Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013

New Year's Day is a crossroad. It is a moment where you look back at the past or look forward to the future. It is easier to choose the path of the future if you are looking at an ugly past. The only rational thing to do is look at the future. Yet, sometimes the ugly past can haunt us and left us stranded in that place. Yet, a glorious past can also be unhelpful. We might tend to dwell to much on the good things that happened in the past and never leave that place. This will leave us again stranded if not keep going back in the past.

The road towards the future might seem to be the only road to choose. Perhaps, but looking forward too much in the road leads us to neglect the present path we are taking.

This New Year, the important thing is to keep on moving. The past may be ugly or glorious but we must keep on moving. The future may seem bright and so we must keep on moving not forgetting the present path we take.

As we stand in the crossroad of January 1, let us keep moving.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift in Swaddling Clothes

This sermon was preached in the Christmas Day Service at Tuguegarao UMC, December 25, 2012. 8:30 AM.
Text: Luke 2:1-20

The Lord be with you.
I thank the Lord God for the opportunity to bring to you the good news this Christmas. I always thank the Lord the opportunity to bring the good news. As a doctor, I often bring bad news to my patients. But today, let me share with you the good news of Christmas.
The scripture reading we read today is from the Gospel according to St. Luke and tells us the good news. I usually tell the good news at the last part of my sermon, but today, the Gospel of St. Luke tells the good news right now that the Savior is born. The angels declared, “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” The sign is that it is a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger. That is the good news and it was told to the shepherds in the field.
Why were the shepherds the first one to be told about the messiah and not the priests of the temple or the king of Rome? As a little boy, I always ask this question. Our school gardener told me God came to tell the good news to those who needed it the most. That has always been the character of God – tell the good news to those who need it. The shepherds were Jews who were in the outskirts of Jerusalem, they were ordinary men who belonged to the labor group, they were outcast because they violate Jewish rules of not working during Sabbath, they were the subjects of the colony of Rome. The shepherds are insignificant by the worlds standard. But they were the ones who first heard the good news. God gave priority to these blue collar workers because God gave preference to the humble, ordinary, poor and lowly.  The shepherds were Jews who understood what a messiah meant and so they went hurriedly to see the gift of God to them. The gift is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Every Christmas we receive gifts from our friends and family. I always receive gifts since I was a little boy until now. I appreciate the gifts big or small. I always say that it doesn’t matter what the gift is, it’s the thought that counts. Kaya mga kapatid, sabihan mo yung katabi mo “asan na regalo ko, it’s the thought that counts.” But in reality, the gift does matter to us. Because we look at the gift wrap and think and guess if the present is precious or not. It does matter to us if the gift is big or small. And it does matter to us what exactly is the gift inside.
For example, every year we have a Christmas part in the office, and gifts and door prizes are always given. This year we receive an appliance- that is something big and something expensive – wow, we will definitely be happy with this gift. When we opened the big gift – it was a washing machine with spin dryer – great. But we still have a 1 year old turbo washing machine in our house and we don’t need another one, in fact we still have the old washing machine and it still works. Now, we have three washing machines in the house and unless we open a laundry shop sometime soon. And so we don’t really need the gift even if it was something big and expensive. If I had received the microwave or the 21 inch TV then it would have been more useful for us because we don’t have those yet. This is also true for the little gifts that we receive every Christmas.
