Sermon: The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

The Lenten Journey with the Holy Spirit

Time to Meditate on the Mystery of Life
Spring is over and winter is coming back. Of course, I know that March here in CT is still part of a cold winter season and that spring will come a couple of months later. Because the weather had been so mild until the early February, I thought we would never have real winter this year. But I was wrong. I just forgot how fickle the weather is, how hard life is, and how fragile I am in this uncertain world.

Today in Christian Churches is the first Sunday in Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we received the cross of ashes on our foreheads with the Genesis words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These gloomy words are nothing but the confession that we human beings are so fragile even though we believe in God. Lent is the season for us to look back to our own fragility and also explore in our lives what it means to live in Jesus Christ who also came to the world as a human being.

From the Jordan River to the Wilderness
Luke’s Gospel lesson for this morning begins with an incredible contrast. We are told that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then suddenly led into the emptiness of the wilderness (vv. 1-2). In the previous account in Luke’s Gospel, we saw he was baptizing at the Jordan River with the Holy Spirit falling upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). Just last Sunday, we saw Jesus becoming dazzling white on a mountaintop and heard the voice of God from the heaven again, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35). These Epiphany Scriptures are enough to prove that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

But today we have to see that God’s beloved Son Jesus was thrown into the wilderness very much alone. He ate nothing at all during those 40 days, and then he was tempted by Satan. We are amazed with this extreme contrast from the Jordan River to the wilderness; from the glory of transfiguration to the temptation by Satan; from the Beloved Son to the very fragile man who was stripped down to the nothingness of life.

In this Gospel lesson, Satan tried to make him act like a magician. First, he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, so he could eat and satisfy his hungry stomach (v. 3). Then, he let Jesus see all the kingdoms of the world, and suggested that if Jesus bowed down to him, he would give all the glory and authority of the world to Jesus (vv. 5-6). At last, he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, your angels will catch you” (vv. 9-10). If people really happened to see him carried by angels in the air, no one in Jerusalem would continue to doubt Jesus, God’s Messiah!

I believe that Jesus’ wilderness experience is not only a symbolic lesson but reality. It can be our own story that every Christian experiences in one’s journey of faith in this world. We are called beloved children of God just like Jesus was God’s beloved Son. We see God as our heavenly Father just like Jesus called him “Abba.” Nevertheless, we sometimes have to go through our time of wilderness, just like Jesus had to go through his trial.

This story warns us that as long as we live on earth, we may never be free from all kinds of troubles. Regardless of our deep and strong faith in God, we have to go through a wilderness without anything to eat; without anyone to lean on; without any resource to heal our brokenness.

When we deal with Jesus’ forty-day wilderness experience, we usually focus on what the three temptations mean and how he overcame them. I was also planning to talk about it. But as we are currently in our own wilderness with the results from the General Conference, I found myself thinking deeply, “Why did God allow his beloved Son to be thrown into the wilderness without anything to eat, which could destroy his Son’s life?”; “How could Jesus overcome his trial and remain a faithful servant of God?”; “How can we as the congregation stand strong and shape our discipleship while getting through this trial?” These are the questions that I struggled with when I was meditating on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness.

Going with the Holy Spirit
Surprisingly, the answer to my own questions still came from the same text of Jesus’ wilderness. Before he was thrown into the wilderness, Luke’s Gospel says that he was first filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 1), which means that he was not alone but with his beloved Father God. It is the Spirit that strengthened him to confront the desert for 40 days and defeat the temptation of Satan.

If Jesus was not all alone but with the Holy Spirit, we must not be alone but with the same Holy Spirit as well. Yes, the God we believe is the God who is present in this world; the Christ we believe is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

In the Epistle lesson, the disciple Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 10). This is one of my favorite Scriptures; it ensures that God’s salvation comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. But this Scripture doesn’t say that we are all set without any pains and trials simply because we confess Jesus as our Savior. If we dig a little bit more in this word, we can hear God’s promise that when we fall, God raises us again and restores us just like he raised Jesus from the dead.

The Scriptures of the First Sunday in Lent lead us to meditate on the story of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. I believe it is designed to remind us of our own fragility as human beings. As long as we live on earth, we may never be free from the power of Satan, although we have faith in God. We must remember when we happen to go through our own wilderness time that, as God’s children, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t leave us alone. The Spirit goes with us into our own wilderness, helps us confront all our trials, and supports us to overcome our hardship and turn back to living the life God calls us to live.

Sermon: From Dust to Goodness

February 18, 2015
Ash Wednesday
Psalm 51-1-17; Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

From Dust to Goodness

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the word we hear and meditate on from our Ash Wednesday service tonight. We can hear this gloomy word when we participate in the committal service at the cemetery which goes “This body we commit to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We can also find this term “dust” in the creation story from the Genesis. When Adam and Eve disobeyed and violated God’s command that they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God spoke to them, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return” (Gen. 2:19). Following Adam and Eve’s destiny, all human beings arose from dust and shall return to dust. Thus, we can say that human beings are by nature a walking, talking, thinking, and acting dust.

How precious is dust to us? Farmers know that it can be used to help grow plants; potters may need it for their artistic works, but basically it is worthless. We can try to make it look good or smell good by painting it or by spraying perfume on it, but dust is dust, ashes are ashes, and they are largely out of our attention.

Sadly, human life is like dust. We rejoice in our days; we work hard; we are beautiful and shiny; we are striving hard to make things better and right in the world. But all our attempts, all our success, all our goodness will be forgotten soon after we end with death.

So why do we gather on this cold winter night? Why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Do we come tonight only to recognize how useless and vulnerable our human life is as we hear “ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Well, the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is and what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.

God has given humanity a way out of our destiny of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We believe and know that it is Jesus Christ our Lord who has transformed and overcome human destiny, from dust to eternity. How did he do that? Did he paint our bodies with his glory or spray perfume on our bodies? No. The way “out” is the way of the cross. The first Adam disobeyed God and thus left us the tragic separation from God our Creator. But Jesus who came as the second Adam was obedient to the point of death that everyone who believes in him is blessed to be God’s child and inherit God’s kingdom. The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing reconciliation and salvation upon our destiny which would otherwise be worthless.

