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Dec 09, 2018

Millikin Chamber Orchestra

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Millikin Chamber Orchestra

Category: Concert Service

For those who were able to come to worship yesterday, it was a day beyond description!  So beautiful in so many ways.  We had wonderful 9:00 contemporary service at which I preached more of a “traditional” sermon.  At 10:30 we had the Millikin Chamber Orchestra and I offered several shorter meditations that augmented the beautiful music. For those interested in doing some extra reading, I’m including them both here.  First are the meditations from 10:30 and then farther down is the sermon from 9:00.


“Advent Preparation”

Meditation 1

We continue our advent journey toward Christmas today.  Advent is a Latin word that means “arrival” and refers to the arrival of Christ, born to the world at Christmas.  Advent is also a season in the church year that precedes Christmas.  It is a time for us to get ready and prepare for the Christ who is to come.  So Advent is about how we approach the manger.  How we prepare ourselves, as we journey toward Christmas, to meet and receive Christ. 

Everyone involved in that first Christmas – the actual birth of Christ – made literal journeys to approach the manger in Bethlehem.  Mary and Joseph traveled over 50 miles on dirt roads from their home in Nazareth to be near the manger.  The shepherds journeyed from the hillsides where they were watching their sheep to visit Christ.  The wise men caravanned from the east for 12 days over desert sands to be there.  Even the angels journeyed down from heaven to sing “Glory to God in the highest!”  Unlike them, however, we make a symbolic journey as we approach the manger.  For us, Advent is a spiritual time. It is about de-cluttering; looking past the decorations and presents, shopping lists and baked goods (as much as we love them).  It is peeling away another layer of external distraction in order to look within ourselves; within our hearts and minds to make room for Christ to dwell there.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is given two names at his birth.  First he is called “Jesus,” which means “God saves.”  And he is also called “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”  As the orchestra plays the beautiful melody from Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” the choir will sing words that speak of Jesus as the one who “saves us from our sins” and who is proof that “God is with us.”  As they do, you are invited to reflect on these questions: Looking back on this past year, where has God helped you with a second chance?  Where have you been blessed with an opportunity to start over?  And also… Where has God been with you this past year, seeing you through a difficult moment or event that, at the time, seemed hopeless? 

This is the kind of spiritual work that prepares us best for the coming of Christ at Christmas. 

Meditation 2

In a way, the birth of Jesus catches us off guard.  Not so much that it happened but how!  The King of Kings, the savior of the world, forced to make his arrival in a stable?  With a manger, an animal’s feedbox, for his first bed?  That’s surprising!  Certainly the Innkeeper was caught of guard that night, or some kind of room would have been found inside the Inn.  Some lower-level guest surely would have been bumped to make room for the Messiah.  When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they were caught of guard.  Their first reaction was fear – almost as though they thought they were in trouble and had done something wrong.  Instead, the angels turned them – poor and peasant laborers – into the first evangelists of Christianity.  The wise men from the east were caught off guard.  Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh reveal that they were expecting a baby born in silk sheets and on satin pillows rather than in dusty swaddling clothes. 

But there’s a beauty in these surprises.  And it is found in this reality: God comes to us in ways we don’t expect.   That’s one of the messages contained in Jesus’ birth.  But also in ways that give us hope.  Christ was one of us.  He was born like us – as helpless and ordinary as we are at our births – so that we would know God was choosing to relate to us at our level.  The Huron Carol, based on Native American language and tradition, refers to a Christ wrapped in rabbit skin and born in a bark-covered lodge.  Because they could relate to things like that.   That was the ordinary way babies were born.  And so we can relate to that ordinariness.  But our hope comes from the truth that lying under the surface of the ordinary is something life-transforming and extra-ordinary.  After all, lying in those rabbit skins and under that bark-covered roof was not just any baby, but Jesus the Christ. 

