2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Ideas For John 1:6-8, 19-28

 By now I’m sure many of you are well into your preparations for Christmas. The season of Advent is intended to be just that—a time of preparation for Christmas, a time of preparing for the coming of Christ. For many of us though, what Advent means is a time to go back to the familiar. It is a time of remembering the ideal Christmas celebrations of the past and bringing the best memories and traditions of those into the present. In our world where change is constant and ever increasing, where so much is unfamiliar, we can at Christmas, for a short time, surround ourselves in what we know and love and treasure.

 Everyday we hear of news reports about new technologies, new mergers and new companies forming, we hear of new medical information and new disasters to worry about. Many of us have moved to new houses, new schools, new churches. We may have new neighbors. Our relationships over the years have changed—people we loved have become sick or even died. Nothing in this world seems constant or assured. In such a world it can be sweet relief to surround ourselves at Christmastime with evergreen trees, candles, lights, the manger scene, carols, Christmas pageants, and rituals of families, neighbors, and friends. It is a time when people go home again, college students return looking for refreshment from finals, families go to parents’ and grandparents’ homes. It is a time when we can submerge ourselves in familiar things and escape briefly from the real world, the world of change.

 All of the things that surround the traditional Christmas are intended to provide us with a sense of warmth, security, stability, and love, and remembering these things is an important part of our preparations for Christmas. They are some of the reasons why I look forward to this time of year so much, as I’m sure many of you do as well.

 But in becoming wrapped up in the preparations of Christmas, which offer such gentle, warm, reassuring memories and thoughts, we must be careful that we do not make Christmas a lukewarm time. We must be careful not to loose the power, the surprise and even the shock that comes with the truth of Christmas.

 During the original Advent season, Mary and Joseph prepared for something that was very unfamiliar. The fact that they had to journey across their country to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, and the fact that they had no familiar place to stay, and slept in a stable, are the least of the unfamiliar experiences they had during the days leading up to the first Christmas. They had to prepare for a thing that no one had ever experienced. They had to be ready for the breaking into the world of a baby who was a miracle and a mystery. They prepared for the coming of a Messiah who in his life on earth broke through the familiar ways of thinking, behaving and believing to which people had become accustomed. Mary and Joseph prepared for the coming of the child who would preach his first sermon in his hometown by echoing the prophecy of Isaiah, saying that he is the one who will bring good news to the oppressed, who will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Mary and Joseph prepared for the coming of the stranger of whom John said, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Jesus’ coming was the unexpected coming of a stranger that changed life forever and for which no one could have been prepared.

 Mary herself expresses the joy and surprise of Jesus’ coming through the words of our responsive reading today. These words, often called the Magnificat, contain a song of Mary proclaiming her surprise and joy at being the one God has chosen to bring Jesus, God’s son, into the world. Mary, an unwed teenager from a poor family, all of a sudden becomes the mother of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What a surprise indeed! The truth of Christmas must at times break from what’s familiar to us.

 I read a humorous short story about a Christmas pageant in which a boy named Ralph played the innkeeper. But Ralph really wanted to be Joseph. So Ralph began to plot his revenge. When the part of the pageant came where Joseph asks the innkeeper for a room, Ralph grinned and announced in rebellion, “Come on in, we have plenty of room.” The audience, and especially Ralph’s mom, the director, gasped. Joseph and Mary were stunned, because they had expected to be turned away. Obediently they walked into the inn. But the boy playing Joseph quickly received an inspiration as he turned to the audience and said, “Hey, this place is a dump. We’d rather stay in a stable.” There are some surprises we can do without; there are some things that just shouldn’t be changed. But in our preparations for Christmas we must leave room for the unexpected. We must leave room for the surprising as well as the familiar.

