Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas



Luke 1:26-33 (NIV)
1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."


Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Thank You for coming along on this Advent Journey. Today, and everyday, for us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord. Like Shepherds that first night, let's keep spreading the world concerning our Lord, and what he has done for us.

Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

The Christmas Story needs know explanation: Luke 2:1-20 (NIV)
2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Merry Christmas, Thank You God

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Identity

The Christmas story is the beginning of a new covenant. It was Jeremiah who spoke of "the New Covenant" in Jeremiah 31. I'll not rehearse here, because what is on my mind is the way in which God's pronouncement of his son's coming heralds (there's a word we don't use real often) a new identity. AND, what we perceive our identity to be, makes all the difference in the world in how we live.

The words in Luke 2:1-21 (NIV) are worth meditating on:
2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.


Who were these two traveling souls? Nobody knew them. Nobody paid attention to who whey were; nor to the condition of their imminent birth.
God did!
God chose these two and in the arduous journey, and "scary" conditions of birth, while no one else knew them, God did.

It was Henri Nouwen who said: "Jesus' whole message is to say that you are God's beloved child...when you can hear in your heart, not in your head, that you are truly God's beloved daughter, that you are truly God's beloved son, everything turns around. The mystery of this spiritual truth is that you were (say I was)loved before you (I) was born, and we will be loved after we die...Our dwelling in God's heart is a dwelling from eternity to eternity."

In my darkest moments when all I can sense is shame, condemnation, guilt, and pity, there is God's truth. You and I were known by God before our birth. We were chosen in love from the foundation of the world, and he is the person who names us for who we are...We are Jesus' children, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The House of Bread

I awoke this morning to the smell of fresh toasted Cinnamon Raisin bread...ummmm. I was reading this morning in the passage in Matthew 2 again, and the reading and the bread came together.

Matthew 2:1-6 (NIV)
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6 "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"


The Biblical story of Bethlehem is quite interesting. There are two Bethlehems in the Bible. The one we associate with Jesus' birth is in the south, near Jerusalem. The other is in the north, not too far from Nazareth where Jesus was raised.

Bethlehem in Judah is the birthplace. Bethlehem is first mentioned in The Bible as the place near where Rachel died. It was known variously as Ephrath (Genesis 35:16), Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem-Judah (1 Samuel 17:12), and "the city of David" (Luke 2:4). The birthplace of Jesus is significant because of the prophecy of Micah that the priests quote to Herod when he asks "where" the Christ (Messiah) was to be born. Of course, he decides that there's nothing to it so he sends the Magi on their way...until they don't return, and then he launches a campaign to kill all boys under the age of 2. He's afraid of the new King...and frankly, he ought to be.

The house of bread seems to be a fitting place for our Savior to come into the world. It was not his hometown, that would have been Nazareth. Remember the story?
Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)
2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.


The story of this little village (probably less than a few thousand when Jesus was born there) is the story of how God sought through humble means to bring about salvation to the world.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life" I love bread...it reminds me that Jesus is my sustenance...he is my life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Who Were These Guys?



I just finished reading a new book this last week - Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem by Brent Landau. It was an interesting read if for no other reasons that it introduces a number of different elements into the traditional story of these strange unknown visitors scripture in written in Greek calls "magos", which of course we've translated as Magi.

Here's the scripture: Matthew 2:1-12 (NASB)
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"
7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."
9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.


The story in scripture reveals an unknown number of people from another culture coming to Jerusalem to inquire of the birth of a new King. Tradition from the Catholic Church said there were three - largely based on the number of gifts they gave. Tradition has it that they were astrologers who followed the stars and saw in this unusual star something totally different. What isn't apparent is how they knew from observing this one star that a King had been born in Jerusalem.

This is where the book above gets interesting. Landau, among other things says of the Magi:
•The Magi are described as coming from a land called Shir, "located in the extreme east of the world, at the shore of the Great Ocean." In other ancient texts, Shir is referred to "as a place where silk comes from," says Landau, suggesting that the references were to China.

•In Syriac, the word Magi means "to pray in silence." Landau says it has no relationship to magicians or astrologers, sometimes cited in stories today. Instead they were descendents of Adam's son Seth and were inheritors of an ancient promise that someday God would reveal to these people the coming of God among his creation as a King to restore the world to the creation state of Eden. That century after century this people passed along to each generation the need to prayerfully await the revelation of the light as a star.

•The text names 12 Magi, not three, while other parts of the text suggest that "a group the size of a small army" traveled to Bethlehem.

Where Landau got his information from was an ancient Syriac text discovered in the Vatican library written from the 3rd to 8th centuries.

As I said, it's a short, interesting read. From my own background in Church History it doesn't surprise me that an account like this exists. There were many different stories written in the 2nd - 4th century that purported to be accounts of scripture. Many fall into the realm of Gnostic writings, and it's entirely possible that this is one more of the Gnostic pieces of literature from this period of time. Still, it's not going to ruin someone's faith to read it.

Having said that, I also don't believe it's an authoritative detail of the visit of the wise men that now replaces the traditional story. I've long ago jettisoned the idea that there were only three, but beyond that, there's not much information as to who, or what these ancient visitors were.

