First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon & Weekly Bulletin- December 15, 2019

12-15-19 Bulletin PDF

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. Titles: Delight (joy) Can’t Wait
      1. “Retuning, and switching from receiver to transmitter “
    3. Finding and Sharing Delight
      1. Two stories about finding delight in the arrival of Jesus
      2. Two stories that point to what his arrival means
    4. Mary’s Affirmation
      1. Mary being affirmed
        1. Luke’s gospel, follows the story of Mary
        2. Matthew, follow’s Joseph’s story
      2. Perhaps first social affirmation of Mary’s goodness since becoming pregnant
        1. Magnificat comes right after Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leaps in the womb
      3. Delight – no shame, not “in her place” according to society
        1. Low to high
          1. Necessity of Virgin birth?
          2. What if she was an unwed mother? Or worse, child of rape?
        2. John’s questions from prison
          1. Matthew story different than Luke
            1. In Luke, John knew as a baby
            2. Here, he hasn’t had that assurance
  • Not about birth, but about ministry
  1. Is a prophet, but no divine nudge
  2. Jesus doesn’t talk about himself, but what is done
    1. References Isaiah
  3. Human empathy and compassion are more important than personal wealth, power, or status
  1. Transmitting their delight
    1. Didn’t just take it and be quiet about it
  2. Mary offering affirmation
    1. First, of her status
    2. Then what God has done, and will do again
      1. Reversal of fortunes, restoring of God’s preferred order
    3. Reminds us to honor God
      1. Do things worthy of God’s self
    4. Jesus’ response about John
      1. Another reminder of coming reversal
        1. Not refined clothes in royal palaces
      2. High praise for John
      3. Promises greatness for all in God’s kingdom
    5. Real Joy, vs. watered down Joy
      1. So many “heart warming” stories that are shared are really temporary, small scale responses to systemic failures.
        1. Paying off medical debt – doesn’t stop debt from accumulating, doesn’t alleviate the bankruptcy many people are already in trying to pay it off – money has already gone to collectors
        2. This isn’t saying we shouldn’t do this, but that this is insufficient, and not, in my opinion, the Christmas spirit we should be encouraging
      2. Today’s Gospel invites us to find the same inspiration and enthusiasm for making the structural changes
      3. delight – can’t contain it
        1. Magnificat – Song of Mary
        2. not 1950’s crooners
          1. not Mary did you know
          2. or most versions of the Magnificat stop after verse 49, or maybe verse 50
  • Look at the rest – more like punk rock lyrics
  1. This is an essential part of what Mary, John, and those that are waiting for Jesus are seeking, and people are still seeking today.
    1. More than this partisan gridlock
    2. More than the sacrifice of general decency and integrity
  • Of political and religious leaders who sacrifice their morals and ethics in the interest of keeping power
  1. not just mediocre welcome, but extravagant
    1. more than a ticket to a Christmas chorale concert
  2. Are you a Receiver, or Transmitter?
    1. Retune ourselves to seeking out more authentic signs of the inbreaking of God.
    2. Then, share it!
      1. That is Spreading the good news
      2. Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.
    3. not just about using Jesus’ name, but what is doing honor to God
  • Today’s scriptures remind us that anyone can be chosen by God, indeed, more likely to come from below
    1. How do they Honor God? By staying connected to what’s vital, not just surface distractions
    2. Challenges in honoring God
    3. Elizabeth – welcomes her cousin, but didn’t know
      1. Yet, she had something miraculous in her life – opened her to God’s way
      2. Same for us. Find our delight, sometimes found in welcome
  • Work of Welcome
    1. Church says “no matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
      1. Yet, if we were being honest, this is only partially true
    2. UCC church and deaf grandchild
      1. Hiring an interpreter
      2. Became a ministry
    3. How many non English speakers would it take before this church would seek out an interpreter?
    4. Extravagant welcome requires intentionality
    5. Many of UCC’s church designations relate to welcome
      1. Open and Affirming – LGBTQ+
      2. Accessible to All – people with disabilities
  • WISE – welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged for mental health – people with mental health issues
  1. Multicultural Multiracial – intentionally welcoming to people of different cultures and races
  • Challenges in welcome
    1. If all people are welcome, are all behaviors welcome, too?
      1. Unexamined welcome actually limits welcome to those who already feel welcome
    2. How to welcome all people, when welcome of one unwelcomes another?
      1. Follow God’s examples, and the praises of Mary, and John
      2. Low brought high, arrogant brought low
  • Welcome may require change
  1. Prisoners, outcasts
    1. Not always the ideals
      1. Pregnant teen, but it’s ok, this is immaculate, and child of God
      2. In jail, but in jail for being righteous, not any ‘common’ crime
  • Safe Conduct
    1. Safe Church policy – to protect children and the most vulnerable
      1. Limited access for sex offenders, procedures for children whose parents are divorced, and who can pick them up
      2. Covenant of behavior – what is and is not acceptable conduct
        1. Church people aren’t as nice and polite as one might think. We all need Jesus, sometimes.
  • Delight Can’t Wait
    1. The “why” we do this – the delight in extravagant welcome
      1. Both for the welcome and those that welcome
      2. Behavior that honors God
    2. Re-calibrate what our expectations are for truly Joyous Good News


Luke 1:46-55 on page _____________

Our first reading today is taken from Luke’s Gospel, where a pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus, has just journeyed to her cousin Elizabeth’s home. Elizabeth, well past her child bearing years, is also pregnant, with John the Baptist. When the women greeted each other, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb lept for joy, prompting Elizabeth to blurt out an extravagant welcome.  Here is Mary’s response. 

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Matthew 11:2-11 on Page ____________

Our second reading comes from the gospel of Matthew, and tells a different tale between John and Jesus. In this version, they are not related, and had not met until they were adults. John, having been jailed for his ministry and it’s threat to the power that be, wonders if Jesus is the one.


Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”

When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces. What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.

11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.