Another example of how it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the gift that matters. I always receive, mugs, and picture frames and clocks and wallets and towels from friends and relatives and I am grateful and say to myself that it’s the thought that counts. But what will I do with all the mugs? Will I use one mug for breakfast, another for snacks, then another one for lunch and another mug for dinner? How about the clocks? Every corner in our house has a clock? Late pa rin naman kami lagi. And the wallets. As if I have a lot of money to need all the wallets. And if I do, I will put them in the bank and not in the wallet. And so what do I do with all these “useless” gifts that I receive. I give them also as gifts to some of my friends. And I know you also do that. Kaya tanggap lang tayo ng tanggap ng mga gifts because we say it’s the thought that counts when it fact the gift really matters to us. The kind of gift we receive really matters to us. 
And so we receive a gift from God this Christmas.  A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Greek word for swaddling cloth used in the Bible is “sparganoo” and it means a strip of cloth used to wrap a baby to constrain it. It is an ordinary piece of cloth and is unappealing.  The gift we receive from God is wrapped in an unappealing piece of cloth.
And as we often do, we look at the outer side first and consider it. We often bias ourselves if the gift wrap is pretty or not and we choose the one that looks nice. In one of our exchange gifts among Pastor’s Kids, we had all the gifts in front and when your name is called you get to choose the gift you want. Of course you want the best gift and the only basis which one is the best is the size of the gift and the wrapper that was used. That is what we often do, we don’t want an ordinary looking wrapper for our gift, kaya nga nauso yung mga gift wrapping shoppes. And then we are disappointed if the gift does not match the beauty of the wrapper. Because again, the gift itself matters to us.
The gift should be something important and useful for us. God gives us a gift this Christmas. A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The gift is Jesus Christ. This is the good news told to us. But the question for us my dear brothers and sisters, “does that gift matter to us?” Do we need the good news we heard today? Will we receive the good news with joy in our hearts? Will we receive the gift of God? Will we receive the swaddling cloth or reject it because the swaddling cloth is not appealing to us? Does Jesus still matter to us in this time? If we do receive the gift of God, is the gift going to matter to us? Does the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes going to matter to us?
We live in a highly technologically advanced world where technology matters. We live in a world that having gadgets like iPad, cellphones, netbooks are things that matter. We live in a world where cars, houses, good jobs and career are the priorities that matter to us. And so these are the gifts that we expect and hope to receive this Christmas. If you don’t believe me, take a look at your prayers in the last days – what did you pray for? We want to have a good career or a successful business. We pray for a new car or a new house. We want to receive new gadgets or any material things. We want to receive a gift from God and that is why we pray – but we want the material things that the world dictates as important matters to us.  
But God gives us a gift that shows God’s great love to us by giving his only Son –a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Do we not live in a world that tells us to be greedy and accumulate great wealth? Do we not find ourselves cursing somebody that we hate? Do we not find ourselves indifferent to the needs of strangers? Do we not live in a world that doesn’t care for others? Do we not find ourselves committing sin everyday to someone and to our God? Is God satisfied to the kind of love we show to our neighbours? Have we understood what it meant to love your enemies? Unless we answered yes to all of these questions, we still need the gift of God. Unless all of us here have done what are expected of us Christians, we still need the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth. We still need Jesus Christ.  
John Wesley reminded us that our faith is not a onetime event when we received Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Our faith is a journey towards Christian perfection. And as long as we live and continue in that journey, the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth will continue to matter and be of importance to us. And so my dear brothers and sisters, receive the good news. Receive the gift of God this Christmas. Welcome the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.
Open your gifts and remove the swaddling cloth that covers the most precious gift you will receive today. Marvel and give glory to God for the baby Jesus is born today. It’s not just the thought that counts. The gift we receive from God - the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth still matters to us today.
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

