Posts From December, 2020

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

December 24, 2020


Christ is born! Glorify Him!

This holy night is an unprecedented night for all of us. It is the first time in our lifetime, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ during a pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives. We have restrictions on our lifestyle and freedom. Most of the stores require wearing masks. Not all churches have in-person Christmas Eve worship service. Indoor Christmas gatherings with people from outside our household are not recommended. We have been affected badly by COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs, and many tenants have been evicted from their homes despite CDC locked evictions.

Amid our frustration and fear, The FDA announced the good news of great joy for all nations. To you are born Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, they are effective at preventing COVID-19. The FDA's announcement echoes the angel's proclamation to the shepherds of the Messiah's birth, the Lord. The shepherds were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by many diseases and poverty. For the shepherds, the worst disease was not COVID-19, but the Roman military occupation of their land, Palestine. The Romans stripped the Jews of their humanhood by reducing them to a state close to slaves.

The context of the Nativity of Christ might disappoint you. We have romanticized Christmas by ignoring its context to make Jesus politically pious and feel good about ourselves when we do not challenge the oppressive status quo in our communities and the world. Colonization and occupation are the contexts of the Nativity of Christ. The evangelist Luke put the birth of Christ in the context of Emperor Augustus, who ordered the census, and Quirinius carried the order because he was the governor of Syria.

Judaea was an autonomous part of the Roman province of Syria, ruled by a prefect. Quirinius was ordered to organize the taxation of the new prefecture. Until then, taxes had been paid in kind [that is with goods or services rather than money]. However, during the census which Quirinius organized, the inhabitants were required to declare their property in money. There are no indications that the Roman money taxes were higher than the taxes they replaced, but taxes in money were more onerous than taxes in kind, because a farmer had to borrow in case of a poor harvest.[1]


The shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the prophetess Anna and prophet Simeon were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by the Romans' unjust taxes. They were anticipating God to save them from their sins and their enemies, the Romans, and to restore the kingdom of David. The Romans humiliated the Jews daily. The only way out was for God to intervene. God did intervene by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to redeem them from their sins and show the Jews and us how to use nonviolence to resist their enemies, advocate for justice, and support the poor. Jesus did not separate his life and ministry from the Romans' colonization of the Jews. Christ himself was colonized.  He also peacefully resisted the Jewish leaders who complied with Rome's imperialism.


As of old times as now, Jesus comes to heal us from our brokenness and sustain us in our difficult moments. His birth was and still a sign of God's intervention to end oppression and injustice. It is also a sign of God's desire to reconcile with human beings by liberating us from sin and death. Jesus comes to tell you that you are not alone in fighting this pandemic, but he is fighting it with you. Jesus is born to redeem us from sin and the systemic sin that prevents poor communities to have an equal distribution of food and medicine like the COVID-19 vaccine.


The mystery of the birth of the Christ, "Emmanu-el is born, means to assure us that it is into our insecure and troubled life that Jesus comes again and again."[2] In your sickness, poverty, and fear, Christ is born for you. His birth has transformed the world, and it can transform your life, too. You might be like me, weary of coronavirus, or sad because you lost a loved one this year. For people like you and me, Christ is born. You might be struggling to make ends meet. Christ is born to sustain you and inspire us to work together to make ends meet for everyone and for everyone to have an abundance.


Jesus' birth is much more than cookies, Christmas decorations, a nice Christmas dinner, or gifts. It is about the incarnated God whose intention is to be in fellowship with you and to sustain you in your troubles. It is about the incarnated God who wants to work with you to make this world a kingdom of God on earth where everyone has enough food. Our Lord Jesus became a human being to work with you to wipe away each other’s tears, hold each other's hands, walk with the weary, speak peace to each other, and comfort one another.

This year we were bold in expressing our political views regarding the presidential election. Many people put their choice for presidential candidate signs in their front yard. When it comes to our faith, we are not bold. I noticed that two of our neighbors put Jesus' name on a sign in their front yard. The sign says Jesus 2020 with Democrats and Republicans colors—red and blue.  The signage of Jesus 2020 declares that Jesus is the center of life. I invite you to be bold in expressing your faith in Christ, as you are proactive in telling your political views. People are tired of politics and COVID-19. They need to hear about hope, peace, joy, and love. Politicians are unable to give you these four things. Only Jesus Christ, Son of God, can provide you with hope, peace, joy, and love. Therefore, share Christ with the world. People are hungry to hear the good news about the love of God for them. So be the messengers of Jesus Christ to the world.

