Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Our lesson this morning comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Starting with the 39th verse.
In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the Hill Country, where she entered the House of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaiming with a loud cry, “Blessed, are you among women? And blessed is the fruit of your womb? And why has this happened to me that the mother of my lord comes to me? for as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she, who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Friends, this is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Months ago, when I put the preaching calendar together, I came to this passage of scripture and something else was going on in family life. My niece had just found out that she was pregnant, and the baby was going to be born right about this time. And I saw the leap for joy passage. So, I took from what they were doing with their kid. The news about their baby. They didn’t want to call it “it”. They didn’t want to refer to it as the child. So they started referring to the baby as being. He was. He was bean. And he went on for a long time as bean. So, I decided, well, I’ll tell the story of being and talk about this jumping bean that appears in Luke one. It was a cute way of connecting family life with scripture, and it’s the time of year where we connect family and scripture and the story of Christmas. Well, turns out bean his Owen. He is a little boy, and bean decided not to be cute. He decided to be acute. And he has been in acute care for the last three weeks. He showed up early and has gone through all the stuff that preemies go through. And it was funny be after the early service. I go to my office and try to fix the sermon. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. And I was just scrolling through Facebook because Kyle posted the link to the sermon and there it said, Doug De Graffenried and jumping bean. And the next picture on the feed was a picture of Oh, and there he was. Tell me, Google and Facebook, don’t listen to us. There he was, cute little kid going home from the hospital soon. He is healthy and happy. But Jumping Bean and Owen reminded me of some things that our text lifts up, and I want to say three things about the text this morning and cut you loose and let you beat all the Pentecostals to the eating establishment.
That’s how you that’s how you make Methodist happy, you feed them. First thing owners say is that life has twists and turns. Life has twists and turns. In my life, this year, I’ve declared the year 2021, the year of the pit bull.
I mean, that’s appropriate. I was born in 1958, and that’s the year of the dog. So, you know what, Chinese son I was born under. So, this year has been the sign of the pit bull. It began in January with a pit bull that had been abandoned at the exit on I-20 at Gibsland. And several people in Gibsland were trying to catch this pit bull, and I decided I would try to catch the pit bull too. By the time I caught her in February, she had finished her dating and marriage relationship with Buddy the Beagle. So, I was catching a pregnant pit bull. and everybody knows about pit bulls. They’re vicious, horrible, mean ugly dogs. Pit bull. This is a pregnant pit bull who’s been abandoned on the side of the road and beyond all that we found out later on. Not only has she been abandoned on the side of the road, somebody shot her before they abandoned her. So, I caught her. Got her into the house. And she wasn’t in that house ten minutes till she was up on the sofa and just had her head laid right here, and she just sat there all afternoon and let me pet her. and Maggie gave birth to nine puppies. That’s what you want in your bedroom, closet floor nine puppies, because that’s where she had them. And as a matter of fact, there are three of the beagle bull puppies still floating around Trinity family. I keep up with them. They’re great, great puppies.
Got them all, All out, all out to people. And took Maggie to have her spayed, so this wouldn’t happen again, and during the course of the surgery, they’ve found advanced bladder cancer. And the doctor called and said, we just need to go ahead and put her to sleep. Broke my little preacher heart. But I have one of her, one of her puppies, Rolo, the runt who now weighs over 50 pounds, so much for being a runt. That’s what happens when a beagle and a pit bull get together. It’s a big, ugly dog.
Well, here it is. Same time that I started seeing Maggie on the side of the road. Lo and behold, I have another pit bull in my life. My behind the house neighbor, Cassie can no longer care for her pit bull, Cut up. And I have cut up now. I’ve known cut up since he was this big. He is a glorious, sweet dog, I go into the house, and I feed him, and I go sit on the sofa to pet him, and he jumps up on the sofa and he just lays there, and he lets me scratches neck and back and tummy, and he is such a happy dog. He walks me four times a day. I’ve tried to walk. He walks me. But he’s so smart, I’ll tell him, cut up. We’re going to the Baptist Church, and he goes straight to the Baptist Church. I’ll say, cut up, we’re going around the block and he goes around the block. I’ll say, cut up. Let’s go in the backyard and see Rollo and cut up goes straight to the backyard. He is a smart dog. I never thought in the year 2021 it would be bracketed by two pit bulls. Who tries to bring pit bulls into their lives?
Most people are trying to adopt pit bulls away or they’re afraid of them. Life just has twists and turns like that, you try to plan life out and life says, Nope, I’ve got another plan for you. You develop a plan, sub plans, you set goals, have a vision, have a mission statement, you put it in your Franklin planner. Remember those? I was never smart enough to operate a Franklin Planner. It was smarter than I was. Couldn’t figure it out. And life just turns. And all of a sudden you find yourself in a place in a situation that you never thought you would be.
