Pastor Sherry’s message for 12/26/2021
Scriptures: Isa 61:10-62:3; Ps 148; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2: 22-40
Does it matter which God-concept we hold to? Recent brain research by Dr. Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has documented that all forms of contemplative meditation were associated with positive brain changes—but the greatest improvements occurred when participants meditated specifically on a God of love, our God, the One, True God. “Such meditation was associated with growth in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain right behind our forehead where we reason, make judgments and experience Godlike love) and subsequent increased capacity for empathy, sympathy, compassion and altruism.”
“But here’s the most astonishing part. Not only does other-centered love increase when we worship a God of love, but sharp thinking and memory improve as well. In other words, worshiping a God of love actually stimulates the brain to heal and grow.”
Taken from The God-Shaped Brain, Timothy Jennings 2017, IVPress, Downers Grove, IL.
That’s pretty astonishing, isn’t it? It suggests that worshipping God keeps our brains sharp. In other words, worshipping God is scientifically good for us! But we already knew that worshipping God was a good thing to do, right?
Our Scriptures today, the day after Christmas, are all calls to, or demonstrations of, worshipping God.
A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 61:10-62:3. The prophet is speaking for the Messiah, who in Isaiah’s day, was not due to appear until a good 750 years later. Isaiah tells us (v.10) that the Messiah believes we have reason to be filled with joy as we worship our God. After all, all creatures and all believers are presently groaning and travailing (and have been for centuries) for His Kingdom to manifest on earth.
Messiah yearns to change that for us (62:1): For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. Verse 2: At Jesus’ 2nd Coming, those of us who believe in Him will have a new heart, a new situation, a new earth, and a new righteousness, all of which will deserve a new name. And Israel will have a new positon among the nations: (v.3)You will be a crown of splendor in the Lords’ hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No wonder the Messiah is joyous—we should be too! He knows, way in advance, what God the Father intends to do for us. And Jesus, because He too is a God of love, is highly motivated to bring it all about.
B. Psalm 148 is a stirring invitation to all of creation to praise the Lord! In verse after verse, all of Heaven and earth is called to dynamically and energetically offer praise to our God—listen to Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible into modern English (The Message, pp.1090-1091) You will be more impressed if you read it out loud to yourself:
Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven,
praise Him from the mountaintops;
Praise Him, all His angels,
praise Him, all you His warriors,
Praise Him, sun and moon,
Praise Him, high heaven,
praise Him, you morning stars;
praise Him, heavenly rain clouds;
Praise, oh let them praise the name of God—
He spoke the word, and there they were!
He set them in place
from all time and eternity;
He gave His orders,
And that’s it!
Praise God from earth,
You sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps;
Fire, and hail, snow and ice,
hurricanes obeying His orders;
Mountains and all hills,
apple orchards and cedar forests;
Wild beasts and herds of cattle,
snakes and birds in flight;
Earth’s kings and all races,
leaders and important people,
Robust men and women in their prime,
and yes, graybeards and little children.
Let them praise the name of God—
it’s the only name worth praising.
You would be hard pressed to discover any creature or category of created thing omitted from that list. All of creation should worship God because He created us out of His great love!
C. Our Galatians 4:4-7 reading adds to our reasons to celebrate God. Paul writes (v.4), in His perfect timing, God sent Jesus to redeem us so that we might receive the full rights of sons. We weren’t just set free and sent on our way, like prisoners let out of jail, You’re on your own now; stay clean and have a good life! They fail and land back in prison because they have become “institutionalized,” and don’t know how to make it outside prison walls. No, Paul tells us our God made us sons/daughters. He included us in His family. Additionally, He sent (v.6) …the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.”
We are to consider God our loving, heavenly Father. We can rely upon His Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us into right ways to live. And we can take heart in the fact that we are now His heirs, through Christ Jesus. I had a brother-in-law named George who used to joke about receiving his inheritance check– which never came. My father-in-law left my mother-in-law millions when he died, but by the time she passed away, she had spent it all. There was none left for the grown children to inherit. Unlike George, we don’t have to wonder if there is anything left for us to inherit. The God of love has promised that we are His heirs, inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We can rejoice in God’s gracious provision for us.
D. Our Gospel lesson, Luke 2:21-40, tells of two saintly, elderly folks who hung around the Temple, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Messiah. They trusted in the promises of God. The Holy Spirit told Simeon he would see the Messiah, the comforter or the consolation of Israel before he died. Mary and Joseph traveled to the Temple to both (1) see to the rites of purification required of Mary (40 days after giving birth, as per Leviticus 5. They could sacrifice either 2 doves or 2 pigeons because they were poor); and (2) to dedicate their first-born, Jesus, to the Lord (as per Exodus 13:13).
Simeon, alerted by the Holy Spirit, takes Jesus in his arms and prays over Him. He sings a song now called the Nunc Dimittis, or The Song of Simeon (which we sang almost daily in my seminary chapel services) 76:
Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
which You have prepared before the face of all people;
and to be the glory of your people Israel.
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,
We directly followed this, in song, with The Gloria: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
But back to Simeon: He rejoices that God has kept His promise, that he has seen Messiah. Now he can go on to his grave, satisfied. He recognizes Jesus as a light, a blessing to both Jews and Gentiles. Then he blesses the baby and warns Mary that people will be divided over how they see Him, savior or fraud or crazy man; and she will suffer (Joseph will be gone by then) deep anguish (at the Cross).
Anna was an 84 year old prophetess. She was a devout woman of prayer and fasting, who lived in a room on the Temple grounds. When she saw Jesus, she knew (through the Holy Spirit) who He was. She gave thanks to God for Him. She proclaimed to anyone who would listen His identity. Some may have listened and remembered later; but others probably dismissed her as an old nutcase.
These two elderly saints trusted in the promises of God and lived to see the baby Jesus. No wonder they both rejoiced in the God of love!
Christmas Day was yesterday, but we can keep it all year in our hearts if we remember we worship the God of love…The One who gifted us first with Jesus Christ. The One who presented us with a way to abide in His presence. Let us bring Him gifts of love in return: (1.) Our faithful trust in Him; (2.) Our obedience to His will; and (3.) Our deep desire to make Him known to others.
Come, let us adore Him!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams