While doing my final Christmas shopping today, I came across a flock of sheep grazing in an open field. To my surprise, there was no fence around them, and the busy road with rushing cars nearby made me worry for their safety. Nevertheless, my worries were calmed as I spotted a shepherd walking among them, and he even had a traditional shepherd's crook and used a donkey to carry his equipment. To be honest, my first thought was, "Where were you before my previous sermon?", for he would have been the perfect illustration for why we celebrate the feast called Christmas.
It's no secret that Christmas day brings a bit of controversy with all of its joy, for some assert that it is a pagan festival made Christian by emperor Constantine. In fact, there are certain Church groups who reject the feast because it is not in the Bible, and every year they warn pastors like me of decieving the faithful with commercialized religion. But despite the controversy, we celebrate Christmas to show that our shepherd has come among us and forever changed the way things are. Because Jesus has come among us, we no longer have to face the world with fear or live according to barriers around and between us. Instead, like the flock I saw today, we can freely enjoy this dangerous yet beautiful world and find kinship with one another in the midst of our differences.
Truly, we celebrate Christmas to show that our shepherd is among us, and I am proud to say that I constantly see the change that He has brought in our life together at ASPC. This year I was proud to see the change in the many ways we supported one another through happiness, grief, success, and failure. And I was most proud to see the change in the ways we loved and served those outside of our community. I will never forget how so many of you cared for our sister Pamella Pieth after the loss of her husband, or how you supported our brother Adam Sulemana through his illness and final month. And I will never forget how you welcomed the occassional homeless people who stumbled into St. Mangen looking for a warm place to escape the cold.
Thank you for being a beloved community where Christ is present, and I pray that you would know His hope and joy as you celebrate Christmas. It doesn't matter if a Roman emperor officially declared it a holiday. It doesn't matter if December 25th is not mentioned in the Bible. It doesn't matter if ornaments and trees were not used by early Christians. And it doesn't matter that companies have used St. Nicholas to boost their sales. What ultimately matters is that at some point in time in a Middle Eastern city called Bethlehem, our Good Shepherd came among us and forever changed the way things are.
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you all!
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December 24, 2018Christmas 2018