Worship Service – December 20, 2020

Sunday December 20,2020.
Welcome our message this week I’ve titled.
“Love in a Plain Brown Bag”
Our scriptures this week are from the gospel of Luke
Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 1:47-55
Luke 1:26-38
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
(26) In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, (27)to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (28) The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
(29)Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (30)But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. (31)You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (32)He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33)and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
(34)”How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
(35)The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (36)Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. (37)For nothing is impossible with God.”
(38)”I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
This, the fourth Sunday of advent, we’ve lit the candle of LOVE. And being that our theme this advent season is, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” I think we should look at how His gift of Love was packaged and delivered to us at Christmas.
During this advert season I’m sure lots of you have had the opportunity to wrap Christmas presents, myself included. It has not always been a favorite task of Bonne or myself.
Bonne asked me the other day to give her a hand in wrapping gifts for Christmas. I not so willingly agreed. I thought, “Let the Fun Begin.” Between the large rolls of wrapping paper, the taping, the cutting to size of the paper for whatever odd ball shape of the gift, it didn’t take long for frustration to set in. So, in my frustrated state, I said to Bonne, ”can’t we just tape the bags closed and write their name on the bag?” Of course, her response was, “NO! They would know where we bought it and give away what’s inside.” So, then my suggestion was to just put them in, ”brown paper bag and write their name on it.” Which got an immediate response of,” NO!”
So, as I was preparing this week’s message that incident came to mind. It also brought to mind, memories of things that came in plain brown paper bags.
When I was a boy, when my mom or dad would come home after work, with a brown paper bag in their arm, we would know they had stopped at the grocery store. The store name was usually printed on the outside of the bag. Normally, Acme or Giant. Then they would instruct us to come and help unload and put away the brown paper bags of groceries. This was a weekly event. Of which quite often, there would be many bags to unload. Seeing that they were feeding five or more hungry boys and their friends, plus themselves, and whoever would show up hungry. This instruction, may I say, was not always met with enthusiasm. We never seemed to be excited about what was in those bags, even though it was what we needed to live, or recognize the sacrifices and the love required to fill them.
But there were times, usually around the holidays, when dad would come home after work with a plain brown bag in his arm with no name on it. And we would know he probably stopped at the “day old bread store”, were he would buy a trunk load of bread. Enough to fill our freezer, for school lunches for the month. It must’ve been 50 or more loaves. We would be instructed to help unload. And among the many bags in the trunk, that all looked alike, there would be one, with my dad’s name written on it. If you were fortunate enough to be the one to carry it in the house. Dad would let you have first choice of what was inside. You see we all hoped that he had stopped at my Uncle Merle’s bakery, and we couldn’t wait to get at what was inside. My Uncle Merle always used plain brown paper bags, to pack his creations, also. But he would always write the name of the customer on the side of the bag. So there was definitely no lack of enthusiasm to help unload . So, before my dad even asked, we were unloading and putting away all that he had purchased.
You see, that plain brown bag, with dad’s name on it, would be full of day-old pastries. Most of them would be glazed covered donuts, which were, and still are my favorite, that my uncle had baked and given to my dad as a gift. He would tell my dad that he’d rather see his kids eat them, rather than throw them out. I don’t know for sure, but I think my Uncle Merle knew when my father would stop, usually around the holidays and he always made extra, so that we could have a something special for the holidays.
It was a gift of.
It’s the same, this time of year and any time we give a gift, right. We can pretty much tell by the wrapping paper what holiday or special occasion it is. Birthday wrapping paper doesn’t look anything like Anniversary wrapping paper. And Valentines wrapping paper doesn’t look anything like Graduation wrapping paper. And Christmas wrapping paper doesn’t look anything like Halloween wrapping paper. So, most of the time, we can tell a lot about a gift, just by what it’s wrapped in.
But there is time when a gift is wrapped in nondescript wrapping paper. Stored with the rest of the Christmas gifts, with nothing but a name on it. Then brought out and placed under the tree with all the other lovingly wrapped gifts. Many times, it will be the last to be opened. Or sometimes even overlooked, forgotten, or unopened and thrown out with the used wrapping paper, boxes and packaging material. There always seems to be so much of it.
This is the season of giving and receiving. And sometimes things are lost in the hubbub of Christmas. Modern technology is making it harder and harder to unwrap Christmas. It has given us shrink wrap, which defies all attempts to tear it. We have fiber strapping that some knives won’t cut. And we have adhesives that you can’t get off with dynamite. You know what I’m talking about! Many toys and gifts are wired into packages so pieces don’t inadvertently disappear, until you figure out how remove the wire from a maze of plastic and cardboard. Then good luck keeping track of them amidst of all the Christmas wrappings.
Sorry, I got sidetracked. Back to the message.
Half the fun of Christmas morning is seeing the excited look on everyone is faces as they look at all the brightly wrapped packages under the tree. The other half is opening those packages. Some of you, savor the moment and take your time opening. Others of you just rip your way through. We know from the packaging and the wrapping paper that this is something special, and the love that went into the gift. Most of the time.
In an old “Family Circus, “cartoon by Bill Keane , Billy is standing in front of a calendar that reads December 18, and he says: “Only seven more hoping days ’til Christmas.” In our case it’s only 5 more days. But in a very real sense, he’s right. These are our hoping days. This is the period of anticipation and hope. The packages are piling up under the tree. And come the 25th, that hope will become a reality. But if we’re not careful, we might just miss the most extraordinary gift of all. Because you see, God’s gift was wrapped with LOVE in a,  ”Plain Brown Bag”.
It’s always under the tree, but because it’s in a plain brown bag, it’s often overlooked, forgotten or cast aside as not being worth very much. You see, while we can tell what season it is by the wrapping paper used, we also think we can tell the worth of a gift by how it’s wrapped. But when it comes to the gift from God, that’s not true at all. Under a believers Christmas Tree, God turns everything on its head. And what we discover is that the gift that looked the least promising, the one that was the most plain looking was actually the greatest gift of all.