The words of our takes, the opening words are very important in those days. Mary set out and went to see her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is past the age of bearing children. She’s old. God loves to do that. She’s old, Zachariah is old. He’s heard the news that he’s going to have a son, he doesn’t believe it. The angel strikes him mute. Elizabeth, we’re told earlier in Luke’s gospel, in the 24th verse, Elizabeth conceives and for five months she remains in seclusion. Nobody in her family or nobody in her community knows she’s with child. They’re hiding it. Mary hears from the Angel Gabriel, all the artists picture this with Mary standing there and the Angel Gabriel talking back and forth, where do you get that? It’s not in the text. Mary heard from the Angel, Gabriel. Mary had a spiritual impression of what the angel Gabriel wanted her to do. Mary. You have found favor with God, and you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Before she even told Joseph. Mary High tells it to Elizabeth, because the Angel Gabriel has told Mary Elizabeth is with child too. Zakaria was a priest. If you’re going to get information, you go to your relative who happens to be married to a priest and you tell your relative, Elizabeth, look, this thing happened to me. I think the Angel Gabriel visited with me. I have the Holy Spirit has given me this impression. And the Angel Gabriel through, however the angel did it, said This is going to happen. Elizabeth, what does this mean? Because you see, Elizabeth giving thanks for Mary being faithful to the promises of God. How did they know? How did Elizabeth didn’t know Mary was coming? Mary just showed up. They didn’t have telephones, Pony Express, Instagram, Facebook, email, Mary just showed up. And Mary hadn’t revealed it yet. But the baby inside Elizabeth jumps for joy. We know what happens. Mary gives birth. We’re getting ready for it. it’s called Christmas and the shepherds are gonna come and just worship and Mary’s going to hold and treasure all this in her heart. We know from Matthew’s gospel that Herod is going to threaten the innocents. and Mary and Joseph go into Egypt. Martin Luther said that the artists give Mary a donkey. The Gospels don’t. The chances are Mary walked into Egypt nursing baby Jesus. We know what Hanna and Simeon say. We know we know about Jesus growing up and mom and dad. Before you worry about being the perfect parent, I want to remind you that scripture says that Mary and Joseph lost our lord and Savior Jesus Christ for three days. For three days, Jesus was missing. So don’t worry about being a perfect parent if the Holy Family couldn’t keep up with our Lord.
Mary’s life had twists and turns she never imagined she was a 13- or 14-year-old virgin engaged to Joseph, and the angel said, you’re going to have a baby. disrupted those plans. She was there when Jesus preached and the people in the community tried to throw him off the cliff. She was there. When he died on Calvary’s cross. She was there as her life and his life twisted through the circumstances of their day. Don’t be surprised by the twists and turns that life brings to you. Don’t be surprised when life doesn’t work out the way you planned it. Because very often God has higher plans and greater expectations of us. Your life and my life have twists and turns.
The other day, I was overfeeding cut up and taken care of him, and I hang out with him a little while. You know, I’ll sit around and pet him and scratch his neck and his back in his tummy. He jumped up on the sofa and he was laying across my lap and I was rubbing his chest and rubbing his tummy, and he yawned. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked into a pit bulls’ mouth, but when they yawn, that dog has this monstrous mouth, gullet. And I remember looking at the teeth and looking at the jowls. And I thought. You know what? This is a pit bull. I love him. I think he loves me. But I respect him. Because he’s a pit bull. And on December 28th, I’m giving him a Christmas present, he’ll be a neutered pit bull, but that’s another sermon.
Life has twists and turns, but life needs to be respected. Life needs to be respected as a gift. Life needs to be honored with each day, lived richly and fully, life needs to be respected in terms that we don’t take tomorrow for granted because we might not get it. Mary’s life illustrates the twists and the turns that can come to us.
The second thing I want to say about Mary and these words come out of Elizabeth’s mouth, blessed is he who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. Blessed, are you, Mary? You believe the angel. You believed what Gabriel said. God is faithful. God is faithful to his promises. Mary and Elizabeth had reached what would be the apex of being a woman in that culture. In that culture. They were both pregnant. They were both going to give birth to children, and they both knew they were giving birth to male children. So that kicked them one level up in the apex of womanhood in that culture. But they couldn’t tell anybody. They had to keep it a secret. Elizabeth, because of Zacharia and the Angel and Mary, because she hadn’t told Joseph yet, he don’t know. But they were both living out of a certainty that God would keep his word, that God would fulfill the promises he made to them, that God would fulfill the promises he made to his people, Israel. God is a promise keeper. He is a promise maker, is a promise keeper. And he promised that he would never abandon us or forsake us. But if we were following his leadership, he would always be there with us. God keeps his word.
Do you live with that assurance? That God keeps his word. When he says to you, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us, our sins and cleanses of all and righteousness, do you believe that? Do you live out of that promise? When Jesus said I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, do you live out of that promise? God’s going to keep his word. Life has twists and turns. God keeps his word. And love, Love gives rise to joy. The baby in the womb leaped for joy. It’s a happy time, and when you see the Ministry of John the Baptist, John the Baptist consistently points to Jesus and John, the Baptist seems to consistently point to Jesus with a lot of love and a lot of joy about it. John says he must increase, and I must decrease. He’s the Messiah. Go after him. Do you have the love and the joy of this holiday season? Are you trying to have a perfect Christmas or you’re so, so caught up in the notion of perfection that you can’t let love bring you joy? These two women are rejoicing in what’s going on between them. One’s too old to have a kid and one’s not married yet, but they’re having kids and it’s all in the plan of God, and it brings them great joy.
