Sunday's Sermon Notes
Sermon notes are available for you to use in your weekly personal or group study as you walk with God.
December 8, 2019
“A Godfather’s Love”
(The Gift of the Nutcracker: Week #1)
John 3: 16- 17 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Reflection on the Word:
- To whom is Jesus speaking to in John 3: 16- 17? Why might this be significant?
- What is the meaning behind “to so love”?
- What influence of Genesis 22 might be a part of what Jesus is saying?
- What is a biblical understanding of “perish”?
- What is the biblical understanding of “eternal life”?
Family Time or Small Group (Better Together) Discussion:
1. What do you see when you look into the face of a nutcracker? Can you see how the face was designed to protect a family from evil?
2. Has the concept of evil changed too much in modernity? How about the concept of love?
3. How radical was it for God to give in spite of our lack of faith?
4. Read the Thought for the Week. What are your thoughts?
5. How can I pray for you?
Sermon Series Resources:
1) The Gift of the Nutcracker, Matt Rawle; Abingdon Press, 2018.
Series Progression: “Entering the Dream” based on Isaiah 2: 1- 5 and Matthew 1: 18- 25 by Rev. Daniel
I am a huge science fiction and fantasy fan. And my proof for this is that I can quote the first six Star Wars movies and the three Lord of the Rings movies from memory, at length, from any point in the movie. What I love so much about these movies is the sense of scale that comes with them. The sense that everything—not the fate of a nation or a community or a family—but literally everything that draws breath is at stake whenever the good guys and the bad guys meet in battle.
So, you would think, with this sort of background, that I would have seen the Nutcracker Ballet. Confession, I haven’t. But in studying it, in learning about it in preparation for this sermon, I’ve come to appreciate it. I think I’ve got it right in saying that the central conflict of the play takes place in the dream of a twelve-year old girl named Clara. The conflict revolves around an evil mouse king and a noble nutcracker. These two, and their armies, clash in a heated battle—the mouse king and his legions bent on destruction and annihilation, the Nutcracker and his forces trying to stave off the tide of darkness. It’s an epic struggle, the kind of thing that would delight someone like me.
Again, though, this all takes place in Clara’s dream. And just like the credits eventually roll at the end of every movie, Clara does eventually have to wake up. Outside of the dream, things are much more mellow, and dare we say, even dull. Clara was gifted a toy nutcracker by her Godfather, Drosslemeier. Here, her epic hero is just a toy. There is no mouse king. There is no battle.
All of this begs the question: is the dream real? Do we stand on the outside of it, and dismiss it as just a dream? Or do we enter into the dream? We can be like Clara and stand in the midst of an epic clash of an evil mouse king, whose goal is to annihilate the good, and a good nutcracker, who stands ready to protect the good against the Mouse King’s evil.
We have a similar choice on hand for our scriptures passage for today. Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah found his people the Israelites trapped in a time of war. God’s people were under threat of annihilation, and it was in this time that Isaiah had a vision of God moving in powerful, mighty, ways to save them from destruction and end the violence. Isaiah prophesied that swords would be beaten into plowshares, that humanity would forget the ways of war, and in the end, that peace would come. Not as an interlude in history, but as a time in which God reigned over all that is, and final, lasting, permanent peace came to be.
I have to tell you, dreaming this dream is kind of a challenge. Sometimes, it feels like Isaiah’s vision is just too dang big. I struggle to look beyond the battles of my day-to-day existence and see bigger forces at work. Peace on earth? Really? When I have to meet a deadline at work, attend to my family, and keep the house working? I, like many of us, get caught up in the difficulties of the day-to-day, and I can get so drawn in that I can’t look past them. Life’s distractions can make even looking for this sort of peace can seem like a foolish waste of time. And it’s through this attitude that our prophesies become self-fulfilling. We close ourselves off to the possibility of peace, and, in doing so, ensure that we will never rise above the distractions that are in front of us.
But then, every now and again, I am reminded that there are other forces moving out there besides us, and I got to experience this, earlier this year. There was a night during my hospital chaplaincy internship that we had a patient flown in by helicopter. The parents told me that their child would probably not survive the night.