On Christmas day, the hope of the world was born. God’s gift of grace to the world came packaged and wrapped not in the splendor and glory of Heaven, but in the plain brown bag of our human flesh and blood. The Hope of God, the Hope of Humankind, the Hope of Salvation and Forgiveness came wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Our Hope came wrapped with, ”Love in a Plain Brown Bag”, of the Christ child and the people and the events surrounding his birth. So, what should our mind set, our reaction be to this Hope?
Let’s look at Mary’s reaction to the announcement and visit from the Angel.
Luke 1:46-55
Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
After reading this, I think Mary must have gotten a hole bag of pastries from my Uncle Merle’s Bakery.
I think it’s extraordinary how God always uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary. That’s one of the things that fascinates me about God. God can take the simplest thing, the least likely person, the one who would go unnoticed by anyone else, and lift them from obscurity into eternity.
We get distracted by all the lights, the shopping, the baking, the wrapping and planning. We get distracted by the wrapping paper of the world. But God always reaches for the gift in the plain brown bag first.
Look who God chose to be the emissaries of this world changing event. This entire event he set in action, could have come in a plain brown bag.
Why, just look at Mary. She wasn’t a beauty queen. She wasn’t a star. She wasn’t noted for anything. There’s no footnote about how glorious she was anywhere that would cause God to choose her. She was just a young, everyday sort of girl, filled with faith. We don’t know much about her other than she had a cousin named Elizabeth and she too was chosen for something special. But that’s about all we know about Mary, other than the genealogy we find in the gospels. God wrapped the birth of His Son in the plain brown bag, named Mary.
Let’s look at,Joseph.
The same holds true for Joseph. God could have chosen someone who was wealthy. God could have chosen someone with money, fame and influence. The message might have gotten spread quicker. More people might have believed. Instead, God chose the plain brown bag of Joseph. And he was just a carpenter. He probably worked with stone, iron, copper and wood. It wasn’t a trade to make a fortune in, but it kept food on table and a roof over their heads. It was steady work. And the carpenters of that day were respected and needed.
How about Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was a town of not much repute. It’s not far from Jerusalem, half day’s journey on foot. It’s now liked a suburb of Jerusalem. Only mentioned briefly in Scripture. It’s where Ruth and Naomi settled. It’s where Jacob had Rachel buried. It was the birthplace of David, who later used it as his home. That’s why it’s called the city of David. It’s the birthplace of the prophet Micah. But by the birth of Christ, it was of little consequence. The Temple had been built and it made all the other towns insignificant. Jerusalem was the only town of importance.
The prophet Micah wrote: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”(Micah 5:2)
Bethlehem was just a small town, its name means “House of Bread.” God took the plain brown bag of Bethlehem and made it a gift of,  ”LOVE IN A PLAIN BROWN BAG”!
Next let’s look at the Stable.
Surely God could have come up with something better than that for His own son. And yet this simple stable and manger changes the world. Who but God would have thought of it.
Who would have thought that something as simple as a manger could have changed the hearts and minds of so many. Hearts that have forgotten the origins of love and grace, hearts that have built walls to keep themselves from getting too battered and bruised by the world. Hearts that have seen so much grief and tragedy during this pandemic, that most of us suffer from compassion fatigue.
There’s a story told by a Missionary with the Pueblo Native Americans. He wrote that in the sheep country of New Mexico, the shepherds were having trouble losing lambs in the late winter and early spring. It seems the ewes would take their lambs out to graze, and late in the day it would start to snow. The temperature would drop, and the ewes would continue to graze. The lambs would lie down on the ground and before long would freeze to death.
The shepherds got together to discuss the problem. They determined that the ewes, covered with wool didn’t feel the temperature change. The shepherds came up with a rather unique solution. They took shears and sheared just the top of the head of the ewes. Then when the weather changed, they felt it and headed back to the barn, thus saving many of their lambs.
Well sometimes our hearts get all warm and woolly, during this Christmas season. It’s not wrong, we like that warm fuzzy feeling, and we get comfortable with it. But all to often the wool around our hearts grow, not for warmth, but for protection. It acts as a cushion against the blows of the world, the crushing sorrow we feel, that compassion fatigue. At times it gets so thick that we need to get it sheared, like the ewes. And that’s exactly what the stable and manger do for us at Christmas. God uses the, ”Love in a plain brown bag”, the Stable,  the birthplace and the birthing place of Jesus to shear our hearts.
Last and most important, there’s the Baby Jesus.
God’s gift of , ”Love in a Plain Brown Bag.” God, entering into the world as an infant. There is nothing more ordinary or more hope filled than the birth of a baby. God took something as simple as the birth of a baby to show His Love, to usher in hope. Christmas and Advent remind us of the love and hope we felt at our own children’s and grandchildren’s birth.
Somehow, during the year, that love, and hope gets lost. Somehow, during the living out of our daily lives throughout the rest of the year, the Hope ,the Peace, the Joy and the Love of that birth gets buried beneath the toys and clothes and the accumulation of stuff and the accumulation of years.
But this advent season of the baby. Be reborn! As John wrote in (John 3:3). Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
We’re given a baby out of, ”Love in a Plain Brown Bag”, by way of the manger. We can know how, ”Love Came Down at Christmas”, and our lives can be reborn. We need only to open His Gift of, ”Love in a Plain Brown Bag“!
So once again, we come face to face with a mind-boggling idea and a story. It’s a story that is almost incomprehensible, in its simplicity and truth. It’s a story that is a gift. It is a gift wrapped up in a plain brown bag. But it is the most exquisite gift imaginable. This gift was left for each of us, under the tree of life some 2,000 years ago by Him whose birthday we celebrate. The gift was withheld from no one. Some have left their packages unclaimed. Some have accepted the gift and carry it around, but have failed to begin unwrapping it, and have failed to discover the hidden splendor and grace of God’s love.
The plain brown bags are all alike. Each one has your name written on the side, with a note, on which is written, “I love you!” and it’s signed God.
Won’t you reach out and accept the gift which God has for you? Won’t you reach out and receive God’s love and forgiveness in this plain brown bag and begin that lifelong adventure of faith. Receive God’s gift to the world as your own.
In His Service,
Pastor Joe
Listen To Audio: Sermon 20201220
Listen To Audio: Service 12202020