What is then our price for God’s gift? All that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy that we remember we are sinners and repent and believe in what Jesus has done for us. The New Testament clearly proclaims that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our righteousness.

As we accept Jesus as our Savior, however, God asks us to do one more thing: try to practice a piety that is based on his love and try to show a righteousness that is based on his goodness. Because we are still dust and ashes while living on earth, we will never be perfect like Jesus Christ. However, because we have the Spirit of Jesus in our mortal bodies, we will never give up, but always strive hard to make our life of dust be the life of love and righteousness until we move to eternal life in heaven.

God has committed himself to us and given to us a sign of that commitment, the cross. Tonight, we come to meditate on and take upon ourselves the cross, the sign of obedience, the sign of endurance, the sign of forgiveness, the sign of reconciliation, the sign of faithfulness in God.

As we take it upon ourselves, let us also remember that we are not just dust and ashes but God’s precious creations. We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We carry a hope that we are not only invited to eternal life in heaven but also called to build and spread his kingdom of peace and love here in our communities. We are now carrying and practicing the life of the cross on which Jesus forgave all humanity. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. Amen.

Sermon: Listen and Follow

March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday

2 Corinthians 3:12-17; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Listen and Follow

What Happened at the General Conference of 2019
Lots of members of the New England Conference of UMC have been grieving since last week’s result of the 2019 General Conference. More than 53 percent of the multinational denomination’s top lawmaking body turned down the “One Church Plan” and supported the “Traditional Plan” that reinforces the church’s bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating same-sex marriage. This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972. It seems likely that we have been stuck in our old doctrine and don’t know how to get out of there.

“Children of God, shake the world, inspire the world, and move the world by the power of the Holy Spirit…” This is a benediction that I heard just a few years ago at our New England Annual Conference. With this powerful benediction, the preacher reminded us that God is the prime author of the world history and we are God’s partners or workers. However, with this biased decision from the GC, how can we say we are working with God to lead, change, move, and transform the world? I think it would be more appropriate to say that our UMC along with other conservative Christian denominations is nothing but a stumbling block to God’s salvation ministry. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter when he tried to hold Jesus and block his salvation journey? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt. 16:23)

Putting God in a Little Box
What is the course of history God has been working on? What did Jesus come to the world for? What mission did Jesus entrust to his disciples? Speaking of it just in one word, it is “reconciliation,” reconciliation between God and human beings and reconciliation between human races: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18)

Jesus was aware that reconciliation couldn’t occur in our human world if people remain obsessed with their traditional customs, which would make them see the world only in black and white and judge and curse others based on their own standards. So wherever Jesus went and whomever he met, he strived hard to liberate people as he broke down all the human boundaries and barriers. The Apostle Paul says, “[Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14); “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

But look at what the representatives from all the UMC conferences did at the General Conference last week? They put up fencing around our belief; they built a wall of division and hostility in terms of doctrines that say who is the clean and unclean. Just like the Pharisees, they delude themselves into thinking they are righteous and others are sinners. They are trying to lead us in the opposite way from what Jesus did.

“Why do we Christians discriminate in the name of God?” I struggled with this question during the last week, and I left my own thoughts on it at my Facebook account as follows: “How dangerous it is to take the Bible only literally. No matter how conservative or progressive we are, we should admit that God is much bigger than our brain or even the Bible. We must not put God in our little box, which is profanity to God… How dangerous it is to judge others by quoting a few verses from the Bible. We should recognize that God’s words are given to make us realize God’s unlimited love and to help us preach God’s love for all human beings, just like Jesus was sent to save the world but not to condemn the world (Jn 3:17). The best definition of God is the mysterious! It’s Spirit; it’s like wind… We don’t know where it comes from and goes. No one can imprison God in our own standards, not even in the Bible.”

Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Mountaintop
“I can possess God in my belief; I can hold God in my religious experience.” This is what the disciples thought when they saw Jesus’ mysterious transfiguration on the mountaintop. In front of their eyes, Jesus’ countenance and even his robe became dazzling white (v. 29), and they saw Moses and Elijah, the symbolic pillars of Judaism, talking with their Master Jesus (v. 30). Being filled with wonder and awe. Peter tried to capture that fantastic moment, saying “Master, it is good for us to be here, let us make three booths for you and for Moses and Elijah” (v. 33). His suggestion sounded very faithful and loyal to Jesus, but actually deep in his mind is there arrogant and foolish illusion? That is, he thought he could possess Jesus and his glory in his own little box.

But this is not how God wanted the disciples to respond to the transfigured Christ. Before Jesus replied to Peter, there was the voice of God booming through the clouds, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” (v. 35). Then in the following story, Jesus promptly headed from the mountain to the village and encountered the crowds as usual.

If I were Jesus, I would stay on the mountaintop and hold my glory and beauty there forever, which was what Peter tried to do. But unlike his expectation and our expectation, Jesus totally gave up his halo and immediately came back down to the village. Why or what’s wrong with him? He didn’t like the idea of monopolizing God’s glory on the mountaintop or preserving it like an antique in a museum. He knew that God’s glory, God’s will, or God’s grace must not be confined only to a limited group but must be spread to everyone and everywhere in the world. That’s why he came down to the villages. That is why the risen Christ sent his disciples to all around the world.

What kind of folks did Jesus confront in the village? They were all kinds of people: rich or poor, royal or common, Jewish or Pagans… Some of them were banished from their villages because they were unclean or demon-possessed; they were accused of being sinners by the Jewish laws. Yet Jesus didn’t talk about who is right and wrong; he didn’t judge or curse anyone about why they were possessed by demons; he didn’t keep his holy body from people but he touched their bodies, dined with them, and hung around with them. That is why the Pharisees call him “a friend of sinners.” He didn’t set any boundaries from anyone he met but only encouraged them to trust in him for healing and renewing their lives. He even proclaimed that “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mk. 10:31).