Which means that in our moment of darkness and despair, of worry and fear – when we don’t expect to see a way through our danger in difficulty – there is hope.  For lying under the surface of what we initially see is a God who is with us, ready to catch us off guard again, and reveal to us a way through when and where there didn’t appear to be one at first.  As we enjoy the words and music of the Huron Carol…  Think back on the times when you received an unexpected blessing.  When did it happen?  How did it come to you?  How did it help you?  And give thanks for these gifts – for this is God’s activity in our lives, catching us off guard again.      

Meditation 3

What do we do when we discover that God is with us?  That this God gives us second chances and saves us from our flaws and mistakes?  Who comes to us in surprising ways, in ways we don’t expect but in ways that give us hope?  We celebrate!  What else could we do?  We celebrate with singing, as we are doing today!  We celebrate with our gifts of praises.  We praise God with the strings, the percussion, the reed and the brass – as PS 150 encourages us to do. 

After the children’s moment, we heard movement I of Vivaldi’s concerto for two trumpets.  The very first three notes of the trumpets, meant to get our attention, came down the octave, as though to depict God in Jesus Christ coming down from heaven at Christmas to be born as a human being in our midst.  Now, in movement 3 of that same concerto, those same trumpets will begin the piece by playing three notes going up the octave – as if to carry our praises up to heaven.  But this musical illustration of coming down and going up is a wonderful way to teach the purpose of Christ coming to us at Christmas.  It is this: 

Around 1800 years ago, an early Christian pastor named Irenaus traveled from Greece to Lyons in southern France.  There he set about building churches and explaining Christ to those he was seeking to convert through his writings.  One of the things he famously wrote – which is still quoted today – is that “Christ became who we are, so that we might become who he is.”  In other words, Christ came down from heaven and took on human form, so that we – through faith in his life, death and resurrection - might one day rise to heaven with him and become eternal and divine with him at the right hand of God.”  That’s why we celebrate Christmas.  That is certainly worthy of our praise.  And what better way to lift that praise than on notes of music ascending upward, from earth to the heavens above?

Offering Invitation

The Christmas Concerto by Arcangelo Corelli was commissioned 300 years ago in Venice by a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, Pietro Ottoboni.  Ottoboni was a great patron of the arts, sponsoring many painters and musicians with commissions to pursue their craft.  But it was also said of him who knew him well, that he was “kind, generous, eager to serve and charitable.” 

We are gathered today in that same spirit.  We appreciate the value of the arts, believing especially in the power of music to convey thoughts and ideas and realities that could never be accurately expressed by the written or spoken word alone.  And we are generous and eager to serve.  We believe in serving our wider communities, and that one way of doing that is through the ministries of this church.  So it is that we ask our deacons to collect our offerings now, trusting that our expressions of charity and generosity will be used to continue the work on earth that Jesus the Christ was born to do.    

9:00 sermon

Matthew 1:18-25

“What we Learn from Joseph”

We continue our advent journey toward Christmas today.  Advent is a word that means “arrival” and refers to the arrival of Christ, born at Christmas.  Advent is also a season in the church year that precedes Christmas.  It is a time for us to get ready and prepare spiritually for the Christ who is to come.  One way we do this is by de-cluttering; looking past the decorations and presents, shopping lists and baked goods (as much as we love them).  It is peeling away another layer of external distraction in order to be able look deeper at what the true meaning of this season is.

As we do that this morning, I’d like to focus on Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  Last week we mentioned that he was a carpenter, older than Mary when he became engaged to her; that he was possibly married before, and that this wife died, leaving him a widower to raise at least several children on his own.  But Joseph is far more complex than these few details about him.  He is a most important part of the Christmas story and we’d like to see why today.

Before we turn to our scripture today, I’d like to ask you to ask you this question: Anyone can have a child but not everyone is a father.  True or false?  If true, what makes a father a father?  (Responses).  I believe Joseph helps us answer this question as well.  Read Matthew 1:18-25.

