January 1, 2023
There is an old story on how poinsettias and Christmas came together.
There was once a poor little girl named Pepita.
At Christmas she wanted to give something to the baby Jesus.
But she had no money to buy a gift for Jesus.
On Christmas Eve as Pepita walked sadly to church, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
“Pepita,” he said, “I am sure that even the smallest of gifts, if given with great love will make Jesus happy.”
Pepita did not know if she could give even a small gift.
But she thought quickly and decided to make a small bouquet for the baby Jesus.
She picked some weeds from the roadside and tied them together.
She felt embarrassed by the gift because it seemed too simple and too small of a gift to present to Jesus on Christmas Eve.
As she walked into church with her cousin, Pedro she walked with him up to the altar.
There she knelt down, presented the bouquet of weeds at the manger, closed her eyes, and prayed.
Suddenly, as she was praying, the weeds burst into bright red flowers resembling the poinsettia plant.
Everyone who saw them that Christmas Eve believed it was a Christmas miracle.
And from that day on the poinsettia plant was called the flowers of the holy night.
Each Christmas as we present the poinsettia plants at the altar, we do so in humble reverence to the baby Jesus.
The flower and the leaves point to the star of Bethlehem and the red color points to the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
The white leaves point to Jesus’ purity.
The whole plant points to Jesus’ love for us and to the love that the little girl showed to Jesus.
This year we had many poinsettias given on Christmas Eve.
I can say that all of the gifts to our church both at Christmas and throughout the year were many in 2022.
Our church was greatly blessed.
There are many reasons for why we ought to be thankful today.
God has truly provided for our church and we have responded by faithfully giving back with our time, our treasures, and our talents.
As we look ahead to 2023 God with go with us.
In the life of the church every new year is an opportunity for us to reach out to others with the healing, life-giving message of Jesus’ love and every new year is an opportunity to grow deeper in faith.
It is difficult to travel through life without faith.
Faith gives us purpose and meaning.
Faith gives us courage and strength.
Faith gives us hope even in death.
To live without faith is no life at all.
Now I am not saying that those who do not believe have no life.
In the end, everyone decides for themselves what they will and will not believe.
Just as you cannot command someone to love someone else – you cannot command someone to have faith.
You either believe or you do not believe.
But for a follower of Jesus to live and to experience one’s life means that you have faith.
Martin Luther stated that faith is central for a Christian.
On this last Sunday of Christmas, we give thanks to God for the gift of faith.
And we respond to God for this great gift by living lives of service and love.
On this day we offer up prayers for our church as we hope for and pray for God’s blessings to be upon us in 2023.
We do not know the future and we cannot control or command the future we can only trust that the future is in God’s hands.
The future is always full of uncertainty.
The future is always full of both joy and pain.
But with faith and good courage we move forward into 2023 in grace-filled and in life-giving ways.
Just as an angel of the Lord directed and guided Joseph, Mary, and the baby in today’s Gospel reading – the Lord will direct and guide our days.
We will journey together once again through the church seasons of Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and finally to Christmas.
We will gather together as God’s people on Sunday mornings to hear God’s Word and to sing God’s praises.
We will pray for one another and we will support and encourage one another.
We will try to be understanding to one another and we will try to speak about others in the kindest and most gracious way possible even when it is difficult to do so.
We will reach out to those in need with our outreach ministries like CROP Walk and the food pantry, ELCA World Hunger and San Jose mission church.
We will reach out to the community with our Vacation Bible School ministry and God’s Work. Our Hands Sunday.
We will support the work of the wider church in giving to the Synod and to Lutheran Campus Ministry and to Lutherdale Bible Camp.
There are so many ways our church lives out its mission.
This coming year look for ways you can help to move forward our church’s mission.
It does not have to be a big thing that you do.
None of us here need to be a superhero or feel we have to do huge things for this church – we just need to do many small things together in Jesus’ name and for his kingdom.
Sometimes the small things that we do together in his name make all the difference in the world.
I have often thought that our church does many small things very, very well.
And because we do so many small things so well those small things, over time, adds up.
For example, every year our small Sunday school faithfully takes up an offering for Heifer International which feeds families in need with much needed animals.
Over time our little Sunday school has given over ten thousand dollars to Heifer International.
What a gift this has been for those in need.
So once again look for small ways that you can give and contribute to our congregation in the new year.
And if you want to help more but don’t know what some of our needs are here is a short list of some of our needs.
You might volunteer to serve on the altar guide and then you would set up communion and change the paraments during the church seasons, you might serve as an offering counter on Sunday mornings, you might serve as a reader at both the 8:00 and 9:30 services or as a communion assistant, you might serve on church council and then you would help the church board to discern God’s will in making important decisions for our congregation, you might decide to serve as an usher during morning worship, or you might decide to join the handbell group, or maybe you want to dig deeper in your faith and so you decide to join our Sunday morning Bible study group or maybe you have some new ideas for our fall stewardship program.
There are so many ways you can help this congregation so that we can continue moving forward in mission.
The church is for everyone and we all work together to discern God’s will.
And lastly, we can all pray.
We must continue praying for one another and praying for the health of our church.
Covid taught us that we need to be vigilant in praying for our church and praying for its survival.
We cannot take the church for granted.
The church needs our love, our gifts, and our service – then and only then can God bless the church and turn it into some beautiful and life-giving.
May the Lord guide us in the New Year.
May his blessings be upon us.
I am looking forward to walking this road with you and believe God will bless our life together in 2023.
May we leave our gifts at the altar.
And let us all pray together that God would make our gifts to bloom with life.