Christ is born! Glorify him!


God's Love

1 John 4:16-19

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras            Love 1 John 4

December 20, 2024, Sunday of Advent


Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, amen. The love of God is very pure, sincere, sacrificial, and perfect. The apostle John describes God as love, which means the definition of love is God. To understand love, you need to turn to God. To learn about love, you need to know about Jesus Christ. To be a loving person, you need to be in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.


In the Gospel of John 3:16, the evangelist John says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This sacrificial love does not have any self-interest because God has your best interest at heart. God's love took the form of a baby in all his fragility and innocence. The incarnation of God, the Son, reveals the depth of God's love for you. In the crib, we contemplate God made a human being for you. Immanuel, God is with us to sustain and strengthen you in every moment of your life.


The apostle John teaches that "those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." The verb abide means to dwell or live, which indicates those who have fellowship with God, God lives in their hearts. You and God form a union of love, so both of you become inseparable. Your Christian identity is rooted in God's essence of love. John talks about the kind of love that is rooted in your faith and your experience with God. This love is not based on your emotions. Because of this, John says, "So we have known and believe the love that God has for us."


This love is perfect and complete and helps you in the day of judgment. That perfect love removes all doubts and assures you of your salvation, and makes you bold in the day of judgment. When you stand before Christ's seat of judgment, you will have no fear because this perfect love casts out your fears. "That perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the Judge."[1] If you have perfect love for God, you will have no fear of anything, even death. It is a sin that makes people fear what is to come.


God's love for you is perfect and genuine. Some somehow feel that if God loved them, God would never allow them to experience pain. This statement is not true. The best example I have is my parent's love for me. My parents' love is tough, strong, and yet tender and unrelenting. Without their love, I would not become who I am today. God's love is similar to my parents' love but more profound and more significant.


Today Advent reminds us of God's love that lights the darkness of our lives. This candle of love is a symbol of God's desire to make God's home in your heart and to eliminate darkness. This candle of love reminds us that Jesus came in the darkest moment of the Jews' lives as they were traumatized and oppressed by the Romans' military occupation of Palestine. Christ revealed his perfect love in ministering to the oppressed and challenging the religious leaders who complied with the Romans' oppression and neglected the true meaning of the law and prophets.


God's love's ultimate manifestation was when God allowed the Romans to crucify Jesus on the cross. Jesus voluntarily and with sincere love, accepted to take your place on the cross. God's steadfast love is there for you, no matter what happens in your life. This perfect love encourages you and me to not only persevere in difficult times but actually to live our faith more boldly.


In this Advent, we encounter God's amazing love in Christ that inspires "of all the love that stirs in our hearts. It awakens within us an answering love—a grateful love for Him [God] manifesting itself in love for our brethren [sisters and brothers]."[2] My question for you is, how are you expressing your love to God and your neighbor in Advent and Christmas season? Let me share the Christmas version of the apostle letter to1 Corinthians 13, which describes love.


If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls; but do not have love, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime; but do not have love, I'm just another cook.

If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity; but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels, and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir's cantata; but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love does not envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love does not yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. Toys will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust; but giving the gift of love will endure.







Second Sunday of Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Peace, Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020.


The theme of the second Sunday of Advent is peace. We reflect on the peace that our Lord Jesus brings to our lives. We focus on the kind of peace that the angels announced to the shepherds in the gospel of Luke chapter 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The Romans enforced military peace (Pax Romana) on conquered territories, but God’s peace in Jesus Christ is peace of grace and mercy.


 Peace is probably not a word that we use to describe 2020 because coronavirus has brought confusion, suffering, frustrations, and isolation to our lives. Christians enjoy God’s peace in their heart when there are chaos and trouble around them. It does not make sense to the world that you have peace when you are struggling. Christ did not promise us a world without challenges, but he promises us peace.


John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is calm and free from stress and anxiety. God’s peace is a gift, and it is an issue of the heart. It deals with the troubled heart. This kind of peace does not focus on external or present circumstances. It is a peace that is there whether you have troubles or not. Regardless of what may come, God is so powerful to sustain you in your situation through God’s peace.


God’s peace is different than that peace the world gives because the world finds peace in many things other than Jesus Christ. The world finds peace in power, money, and many other things, But God’s peace deals with the heart.


