are biding their time. They will emerge in the spring, surprising us despite the fact we should know better, with their sudden and vibrant glory. In addition there are perennials, plants like hyacinths and dandelions, which we do not need to encourage. We don’t need to do anything. They’re going to scatter across the lawn with breathtaking suddenness at the right time.

And then there are volunteers. Last year we had an extraordinary crop of sunflowers, in one flower bed in the back yard, and a particularly hardy one that produced a beautiful bloom that grew up in a crack in the sidewalk in the front. But there will also be tomatoes, peppers, corn, and other plants which went to seed without our noticing, or whose seeds were transported by the birds in their own gutty style, and deposited in our yard, which will spring up.

The point I’m making is that the point you’ll make depends on where you live, and you’ll have to make it personal no matter where you live. There’s a lot going on that I don’t see, even while is winter, and in God’s time it will come to pass. And that’s what Isaiah is saying: For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. Isaiah points to that which the earth naturally produces and those things which we plant -- it’s all going to come to fruition. Righteousness and praise will spring up in the least likely spots as well as where these things are planted. Just because we don’t see it happening doesn’t mean it’s not occurring.
Frank R.

Galatians 4:4-7
“You are a child of God.” How many times have you heard that said? We certainly have heard it said during baptism services, perhaps during confirmation ceremonies. Have you been told lately “You are a child of God”? If not, consider this reading from Galatians to be a reminder to you, a personal message to you, that you are a child of God, an heir to the realm of God.

Do you believe it? I hope so. God so wanted us to know God’s presence with us that Jesus was born into the world to proclaim that God wasn’t some distant judge on a throne. God was, in fact, our parent, and we are God’s children. There is so much grace in the realization that we are God’s own and that God loves us more than any earthly parent can or could. We are beloved. Remember it. Know it. Feel it. Be it. And then help others, all you meet, to know that they too are children of God.
Bonnie B.

Galatians 4:4-7
There is a difference between being a child and being a son. A son of God is more than just a child, especially if we are a son through Jesus Christ who was the son of God. A son through God inherits eternal life. We are not slaves to the law! Yes, a son still obeys the father, but there is always forgiveness if we fail to obey now and then. It is assumed that if we love our Lord, we will want to obey his laws if we can. (We may need his help if we can’t.)

My own children are not slaves to me. When we baptized them God adopted them as his children! Now they are independent from me. After God took them as his sons, I was only a guardian to them until they grew up. Now we are both sons of the Father and are brothers to Christ.

Our church is here to make us God’s children and to bring all of us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are children as well as parents. We are all children together! Yes, we can still discipline our children, but we have to remember that they are also God’s children so we can’t be too violent!

We must be careful not to place our children under the detailed laws of God, like rules about what we must eat and not eat or drink and what days we must celebrate and even what thoughts we must have. We are still God’s children, even if we fail to obey every bit of the 600-some rules the Jews found in the Old Testament. Even some of the rules we make for our children are not sent directly from heaven.

God gives us his Spirit so that we have strength to obey his will. Hopefully we obey, not just to inherit but because of our love for him. We hope that we obey our parents not just to inherit their estate when they die. We should not rejoice at their death. We rejoice at Jesus’ resurrection more than at his death. We should remember that when we receive his bread and wine!
Bob O.

Galatians 4:4-7
A word of freedom from bondage to the Law, from being tied up by the past, is a most appropriate word for this dawn of the new year. That is what this lesson is about.

Sometimes at year’s end we look back -- on the year and on our lives. Some of the hurts and missteps seem too big to overcome. But the Christmas gospel sets us free. It enables us to face the future with the courage Albert Einstein once advocated: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

John Calvin made a penetrating point regarding Jesus’ role in all this. We were slaves, he notes [like we can be enslaved by our pasts], but Jesus handed himself over to take our slavery. He submitted to slavery so that not only would we be liberated, but we became the Master’s (God’s) child (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXXI/1, pp. 118-119). To be somebody’s child, the child of a loving parent, is to be free. The child does not stress over care. The child receiving care is freed from material anxieties, freed to play! Christian life as play: that’s a compelling image for understanding Christian freedom, a happy way to keep the Christmas celebration going on into the new year. Because we have been made God’s children, all our tasks this week and for the rest of our lives, even dealing with that difficult boss or co-worker, are just a game, just play. Enjoy them and the people you like.
Mark E.

Luke 2:22-40
In 2016 a huge thing happened in the baseball realm. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series! It had been 108 years since that had happened. Whole generations of Cubs fans had never seen it happen. One of those Cubs’ fans was a woman named Hazel Nilson. Having lived through every single year of the “billy goat’s curse,” the 108-year-old Chicagoan’s prayers were finally answered. She got to see her beloved Cubbies win the whole thing. Newspapers captured her delighted look as she and countless others watched third baseman Kris Bryant field the final ground ball and fire his throw to first.

