As we mark our foreheads with ashes this evening we are asking God to cleanse us of anything that might prevent His perfect will from being done in our lives. We, too, are His people. We, too, miss the mark of holy living. We pray to be restored to the kind of relationship with Him that allows us to bear the burden of a fallen world. In a special way God is says to each of us on this Ash Wednesday: "Be my Valentine" ... which simply means "You are loved!"
Medical science was completely unable to treat leprosy when Jesus healed this man. There was no known treatment or medicine that could possibly restore his body, make him “clean” again, revive feeling in his deadened limbs. Only Christ’s power could do that. In the same way, many of us have lost faith in God’s power and purpose in our lives. We, too, are spiritually dead; we have no feeling of purpose in life, yet Christ can cleanse and restore us, giving us not just life, but abundant life. Christ is willing to heal our every hurt. Christ is willing to take away every sin. Christ is willing to grant us new life, if only we ask. Jesus says to each of us: “I am willing!”
There is one who will never leave us no matter what the situation. And He calls us to share the same kind of love and compassion to everyone we meet. Don’t go through life believing that the secret to life is locked up somewhere with no key available for the likes of you and me. There is a key. His name is Jesus. He is the light that shines in the darkness. He is the hope that never fails. He is the life that never ends. He is the key to the secret of life. When we join our life with His, we find everything we need for an abundant life.
Jesus above all persons was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish what His Father had sent Him to do. His authority came from his relationship with the Father. His authority came from His genuine commitment to serving people. His authority came from His willingness to do whatever it took--even sacrificing His own life--to accomplish that for which He was sent. And His authority continues to set the oppressed free from whatever unclean spirit that may have taken hold on their hearts! Jesus can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead. And that is Good News!
Hearing isn’t the same thing as listening. When we listen to someone we are saying you are really important to me. You matter. The most important listening we can do is to listen to God. God’s deepest wish is to direct us to an abundent life. If that’s not happening in our lives, it is because we are not listening to Him. The old prophet Eli told young Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” What an eloquent, yet powerful prayer. Are you listening to the people around you--especially those closest to you? More importantly, are you listening to God?
Suppose you were about to enter Heaven, and stopped to make a few remarks to people on earth. Suppose at the same moment a sunbeam were leaving the sun, and that your words and the ray of light had the same distance to reach the earth. In eight minutes the people on earth would see that sunbeam; but your voice would not reach them for 1,936 minutes, because sound is so much slower than light. Yet there are so many people who would rather talk than shine! May the light of Christ shine in our hearts that our lives may glow with the light of His love.
Why is there a famine of love in our country? The answer is simple and clear: we have become so self-absorbed and we have made work, money and material things our false gods. We have forgotten the basic foundationsal pillars of society: faith and family. God Himself chose to come among us not as some sort of space alien that stepped off of a cosmic space ship, not as some sort of mysterious guru discovered in a mountain cave, but rather a member of a human family, with all that it entails. Is it any wonder, then, that our Church pays close and reverential attention each year at this time to all that it means to be family? A good resolution for the new year would be a firm commitment to get back to basics: have dinner every night as a family, attend church every Sunday as a family and stop working on Sundays so that you can spend time together.
Emmanuel, God is with us. That’s what Christmas is all about. That is why we are here today--to affirm a message that is absurd to the world but is the greatest objective truth that those who follow Jesus affirm. God can touch ordinary people and turn their lives into something beautiful. Why? Because a baby was born in the little town of Bethlehem who is Emmanuel--God with us. The ultimate test of how well we have celebrated Christmas this year will not be in what was under the tree or anything like that. It will be in how well we opened our hearts, and let that Christmas message in. May it be so this Christmas, and always. Amen!
Christmas is a time for generosity. Why? Because God gave us the most generous gift possible, the gift of His son. The most important gifts are never material. They are but symbolic of our love for those to whom we give them. And that includes giving to the least and lowest, as God did when He gave His Son for us.
Take a few moment this Christmas to listen again to the opening lines of Handel’s Messiah. Listen as the tenor sets the mood: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” These words, taken from the Prophet Isaiah was good news for the Jewish people who, at this point in time, were feeling God-forsaken. God has not forsaken them at all, Isaiah says to them. God has forgiven their sins and has reclaimed them as His own people. What good news that was for them and what good news for all those who seek to be God’s people today! Our God is a God of comfort!