God became flesh and dwelt among us

A sermon preached in the Last Morning Watch (Simbang Gabi) in Tuguegarao Central United Methodist Church last December 24, 2012.

Text: John 1: 1-14

The Lord be with you.
Today is the last day of our nine day Simbang Gabi. Who completed the 9-day morning watch? May I ask you to stand and be recognized. Look  at their faces.. look at their eye bags. Let us give God our clap for those who finished the 9 days morning watch.
The Gospel reading is appropriate for this last day of waiting for the coming of God. Our text tells us the message of Christmas – that God has arrived. The Gospel of John tells us the Christmas story in a different way and it is direct to the point – that God who loves the world so much that God choose to become human like us.
John is a very important Gospel because it tells about the divinity of Christ. It starts with the words “In the beginning.” Does that sound familiar? It is the words of Genesis 1:1. The words “in the beginning” in the Bible means time eternal – that the Word was there even before time.
And “The word” was God. This was the God who spoke the words “let there be light” and there was light. This God created the heaven and the earth and every living creatures within it. This is the almighty, all powerful and all knowing God. That God is also Word.
“And the Word became flesh.” That is the story of Christmas. The almighty, all powerful and all-knowing God became flesh; and the Word that became flesh is that baby born Jesus Christ. The Eternal, almighty, all powerful and all knowing God became human like us on that first Christmas Day.
My dear brothers and sisters, we often forget that Jesus is God. This faith affirmation distinguishes us from other Christian sects. We, like Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, most Baptists, UCCPs and other mainstream denominations, we believe in a God in three persons – in a Triune God. We believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is God. This is the same God that created heaven and earth.
-          The same loving God that Moses and Abraham worshipped.
-          The same merciful God that led Israel out of Egypt.
-          The same powerful God that anointed David to be King.
-          The same God that helped David defeat his enemies.
-          The God that saved Daniel from the Lion’s den.
The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and he lives forever. Jesus is God and he lives in eternity.
God became human with real flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. Is that possible? That is the power of God, nothing is impossible with God. God became flesh because of love – because God loved the world so much. We should rejoice that God our Lord and King came to our world.
God came into our world and this is reason for us to rejoice. That is why we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” “Tignan mo yung mga katabi mo, mukha ba silang masaya o mukha ba silang inaantok?” We should happy that God came into our world. God is here with us – Emmanuel.  God is always with us from the beginning of time.
God came to us when Jesus was born.  When Jesus went back to the Father, God did not leave us. God remained with us because God is with us through the Holy Spirit. God still continues to dwell among us. Yet people celebrate Christmas every year like God never came to this world, it is as if God never became flesh and real in this world
People live in the dark like they never saw the light that is Jesus. The world lives like Jesus was never born 2000 years ago. There are still chaos and hatred. Nations are at war against nations, “wag na tayong lumayo.” Filipinos fighting against each other, the gov’t against the Muslims. There are factions in our society with the leftist and the rightist. Even within our church there are divisions, I know of some churches where people worship one after the other because they cannot worship together. Families are divided, not only those who are husband and wives who are separated, but including parent and children or siblings who fight each other because of misunderstanding, greed, pride or jealousy. And even with these chaos, we see people who are hungry and begging for food, we see kids in the streets deprived of their basic human rights to education and shelter. We see sick people die of malnutrition, we see victims of flood and disaster caused by man-made calamities. When we celebrate Christmas, we Christians in general, and United Methodists in particular, celebrate as if we never understood the message of Christmas – that God became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Greek word for dwelt among us is “ensaynoo en hemin” which literally means reside within us. When John said that God became flesh and dwelt among us – he also meant that God continues to become real and flesh in this world literally, right now and right here. The word residence means you have to live in a certain place for a certain time. As a PK (Pastor’s Kid), it was very difficult to establish residence – kapag tinatanong ako kung taga saan ako, mahirap sagutin – because every year our family moves to a new location. Even now, our family needs to adjust to that question. We need to establish our residence, a place where we stay for a long time to be able to establish our identity – kung sino kami. The same is true for us Christians. God must be able to establish residence in our hearts.
We must allow God to live in us for a long time to establish our identity that we are God’s people. This is what John Wesley emphasized to all of us that God’s prevenient grace demands a human response. It means God can only live within ourselves – if we do not kick him out, if only we let God live within our hearts.
The Christmas message is that God became flesh to bring light to this world. This Christmas, let us remember that the God that brings light to this world becomes flesh and becomes a reality in this dark world if we allow God to shine in our hearts. God becomes flesh and real to this world if we allow ourselves to be used by God – to be instruments of God.
-          God becomes flesh and real to this world with every helping hand that we extend to a friend who needs help.
-          God becomes flesh and real with every hospitality we show to strangers.
-          God becomes flesh and real with every bread and food that we share to those who are hungry.
-          God becomes flesh and real with every loving embrace we extend to those abandoned.
-          God becomes flesh and real when we literally visit the sick and those in prison.
-          God becomes flesh and real when we share what little we have to the little children who have nothing.
-          God becomes flesh and real whenever we forgive those who have caused us pain, to our officemates, to our friends, to our family who hurt us.
-          God becomes flesh and real if we allow ourselves to be the hands and feet of God in this broken world.
My dear brothers and sisters, God became flesh and lived in us. That is the good news. God lives inside each one of us. But we must show the good news to others by showing it in our actions, thoughts and words that God really lives in our lives. The God who became flesh is the true light to a dark world.
The morning sun is a reminder that the Son, the Son of God brought light in this dark world to give hope to all of us. Every morning as the sun rises, let this be a daily reminder that the one true Light shines in our dark world. Later, we will light the Christ candle as a reminder of the light that Christ brings and I implore you dear brothers and sisters that if God became flesh and lives within you, light the candle to show the Jesus shines through you and let that little light shine brightly in this dark and broken world.  
Let God become flesh and dwell among us.
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.