Joining in Jesu’s Reconciliation Ministry
In today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John climbed the mountaintop with Jesus Christ where they happened to experience a holy moment that had changed their lives forever. Likewise, we Christians today can also have this kind of holy mountaintop experience on our faith’s journey. It can come from our worship service, from our bible study, from our prayer meeting, from our choir practice, from our GSM concert, from our participation in the sacraments of baptism and communion, from our own meditation on the Bible… The sacred experiences that are recounted in the Bible are still needed today, and they still occur today.

But that doesn’t mean that we are the only children whom God chooses to love and save throughout the world. This Transfiguration episode teaches us that if we really experience something holy or divine from our relationship with Christ, we should follow in his footsteps towards our villages where we meet all kinds of people. We serve these people with the unlimited love Jesus has shown to us. In doing so, we can avoid the arrogant and foolish illusion that we are special, we are holier than any others, or that we can possess and hold God only in our little box. In doing so, we can work with God to lead, change, move, and transform the world. In doing so, we can carry Jesus’ reconciliation ministry to the world. Amen.

Sermon: Rest In and With Jesus Christ

February 24, 2019
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Matthew 11:24-30

Rest In and With Jesus Christ

Vacation
It is good to be back after my vacation during the last two weeks! I want to thank you all for keeping me in your prayers during my time out.

I believe vacation is a gift from God. It’s God’s will for us to take a break from our labors so that we can recharge our spiritual or emotional battery to sustain and strengthen our life’s journey. Even God had a Sabbath from His creation work: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:1-2). During his public ministry, Jesus Christ also withdrew from his followers to a remote place alone to have meditation and rest: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (M. 1:35)

Now I just came back from my two-weeks’ vacation… You probably expect that I am now full of energy for the work… Honestly, my answer is yes and no…

Problems with Vacation
How did I spend my vacation? Just like any people, I was planning to spend all of my free times only satisfying myself although keeping you in my regular devotion time. So I slept a lot, woke up very late, traveled to several places, and visited my old friends-spending long times chatting with them.

While I got to relax a little bit on vacation, I learned a lot about myself. Much of it I didn’t like… I also realized that vacation is not easy. It is a lot of work, it can be a time consuming task, and it is a costly endeavor. You always need more money than you have because of unexpected expenses, and it doesn’t go as planned.

Vacation is a hard work and even can add stress to our life. When I came back home from my trip to Boston last week, I just told myself, “Home sweet home.” And I had to lie down on my bed for two days just to recover my energy. I was looking forward to seeing you a lot, but I didn’t know how to start again for my coming back to you. Honestly, it was not easy for me to prepare this sermon for today because I was physically and emotionally exhausted from my travels. The goal of my vacation was just to relax and recharge my body and soul, so that I can show you my good looks, but because I was exhausted from my vacation, I am sorry but I felt like I need one more vacation.

What was wrong with my vacation? Why couldn’t I be satisfied with it? Vacation indicates rest, and that’s why we want to take it when we feel burdened from our daily works. But the problem is that these vacations are only temporary. We have to come back to our reality, and when we come back, rest ends and trials begin again.

The Invitation from Jesus
Although I was tired from my vacation, I couldn’t stay in my bed all day long because I knew I needed a message to share with you for this morning. So from time to time I prayed to God and kept thinking about what to say to you. However, I couldn’t stop feeling sorrow from my temporary vacation. Maybe God had pity on me as I was still hoping to take a rest. That’s probably why I heard God whisper to my heart through the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (v. 28).

“I will give you rest…” Yes Lord, that is what I want! … Meditating on this sweet invitation from Jesus, I came to recognize that he is now inviting me to take another vacation. So I started packing my traveling bag to go on vacation again… No, I am kidding… I didn’t go anywhere but just stayed in my room to work for my sermon, but strangely my heart was full of strength and confidence that I am now on vacation!!! How come? It is because I recognized that Jesus Christ, who is now with me in my life, is itself my vacation and rest! All I can do is to come and give my life to Him.

Friends, we are living in tiresome and burdensome times and our external pressures are going to intensify as time continues. We want to take vacation from all those heavy burdens, but no matter how further we are away, and no matter how crazy and fun the time is we spend during our vacation, we have to come back to where we live. When we come back, we may soon find ourselves struggling again with all the heavy burdens and worries we have carried on and on. In order to experience peace and rest in our daily life, it’s better to find how to rest here in our daily life.

Look, Jesus just promises us that if we come to him, we may partake of rest in him and with him. It’s not like a temporary vacation where we get to rest for limited amount of time and then have to come back to our hardship. No, this is a supernatural vacation that does not end. This is not temporary but everlasting rest in us.

We are all on a life’s journey; we are on a journey to receive a prize. Our journey is from earth to glory, and we get tired and burdened along the way. As a human being, Jesus also got tired on his earthly journey, so he took a time out to rest: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mk. 1:35) Yet, his way of Sabbath teaches us that true rest or vacation comes from our spiritual relationship with God, the source of life.

Rest In and With Jesus
Friends, now we all have come back from our long holiday seasons. Nevertheless, do we already feel tired from our routines? do we still miss our vacation? Do we want to stay away from our daily life? … If so, let us realize that we can be always on vacation wherever we live if we come to Jesus Christ our Lord, who imparts the spirit of healing, who knows all we need, who has deep mercy and compassion for his people.

May we come to him and learn to rest in His grace more and worry less. May we let Jesus teach us His way and how to find His rest. When we get so tired that we don’t think we can continue, may we find rest in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon: Celebration of Life in Jesus

January 27, 2018
Third Sunday after the Epiphany

John 2:1-11

Celebration of Life in Jesus

The winter challenge
Last week, we were struck by some very dangerous weather, a blizzard and freezing rains. When it’s snowing and icy outside, nobody wants to leave one’s house. After talking with several members, I had to decide that we must remain safe and worship the Lord from our homes.