In our text for today we find another person who’d waited a long time to see something more important than a World Series win. Albert Barnes says of Simeon in his commentary: “He was an aged man, of distinguished piety and reputation, and was anxiously expecting the coming of the Messiah.” We can only imagine, as we read this text, of the aged man Simeon waiting in the temple. He knows that God has promised him he won’t see death until he sees the Lord’s Christ. We don’t know how long he’d waited when the day finally came, when the Spirit prompted him that this child was the one. I think it’s hard to envision his excitement and joy. His life was now complete. God could let his servant die in peace, for he had finally seen that of which he dreamed.

I would guess that Hazel Nilson would say that the joy she experienced in November of 2016 was worth the wait. I am pretty sure that for Simeon, seeing Jesus was worth every minute of his time in the temple. Good things do come to those who wait.
Bill T.

Luke 2:22-40
A little ’60s nostalgia: in their song “California Dreamin’,” the Mamas and the Papas tell us that at one point in their pilgrimage they walked into a church and prayed on their knees. I remember a time decades ago when churches were often open and people could go in to pray or reflect or rest. Luke tells us that the prophet Anna never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

We live in a different world, and it’s quite possible that you don’t leave your church unlocked during most of the week. If this is the case, think about an illustration in which you explain how your church is open to the community in other ways. Are you a presence in the community? Are there specific events, like community meals, youth programs, recreation programs, space provided for community meetings, AA meetings, or other events, in which community members have access to the building, at least at set times? These are opportunities for God moments, when a modern-day Anna or Simeon can prophesy and proclaim.
Frank R.

Luke 2:22-40
John Glenn was one of the original astronauts known as the “Mercury Seven.” Announced by NASA on April 9, 1959, these were the seven men who were trained to fly in the Mercury space capsules: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

From this group, Glenn was the third astronaut to fly in space and the first to orbit the earth. In 1962 he piloted the Mercury capsule known as Friendship 7. At the age of 77, and serving as a United States Senator representing Ohio, Glenn made his second trip into space. On a 1998 flight he was an astronaut aboard the space shuttle Discovery. While Friendship 7 orbited the earth three times in a five-hour flight, the Discovery flight was a 9-day venture.

Glenn is a devout Presbyterian who attends church regularly. Upon returning from the Discovery mission, Glenn said: “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”

Application: Our lesson discusses the need to be able to be amazed by what God has done.
Ron L.
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The Immediate Word

Thomas Willadsen
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For May 9, 2021:
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John E. Sumwalt
Frank Ramirez
“Waking Up to Racism” by John Sumwalt
“Twists and Turns” by Frank Ramirez

Waking Up to Racism
by John Sumwalt
Psalm 98

Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.
(vv. 8-9)

Emphasis Preaching Journal

David Kalas
In the mid-1960s, a popular song declared, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of.”1 It was an era of both national and international unrest. And the American landscape was reeling from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and opposition to both. Amidst headlines so marked by unrest and division, therefore, the sentiment of the song struck a chord with an American audience. 
Bill Thomas
Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Bonnie Bates
Acts 10:44-48
Prejudice is always wrong. Nat King Cole is a well-known artist who was the first African American to host his own national television program. In 1948, he purchased a beautiful home in an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood. When the local neighborhood association confronted him and informed him it didn’t want any undesirables to move in, Cole responded, “Neither do I. If I see any coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.” He lived in that house until his death in 1965.


John Jamison
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (vv. 9-12)

Hi, everyone! (Let them respond.)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:

Jesus gave up his life for us. In our worship today let us explore how to love one another as he has loved us.

Invitation to Confession:

Jesus, sometimes our love for each other is thin and pale.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we pretend to love but fail to care.
Christ, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we don't know how to love.
Lord, have mercy.


John E. Sumwalt
Jo Perry-sumwalt
One evening, when I was 26 years old, beleagered by guilt for acknowledged sins, I was deep into an hour-long prayer of repentance. In despair, I grieved that I had broken the commandments and that I was not worthy of God's love.

Near me lay the Bible, unused and unfamiliar. I had never, ever read from the Bible. Yet my hands reached out and took the Bible to open it. I knew not where, nor why. But my hands knew the way. They opened to John 15:9-11 and as my eyes began to read, my mind knew the meaning with clarity. My eyes read verse 10 first:
Mark Ellingsen
Theme of the Day
God's love brings us together.

Collect of the Day
It is noted that God has prepared great joy for those who love Him. Petitions are then offered that such love may be poured into the hearts of the faithful so that they may obtain these promises. Justification as a reward for our deeds (love) is communicated by this prayer.

Psalm of the Day
Psalm 98
Stan Purdum
(See Christmas Day, Cycles A and B, for alternative approaches.)

Richard E. Gribble
Once upon a time a great and powerful king ruled over a vast territory. There was something very strange about this kingdom, however -- everything was the same. The people ate the same food, drank the same drink, wore the same clothes, and lived in the same type of homes. The people even did all the same work. There was another oddity about this place. Everything was gray -- the food, the drink, the clothes, the houses; there were no other colors.

Special Occasion