God responded to our weary world by sending peace in human form, the prince of peace. The prophet Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Inside your heart and amid trial, the prince of peace makes his home in your heart. You are strengthened from inside, and your heart is not troubled. Even when the world is anxious, you have the prince of peace inside you. The prince of peace and your heart become inseparable. Having God’s peace in your heart does not mean your circumstances do not stress you. In the Gospel of John 16:33, our Lord Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Take courage, my friends, God’s peace calms down your heart during the time of trial and suffering. The prince of peace came down to save us from our sins, not to take away the trouble of the world. His peace sustains you during your trials and sorrow. The Lord Jesus always gives you peace. It is his gift for you to enjoy and to share.


In 2 Thessalonians 3:16, the apostle Paul prays that “ Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.” Paul’s prayer is an assurance that we will always have peace regardless of our situation. Paul writes to the Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes when you trust God. You need to believe in God’s word that describes the peace that is beyond understanding. That said, you do not understand God’s peace or explain it. The world cannot understand or offer you the kind of peace that God gives.


When we have God’s peace in our hearts, our responsibility is to guard it. Paul says and Colossians 3:15, “let the peace of God rules in your hearts.” The apostle Paul does not say let your care or emotion rules your hearts. Guard the peace in your heart so that the devil does not trouble your mind with false thoughts and fear to take away God’s peace. Keep the word of God close to your heart to help you to guard God’s peace. Let us be attentive not to let the devil’s lies affect you.


Because of the significant events in 2020, none of us will forget this year. We have experienced a pandemic, economic issues like job losses, and a presidential election. These challenges have changed our lives, and we became easily anxious and stressed. We need God’s peace to dwell in our hearts. To have this peace, you need to come to God asking for it. God is very generous and compassionate, and God will not withhold God’s peace from you. God’s peace helps you face any storm in your life and assure you that you are not alone. Pray continually for the prince of peace to give you his peace and to dwell in your heart.


Hope—First Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Hope—First Advent

November 29, 2020


As you know, I was born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. I grew up under the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is easy to become discouraged and hopeless in this part of the world. When God called me for the ministry of word and sacrament, I was discouraged because the church closed all doors for women to become ministers. I lost all hope to become a pastor in my country. This was not God's will for me. God kept calling me, and I found a way to come to the U.S.A to do my Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and become a pastor. Like all pastors, I have faced many challenges in my ministry. The biggest challenge we are all facing is COVID-19. The pandemic has discouraged all of us by isolating us from one another. We have set our hope on the vaccine, not on Jesus Christ who sustains us. You might ask me where I find hope to keep on moving. My family and friends give me hope when I am discouraged. The source of my hope is my Lord Jesus Christ, who gives me hope in this life and eternal life.


Many of us have no hope for our relationships, job, health, finances; you name it. Some have no hope about life itself. I lost my father this September due to lung cancer. I couldn't go back to Palestine to say goodbye to him or attend his funeral because of the pandemic. Despair washed over me, and I felt like being in a swamp emotionally.

All of us have moments when we wanted to scream or walk away. Discouragement can hide behind our smile, makeup and tells us life is not worth living. If you give in to despair, it will cause you to make bad decisions or commit suicide. This is never the intention of God. God wants me and you to have goals in our lives, hope, confidence, and assurance.


Hope is an essential theme in the advent season. The Jews were discouraged by the Roman military colonization of Palestine. The Palestinians today are experiencing a similar situation to the Jews of the first century. Military occupation dehumanizes people and takes away their hope and future. God broke the darkness and hopelessness through Jesus Christ for the hopeless Jews expecting God to intervene and rescue them from their enemies.


The advent teaches me not to give in to my despair. If you keep walking with God, God has a way of making everything all right. In his letter to Romans 15:13, the apostle Paul teaches, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  How can we overflow with hope and hold in times of stress? The word of God and the fellowship of faithful Christians will help you to make it through. The Bible tells us that Christ is our only hope. The path of hope begins by being assured that you are right with God.


No matter what the devil and the world tell me, I know that Christ has redeemed me, and I am valuable. My fellowship with Christ has taught me when I set my foot in the valley of the shadow of death, I know I have started my way out because God is with me.


Many of us are wounded. You are being harassed and bonded in your mind that God has abounded you to face your uncertain situation alone. I've been there. However, I have learned that the only way out is to bring my broken heart to Jesus Christ. I also knew that "Hope is not a feeling, hope is a path, and that path is going to take you through tribulation and affliction."[1] When you become hopeless, follow the advice of the author of Hebrews (4:16) "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."