Some of you might wonder whether we just violated our Sabbath as we gave up our Sunday Service? In order to encourage you, I posted in our church Facebook page the bible verse from Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) and gave a little comment: “Wherever we are and no matter what situation we have, let us give thanks to God who always holds us in his constant love. Shalom to you!”

Yes, I have no doubt that God is always with us even if we can’t be always faithful enough… But things happen. The winter cold broke a pipe in the parsonage and my garage ceiling was leaking. Well what I experienced from this accident is that bad things still happen to us although we are in God’s hands; our faith in God would reward us God’s salvation and eternal life but that doesn’t mean that we are free from all kinds of unexpected accidents while living on earth. That’s why we wonder sometimes whether God does really care for little accidents we have to struggle with in our daily lives although we trust that God will bring us to His kingdom as he promised us in the Bible.

Jesus’ concerns in his ministry
When you think about Jesus’ ministry, what kind of concept pops up in your mind? Probably, those of salvation, redemption, cross, sacrifice, resurrection, eternal life, God’s kingdom, etc. Those theological or biblical terms are not the common language we speak in our daily life. In fact, Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Do not worry about what to eat, what to drink, or what to wear… But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…” (Mt. 7:31-33).

Yes, as I mentioned above, Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins and save the world and bring us to eternal life in God’s kingdom… But did our Lord really care about little things that we have to struggle in our ordinary lives? Did Jesus have his own private life just to relax and enjoy his day? Did Christ take a “daycation” to restore and refresh his mind and body?

Yes, he did! He actually knew how to celebrate his life along with his people. And he had paid attention to, not only such a big mission like salvation or God’s kingdom, but also very trivial and small issues in human life. Today’s Gospel story illuminates his care and mercy for our ordinary things. He showed his first miracle in joyful celebration at the wedding of Cana.

Jesus at the wedding
In any Palestinian village of Jesus’ day, as in any family today, a wedding was a great occasion. It is a special moment and the best time for the new couple, and their friends and family, to share their joy.

But an unexpected disaster happened at the wedding reception of Cana: the wine was in danger of running out. According to a Jewish proverb, “Without wine, there is no joy.” Even worse, within the social customs of Jesus’ day, the party without wine was considered an insult to the guests who were invited to the family’s occasion. The Bible does not record the emotion involved, but we can easily imagine how frustrated the hosts must have felt in running out of wine at their wedding reception. It would have been seen as a bad omen.

Fortunately, Jesus, along with his mother Mary and disciples, was there at the wedding reception. Of course, our good Lord solved the problem by changing the water into wine, so the hosts could overcome the crisis and all the guests rejoiced much in celebrating and blessing the young couple’s new life. Later in John’s Gospel he says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). And just as he responded to those people in today’s Gospel, Jesus always responds to us.

This miracle, turning water into wine, is nothing less than an open declaration that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to change or transform our life: despair to hope, sadness to joy, slavery to liberty, sinners to God’s children, and death to eternal life. However, this Gospel story teaches us that Jesus is not the only resource for our life change. It is also necessary for us to respond to God’s grace if we want to experience Jesus’ transforming miracles in our life.

First, it is very important that we invite Jesus to our troubles. In this Gospel story, the hosts of the wedding were lucky that Jesus was there when they were stuck in that embarrassing situation.

There is a Sunday School story that highlights the importance of Jesus’ presence in our occasions. One day, a little boy visited his uncle who wasn’t married yet. He told him that he goes to a Sunday School. The uncle asked the body, “What did you learn in your school?” He replied, “we heard that Jesus went to a wedding and made water into wine.” “And what is the lesson in that story?” his uncle inquired. After thinking for a moment, the little boy answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there!”

We may say that the boy is so innocent to receive what he was told. But his reply is, I believe, pretty profound advice. It is good to have Jesus at our wedding that God will bless our celebration. Indeed, it is good to have Jesus everywhere in our life, because we don’t know what will happen to us from moment to moment. Whatever problems confront us, whatever crisis threaten our lives, whatever we lack in any situation, Christ can restore us if he is invited there.

Second, we must believe that before he showed his power, Jesus wants to hear first our problems out of our lips. Mary is a symbol of the ordinary believers who have “faith” in Jesus but who still doesn’t know how he handles our problems. When the wine was almost running out, Mary said to him, “They have no wine” (v. 3). And Jesus just replied to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). At first, it seems that Jesus ignored Mary’s request. She may feel ashamed that she wouldn’t want to get involved in the problem, which was actually not her business, anymore.

Yet, Mary didn’t give up her faith but instead immediately told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Following her suggestion, the servants did what Jesus ordered them to do, that is, to fill the jars with water. And as Mary expected, Jesus eventually listened to her and met the crisis with an astounding solution: the water was changed into fresh wine, so everyone in the wedding reception could enjoy it.

The good news in this story is that Jesus cares for our problems when we lift them up to him. Although our little problem seems not related to Jesus’ salvation ministry, eventually he shows his mercy to make things right for us. The lesson we count on in this story is “frustration and despair turn to hope as our faith is engaged.”

A Joyful Friend
After his Baptism, the first miracle Jesus did was to celebrate a wedding feast and cheer people. This occurrence tells us that Jesus is not a gloomy guide with heavy works but a joyful friend who knows how to enjoy life and help others to enjoy it to the fullest as well.

As we started this new year, let us remember that the Lord of life contributed to the joy of a wedding feast, blessing it with his presence and his gift of abundance. May everything that is new and good and joyful be revealed to us in this season of Epiphany as a gift of God so that our joy may be complete. Amen.

Sermon: The Humble Start from Water

January 13, 2019
The Baptism of Christ /First Sunday after the Epiphany

Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The Humble Start from Water

The celebration of the New Year
The holiday season is all over. I believe that most of you had already put away all the Christmas decorations. You have been already back to your ordinary life and take care of your daily routines as usual. However, it is still early in the New Year, and we want to share good wishes with one another.

