Hark The Herald Angels Sing #3
Born That We No More May Die; what a strange thing to say about this baby or any baby for that matter. Unless there’s a medical emergency we seldom, if ever, connect babies with death. Instead we speak only of life and hope. And yet in this baby, the Christ child, the two were inextricably tied together, forever.
Like the video said, the characters of Christmas ARE nothing but shadows of the true meaning and character of Christmas which is light and life and love. Just as God created the world and breathed life into it, this baby, the Christ, breathed new life into our spirits. Just as God created light to push back the darkness, so too, Christ came as the light of the world who would live in our hearts, making us part of God’s light shining in the darkness of a sin filled world offering unconditional love.
Back in Oct we talked about Zombies, Vampires, Aliens and our Final Destination. Well times like these, as we face a tragedy together as a nation and try to find sensible and workable solutions that will benefit all and infringe on our individual rights as little as possible, times like these drain us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
This is a Twilight saga in and of itself sucking the life out of us. This is Night of the Living Dead being played out all around us and threatening to draw us into the darkness of despair. This tragedy is trying to suck the life out of us. It’s alien to us and causes us to stumble through life in a daze as it attacks our brain and our hearts.
But this season and especially this baby; this child of light and life; this child of God’s love; this child “Born That We No More May Die” holds the answer. That answer can’t be found in the crib, nor the gifts of the Magi, nor the cross that awaits this baby later in life. The answer can only be found in an empty borrowed tomb. Right now we only see a hint of the answer. But it gives us hope.
1 Corinthians 15:12-22 (NRSV)
 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
I. THE ENCOUNTER:
Pastor David Johnson was all prepared for his Easter sermon, at least that’s what he thought. A recent graduate from seminary, he understood all the latest and most interesting theology. This was his first Easter at the Maple Street Community Church. He made the final touches to his sermon on Holy Saturday morning and outlined its content to his wife.
He told her that his sermon was based on the theology of Paul Tillich, who spoke of the resurrection as a symbol that the estrangement from our authentic self was over. God has made possible the New Being, and if people would accept this truth, their unauthentic existence would end and new life would begin. His wife shook her head, but David didn’t seem to notice.
Early that evening, David drove to the church for the rehearsal of the Youth Sunrise Service the next morning. When the practice ended, one of the youth, lovingly called “Tiny” because he was 6’ 5”, asked, “Pastor, can you give me a ride home?” David said he’d be glad to but Tiny would have to give him directions. With Tiny pointing the way, David delivered the youth home without incident. When he left, however, he couldn’t remember if he was supposed to turn right at the end of the cement and left at the crossroads or the other way around. It had only taken ten minutes to reach Tiny’s home. He’d been driving around for 20 minutes and still didn’t know where he was. He was totally lost. He found himself on what appeared to be a deserted dirt road. When the car sputtered, he realized he was out of gas.
David was overcome with anxiety. It was 10 p.m. on Holy Saturday evening. He was lost and out of gas, and he needed to be at the church by 6 a.m. to set up for the sunrise service. He got out of the car and began to walk. Ten minutes later he saw some bright lights up ahead on the right. As he got closer he could see that the lights came from a bar, the neon sign reading “The Boondocks.”
Everyone, including those new to the community like David, knew that this was one of the seediest taverns in town. As he walked to the front door, he saw a group of motorcycles parked outside the door. They made him nervous. Upon entering the bar he smelled rancid beer and the stench of tobacco. He did not see anyone he recognized, a fact that was both good and bad. He wondered what church members might think if they knew their pastor was at “The Boondocks” on Holy Saturday night.
David approached the bar intending to ask for a ride to town but found himself ordering a Coke instead. He noticed a pool table behind him and wound up playing a game.
David had played pool since he was six and was very good. This night, however, he wasn’t just fantastic, he was on fire. Twice he ran the table after the break. This action was noticed by Turk, a short but powerful “biker” who, taking off his leather jacket, challenged David to a game.
Turk was good, but that evening David was better. After three consecutive wins Turk conceded defeat. He bought David another Coke and announced that henceforth David would be called “Shark.” He then asked the inevitable question, “What do you do?” David was uncertain whether to tell the truth or lie, but he summoned up his courage and said, “I’m a minister in town at the Maple Street Community Church.” The crowd was shocked and began to mumble, but from the background Turk bellowed, “Quiet!”
Immediately the mood in the bar changed and the patrons, one-by-one began to tell their stories. When Turk’s turn came he began, “I’ve never been to church. My mother was never married so people told her she was not good enough for any church. I’ve never been to Sunday school either. What I know about the Bible comes from television. I don’t even know what we celebrate at Easter.”
The eyes of all the patrons trained on David, who realized that Turk had given him an invitation and he needed to respond. Thus, David began to tell all assembled about Jesus. He told about his birth and how when he was old enough he began a public ministry. He told them that those who were rich and powerful had little time or energy for Jesus. So, Jesus reached out in a special way to those who were despised by society at large. He did many wonderful things, cured many of diseases, forgave sins, and demonstrated love in every word and action of his life.
After three years of active work, Jesus, who mostly stayed in the northern section of his nation, ventured south to the capital city of Jerusalem. There he entered the city one Sunday morning in great triumph as people shouted, “Hosanna!” and laid palm branches on the ground for him. But later that same week those who were his enemies plotted against him.
On Thursday evening he was arrested and tried in an unjust kangaroo court. The next day he was led to crucifixion, wearing a crown of thorns. All his best friends abandoned him, save a couple who watched all these horrible events from a distance.
People mocked him saying, “All hail, King of the Jews!” Because he was tortured so severely, Jesus died on the cross after about three hours. His loyal friends took him down and laid him in a tomb.