Pastor Joe is available at the church every Thursday from 2 to 4p.m.  If you wish to speak with him, his contact numbers are: 570-465-7303 or his cell 570-267-4570.

Loose change offering, (coins & bills), today goes to Kenya,Rev. Malaho.


PLEASE NOTE: We ask that you wear a mask as you ENTER the church.  Winter Months – Session discussed the procedures the congregation will follow during the winter months. People will enter and leave the Church by the front door. Mask must be worn as they enter and go to a pew. Mask must be worn when they leave the Church. Pastor Joe will stand near the pulpit when the service is finished to speak to people before they leave. He will not stand by the front door. Session is asking that people do not congregate in the vestibule or loiter for a long time in the sanctuary when they leave. Hand sanitizer will be located by the front door for people to use.

The Worship Services for the Advent Season have been planned.   A Christmas Eve Service will take place at 7pm. Ushers will be used to escort people to a pew. They will try to keep families together. People will wear a mask as they enter the Church and go to a pew. Pews will be marked off as to where to sit for social distancing. When the pews are full people will be escorted to the community building where they can watch the Christmas Eve Service on the TV. Mask will be worn and social distancing will take place while in the community building. Those who wish to stay in the parking lot can do so and listen to the service on 89.5 FM radio. The candle lighting will take place by the congregation. Candles will be available for those in the community building. People will be asked to hold something in back of the candle flame as they blow it out. It could be their hand, the hymnal or a bulletin. They could also use their fingers to distinguish the flame. Ushers will escort people from the Church when the service is over. Candles will be collected as they leave.

First Day of Winter / Winter Solstice  – Monday, December 21st -  watch the skies for the Christmas Star , the Star of Bethlehem – the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.   The last time this happened was 800 years ago.  Look toward the Southwest Horizon about 45 minutes after sunset

Session Meeting - Tuesday, December 29th

New Years Eve – Watch night – Thursday, December 31st

Happy New Year – Friday, January 1st

Newsletter Deadline - Tuesday, January 5th


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