If you remember, the world began the year of 2019 with spectacular fireworks and all kinds of exciting concerts. I saw on TV that every square was full of the crowds to celebrate the first day of the New Year. When the bells rang for the New Year, all the people shouted together “Happy New Year,” hoping, hugging, dancing and kissing each other.

Yes, people always get excited at the moment to see the old one out and the new one coming in. Why? It is simply because it is the first day of the New Year. We all want to refresh our mind and start our life journey again with celebration and with lots of hopes and dreams for the entire year. Beginning, whatever it is, is always special and important, and it deserves our celebration and attention.

Lots of people in the world greeted the New Year through all kinds of festivals and celebrations. How can we Christians greet a New Year or a new beginning? What is the biblical guideline about it? In the spirit of this New Year, I want to talk about where to begin and how to start our new journey?

How and where Jesus started
            Before I get into today’s scripture, let me remind you of what we learned from the last Sunday… We started the season of Epiphany with the words from Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1). The epiphany of Christ is the spiritual turning point of human destiny: from darkness to light; from death to resurrection. In the light of Christ, the world can see human sinfulness going out and God’s salvation and righteousness coming in. “Arise and shine” is what God has done for those who have received Jesus Christ in their hearts. And “Arise and shine” was what Jesus did for the sake of his salvation ministry for the world.

            Yet let us look at the Gospel and see how Jesus started his salvation ministry. Once again, beginning is always special, and we want to start a new beginning with celebration and attention. Then, what about Jesus Christ? How did he start his ministry?

According to the passage from Luke’s Gospel, he only went to the Jordan River and received the Baptism from John the Baptist. That’s it! Unlike our way of starting our new year or new beginning, he started his public ministry without receiving any attention or celebration from the world. When he came to the water, John recognized Jesus was God’s special man who is far better than anyone else in the world including himself (v. 16). But Jesus only knelt down before John and allowed him to baptize him.

            Isn’t it so impressive that Jesus chose to begin his ministry at a site of water? As a divine King, he could have chosen going to the Jerusalem Temple or the Roman government and simply announced that he is the true King or God’s Messiah. But this divine King began at a humble place of water just to bathe his own body.

He started out humbly— being born in a manger to humble parents, Mary and Joseph— and he continued that humble pattern, beginning his ministry at the water without any celebration. Because of his quiet way, no one knew that he was God’s Messiah; the world even didn’t know that God had already sent the Savior. With none knowing anything else, Jesus was preparing himself alone in the water to carry out the most important thing that has been done in human history, which is God’s salvation work.

But there was someone who knew why Jesus came to the River and what he was doing there – it was God! When he was baptized, “heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice of God came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (vv. 21-22). Those words are the divine signs that God accepted Jesus and blessed his life and ministry.

After his own baptism we will see how Jesus came out to the world and how he rescued people and brought them to God’s grace. As you already know, he healed many sick people and cast away demons; he calmed down storms with several words; he fed more than 5,000 crowds with five loaves and two fishes in the wilderness; he brought the dead man Lazarus back to life; he was killed and buried in a tomb, but three days later he rose from the dead; and by his own death and resurrection, he finally opened the way of God’s salvation to all humanity.

In history, who would dare to be compared to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world? But before we talk about those wonderful works that he showed us, we must recognize where and how he started his ministry. It was the simple water where he purified his body and mind and offered his life to God. So we can say that his own humble submission to God was the foundation on which he started and fulfilled God’s salvation work.

I am not sure whether God was there in the public squares where people gathered together to celebrate and shout together “Happy New Year and God bless you.” But reflecting on Jesus’ experience at the water, I am sure that God is present in our humble heart longing for his grace and mercy. I am also sure that all of our wishes for this year and the years to come may be provided and fulfilled at the moment when we kneel to pray to God.

Starting New Year
Now we are beginning our New Year, 2019. When we begin something new, we always expect to make a good start and achieve all our wishes successfully. This New Year, I wish and pray that your life may be full of joy; you may be healed and recover your health; all of your dreams and hopes would come true. For our ministry, I wish and pray that we grow our worship and ministry; we may bear much more fruits to glorify God; we may reach out to our neighbors and show God’s grace and power for them, so that our sanctuary will be full of members and worshipers.

But before we start a new beginning with this kind of passion and hope, today’s scripture teaches us that the first step we have to make is to turn and submit ourselves to God who has the power to provide all the steps of God’s servants.

As we are looking forward to this New Year, let us offer ourselves humbly to God through our baptismal spirit and daily prayer. When we kneel down before the Lord, God will open our doors, minds and hearts; God will offer us all the gifts we need for our life journey. Our humble submission to God must be the foundation of our life journey. Amen.

Sermon: Seeking Light in the Dark

January 06, 2019
Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Seeking Light in the Dark

The light of Epiphany
Here we are, already finished with 2018 and ready to start the new year of 2019. It’s hard to believe I completed my first year here at Rockville UMC of serving our Lord with you, yet I have truly enjoyed all of our ministries with you thoroughly. Most of all, I give thanks to the Lord that we could complete the year as we filled the sanctuary without empty pews during the Christmas season.

Of course, the number is not important. Our ministry must be all about love and care in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet I really can say your dedication was the reason why we could have lots of people joining our service and have a wonderful Christmas eve service. So I thank you all that you have done great works for the sake of God’s glory! And because of your faithfulness in God, I am really looking forward to this new year with a hope of growth of our worship and ministry.

Arise and Shine
We are now starting the season of Epiphany. The word epiphany means showing or shining forth. To Christians, Epiphany is the coming of the true Light, Jesus Christ, into the darkness of our world. Our lectionary Scripture leads us to start our epiphany and new year with the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1).

