Title: The First Christian Martyr
December 26, 2010
Text: Acts 7, Matthew 23:34-39


Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen / When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Today is the Feast of Stephen. It’s one of the oldest and most widely recognized saint days in the Christian calendar. According to some sources, today’s commemoration is even older than Christmas. And at the end of today’s service, we will sing that famous old Christmas carol about good King Wenceslaus.

The story of the carol is that King Wenceslaus saw a poor beggar out in the snow on the day after Christmas, gathering twigs and stick for his fire to keep warm. And the King had compassion on the poor man and called his young servant to his side to bring him meat and wine that the King wanted to take to the beggar. The young servant is a little boy. And so as the King and his servant are walking through the snow (deep and crisp and even) out to the beggar, the little boy gets weary and is struggling to wade through the deep snow.

It’s then that the King tells the boy to walk in his footprints in the snow. And according to the story, every spot the King stepped miraculously emitted heat to melt the snow.

Good King Wenceslaus is a sweet old English legend about the Duke of Bohemia, not actually a king, from the tenth century who was well-known for his tremendous compassion for the poor and many acts of generosity. In that way, he’s kind of like the historical St. Nicholas. You can read all about this historical Christian saints on Wikipedia later, if you like. I encourage you to do so.

Title: Christ Illumines Everything
Text: John 1:1-14


Merry Christmas! Or to be politically correct, perhaps we should say, “Happy Chisma-Hannu-Kwanza-kuh.” Do you realize you now have only 365 shopping days till Christmas 2011?

The Scripture for our consideration this morning is from the Gospel lesson:

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:4, 5)

I read a story that one man told. He said: About thirty-five ago a house near the entrance of our subdivision kept their Christmas lights burning long into January, even though the Christmas season was long past. Even through the first of February those outside lights were burning every night. About the middle of February, I became a little bit critical and said, "You know, if I were too lazy to take my Christmas lights down, I think I'd at least turn them off at night." But about the middle of March, a sign outside of their house explained why they'd left the lights on. It said simply, "Welcome home, Jimmy." We learned that family had a son in Vietnam, and they had unashamedly left their Christmas lights on in anticipation of his return.

Can’t you just imagine the joy that young man felt returning home from combat, having survived so much violence and danger, to see the place where he grew up, covered in holiday lights, full of happy memories?

Title: How to Have a Great Christmas
December 19, 2010
Text: Matthew 1:18-25


Here we are less than one week away from Christmas and many of us still have so many preparations yet to complete. How many of you still have to shop for gifts? There is a mad flurry of shopping, going to parties, decorating, baking, writing Christmas cards and so forth. In the midst of all this, I wish to remind everyone not to forget the true meaning of Christmas . . . eggnog. No, of course, I’m joking. The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. You knew that.

Here is something that I found very interesting. This past week, Larry King, hung up his microphone and suspenders and retired from his well-known talk show program on CNN after 25 years on the cable news network. King had a remarkable career as a softball interviewer with guests ranging from politicians, celebrities, notorious newsmakers and pop culture icons. He received many accolades over the years. TV Guide has called him “the most remarkable talk-show host on TV ever” and he has been dubbed “master of the mike” by TIME magazine.

Larry King has been in the broadcast business for more than 40 years and has conducted more than 40,000 interviews, including every U.S. president since the Nixon administration. Other guests have included Marlon Brando, Mikhail Gorbachev, Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham, Paul McCartney, and Malcolm X. And many, many others. Certainly the man has had an interesting life, having met and talked to the most interesting people in this generation and has made millions of dollars doing it.

Title: Christmas is About Something More
Text: Luke 2

One of my favorite childhood memories of Christmas is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. I read the book, but it’s the television cartoon version from 1966 of it that sticks in my memory.

The story begins with: “Every Who Down in Who-ville Liked Christmas a lot, But the Grinch, Who lived just north of Who-ville Did NOT!"

It’s one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous and amusing books. The Grinch is the ultimate wet blanket. A wet blanket is a chronically negative person who tends to ruin other peoples’ good times, either intentionally or unintentionally. The Grinch is one of those people who is not happy unless everyone around him is miserable. He is able to find the dark cloud in front of every silver lining.

So in his war on Christmas, the Grinch sneaks into Whoville late at night, and steals all their presents and decorations and treats. He takes everything to his hideaway and just as he is about to destroy it all, he hears the townspeople of Whoville singing in the valley.

The narrator, Boris Karloff, explains: "the sound wasn't sad, but merry…very.” Clearly, the gifts and trimmings are superfluous to their celebration.

Hearing them sing, the Grinch wonders: "How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!"

Finally, the Grinch speaks: "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

Dr. Seuss leaves it up to your imagination to decide what that “little bit more” might be.

Title: The God of Our Expectations
December 12, 2010
Matthew 11:2–15

Back in the olden days when I was a wee lad, I used to be fascinated by the ads in the back of comic books. They had all kinds of crazy things in there. You could get a pet baby raccoon. Or Sea Monkeys or an ant farm. Or amazing x-ray vision goggles. I never knew anyone who actually ordered any of those things, but I’m sure someone must have.

Have you ever seen an advertisement for something in a magazine or on TV and you thought, “Boy it would be great to have one of those?” So you sent off for it and waited for it to arrive and then it finally does arrive but when you opened the package, you immediately felt, “Man, this is not what I expected to get.”

Truth in advertising. One time I read about a certain con artist who put an innocent-looking ad in a national magazine touting a SOLAR POWERED CLOTHES DRYER for $49.95. “Scientifically proven, space age method,” the ad declared, “using only the power of the sun.” Suckers who ordered this product were soon surprised to receive ... a short length of clothesline. The solar powered clothes dryer. I’m sure they were disappointed.

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