I spent most of the evening in that room. As family and friends trickled in. As numbers on monitors got lower and lower, as prayers went up to God and tears fell down people’s cheeks. The child, who had a full life still to live, died that night. And I remember thinking “God, why are you letting this happen?” And in the next instant, I remember thinking, with a remarkable dose of clarity, that no, God had not caused this. That there was something else going on here beyond the medical or biological. What that was, I can’t tell you. What I can tell you is that while the doctors told one story, in that room I felt that the real danger lay somewhere beyond what any of us could expect to understand, much less control, with our limited human minds.
But friends, I will tell you this: God was not absent that night. Around 4AM, after everything had concluded, the family decided to go home. And even though they were totally emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, the mother and father took the time to walk over to me, look me in the eye, hug me, and thank me for being there with them. And as they did this, they smiled. And I knew that, although they had experienced a night of unbelievable horror, and although the future was uncertain, the peace of Isaiah would eventually come to them. They would find a way to keep going, keep living, and hang onto the love that held their family together.
This is what it looks like to enter into the dream Isaiah offers us. Doing this requires us to remove the scales from our eyes and see a deliverer, a hero rushing forward to fight off the Mouse King. Sacrificing life and limb to protect our lives. To rescue us from annihilation. To deliver us from evil. To bring us peace.
In a short time, we will meet that prince of peace, wrapped in swaddling clothes, resting in a manger. That baby’s mother will be a woman named Mary, her husband a man named Joseph. This is a story we all know. Which means we know that, because the father of this baby was initially unclear, Joseph almost separated from Mary and that child. And we know, as well, why Joseph chose to stay. That in a dream, an angel told Joseph that this was not an ordinary baby, but a baby through whom God would move powerful ways. That Mary was pregnant with a deliverer, a messiah, and that through this child, the world would be pulled back from the edge of destruction and into divine arms of love.
Joseph chose to believe God. And Isaiah’s dream became his own. He became the earthly father to the deliverer his Heavenly Father had sent to rescue the world. Today, as we stand on the precipice of Advent, we are all Joseph. We have been given a dream by God. A dream not of business as usual, but of radical, transformative peace. And in a short time, we will meet the messiah from whom that peace will come. We know this story, but are we prepared to believe in it? This is the challenge, and the promise of advent: believing that things are not what they seem, that God is moving, that God is working, and that the peace we all hope for from the bottom of our hearts is not only real but coming. It’s time for us to enter this dream, and discover that the truth of Jesus is very real indeed. Amen.
Last week, Pastor Daniel informed us that he is a huge science fiction and fantasy fan. Well, this week, I am here to tell you that I too am a fan ... not so much of science fiction or fantasy but rather I am a huge Pastor Daniel fan. What a great sermon he gave last week! Just the absolute perfect perspective to start our Advent journey and to hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again.
Last week, Pastor Daniel used the word “scale”. I love that word ... “scale.” Now, I don’t love the actual scale that you step on right after Thanksgiving or ... for that matter ... the scale that reveals that the most wonderful time of the year may also be the most calorie consumed time of the year. Let’s leave that scale alone ... but let’s remember that there is a scale to Advent.
And not just a scale of musical notes that somehow will come together to create a magic piece of music such as the Nutcracker Suite and Ballet ... no, no, ... that scale will be heard next week when we gather to hear the joyous Lessons and Carols. A favorite Sunday for many! Invite a friend and get ready to hear some amazing and inspiring music from our music ministry ... but let’s remember there is a scale to Advent ...
that isn’t about music and not, thank goodness, about the scale that you step on ...
This scale is big. Huge. Cosmic. Expansive. Encompassing. It’s like having a string of 500 Christmas lights that worked perfectly the year before and now ... one is out ... and you must find that one. That one bulb that is blocking power to all the rest. I know ... I know ... many a well- meaning Christian has been tempted to say a word or two that is inappropriate for all audiences to hear. But let us remember …
There is a scale to Advent ... and while I have said this before ... there is. Yet, for many of us the scale of Advent goes unnoticed. And sadly, I must also say, ... for many of us, we either take for granted the scale of Advent or downplay it so much so that Christmas is but a holiday. And what a mistake it is to do so.