“Arise” was the word my mom used to shout when I was a little kid. I mean this is what she told me when she came into my bedroom just to wake me up. I already confessed that I am not a morning person. It is always difficult for me to jump right out of bed when the alarm goes off. My natural desire is to turn off the sound, close my eyes, and take a little more sleep. But if I were to keep on sleeping, I would get nothing accomplished for the day.

Even though it is hard for me to get out of bed quickly, as soon as I get up I am glad I did. By the time I take a shower and put on some clothes, all my fatigue is gone, and I feel refreshed in mind and body and ready for the new day. And I am so proud that I did not decide to stay in bed for a long time.

The same is true in our experience with God. When it’s time to come to worship the Lord, we are sometimes unwilling to come to the church because we are tired with other things. But when we obey and come to worship the Lord, we may see ourselves rejoice in our worship and fellowship in our gatherings.

We have spiritually or physically lingered in the darkness too long. We should remember that Christ our Savior has risen from the dead that you and I might arise: arise from our graves, our beds, our illness, our comfort zones… And we should also use and exercise the power and authority of the Gospel so that we can help others come out of their darkness into the light of God’s salvation.

Our light of salvation has come through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Now, it’s up to us whether or not to accept the Light in our hearts, or to remain in our own darkness as the children of wrath. If we want to be spiritually alive, we must decide to live in the spiritual light of God. For this, God gives us two direct commands through Isaiah, “Arise and shine.”

Journey with the light of God
In Matthew’s Gospel, we saw an example of several people who saw a bright Star in the darkness; they arose from where they lived and started a new journey as they followed the Star. We know from this passage that they are the Wise Men.

Christian life is often compared to a journey: a journey that begins with our confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and ends when we at last meet God our eternal Father in heaven. The story of the Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel represents our Christian journey in the sense that they traveled from the East (darkness) to find and celebrate the baby Jesus (light), who was born to save all humanity. This story is our own life story because they were the very first Gentiles to meet and praise Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite Christmas cards features a picture of the Wise Men travelling by camels toward the shining Star dominating the night sky. Yes, the bright Star is a good image to have in the Christmas story. It makes the baby Jesus’ birth even more special. Personally, I like this image of the Star as we are beginning this new year. It is the symbol of Epiphany, and it is also a sign of God’s guidance for our new journey in this world.

Yet, if we carefully read the text, we may recognize that the Star was not the only thing that had led the Wise Men to arrive at Jesus. They actually had no idea about how and where to find the baby Jesus. At the first stage, they didn’t discover Jesus at all, until they had done other very important things – until they had consulted the Holy Scriptures, until they came to King Herod, and Herod had asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born (v. 4). What this passage tells us is that they not only relied on the Star but also strived hard to study the Hebrew Bible that prophesizes the birth of the Messiah.

The same thing that was true for the Wise Men is true for us as well. We may have a general idea of Jesus, but until we, like the Wise Men, consult the Bible, we really don’t understand who Jesus Christ is and how to worship him as we would like to.

Based on the Wise Men’s experience, I would like to point out two things that are required for our new journey in this new year. The first must be our willingness to track down the light of God, which I can say is God’s grace. And the second must be our willingness to hear the Word of God, for God’s Word teaches us how to serve and how to follow the Lord. Yes, we always need God’s Word for our Christian journey, as much as we need the light that is always present in our lives. The light is God’s gift, but loving the Scriptures is our attempt. God’s grace and our faith, those two things must be combined if we really want to meet our Savior Jesus.

Focus on God’s word
As we begin a promising new year, let us always remember this; good things and bad things are really happening all around us. Let us remember that the light of God is given to us as a gift, but we must strive hard to focus on God’s word. And let us also remember that God always supports us, saves us from evil, and leads us to the right way when we listen to his voice and look for the light in the midst of our challenging world.

As we come before the Lord on this very first Sunday of our new year, may God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit lighten our way, speak to our hearts, and bring us to a life of joy, peace, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Growth in God’s Favor

December 30, 2018
First Sunday After Christmas Day
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Luke 2:41-52

Growth in God’s Favor

The Spirit of Christmas
Merry Christmas again! Traditionally, the Sundays after Christmas are considered “low” Sundays in our Christian calendar because people tend to take a much needed rest after the Christmas season. But I want to remind you that God our Lord doesn’t have any vacation from God’s own works to sustain, move, and save the world, and God always wants to meet with us all year round, even on “low Sunday” like today. Therefore, even in the midst of our rest, we should be faithful enough to worship and praise the Lord who is always present in our everyday lives.

Tomorrow is the last day of the calendar year. Yet we know in the church calendar that we began a new year already on December 2nd, as we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. We are now ready to have a new beginning. When we have a beginning of something, we know it will move towards an ending, and that ending brings us a new beginning. Somehow beginnings and endings seem to blend. For example, when somebody has a graduation ceremony from their school, the service is called a commencement. When our beloved ones die, we say they enter into a new life in heaven. Throughout our life we experience other endings that lead to the possibilities of new beginnings. We recently lost a brother in our church who passed away just a few days ago; Lenny now enters into eternal peace in God’s kingdom.

Today’s Scriptures are about beginnings and endings, turning points of life. When I meditated on them, I was caught by the descriptions of two young boys, Samuel and Jesus, whose lives later underwent radical change to save the world around them. But in today’s passages, they both were still little boys who were on the process to adulthood. Between their ending of boyhood and the beginning of adulthood are there growth for their lives: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (v. 26); “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Yes, today’s lesson is about growing up but it is not only Jesus and Samuel’s growing up. It is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are. It is about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God and people living around us.

Jesus’ childhood
The New Testament provides very little information about Jesus as a child. In today’s reading, he was only twelve years old but described as an “exceptional child.” Jesus accompanied his parents, Mary and Joseph, to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (v. 41).

