Christmas Sunday Service was led by Pastor Matt Price and the Sermon was titled “Mind the Light”.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Pastor Matt referenced this novel by Oscar Hijuelos during the sermon.
Well, over the past six months or so since I’ve started as a pastor here at Fair Haven and the rest of our churches and our partnership, I’ve begun to develop something of a routine as a pastor. There’s a few things I’ve gotten to that I do every week checking in on those who are sick and working on a sermon and I planned it seems to every week I do that on a similar day. something of a routine. And one thing I’ve gotten to do pretty regularly now is each week as I’m working on my sermon, as soon as I finish it up, I hand it over to Jessica to proofread and to look at.
And then I enter a time of kind of anticipation and expectation as I wait to hear from her about whether it’s a good sermon that week or not. And Jessica Jessica is usually a pretty gracious critic, but one thing that I’ve gotten used to hearing from her pretty regularly as well is once she gets to the end of the sermon, her reaction is something along the lines of, “Okay, but now what?” You see, Jessica is a pretty practical and down-to-earth person, and she’s been working very hard lately and had a pretty stressful schedule, so when she reads my sermons, she She doesn’t want to just be left with a nice feeling about God and the scripture. She wants to know how she can apply this to her life personally, what this means for her day to day life. What can she take away from that and apply? How can the message of that not just be what she might call the big words that I learned in seminary or the deep theology behind the scriptures, but how can it be something that has a lasting influence for how she lives her life.
And of course, those are good questions for all of us to ask ourselves anytime we come to the scriptures, because we do believe that God’s word is living and active and is always relevant to us and practical for how we live our day-to-day lives. But I think those questions are certainly ones we should have been asking ourselves over the past few weeks, and even now as we’re in this season of Christmas, is what does all this mean for how we live our lives. Because it’s a danger really I think, especially now as we move away from Christmas Day for all of us to this, all the things we did in the past few weeks to just fade into the background. You know all those things we said about Merry Christmas and peace on earth, it’s easy for us to just look at that and say all those are nice things to do and to say once a year, but then to just leave them all behind for them not to actually change the way we live our lives in the world as we go from here and as we move on into the new year of 2014.
And it’s easy for us to do that. I think, you know, once we get back to the day-to-day busyness of our lives and the stress of work and all the challenges we face throughout the year, we do tend to leave that behind. We do tend to go on and not have let the message of Christmas, the message that we’ve just celebrated, sink in to our hearts and have a lasting effect on how we live our lives. I think it’s unfortunate if we reach that point around Christmas because if we look at what Christmas really means there should be no time of the year I think that’s more practical or more relevant for our lives throughout the rest of the year as Christians.
Because after all it’s Christmas which is at the moment when we remember how the invisible God who no one had ever seen and lived became one of us. It’s when we remember how the one who was outside of time entered into our time, the one who was totally completely different from us beyond what we could ever imagine, put on our flesh and put on our blood, was born as a little baby in a manger. As the great hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” says, this is the moment when God and sinners were reconciled, when the distance between the divine and the human was bridged and God became one of us. And as our scripture this morning says, Jesus is the light of the world, the one who enters in and brings darkness, brings light to all the dark places of this world, lights up the places of darkness and brings God’s eternal light in.
And of course all of that should have a huge impact on how we live our lives. All of that should change how we live our lives if we really understood that and welcomed that message in and let it take root in our hearts. But it’s not always easy for us as we move on into the new year to remember all that. We get caught up in all the things that challenge us and that meet us in the new year.
And it’s for this reason that I’m thankful because sometimes this message does. You know, as Jessica tends to say, sometimes we do when we read the scriptures, it’s something that stays in our minds but doesn’t have an impact on how we live our lives. And it’s for that reason I’m thankful for a lot of stories that we tell each other this time of year. Yesterday, my family and I, we went to the Jimmy Stewart Museum over in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and we actually watched the latter half of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” there.
They were doing a public showing of it. That’s a story that has a lot to say about how we live our lives as a response to the message of Christmas. And there are stories like “A Christmas Carol,” the stories that make this timeless Christmas message practical and show us how to live our lives. But I was thankful this past season for a book I came across that I hadn’t heard of before but was recommended to me.