Hope is about living. Hope is about what you do now. Hope means believing that in God's time, God will deliver and transform you and you will experience overflowing hope. At some point, you will experience suffering so severe you do not think you will be able to survive another day. In his first letter to Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul says, "16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Sometimes it is impossible to give thanks in a challenging situation. It is difficult to give thanks in times of pandemic, death, trial, and suffering.


I experienced giving thanks in the most challenging moment in my life. After my father passed away, I began to give thanks to God because God did not extend his suffering. My father's battle with cancer lasted for two months. Despite the grief, God's mercy touched my broken heart and inspired me to be thankful. The advent season message focuses on God's desire to be with us in our grief, sorrow, and tribulation through Jesus Christ.

My friends, "Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again."[2] So, if your suffering pushed you down, then I tell you in Jesus' name, get up and walk toward your hope in Jesus Christ. Do not let your hopelessness make you a prisoner.  The apostle Paul tells you, "No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). And I assure you, as long as Christ is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, interceding for you, there is hope for you.



[2] Mary Pickford,

Matthew 25:31-46-

Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Matthew 25:31-46-- Christ the King Sunday

November 22, 2020


The parable of sheep and goats is about our Lord Jesus' second coming and the final judgment. We read in this parable that all the nations come before the King Jesus Christ for judgment. In this context, Jesus is using the analogy of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats as a metaphor for final separation for the righteous who will inherit eternal life and the wicked who will inherit everlasting punishment.


When you observe the sheep and goats carefully, you will notice that they are very different in personality. The sheep are meek animals and more docile to the shepherd. Unlike sheep, goats have a reputation for being stubborn and misbehaved. From this comparison, Jesus tells us that the righteous are obedient to the Lord. They are docile, whereas those who are wicked are stubborn and refuse to obey God. Jesus put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left hand and starts to pronounce judgment.


Jesus calls the sheep blessed of my father, indicating that the blessing is a gift from God. Jesus, as a king, invites the sheep to inherit his kingdom. This is a metaphor of a king giving the inheritance to his subject. God prepared this inheritance from the foundation of the world. God knows from the beginning of the world who will inherit God's kingdom. God knows before you were born whether you would be righteous or wicked.


What is the condition to get into the kingdom? Jesus does not say, come and inherit the kingdom all who believed in me or accepted me as the Messiah. This might make us, Lutherans, uncomfortable because faith is not mentioned here. This parable is related to the work of faith or the fruits of faith, such as feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, covering the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners. The King Jesus Christ is pleased with the sheep who lived their baptismal life every single day by sharing the love of Christ with their community. They lived out their faith and risked their lives for Christ. Those righteous partook in the body of Christ and left the church building to become a church to the community and the world.


Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Every work of faith done to the marginalized is, in essence, an act of charity done to Christ himself. The rewards for the fruits of faith are entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life.


The goats or the wicked who stand on the left hand are not blessed but cursed. The goats are Christians who do not live out their faith. They are Christians by name. In other words, they are Christians but not disciples of the Lord. They like to show people that they go to church and memorize the Bible and partake of the body of Christ, but they are not willing to love their neighbor or open their home to the stranger or their wallet to the poor. They love to talk about grace but not discipleship or the cross. Their faith is limited to one hour a week—Sunday service. The reward for those wicked is eternal punishment.

The image that Jesus uses to describe the separation of fallen angels from God is eternal fire. This fire is not an actual fire, but it is a spiritual fire because the angels do not have material bodies to burn in fire. The fallen angels and the wicked would experience the pain of being separated from God for eternity.


This parable assures us that the judgment was already decided based on the actions we lived our lives. The apostle James explains: "4 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 5:14-17).


When you fail to love your neighbor, you fail to love God. In his first letter, 4:20, the evangelist John challenges all of us by saying, "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."


I wonder how each one of us during this pandemic understands this parable. We are overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Unfortunately, not everyone is ministering to their neighbor as Christ did. The coronavirus surge is starting to crush some hospitals, and the medical staff are overwhelmed. Our Lord is calling each one of us to participate in ending this pandemic. Taking care of myself and my neighbor is like taking care of Christ himself. Take your faith seriously by showing love to your neighbor, particularly your neighbor with whom you disagree politically. Try to see Christ in your neighbor. Amid this global crisis, our Lord is inviting you and me to see him in each person you encounter. I pray that your neighbor will see Christ in you, too.