When the festival ended, and they started to return home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem (v. 43). It was after a day’s trip that Mary and Joseph realized that their son Jesus was not with the family group. They just lost the track of their son. I bet this must be parents’ worst nightmare. Shocked, Mary and Joseph immediately went back to Jerusalem to find him, and it took another couple of days to do so. When they did find him, Jesus was still in the Temple sitting among the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All the teachers who heard him were so amazed at his knowledge about the Scriptures (v. 47).

When Mary and Joseph saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48). However, Jesus responded simply, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). I suspect if any of our parents got an answer like this from their child after being missing for three days, they probably would be very angry with him or her.

But this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care of his parents’ worry. The story continues to say that he returned with his parents and “was obedient to them” (v. 51). As he liked to sit in the Temple to study and honor God’s Word, the boy Jesus also honored his parents with all his heart. In the end of this story concerning the boyhood of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel concludes that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

Searching for Jesus
What can we learn from the story of Jesus’ missing? What does this have to do with our growth, which is the theme of today’s lesson? Let us notice something else.

First, Jesus continued to stay in the Temple… After the festival was over, Mary and Joseph were traveling away from the Temple but Jesus never left the Temple, which is considered the house of God or the presence of God: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (v. 49). It tells us that the boy Jesus grew up in the presence of the Lord. From the early age in his life, he liked to spend his time being with God, studying Scripture, praying to God, and serving in the Temple. At this transitional period, Jesus was developing his own relationship with God in God’s house.

Second, Jesus also grew up in favor of his parents and neighboring people as well as in favors of God. He was nurtured in deep care and love by his parents. As he received much love from them, he also loved and honored his parents. In the early period in his life, he learned how to respect people living around them. As a result, Jesus grew up in both divine and human favor.

Finally, let us consider Mary and Joseph and learn from what they did when they thought they lost Jesus. (Actually, Jesus wasn’t lost at all. He was right where he was supposed to be. In our spiritual interpretation of this passage, we can understand it is actually Mary and Joseph who were turning away from God.) When they realized they didn’t have Jesus in their journey, they turned around to find him. Based on their reaction, I invite you to consider where you are on your ongoing journey. Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’ve been journeying with Jesus for years, but somehow your relationship with God has grown stale. Maybe you even don’t know where you are going and what you are doing for this new year… The Good News is that Jesus is right where he’s supposed to be: in this room, just waiting for you to find him. Search for Jesus by turning your life around and you will find God. This is the lesson we can learn from Mary and Joseph from this reading.

Our growth in the presence of the Lord
Yes, what we need at the turn of the year is “growth.” On this “low” Sunday, we must commit ourselves to a “high” spirituality. We must be faithful enough to submit ourselves to the presence of God through our daily meditation and prayer, through our radical hospitality and welcome, and through our faithful service in God who gives his servants the power to change the world.

As we keep the birth of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our Lord in our hearts, may God be always with us in favor and grace and help us to grow and empower our service for the sake of God and for the sake of people in 2019. Amen.

Sermon: The New Born King in the Manger

December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

The New Born King in the Manger

Incarnation
One of the amazing assertions about Christmas is that God took human form and came into the world. We call that event “Incarnation.” Speaking specifically, the dark and cold night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, God came into the world in human flesh, in the person of Jesus.

I wonder how you like to picture the birth of Jesus Christ into the world 2,000 years ago. And yet, each time I meditate on the Christmas story, I am struck by the fact that our Savior Jesus was laid on a manger in a stable in a small town of Bethlehem. What a strange place for the Prince of Peace and the King of kings!?!

Born in an animal barn
The story of Christmas in Luke’s Gospel actually has angels who appeared to Mary and Joseph and sang to shepherds in the field watching over their flocks at night: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (v. 14). The appearance of the angels definitely tells us that Jesus was a very special and divine baby. But strangely, the angels suddenly disappeared at the moment when Jesus was born in the world. They kept their distance from the birth of Christ.

Matthew’s Gospel chapter 2 starts with the wise men who had traveled far to praise the birth of baby Jesus. According to biblical scholars, those wise men were actually kings of their own countries. The pagan kings made a long trip from the East to Jerusalem just to praise the baby Jesus! That means that Jesus is the king of the kings of all the nations. But interestingly, those royal kings or wise men were not there yet when Jesus was born in the world.

Then, who was there when he was born in a manger? Who received the baby and celebrated his birth? According to the text for tonight, those are Mary and Joseph, simple shepherds, and the animals in the barn (vv. 15-20). No doubt they were very humble and lowly ones in God’s creation.

Luke’s Gospel clearly testifies that the birth of Jesus was far from a grand birth. Rather, it was a very lowly and humble one – no glowing radiance, no kings praising, no angels singing for the birth.

Some animals must be there because it was a barn. In our Christmas nativity, it looks so cute and lovely that the baby Jesus was surrounded by animals. But have you ever thought about the smells and noises in the barn from animals? What kind of mom wants to bear her baby in an animal’s barn? We don’t actually like to think about smells, dirt, pain, blood, and fear of giving the childbirth in a manger. The birth of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel was certainly not a pretty sight. It must have been frightening and disappointing to Mary and Joseph.

Our almighty God became flesh – not aiming to be born in a palace, but in a stinky barn. What a humble incarnation it is! However, in that moment, the moment of Jesus’ humble birth, everything in the world has come to change. As the disciple Paul says in the letter to Titus, “Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (v. 11).

Personally, I really appreciate and like Christ’s humble birth in the manger; it is good news to me because I know my existence is much closer to the humble manger than the elegant palace. The world doesn’t care about me; the world doesn’t pay attention to me because I am too little, too poor, too ordinary. But if the Spirit of God was incarnated in a dirty and smelly barn over 2,000 years ago, then the same Spirit of God is surely present within you and me today.

Glory to the newborn King
Over 2,000 years ago, God the highest joined this ordinary, dirty, smelly world of ours. This night, Christ is born within our humble, broken, and even sinful lives as well. The prophet Isaiah already prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined” (v. 1). What he was trying to say is Christ would be born to bring the light and salvation to the darkness in our hearts and in our world, and this is our belief, our hope, and our witness to the world that still doesn’t know and doesn’t accept the Christ our Savior.

