This Christmas season, we focused on the gospel of Luke. Uniquely, Luke gives us information about Jesus’ early life between his birth and baptism, which began his ministry. We have little information about this period and we’re curious about what it was like to parent young Jesus, to be in school with him, or to be his neighbor. In the late 1800s, scrolls containing the Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The discoverers thought, at first, they’d discovered just such a historical resource, but it was ultimately determined to be fantastical. The gnostic gospel of Thomas tells fictional stories about how Jesus, as a child, created a sparrow from mud; and set a bear on his bullies. Even though these stories were fiction, they speak to a longing we have, as Christians, to learn as much as possible about Jesus. If we call ourselves Christians, shouldn’t knowing Christ better be the focus of all we do? There has been a recent enthusiasm for discovering the historical Jesus. Each new book presents a different facet or understanding, all of which is beneficial. You cannot understand Jesus without considering first century Judaism, which shaped all of Jesus’ teachings and experiences; or without understanding God’s relationship with Israel, as recounted in the Old Testament.
But we must be careful, in our seeking and studying, not to create an image of Jesus inconsistent with the gospel or one which is only a reflection of ourselves. For instance, just looking at his words, or just looking at his miracles, separating any piece provides an incomplete picture. This story from Luke 2 of how Jesus amazed his teachers and his parents is important. It shows that Jesus was different, even at the age of twelve. We are all amazed by children, how they learn and change but in this story Mary and Joseph are astounded by Jesus’ understanding. We could say He was a prodigy, or that He studied a lot, but there is something unique here that so amazed everyone that even the teachers of the law were amazed.
It’s the end of the year. We’ve finished with Jesus birth. Soon, in a few months, we will focus on his death. These are the two polarities of Jesus life which the church revolves around. There is so much more to the life of Jesus. He preached, taught, healed, called children to sit with him, fed thousands, calmed storms, and raised the dead. If we have created him in our image, if we feel too comfortable with the Jesus we’ve imagined, if we only call on him when we need something, if we put him on a shelf and take him down two days a week; then we need to be surprised. We need to turn fresh eyes on his story and let ourselves be surprised by his wisdom, his holiness, and his sacrifice.
I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say to the church at the end of the year, and it is this. In a world that is crazy and confusing, I think we need to be surprised by Jesus, both as individuals and as a church. Whatever you do, or whatever the church does this year; we should run everything through the filter of the person, ministry, life, and resurrection of Jesus. Don’t tell him what you will do, but allow him to tell us. Be surprised individually and cooperatively. Read the portraits in the gospels; hear the voice of Christ; hope that the Holy Spirit will guide us, encourage us, and remind us of his words (John 14:15-27). Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by what He does in our lives and in the world, and to be shaped in his image, rather than shaping him into ours.
“Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
Rev. John Norman, Sermon given on December 30, 2018
Terry and Kathy Parker hosted the Dorothy Parker Upper Room Sunday School class Christmas party. The New Century Sunday School Class joined in. We collected a bunch of canned food for the food closet, visited, ate delicious food, and played Christmas games. A special thanks to Terry and Kathy for their always-wonderful hospitality.
Photos and story: Kay Surles
Byron Johnson gets a lift from Tony Wood to reach the top of our steeple. Our building and grounds committee hired Byron's pressure washing company to clean the mildew and lichens off of the steeple; and Tony Wood's Tree Service to assist him. The beautiful December day highlighted the pristine steeple when Johnson finished cleaning it.
Photos and story: Ron Sloan
The Children's Choir performed Hark! The Herald Angels Sing on the hand bells, directed by Phyllis Toothman. Summer McLamb played the piano. The sanctuary choir presented their 2018 Cantata: Breath of Heaven. Soloists: Delilah Sharp, Jessie Sharp, and Phyllis Toothman. Special thanks to our sound techs Tim Daniels and Walt Rabon. Our Choir Director Phyllis Toothman works so hard all year to fill these halls with music and we are so grateful for all she does.
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Thanks to Jeff, Christine, and Charlotte Stewart for lighting the advent candle.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12.
Photos by Celeste Byrd.
Children and teens went caroling through Four Oaks last night to collect canned food for our food pantry ministry. The scroogiest scrooge in the world could not resist these adorable faces. Thanks so much to all parents for caroling, and for all donations.
Photos: Heather Durham
Let every heart prepare Him room. Let heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the World (Isaac Watts, 1719, Psalm 98)
Today, around the world, Christians are reading about John the Baptist. On the third Sunday of Advent we light the Shepherd’s Candle, symbolizing joy. It’s odd that we read about John the Baptist who seems, to many people, like the Scrooge of the New Testament. He was set in his ways, he liked to be alone, he was eccentric, and he was frowned-upon by most other members of his community. In most of the verses about John, he is rebuking people for the things that they do, or think, or say. At Christmas time, we expect to hear about baby Jesus. We want to focus on the joy of a baby being born; like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, praying to praying to little newborn baby Jesus. John ruins this party, yelling about repentance and judgement. Why do we read about him on a day of joy?
John came to Israel, in his time, to give his people a reality check. The Herodians, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees built these false realities about themselves and about their world. They believed they were righteous. They believed holding strictly to the traditions established by King David would make them great and righteous, as King David was great and righteous. They’d forgotten the God behind King David, who taught that the way a person treats others is a reflection of their relationship to God.
John breaks the news that the common understanding of the world is a false reality but the real King is coming. Jesus will reign, judge the nations, know people's’ hearts, transform their lives, and save our world from itself. For John, that news of judgement, redemption, sacrifice, and faith is the reason to have joy. Not that God is out to get people; to judge, condemn, and destroy; but that he will set all things right, defeat evil, and correct our skewed version of reality. He truly is giving us good tidings of great joy; that we can stop chasing after these unreachable, useless things; stop building these falsities of grace without repentance, salvation without sacrifice, resurrection without death, and closeness to God without opening ourselves up to God. We need John to shake these false realities and allow us to see though, glimpses of the possibility of the joy that comes with Jesus.
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) explains the author’s journey from atheism to theism to Christianity. He began believing that he owned his own soul but, through his pursuit of joy, beauty, and belonging; he realized that true joy could never be found in this world. He came to theism through logic, by reading the Bible and finding that it made logical sense. Finally, he came to christianity through the realization of what God had done for us. He realized that joy could not be found on any other road, or in any of the false realities he’d built for himself.
We, too, are trying so hard to find joy; but true joy can never be intentionally found. True joy always comes upon us by surprise because it is a gift from God. Joy first begins to break through when we relinquish the souls we think we own. John makes up look at our false Gods and realize they’re false. He makes us realize that we cannot make our own paths but also that God has made a path, to restore our understanding of what it means to be human, in the image of God, loving both Him and each other.
One who is more powerful than I will come. Luke 3:16
Rev. John Norman; Sermon 2 of Advent Series, December 16, 2018
For more on C.S. Lewis and joy, consider Reverend John Piper’s article.
The Baptist Men have breakfast and devotion in the fellowship hall the third Sunday of every month.
Photos: Sherwood Lee.
The Adult I Sunday School Class gathered Friday night to wrap presents for kids. And to eat, of course. Thank you so much to Holly and Brian for opening up their beautiful home to us; to Michele for coordinating our Christmas project; and to all who brought gifts! Merry Christmas.
Photos: Holly Winters
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer. Proverbs 11:24