 John the Baptist caused quite a stir in the desert as he tried to get people prepared for Jesus’ coming. John was causing such a commotion that eventually he had most of the city of Jerusalem out in the wilderness listening to his preaching about repentance, and being baptized by him. A group of religious leaders finally come out to interrogate John and make him stop what he was doing. They ask who he is and by whose authority he is preaching and baptizing. They don’t seem to believe that this John, or anyone outside of their authority for that matter, could really cause sinful people to repent and be transformed, could really cause stingy people to become generous, could really cause tired men and women to become spirited again, could really cause lonely people to feel welcomed and surrounded by love. Yet that’s what John was proclaiming. John’s message was that in this stranger in our midst, life can be transformed, changed, and renewed. That’s one surprise the world needs. It’s the real thing. It’s forgiveness for those who need forgiveness, it’s freedom for those who feel controlled, it’s light for those in darkness, it’s life for all.

 Even at Christmas time, when we are supposed to find joy and peace, many people struggle with sorrow and conflict. The surprise of Christmas is that Jesus is coming into all of our lives, not just as the baby in the manger, but as the son of God, who not only proclaimed good news, but who enfleshed it, who brought good news into being, into our lives.

 Someone once told me a story about a group of people for whom Christmas was nothing familiar or comforting. The people were American business persons, soldiers, and diplomats who were away from home on Christmas Eve and were eating dinner in a foreign country at the only place open, the dark bar of their hotel. Everything was going wrong. It was rainy and miserable outside, the food took forever to come, and the waiter brought the wrong food to the tables. People were arguing. Then an old woman selling flowers came in to get out of the rain on her way home. All of a sudden a young soldier in the bar asked if he could buy her flowers, down to the last one. She was astonished, and agreed eagerly. The boy then distributed a flower to everyone in the room, and soon the joy and surprise of Christmas exploded throughout the restaurant.

 Jesus is the surprise of our lifetimes, the surprise of the world. Jesus is the one who brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and comfort to all who mourn. Jesus is not merely a docile baby in a feeding trough filled with hay. No, Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God who came to turn the world upside down.

 Good news doesn’t always mean warm cookies and milk. For John the Baptist it meant sacrifice, repentance and dedication. For Jesus, good news meant breaking the oppression of the rich and privileged, giving comfort to those in mourning, giving freedom to prisoners, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, or the year of Jubilee. It was this last proclamation that got him kicked out of his hometown shortly after preaching his first sermon. Sometimes the good news is as difficult to accept as it is surprising. The Jubilee year was a once in fifty-year occasion, or so it was supposed to be in ancient Israel and in Jesus’ day. The problem is that as far as we can tell there never was a jubilee year. The reason is that a jubilee year is supposed to turn everything upside down. In a jubilee year all debts were forgiven, all slaves were freed, all land was returned to its original owners, it was supposed to be a year of starting over, of giving everyone a new chance. But the people in power never allowed that to happen.

 Today, Jesus comes to each of us proclaiming a year of Jubilee. We are offered a fresh start. We are offered another chance at worshipping Jesus, at putting God at the top of our Christmas priorities, we are offered the gift of forgiveness from any wrongs we have done, and we are given the gift of being served by a stranger whose sandal we aren’t fit to untie.

 How will this miraculous and unexpected message fill our households this Christmas season? What might a year of Jubilee mean in our lives, in our relationships with others, in the world? Maybe Jubilee means forgiving an old grudge you have with a family member or co-worker. Maybe Jubilee means giving special support and comfort to a family who has lost someone or to a person with a serious illness.

 Whatever the Advent and Christmas seasons bring, it cannot be limited to more of the usual stuff. The star, the wise men, the shepherds, the manger, the carols, all of these are not simply meant as decorations for our homes, our wrapping paper, our trees, our lives, but rather they are meant to announce the truth of the stranger in our midst, of the one who brings about surprises and good news in our lives and in the world, the truth that Jesus Christ is our savior and the son of the God whom we cannot control, pin down, or wrap up, the God who seldom leaves us undisturbed and who never leaves us unloved.

Pastor Blake E. Rohrer

Midvale Community Lutheran Church

Madison, WI