Upon hearing the story several of those in the bar began to cry openly.
David then told the men that on Sunday morning Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to visit, but they met two angels who told them that Jesus was no longer there; he had risen and was alive. Later that day Jesus appeared to his friends, the same ones who had abandoned him just a few days before.
Turk and the others were impressed but they said, “That is a crazy story.”
David responded, “That IS a crazy story. We live in a crazy world. But our God can turn losers into winners; he has shown many times that what most believe is weakness in a person is truly strength. He demonstrated that those despised by society might be your best friends. By raising his Son from death, God has destroyed death forever.”
When all was said, David then told Turk about his car problem. Quickly the rugged “biker” siphoned some gas from another vehicle, gave David directions, and sent him on his way. When he arrived home, his wife, who was obviously concerned about her husband’s late return, told him that he needed to get to bed and rest, but he responded, “I need to rewrite my sermon.”
The next day David did not talk about New Being or estrangement from authentic selfhood; he simply told the story of how God raised Jesus from the dead and in the process gave him and all people new life and hope. People in the congregation thought the sermon was good but what really got them talking was the strange group of visitors who parked their shiny motorcycles in front of the church and sat in one of the front pews.
When one of the ushers inquired about the visitors, one burly man, obviously uncomfortable in a suit and tie, growled, “We are friends of Shark.”
Pastor Johnson’s encounter with Turk and his friends at “The Boondocks” is a story of light and life and love; of transformation and conversion and the movement from death to life. And it shows us how “all will be made alive in Christ.” (1)
This chance and unintended meeting between a young, inexperienced minister and a hard-bitten “biker” allowed both to cast off blindness; to step into the light; to receive new life and see the world around them through new eyes, the eyes of the Risen Christ.
II. THE TRANSFORMATION:
A. An Easter story may not seem appropriate at Christmas but the more I thought about this story, the more I knew it had to be told now. You see the birth of this baby isn’t about Santa and trees and toys and all the other accoutrements of our celebrations. The birth of this baby is about light and life and love. This is the Season of light and life and love. And when we shine the light of Christ on our lives, we come to realize that the Resurrection isn’t just about Easter. Resurrection is something in which we participate every day.
We are a fallen people, and because we are a fallen people there are lots of ways in which we die, every single day. We can die of fright. We can die of embarrassment. We can die laughing. We can die of a broken heart. We can die of boredom. And we’ve all seen ideas and dreams die on the vine.
Those are just the clichés but the truth is there are times when we truly DO die a little every day. Somehow, through the year the Light and Life which we experience during this season gets packed away with the rest of Christmas. Or it gets rubbed away, scratched away, blown away by the struggles and hardships of living. We slowly die to the dreams we once had. We slowly die to the spirit, we slowly die to friendships, we become increasingly more isolated, more separated and alienated.
We can be alive, walking, talking, living our normal every day ordinary life alive but on the inside we can be spiritually dying. Spiritual death may be the most devastating death of all, because it robs us of our belief system, which controls our moral compass. It robs us of hope. It robs us of unconditional love. It robs us and steals us blind leaving us feeling alone and in the dark.
B. In verse 22 Paul writes: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
That’s exactly what happened to Pastor David “Shark” Johnson, Turk and his whole crew. They experienced the power of resurrection; the power of the light of Christ and the power of new life. They experienced “being made alive in Christ.” And that’s exactly what we need, to “be made alive in Christ.”
Rev. James Moore tells the story of a friend of his who is a sales representative. It seems they received a new sales-manager and it fell to the friend to drive his new boss around town so the boss could familiarize himself with the community.
While they were out driving, the sales rep came pretty close to his house and asked his new boss if he’d like to drop by and meet his wife and kids? His wife was baking a pie and maybe they could get a piece while it was still warm.
The manager turned to him and said, “Let’s get one thing straight right now. I’m not interested in your family. I’m not interested in your wife and children. I’m not interested in your personal life at all. All I’m interested in are results. All I’m interested in is your sales record.”
The friend told Rev. Moore that he felt like he’d been slapped and that a little piece of him, the part that loved his job, died right then and there. But then he said, “You know, I realized something. I realized that God is just the opposite. God IS interested in my home and family. God IS interested in my personal life, my wife and my children.” (2)
That’s the Good News of this season of Light and Life and Love. That’s part of the experience of “being made alive in Christ.” It’s the offer not only of future resurrection but of a life of resurrection, transformation and new life each and every day.
And that offer is there for every one of us; people like Rev. Johnson and people like Turk, even the manager Rev. Moore wrote about. Maybe you need that Light and Life and Love. Maybe there’s a part of your life that has seemed to die or is dying on the vine right now.
Well, maybe this year instead of asking for or expecting gifts or even giving gifts we take our faith seriously and not like some piece of clothing or jewelry that we put on when we need it. But instead we seek, ACTIVELY SEEK through prayer and worship and study to be “made alive in Christ.”
Maybe we start making New Year’s resolutions now and resolve to have our families in worship and Sunday School so we can grow in our faith, grow in our knowledge of Scripture so we have a broader base for our moral compass by knowing what the Scripture teaches. Maybe it’s time to quit talking about what we should do to give our children and youth the knowledge and faith they need to face the troubles of the world and be the role models and parents we’re supposed to be.
Maybe we take this opportunity to re-focus our own spiritual life so we can be the spiritual leaders our families friends and community need. Maybe it’s time to be “made alive in Christ.”
That’s why Jesus came. That was the gift God Gave to the whole world that first Christmas. Now it’s time to take it out from under the tree, dust it off, unwrap it be “made alive in Christ.”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
2. James W. Moore, Christmas Gifts That Always Fit, (Nashville, Dimensions for Living), 64-65