A digital version of this week’s worship bulletin and sermon.

Gathering

PRELUDE

CONFESSION & FORGIVENESS

GATHERING SONG           “We Are Called”           red book # 720

GREETING

CANTICLE OF PRAISE                             red book page 169 (set 6)

PRAYER of the DAY

Word

JEREMIAH 31:7-14

PSALM 147:12-20

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

JOHN 1:1-18

SERMON                                                       Pastor Chris Halverson

John’s Christmas Story

On this, the 10th day of Christmas and the second Sunday of Christmas
—As the secular world has already moved passed Christmas and moved on to New Years and Bowl Games,
I would like to hold us in the proper season, at least for two more days.
I’d like to tell you again the Christmas story.
Not the Shepherds and Angels of Luke, or the Holy Family meeting the Magi as in Matthew
—but instead, I’d like to tell you a story that will get to the center of the Christmas Story in the Gospel of John
—that will help us reflect on the Gospel, the Good News, according John, which is this, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
So today I would like to tell you the story of another man named John, in order to illuminate the Gospel Writer’s Christmas story…. I would like to tell you about John’s Christmas Story.
Prayer

John had lived his life simple enough, worked hard, went to Church, loved his wife, raised his kids right—in many ways he was like a lot of you.
Then, during the Christmas Season, tragedy struck, his youngest daughter died.
A parent should never have to bury a child.
Yet that’s what John had to do. Life no longer seemed so simple, especially his faith life.
He wanted to know where God was—he demanded it of God. He needed to call God to account for his child’s death, …but also just needed to know God was there. For the sake of his sanity he needed the invisible God to be visible.

He started off by going to Church—after all it’s the body of Christ, right? God should be there.
And people were kind to John and his family there, they were very sorry for his loss
… but after a month or so they kinda stopped being there for him.
For that matter, some people even said unintentionally dumb things about his deceased daughter.
He realized he was as likely to find Judas in the Church as find God
—and this should NOT have surprised him, after all one of the signs of the True Church is that the False Church is found within it—that it’s filled with sinners (Augustine).

Being a Good Lutheran, John remembered his Pastor going on one Sunday about Sola Scriptura, Word Alone, so he rushed to his Bible to find the Invisible God there
—of course he’d read it some, and listened to sermons for years—but when he dove deeply into it…. That was another story… wow.
He’d once heard from an Evangelical friend that Bible stood for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” so he thought maybe the rules in it would give him answers, point him to God
—but they were so strange, menstrual cycles and mold,
head coverings and instructions about things he’d never encountered.
For that matter, the more he read the more he found a very troubling world—brother killing brother, rape, incest, politics, war, deeds of sale, and nation building, … a world no more holy than the one John himself inhabited.

So that’s where he looked next—in the natural world—he often heard people say they found God in nature.
So he had his friend Tom drop him off in the Pine Barrens for a week.
It all went to hell pretty quick, he didn’t bring enough water, he got ticks, a Black Bear drug off some of his food—he ended up hungrily coveting a Cougar’s catch when it killed and ate a Raccoon in front of him.
By the time Tom picked him back up, John had realized he wasn’t going to find God in Nature as it actually is (not some Disney movie, trail, or wildlife exhibit)—red tooth and claw, scarcity and cold—it was clear Creation and Creator were two different things.

So, in desperation he sought a direct experience of God—he did so with Prayer, Fasting, and Extended Silence, and eventually he took that age-old short cut to the mystical, psychotropic substance abuse
—and by the end of that Spiritual Binge he found that Luther was right:
there was a reason Moses wore the veil,
a reason Jacob limped,
and a reason for Ezekiel’s mad visions
—the most you can directly experience of God is God’s backside, and that’s only if you get lucky.

And with that he limped back to the Bible, just to look for God one more time. Just to see if there was some shred of good news
—and he fell upon the Gospel According to John.

He fell upon that cosmic poem that begins the Good News in that gospel
—he was struck by the peculiar particularity proclaimed there.
This Child of God Jesus, clinging to the Father’s bosom—as close to God as a heartbeat or a thought,
this one who is God’s Word of Creation and God’s plan for Creation,
This one who is light in the darkness, this one who is truth and grace, this one who is life itself.
This one who is the invisible God made visible, took flesh and lived among us
—lived for John, for John’s daughter, for each and every one of us.
Jesus the Christ came among us—God made known to us, God’s intimacy with us
—the fact that we are adopted Children of God, is known to us in his only Son Jesus!
In that particular reality shared with us and told to us by John.
That’s John’s Gospel,
that’s John’s Christmas Story.

All of a sudden the Church, that poor vessel unable to hold John’s sorrow, is made whole with the particular words of God spoken by Jesus to the Church in John’s Gospel—“that you may be born from above” “that all may be one”—“that you love one another as I love you.”
All of a sudden the Word of God found in scripture, becomes a witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ—no longer is it Rules, or a record of troubled times,
but instead a love letter by a God who is in the muck,
in the trenches,
at the bedside,
in the flesh, with us.
All of a sudden nature hears the calling of Christ—the storm is stilled and Jesus walks upon it’s back as if on dry land, creation’s endemic scarcity—entropy—is sated by Christ’s feeding of the five thousand there on that green grass.
All of a sudden the direct experience of God—the Invisible made Visible—was right there—in Cana Wedding Joy,
in Christ’s weeping for dear Lazarus,
in his washing of his disciple’s feet…
at that Last Supper in fact, Jesus sits intimately with the beloved disciple—“close to his heart” just as the Father is to the Son
—so to are we, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to God.
We are close to his heart, because the Invisible God is made Visible to us through Jesus Christ.
“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
That’s John’s Christmas Story—John’s Gospel—the Good News for us.

HYMN of the DAY           “Word of God, Come Down on Earth”           red book # 510

NICENE CREED

PRAYERS of INTERCESSION

PEACE

Meal

OFFERING

OFFERTORY ANTHEM           “A Place Called Bethlehem”

GREAT THANKSGIVING

LORD’S PRAYER

COMMUNION SONGS           “Lamb of God”

Also, “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, red book # 492, red book # 276

Sending

BLESSING

ANNOUNCEMENTS

SENDING SONG           “Go Tell It on the Mountain”           red book # 290

DISMISSAL

POSTLUDE

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