One of the first things we notice about Joseph is that he never speaks!  He’s only mentioned a few places and every time, like this one, he’s silent.  We never hear a quote from him, or read of him saying anything.  One of the men at our bible study reminded me this past Tuesday that he had to have said something, or else how would we have known what the angel told him in that dream?  At least he had to have told Matthew so that Matthew could record what happened to Joseph.  Granted, I do not disagree but in the scriptural record we don’t hear Joseph utter a single word; ask a single question; make a single statement.  And that underscores the fact that Joseph is a man of action!  He’s known to us by what he does!

And what are those actions??  First, he is righteous.  That’s how he’s described in v. 19 – “But Joseph, being a righteous man…”  That word righteous means “right with God.”  The way you were “right with God,” was by spending time in the synagogue (the house of worship) where the Word of God would be read, studied and discussed.  Then learning that Word and living by that Word.  So Joseph, the man of action, set an example of going to worship and spending time in God’s Word. 

And we have evidence that he was successful in this.  In that day, the synagogues were segregated by gender.  The men sat up front while the women were behind them.  By the time Jesus is 30 years old, he is an expert in God’s Word.  And that could be because Joseph – the righteous man of action – took Jesus with him to the synagogue every week; sat next to him as the Word of God was read, studied and discussed.  It was from Joseph, therefore, that Jesus learned – and learned to live by – God’s Word. 

But there are other actions for which Joseph is known.  He is also known not so much for what he did but for what he didn’t do.  When he learned that Mary was pregnant, he was in the right, by law, to break off the marriage.  There was an old law that said that once you were engaged, you were as good as married.  And if a child was conceived by someone other than the fiancée, he would be able end the marriage.  This is what Joseph was planning to do until the angel visited him that night.  And because he believed what the angel told him - that Jesus was the the one to save us from our sins and that he was proof that God is eternally with us, he did not abandon Mary.  He did not run away.  Rather he stood by her side and was willing to raise a child that wasn’t biologically his own. 

And he proved just how strong his commitment was just a few weeks after Jesus was born.  If we went on to read Matthew ch. 2, we would see that the wise men came to visit baby Jesus from the east.  They first went to the Jewish King Herod to ask him where Jesus was born.  They told King Herod that they believed Jesus was a new King of the Jews.  This didn’t sit right with King Herod, who saw Jesus as a threat to his throne and his power.  So he ordered that all male children in Bethlehem, under the age of 2, be killed – just to make sure that Jesus would die.  But the night before that decree went out, the angel came back to Joseph in another dream and told him what was to happen.  And Joseph got up early in the morning and escaped with Mary, taking Jesus with him down to the country of Egypt until it was safe to return.  He did what he could to offer protection and safety for his family.   

It really doesn’t matter if Joseph spoke or not.  What he may or may not have said with his words.  Because by his actions he spoke volumes.  And in what he said with his actions, he shows us what makes a man a father:

A Father is someone with faith – Joseph had faith to believe the angel and what the angel told him.  He was open to hear the Word however and whenever it came to him.

A Father is someone who cares to be “right with God” – setting an example for his children to follow.

A Father is a man of action.  He can be a man of words too, but he will likely be remembered more for what he does than for what he says.  If he doesn’t walk the walk, what good is the talk that he talks?

A Father is a man who keeps his commitments. 

A Father is someone willing to do what is necessary to provide safety for his family.  This is more than just protection.  In the case of baby Jesus, safety did mean protection - literally shielding him from harm.  But protection can sometimes mean not letting children go out into the world and be themselves.  Which ends up being smothering, patronizing and stifling to the child’s growth.  But safety means always being there for the child to come back to when they have stumbled and fallen.       

I am enough of an egalitarian that I don’t believe these characteristics are exclusively male.  That is, women (and mothers) can also be people of action, commitment, and faith etc…  But I do believe Joseph can and should serve as a role model for all men.  For like Joseph, all men – whether or not men have biological children of their own – can serve as father and father figures for those who might need them to be (whether those children are aware of that need or not).