GOD’S ADVENT SONG: Joy to the World the Church is Here!Rarely is this said about organized religion today, but I Love the Church!  And, I Love This church!! With Bill Hybels I agree that the church is the hope of the world! 

Now I know that this isn’t an opinion shared by as many today.  What with televangelists raking in millions, not to feed the poor but to feed their luxury.  What with clergy scandals—both Protestant and Catholic.  And what with religious extremism fanning the flames of war, religion has a lot for which to repent.  So as a member of the clergy let me admit:  there is nothing worse than bad religion.  But hear also: there is nothing better than good religion.  If you agree that there is much more good religion than makes the news let’s investigate this morning:  what’s right with the church.The Psalmist sets the theme for chapter 122 in the verse 1.  Read it gladly with me…  Now some scholars believe that this happy song was sung by the pilgrims return-ing home from one of the three great feasts in Jerusalem.  During an eight-day festival like Passover the pilgrims would experience the grandeur of the city, the blessings of temple worship, great food and fun like Thanksgiving. A healthy break to the daily grind. In the same way participation in church has great healing benefits.  Take a look at this chart from the Director of the Duke University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Health, Dr. Harold Koenig.

Wow!  To sum up the healthy effects of church: weekly worship attendance has the same health benefit as to quit smoking!!  (Now don’t attend church to smoke more…!)

What’s right with the church?  Not only does God bless your health through church, God blesses the community through you.  Church people are consistently among the most likely to volunteer in their communities.  Historically we know that many insti-tutions that we take for granted got their start through the church: hospitals, social service agencies, universities, etc.  The church is God’s means to heal people and communities.But the most important thing that’s right with the church is that it’s the house of God.  In the Old Testament the house of the Lord was the temple. In the gospels the temple was Jesus of whom we’ll read at Christmas, the word became flesh and

[literally] tabernacled among us.  For God most closely lived among us in Jesus.  In the epistles the temple is the church about which the apostle Paul said you are the temple of the Holy Spirit!   Jesus lives with us and in us!  God shines out our soul’s windows.

Let me tell you how that works.  Norma Fausak is one of our members who is frequently in and out of the hospital, most often to get her heart in rhythm.  Last week before the procedure to scope out around her heart, whatever that’s called, Norma was talking with her doctors.  As each came to her bedside one by one she would say: Are you here to join my team?  Your team?  Yes, my team.  But you have to do one thing to be on my team.  What’s that? one by one they’d ask.  You have to be willing to ask the Great Physician to guide your hands.  One by one they’d smile… and join her team.  Shining out the cracked window of her soul was Christ’s light because she is the temple of God. That’s what’s right with the church, and why I love it and why I believe it is the hope of the world!  Will you love it with me?  Will you join my team?!  Amen.