And it really had a big impact on me this year. And it was a book called “Mr. Ives Christmas.” And I have a slide showing a picture of it in just a moment. And it was a book that is by a Pulitzer Prize winning author named Oscar Huellos.
And it really spoke to me this time of years. Stories are really important for helping us to make this message real and practical. Now Mr. Ives Christmas, this story that I read, is the story of a man named Mr.
Ives who was, as a child, he was an orphan. He was abandoned by his real parents and never knew them. He grew up in this foundling home in Brooklyn, New York, but at around five years of age he was adopted by a very godly man who gave him the name Edward Ives. And as he was growing up he was raised in a very good home, but nonetheless as he grew he still felt a bit out of place.
He felt like no one really wanted him or cared for him. And the main place that he felt at home, truly at home and welcome, was actually in church and especially in church around the Christmas season. When he was there and seeing that baby, and the baby whom the world had no room for, so that baby had to be born in a cattle stall, he really identified with that child. He felt a real closeness to Jesus at that time of year.
And as he grew up to be a teenager and an adult, he always felt a real sympathy for those who were outcast, those who were on the margins, those who were left out in this world. And certainly as he grew up to become successful, he tried to use his time to better the lives of those who were struggling. He reached out to orphans, to those who were in need, those who felt left out. He always had a very strong sympathy for them.
And when he grew up and had kids and was married, he refused to leave the city and move out to the suburbs because he wanted his children to be exposed to the same need in which he grew up with so that they would never think that they were better than anyone else, that they would see people were in need and they should do something about that. And his son Robert, when he became a teenager, was a very loving child who felt a calling to be a Catholic priest. But one Christmas season, however, things really took a turn, a major change in Mr. Ives’ life when his son Robert was on the way back from choir practice at church and was needlessly shot and killed by a 14-year-old gang member named Daniel Gomez.
And this event of course turned Mr. Ives life completely upside down. He began, it completely shattered his hopeful view of the power of good to actually change things for people who were struggling and who were in need in this world. And after his son’s murder he grew, he was a very different person.
He grew very despondent and depressed. He began to develop this skin condition where at night he would scratch himself, he would claw at himself, so deep welts and bruises began to come up on his skin. He was in a lot of pain. He withdrew from the poor and minority people that he used to have a lot of sympathy for because he knew that the man who the boy who murdered his son was a son of poor Puerto Rican immigrants and he became a completely different person.
He was withdrawn. He no longer could have a close relationship with his wife like he had before. And of course the Christmas season, as it does for a lot of people who’ve gone through tragedy, it no longer had the joy that it once had for him. It was actually a time when seeing the music and the laughter of that time of year only made him depressed, thinking about what he had lost, wondering why his son couldn’t be there with him.
And of course when he saw that baby in a manger, it was no longer filled him with a sense of identification and happiness. He rather felt, did that baby maybe is coming actually mean anything or not? Did it just leave us, he come into this world and then it just left us as we were? Because how is he really bringing his light into the dark places in our world when so much of the world seems to be lost in darkness? These are the questions that tormented him and that completely left him as a different person than he once was. It was actually years down the road when things went on like this, but when one day he happened to be talking to a priest friend of his who challenged him to look at his life. And as he did, he realized, Mr.
Ives realized that that hatred he felt for this boy who was now a man named Daniel Gomez was poisoning him from the inside. It was robbing him of the joy that he should be having and it left him empty. And his priest challenged him to think about how Jesus would respond to this boy, this young man named Gomez. And he was moved to try something different.
And so he struck out and built up a relationship with the boy’s grandmother who he’d met up around the time of the trial. This was a woman who was mad with grief herself who strongly believed that there was good in her grandson that just needed to be awakened. And Ives grew hopeful about this. He started sending Gomez in prison.
He started sending him educational material and a Bible and religious tracts hoping that maybe this would have some sort of impact and he could do some good for this person who had done so much evil. And a few years down the road he did hear good news. He heard that Gomez had seemed to change, that he had seemed to get his life on track. He found God and he was going to be released from prison soon and just turn over a new leaf and I was somewhat happy to hear that.
He was pretty happy that maybe he’d done some good for this young man. But he got a letter one day saying that from a priest who had been ministering to Gomez saying that all Gomez wanted at this point was to meet Ives face to face so that they could truly reconcile. And this face to face contact and touch was the one thing that Ives didn’t want to do. It was one thing to have a relationship from a distance, but he didn’t think he could do this.
taken his son from him and have anything good to say to him. And of course for a while he resisted but at the same time he had started to go to church again, he’d started to do the community outreach, do the things that he’d once did and was starting to get his life back on track but no matter what he did there was still an emptiness, there was still a weight, there was still a sense of loss that he couldn’t get over. And one day finally he didn’t know what else to do. He did set out to meet this young man named Gomez.
He went out and took a car ride for a couple of hours and went out to meet him. He said he just decided he would try it. And as these two men finally met face to face, they couldn’t actually say anything to each other. They simply looked at each other and began to weep.
And as they embraced each other, All Gomez could say was simply repeating, thank you, sir, thank you for coming here, thank you, and God bless you. And although not much transpired between them beyond that, they certainly didn’t leave friends. Ives left that meeting with a weight lifted off of him. And this is, he left that meeting, and it’s very confirmed very visually in this book when he has a dream around the same time has this meeting where he actually sees his son Robert, this son who would have grown up to be a priest and sees him as old as he would have been if he had lived that long.
And Robert comes up to him in this dream with a bowl of water and pours that over Mr. Ives. And all of a sudden as this water is washing over him, those deep welts and bruises that had built up over many years, they suddenly began to wash off of him. And he looks down and sees that his skin is clear for the first time in years.
And at that moment he realizes that he has given his son up to God finally. And at the same time he’s also allowed God’s love for him back into his life. And that’s freed him. That frees him again.
That frees him to live his life joyfully. It frees him to reconnect with his family again. And the The story closes with Ives once again in church on Christmas as he realizes once more how deeply that infant who was born in a manger identifies with us when we struggle and when we suffer. He remembers that Jesus himself would one day grow up to have deep bruises and welts and scars on his skin that he would bear out of his own love for us.
That is what he realizes finally at Christmas. It’s not about Jesus coming in and just standing above the suffering and the pain of this world. It’s about Jesus entering in and fully embracing that and fully embracing us with all that means. And I put up a picture here.
This is a famous picture from Rembrandt called The Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s a powerful image of reconciliation, of course, when the Father embraces His Son who has been gone for a long, long time. And that’s always been seen as a picture of how God the Father embraces us when we return to Him, when we come to Him and embrace Him. And of course I can’t think of a better picture of the meaning of Christmas than that, nor of this story, this image that this story gives us of an old Father willingly embracing the man who had so long before taken his own son from Him.
And that reminds me quite a bit of a father who once saw his own son crucified at the hands of the very people that he came to save. And yet of course that didn’t stop him from loving us. That didn’t stop him from pursuing us, coming after us, no matter what we did to get away from him. And that’s because Jesus himself had already become one of us.
He put on our flesh and blood and become our own family, our kin, and he refused to give up on us no matter what we did. That’s the meaning of Christmas. This God who was once distant has become a manual, God with us, a flesh and blood human being like you and me. And so my prayer is that this morning in this Christmas season, as we head towards the new year whatever burdens you’re struggling under, whatever scars you’re bearing, whatever griefs or sadnesses or anger or grudges you’re holding, I pray that this would be a time that you would give those up to that baby whose birth we just celebrated.
He is the light of the world. He is the one for whom all the darkness of this world is as light and no matter how dark the situation is, his light is capable of shining in the midst of that and bringing God’s peace. Because what else did he come to earth for but to take our burdens upon himself, to walk alongside of us and bear our burdens and redeem us and give us a new life of freedom and of love. He shows us that the only way to be truly free is to love and forgive those who have hurt us, who have wounded us.
And that’s the path that He modeled us for us when He went to the cross for my sins and for your sins and for the sins of the whole world. So no matter how dark your situation is, I hope you know that Jesus is capable of entering in and taking that those burdens, that darkness upon Himself and redeeming it. My prayer is that all of us here this morning would know the depth of God’s love for us. That we would feel the warmth of our Father’s embrace as He takes a hold of each one of us and whispers in our ears, “Welcome home.
I love you.” In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. (.