Last week, Pastor Daniel said that he could identify any quote from any of the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies. He put out a challenge. I love challenges ... don’t you? And so, I looked up “Star Wars Quotes” in hope of finding something that just might meet his challenge. Google is a wonderful thing and before I knew it, I was taken to a website with good stumping quotes.
I found the perfect one. The perfect quote ... but I was so taken aback by this quote that I am using it in the sermon rather than trying to stump my friend and colleague. I guess you could say I chickened out ... I’m sure Pastor Daniel would have identified it. But this one surprised me.
The quote is this: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Do you know who said it?
Darth Vader ... one of the faces, if not the most famous of faces, of evil in the Star Wars trilogy.
And with these words ... “I find your lack of faith disturbing” ... evil does its’ thing. Darth Vader strangles the insubordinate with just the power of the dark side.
That’s what evil does ... doesn’t it? It kills. Strangles. Destroys. Lays waste. Creates havoc and chaos. Brings confusion and discontentment. Brings weariness and sadness and we humans often fall prey to its powers whereby we participate in forms of injustice, oppression, greed, and sadly, even worse acts that bring harm to ourselves and to others.
You see, the goal of evil, is to keep you so engaged; so engrossed, so trapped … that you give up; give in; that you perish. That is the game plan of evil. That you would perish while under the watchful eye of the Dark Lord Sauron; perish while under the captivity of the dark side; perish at the will of our true enemy, the father of lies and the destroyer of all that is good, Satan.
There is a scale to Advent that we must understand and acknowledge. The ultimate end of evil is that we would perish which is to say that we will suffer complete ruin or destruction.
And therefore, God intervened with everything …
I could envision God saying, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Our historical lapses of faith are well documented in the Scriptures. There are times when God’s people have been on point and then there are times when God’s people have bickered, complained, worshipped idols, and chosen the ways of the world over displaying the grace of a chosen people. This is precisely the reason why John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. John called us to repent of our sins and sinful ways and to open our hearts to the One sent from God; the One who would rescue us and save us from evil.
Prior to this sermon series, I knew very little about nutcrackers other than they can be beautiful and very expensive. I have a family member who collects nutcrackers and believe me I speak the truth … especially pricey are the ones from Germany. We’re talking a small fortune.
Of course, the reason they are so pricey is because they are handmade. Crafted by master craftsmen. Made with such love and care … and such detail. Their faces painted with eyes wide open … and their teeth showing … a sword or spear at the ready … a drum to beat … and do you know why? Do you know why Nutcrackers are supposed to have their eyes wide open … their teeth showing … a sword at the ready … a drum to beat?
The reason is this: Nutcrackers were created to stand watch over the household and to stop evil spirits from entering the home. Their eyes always awake and looking. Their teeth showing, so as to scare the spirits away. The sword ready to do battle. And the drum to sound the alarm.
Godfather Drosslemeier gave Clara a nutcracker for this very reason. He crafted the Nutcracker lovingly by hand. It was an extension of his heart. And the Nutcracker had a purpose, to protect Clara from the evil Mouse King, even if it meant surrendering his very life.
And there is where we find the parallel to our scripture passage. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Our God Father has revealed the game plan to take down evil and it is love. But it is on a cosmic scale … this love from God. It is to not just love but rather to so love … to so love that while you could be in a position to condemn … you save. It is to so love that while you could take a stand to hold back or even take back … you give. And you give completely, and you save for all eternity.
And that my friends is the scale of Advent. That as the night grows darker, there is a Light that is coming. The Light from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
In Christ, God has given to us a protector. One who has eyes to see all evil. One who has the teeth to take on evil. A sword and spear ready to do battle. A drum to sound the alarm … that we shall not perish … that with faith in Him, we will live forever and ever. And all because of love.
The apostle Paul wrote: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced us.”
Romans 8: 29- 39, The Message
Thought for the Week Ahead:
“He who made man without generation from pure clay made man again ...
why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God?”
- St. Peter Chrysologus (c.380- c.450)