That was liquefied sunshine that fell yesterday. I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen it, but that’s what it was. And in our house, Mrs. Tamara has cleaned the house to within an inch of its life. It is clean house, and she was sitting there at the dining room table yesterday afternoon in a bucolic image folding paper because she was wrapping presents, y’all. It’s one of those things I don’t understand. When I give a present, you’re going to get it in a gift sack or a bag or something. Because when I try to wrap a present, it looks like a third grader did it. It’s terrible. But there she was, wrapping gifts. And she looked up from her rapping and said, have you seen Rollo? Rollo is our puppy runt that I referred to earlier. I said, no, I haven’t seen him. We have a doggy door in our den, so the dogs go in and out with impunity. Rollo was outside. In a mud hole. he was in a mud hole. His whole body was in the mud hole. I don’t know what he was chasing after what he was digging after or what he thought was in the mud hole, but he was full southern Baptist immersion in the mud hole.
And he saw me at the back door, and he looked up and his tail wagged, and before I could put the stopper in the doggie door, Rolo was inside the house. Muddy feet, wet body and all. the trail went on all the wood floors, and he decided, I need to walk on carpet to dry my feet out. Now what Rolo did yesterday will be funny a day from two from now. Right now, it’s just mess trying to clean up after the dog, but it didn’t stop the joy. Because Rolo just became a part of the Christmas narrative of 2021. the dog and his mud puddle.
That’s what you do with life’s twists and turns. You look for the joy. You look for the laughter. And guys, I’ll be rejoicing with you and laughing at you, standing in the return line at Wal-Mart. I promise. I’ll be there. We can laugh together about our gift giving ability. We can laugh together about this text that no male in this worship space understands a baby inside of us leaping for joy. We don’t know what that’s like. But you ladies do.
Christmas Eve. I’ll have a next town. I gave up wearing neckties in church in the year 2007, and with the exception of Christmas Eve, I generally preach like this in both worship services. I’m such a radical. but Christmas Eve I’ll be wearing a necktie. It’ll be a Christmas tie. There’s a tradition about my Christmas ties. There was a lady in the Blackwater church, her name was Ned Carpenter, and Ned was one of those saints of the church. Ned set in the back of the sanctuary. This side of the sanctuary in the Blackwater sanctuary is long and narrow. It’s so long that some of the sermons are preached. In 1997, have just reached the back of the sanctuary This week. Ned would sit back there, and she’d listen to the sermon, and when the sermon is over, she would come forward and catch me after church cleaning notes out of the pulpit and get my Bible. And she would say one of two things to me. Brother Doug, I can tell you really prayed this week, that was a great sermon. Or she would say, Brother Doug, we need to pray harder before you preach that sermon again. Yes, ma’am, Ned. I knew what that meant. And she and I went on like this for the five years I was at that church and when I left, she started a tradition, that around Christmas time, I would get a package from there, and it was a Christmas tie. I have some of the tackiest Christmas ties ever. Done. She gave me one, one year that had the little musical part down here that if you touched it, it would play Jingle Bells or something. And one Sunday I was wearing it in the pulpit, and I leaned against the pulpit and set it off, and you can’t stop one of those things once they start. So, we just had to listen to the digital version of Jingle Bells.
Ned died four years ago. She died in October. She was 93 years old. I went down to Blackwater to do Ned’s funeral. And when I walked in the church, her family came up to me and they handed me the package, they said, Doug, she had already bought you your tie. So, the tie I wear Christmas Eve night Is Ned’s Christmas tie. The love I had for her and the love I had for the way she showed me Jesus Christ. Still inspires me and brings me joy.
These two ladies. Love each other. And they love their God. Who is coming to Earth, not to judge our sins, but to dive full footed into our sin nature and to lift us up out of the morass. And give us hope and forgiveness. And new life. And I hope At Christmas, whether it happens to you on Christmas Eve in church or whether it happens to you on Christmas morning, or whether you get hit with the Christmas later in the week, that you will experience the love and the joy that come from knowing that Jesus Christ came to Earth To lift us up, and to make us whole. So, remember. Life has twists and turns. God is faithful, he keeps his word, he keeps his promises to you and to me. And love. Love brings us joy, and that’s what this season is about. the love of God in Christ Jesus, And the joy that comes in knowing him, would you stand and pray with me?
We thank you, God, for this season of light and love, we thank you for the carols that are so familiar in the stories that we know. We thank you for the families that are coming and the food that’s being prepared and the presents that have been bought. We thank you for the anticipation we have of watching joy come to our children and our grandchildren, to our parents, to our siblings. Oh, God, be born anew in us and let the joy carry us through the next year. We pray in your name. Amen.