May Christ be born anew within each of us, and may Christ grow and mature within our hearts throughout the year and forevermore. And, because Christ is born anew this night, we join our voices with the angels visiting the lowly shepherds in the field, and we too lift up our voice in singing “Glory to the newborn King.” Amen.

Sermon: Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:39-45

Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

God is with us
Today we gather here to celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent. As we are getting closer to the coming of the Messiah, I can see how excited we are for our Christmas eve service and Christmas party after it. Although this is a time of celebration, let us not forget that there are people who can’t rejoice in this holiday as it can be a Blue Christmas to them… “How can we welcome and help people to rejoice in their lives” must be our concern for this Christmas season.

While meditating on todays’ scripture, I was thinking of the word, “welcome.” I believe welcome is a very proper term for the meaning of Christmas. The most marvelous event of Christmas in the Gospels is “Lord in heaven came to us as Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God is with us because God welcomes us to his eternal fellowship through the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need.

God welcomes us
Our passage for this morning begins when “Mary visited Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth welcomed Mary” (v. 40). Elizabeth, the older one, was the wife of a priest Zechariah; she had been childless for long years; she must be in a shameful condition for her family and herself. When Mary visited her, she was now six-month pregnant with child (later named John), but at her old age, this must have been embarrassing. The younger one, Mary, was a poor and innocent girl from Nazareth, pregnant but not yet married to her fiancé Joseph. She probably needed time to get away from the eyes and tongues of people who knew her as a virgin, maybe even from Joseph. Anyway, Marry and Elizabeth were women without importance or with troubles in their lives and a far cry from most of the privileged people of all times.

Their social status somehow represents the miserable reality of Israel at their time. The Roman troops were everywhere to oppress the Israelites and thousands of people often appeared along the streets as they begged for food… In short, their times were bad, and everyone thought that they were going to get worse.

(And what is here today in our golden time to celebrate, as we also see many kinds of terrible accidents occurring randomly in our lives? We have to see that people we love get sick and die; our jobs and security are continually threatened; the future of children is uncertain; and the world has been torn apart by wars and terrors. It was then, and it is now, and it might be worse in the future. How can we rejoice in this time of uncertainty?)

In this world of violence and despair, according to our Gospel lesson for this morning, Mary visited Elizabeth, and they shared greetings and praised the Lord in joy and thanks! Considering their time and situations realistically, it might be nonsense or even foolish for them to sing for joy as they did in Luke’s Gospel. But this passage says that when Mary entered the house of Elizabeth, they could sing with joy! They celebrated their mysterious pregnancies (of God’s promise of salvation) inside of their house!

In one of the Hollywood movies in which Jim Carrey starred, the Grinch tried to steal Christmas by taking from the villagers all their Christmas decorations, all their trees, all their presents, and all their food that they enjoyed so much. And yet Christmas continued despite this theft because the villagers had Christmas inside them. As it was with the villagers in the film, so it was with Mary and Elizabeth, and so it can be and should be for us today as well.

In our history, those Grinches, those evil powers have kept on trying to steal our Christmas by looking at all the bad things, by destroying peace and joy in the world, and depressing our lives with shaky economy, high crime rates, and uncertain leadership in our country. But there in one thing that they couldn’t, cannot, and will never steal; that is our memory and faith deep in our hearts that “Jesus Christ our Savior was and is born in a broken and hopeless world to save his people from troubles.” No matter how bad our times are, nothing and nobody can steal our Emmanuel from our faith, even if we live in the worst of times. Halleluiah!

We welcome others
Back to the passage… Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth welcomed her, and they could celebrate their time together inside of their house. As expected in any culture, it is always a happy time when our families come to visit. We hear the bell ringing and our kids run with excitement to the door, shouting, “They’re here…” You are also happy to open the door and welcome them in your house. As everybody gathers in, you move on to have a Christmas party inside of your house!

Interestingly, when Elizabeth welcomed Mary at the door, her baby in her womb was also excited with Mary’s visit. Elizabeth shouted, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (v. 44). Elizabeth already knew that the baby carried by Mary is her Lord and Savior. Let me apply this powerful Advent image to our Sunday service… When we see people entering our church and joining in our worship, aren’t we excited to see them? The one who has Christ in one’s heart is coming in… don’t you feel your heart leap for joy?

Yet I still wonder what made Marry visit Elizabeth; what kind of emotion did she have when she visited Elizabeth? We know what happened to her before she went to see Elizabeth; she had a life changing encounter with an angel: “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (v. 35). How overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, confused, thrilled, awed, or even hopeful she was!!! Based on her mysterious experience, we can assume that it caused her to hurry to meet her cousin Elizabeth, so at least she could share her complicated emotion with a trusted confidant.

Mary entered the house. Probably she hoped that this was a place where she would be welcomed and comforted. Every Sunday, people walk through the door of a church probably because they hope they will be welcomed. When we welcome any visitors, however, we should know that they don’t just walk up to a church for no reason. They come because they are in need; they come because they have something in their hearts or in their lives and they want to be touched by our greetings and God’s words.

Throughout the images of those two unprivileged women, “Mary and Elizabeth,” the Gospel of Luke emphasizes God’s concern for the lowly, the disadvantaged, the broken-hearted… and it inspires us to become more mindful of ministries with and for the excluded. I hope we take this lesson as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.

God enters into our hearts
Mary entered the house of Elizabeth and Elizabeth welcomed her. Welcome is the way we celebrate our Christmas! The Good News is that those Grinches out there, no matter how evil they are, can never steal our Christmas from us, and rather we can give birth to hope, peace, joy and love in this broken and hurting world waiting for God’s salvation and healing mercy upon it.

Yet, to make it more meaningful, we as recipients of Emmanuel should welcome our neighborhoods, especially those who are suffering the most during the holidays. God is with us because God enters into our hearts; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need. Amen.