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First Reading – Philippians 1:3-11
3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
This is our second week in our series about God being in the smallest box under the tree – not the biggest, most obvious one. Last week we talked about how God appears on the smallest days with regularity. This week we are looking at the smallest acts of faithfulness. Rather than give you an overview of the passage, I’ll provide a few comments along the way.
Sermon Text – Luke 3:1-6
3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius (but the action wasn’t there), when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (but the action wasn’t there), and Herod was ruler of Galilee (but the action wasn’t there), and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis (but the action wasn’t there), and Lysanias ruler of Abilene (but the action wasn’t there), 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (but the action wasn’t there), the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness (that’s where the action was). 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
It was early in the COVID pandemic, and many things were still shut down. There were epic debates raging in the halls of power, but that’s not what had my primary attention. Scientists around the world were releasing their results as the earth waited with baited breath, but that’s not what had my primary attention.
My primary attention was focused on Prague, in the Czech Republic. But I wasn’t thinking about its rich history or its palaces or castles. Nope, I was focused on an old warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Specifically, I wondered when the company based in that warehouse would finally finish my 3D printer and ship it to me so I could make Charlie’s special plastic mask.
Most of you know that I made 3D-printed plastic masks for special needs kids last year (and a few this year). But the origin was much more modest. We were pulling our hair out trying to get our special needs son to wear a mask without chewing on it – which, like, gross! Right? So we felt trapped in our house. I just wanted to be able to get out of my house without stressing out about Charlie’s mask. That was my simple, self-interested reason.
It worked beautifully for Charlie, and when he started going back to school on a limited basis, his therapy team asked if I could make some more plastic masks for others who were chewing on their mask. So one mask became seven. Then someone else who worked with Charlie asked for some masks for some of their other kids. Seven masks became fifteen. Then someone at his horse therapy ranch asked about masks, so I made an order form on my website. Fifteen masks rapidly expanded.
Then the nonprofit I run that teaches kids to program computers and robots, Code4Kids, offered to pay for shipping to expand it to other states. Masks from Colorado started flowing to Texas, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and more. I stopped keeping count after a hundred masks had been shipped, and that was a lot of masks ago.
That’s fun for me. It wasn’t a chore. Well, shipping is a chore. But when I heard so many stories from other families who went from masking stress to masking no-big-deal thanks to the plastic masks, it motivated me even to do shipping. But it all started with solving my son’s problem. And when I kept saying “yes” when people asked for help, it grew and grew from there. I eventually needed three 3D printers running at the same time to crank them out fast enough.
But it all started with my desire to help my son, and my willingness to help others. That’s a small beginning. But God took that small beginning and made it something I will be forever proud of. Zechariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…”
Small beginnings can become big impact because our God is the great multiplier. It’s not me plus God equals two. It’s me times God equals infinity. Anything is possible with God, the great multiplier. All he needs is for us not to be a zero at the start of that equation.
I mean, in our text today, we hear this dramatic prophecy, that “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” That’s pretty big stuff! I don’t want to be responsible for knocking down a mountain or filling in a valley. And if you’ve driven into the Rocky Mountains on I-70 before, how would you like to be responsible for making the crooked road straight? I’ll pass on that.
But that wasn’t John’s job. Those incredible things are God’s job. What was John’s job? John was “the voice crying out in the wilderness.” John brought his voice, God multiplied that into preparing the way for his son Jesus to enter our world. I can’t straighten I-70, but I can use my voice. You can use your voice.
What’s some small act of faithfulness you can bring so that God can multiply it?
Great Faithfulness and Love
Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can be great in our love. We can be great in our faithfulness. The act may be small, but it can be filled to overflowing with love and faithfulness.
We had our staff Christmas party last week, and we were discussing how many people have felt a loss of connection and a loss of purpose over the course of the pandemic. But one of our church members created a discussion group at her new place after she moved out of her house. That creates connection for everyone and a sense of purpose for her. It’s not a huge undertaking, but it’s filled with faithfulness and love. And so God can multiply that effort.
Taking a name from our giving tree is similar. It’s not a huge task to buy those gifts or donate for a gift card. But the result for those families is huge. A bit of shopping is a small act, but it can be filled with faithfulness and love. And God can multiply that effort.
There were so many involved in our Thanksgiving meal – I heard we delivered over 200 meals. Delivering a box of meals isn’t a huge task, it’s not going to solve world hunger, right? But it solves hunger for one meal on a day when normal food deliveries aren’t available. It’s filled with faithfulness and love. Cooking for and organizing all those deliveries was a huge task, so thank you to Daniel and Stacey and everyone who helped them. And God can multiply that effort.
For parents and grandparents, what can you do to demonstrate or point toward Jesus as the real reason for the season? You don’t have to rattle off Luke 2 from memory or create a live nativity with your pets. It doesn’t have to be huge! If you do something to point kids toward Jesus in addition to their presents this Christmas, God can multiply that effort. If you do make the pet nativity, though, I need a video. Just sayin’.
I’ve mostly mentioned ways of serving others as examples of small acts of faithfulness. But faithfulness might be something more internal. Using our Advent devotional is a small act, but God can multiply that. Taking our weekly Joys and Concerns prayer list and actually praying for the people on the paper – that’s a small act, but God can multiply it.
Maybe a small act of faithfulness is being honest with someone else or with yourself. Speaking the truth in love is something God can multiply.
What’s a small act of faithfulness God would love to multiply in you right now? Is that a way of serving? Is that an act of discipleship? Is that something internal? Is that something for a neighbor? Is that something to support or resource or donate to?
Sisters and brothers, as long as we’re bringing something more than zero to the table, God can multiply it. Small acts of faithfulness can still be filled with great love. You don’t need to do great things, but you can do small things with the love of Christ. What will God multiply in you this week? How can you give something more than zero to God this week? Amen.