“The Heart of Jesus”

 

(Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, December 12, 2004, based on Matthew 11:2-11, presented at the 8:30 service at Resurrection Lutheran Church by Pastor Jim Kniseley)

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

There are wonderful signs here in the Resurrection Family that the hearts of many of our members are pulsing with the heartbeat of Jesus in this time of preparation for Christmas.  We announced the Angel Tree Project and asked you to take slips of paper with a requested gift for a needy family at Christmas.  The first day you took them all and the Social Ministry folks scrambled to put on more needs on the tree, and you took all of them too.

 

This afternoon a crew from Resurrection will be preparing and serving a meal at the homeless shelter in downtown Fredericksburg.  All of the food has been provided by the generosity of you in this congregation.

 

I tell you this for a reason:  I have come to believe that Jesus really has a heart for the needy and poor of this world.  If we want to be in tune with Jesus, we too need to have a heart for the needy and poor.

 

In today’s gospel lesson, we hear of the inquiry of John the Baptist about Jesus.  Remember John has been predicting the coming of the Messiah.  He has baptized Jesus.  Then John was arrested and thrown in prison.  For some reason, he begins to have doubts about Jesus and so persuades two of his followers to go to Jesus with this question:  Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

 

The answer they receive from Jesus is what persuades me that Jesus really does care for the needy and poor.  Here is what Jesus said:  Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them…

 

It is so easy for us who are affluent and comfortable to prepare for Christmas by thinking of ourselves, our loved ones and those who seem to have it all.  But what does Jesus ask of us this day?

 

Guidepost Magazine was a staple in our home when I was growing up.  I loved the stories.  Let me share a story that comes from Guidepost a number of years ago.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote this story…

 

     In New York City, where he was the pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church, there is such a display of wealth at Christmas.  Store windows blaze with lights and color, furs and jewels.  40-foot angels hover over Fifth Avenue.

     And people scurry about trying to find just the right gift that says “I care” or “I love you.”

     Last December a stranger came to the city.  She had come from Switzerland to America to work.  Her name is Ursula and she is a girl in her late teens.

     One of the tasks her employers gave her to do was to keep track of the many Christmas gifts as they arrived.  There were so many and each gift should be acknowledged.  And it came into her mind – what could she give to her new American friends who had hired her?

     She had very little money…and then an idea came to her…

     It was almost as if a voice spoke clearly,  inside her head.  “It’s true,” said the voice, ”that many people in this city have much more than you do.  But surely there are many who have far less.”

     She went to a department store and made a purchase.  Then she went out to the street and asked a doorman, “Sir, can you tell me where to find a poor street.”

     “A poor street, Miss?”

     “Yes, a very poor street.  The poorest in the city.”

     “Well, you might try Harlem.  Or down in the Village.  Or the Lower East Side,

maybe.”

     But this name meant nothing to her and she walked on.

     She came to a policeman.  “Please, can you direct me to a very poor street in…in Harlem.?

     The officer looked at her sharply.  Harlem’s no place for you,” and waved her on.

     She stopped a woman and asked, “Where do the poor people live?”  But the woman looked at her as if she were crazy.

     Ursula was growing discouraged, and then she heard a bell and saw a familiar figure – a Salvation Army man – for they are in Switzerland too.

     “”Can you help me?  I’m looking for a baby.  I have here a little present for the poorest baby I can find.”

     “What sort of present?”

     “A little dress.  For a small, poor baby.  Do you know one?”

     “Yes I do.  More than one.  In my neighborhood.”

     And the Salvation Army man directed her to a cab, and with proper directions, the cabby delivered her to a tenement house.  But then she changed her mind.  “Please, will you give it to them; it’s not really from me.  And simply say it’s from someone who has everything.”

     On the way home, back to the Fifth Avenue Apartment where she worked, she felt good.

     And the cabby, impressed, didn’t even charge her fare.

     On Christmas Day, when all the gifts had been presented, it was obvious that Ursula had not given anything to her employers.  She told her story of the present and giving to a poor little baby.  She told about the Salvation Army man and the taxi driver.  “So you see,” she said, “I try to do a kindness in your name.  And this is my Christmas present to you…”

     And Dr. Peale writes, “How do I happen to know this?  I know it because ours was the home where Ursula lived and worked.  Ours was the Christmas she shared.  We were like many Americans, so richly blessed that to this child from across the sea there seemed to be nothing she could add to the materials things we already had.  And so she offered something of far greater value:  a gift of the heart, an act of kindness carried out in our name.”

 

And that is how Dr. Peale ends his story.

 

Today, Christian Friend, what is your heart telling you to do to beat in sync with the heart of Jesus?  Or, as our next hymn puts it, how are you preparing the Royal Highway for the coming of the King?

 

Amen.