What I do believe is that Matthew includes the story of their visit to make it clear that Jesus' coming as Immanuel, God among us, signals the way for a salvation that extends to all mankind. Jesus came into this world of ours because "God so loved the world that he gave (sent) his one and only Son..." Jesus is our redemption and the fact that "wise men seek him" is still true today.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Joy to the World

Christmas is a great season for singing some great carols. While there are many to choose from, one of the most famous is "Joy to the World". It's a song based after the Gospel account: Luke 2:8-17 (NIV)
2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,


Remember this great carol?

1. Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

3. No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

4. He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness.
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

Here's a couple of things you may not know. Watts originally based the song on his ongoing work to put music to the Psalms. When he got to Psalm 98, he used the words of the Psalm as the basis for writing the words to this song we only think of as a Christmas carol.
Psalm 98:1-9 (NIV)
98:1 Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn-- shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.


Isaac Watts was the son of Isaac Watts (so really he's Isaac Watts II). His father was a part of a group of "free thinkers", which meant he was not a part of the Church of England, and politically was not aligned to the powers-that-be. Because of his father's affiliations, Watts the junior was not allowed to enter Oxford or Cambridge and instead studied at the Independent Academy at Stoke, Newington, until the age of 20, when he left on his own to go back to live with his father. Evidently, after a time with his father he left and landed a position as the assistant of Dr. Isaac Chauncey (another Isaac!) at Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London. Within 3 years, Watts became the minister at age 26! His church grew rapidly and his position enabled him to finally publish some of his work.

He dove into the Psalms and wrote songs we know: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?", "I Sing the Mighty Power of God", "Jesus Shall Reign" (my favorite) and over 500 more!!. These and many more were published in 1719 in The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. Whew! After many years, his work began to gain acceptance.

The song we sing today has a different tune than Watts used with his version of "Joy to the World". He intended for the lyrics to be sung to the tune of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". In 1836, Lowell Mason of New Jersey, a student of the classical German composer Handel, wrote an upbeat melody he called "Antioch". He searched and searched for lyrics that would fit perfectly with his song and eventually came upon "Joy to the World" by Isaac Watts. Notice the version here has both Handel as the music on top, and Watts as author below:

The combination of Watts' words and Mason's music is the Christmas carol we love today. No one is sure how it became such a popular Christmas carol because the only lines linking it to the New Testament story of Christ's birth is "the Lord is come" and "let Earth receive her King". But in the early half of the 1900's, it became a regular on radio during the holidays and "Joy to the World" was soon a classic.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

GO to Worship

Occasionally someone will offer up the encouraging words: "Let's get into the spirit of the season." There is something to this, but it usually falls on deaf ears. People are busy, shopping is never seemingly done, the last minute "I forgot" so and so hits us in the morning, etc...

I will go to the place where our fellowship meets this morning and on this last Sunday of Advent I want the time spent with others to reflect our worship together, an island of celebration of Christ Jesus in the midst of the "other" things we'll be doing.

Read this passage with me:

Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


When God comes to live among "us", he chooses ordinary hardworking farmers...the kind of people I worship with week in and week out...to show his presence to. As he did back then, he continues to show himself to people who are humble of heart, and willing to take a risk and "GO" to see what is happening...to "GO" to hear his word... to "GO" and then return...back home, back to life, back to the farm...but changed, glorifying, worshiping, telling others.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Promise of Christmas

The story of Christmas is a story of the BEGINNING of the fulfilling of God's promise. Luke 2:1-14 (NIV)
2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."


The Vision of Christmas in our minds must not be limited to a December date once a year...it is the promise fulfillment of "good news of great joy that is for all people...A Savior is born, he is Christ the Lord."

The coming of Jesus is the beginning of the fulfillment of Hope for a world ruined in the Fall. We don't even know how different it is suppose to be. We don't have any idea of how different life would have been if only Adam had not disbelieved.

NOW, let's live with that beginning leading to fulfillment in our lives:
-- let's welcome the coming of Jesus into our life, our marriage, our relationships, our jobs, neighbors, resources, finances, entertainment, everthing.

-- let's allow Jesus to do what he came to do, to transform us into the creatures that reflect the glory and image of God in beauty and truth.

-- let's live in grace, in mercy, in peace, in forgiveness, in hope and refuse to partake of the fruits of bitterness and complaint and cynicism all around us.

-- let's allow Jesus to enter in and heal all that needs to be restored, and keep persisting in that as long as we have life on the earth.

-- let's hear the words personally: "TODAY...TO YOU...A SAVIOR...IS BORN".

Jesus is God's Christmas gift to us, the beginning and the end of all that God dreams for us to become.

Romans 16:25-27 (NIV)
16:25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past,
26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him--
27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Immanuel means "with" us



Matthew 1:23 (NIV)
1:23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."

We use the word "with" in many favorable ways. "Will you go with me?" Whether it's the store, a football game, a party, or much bigger than all of that... through life, it still represents the partnership, shared space, journeying together or alongside that makes it so appealing.

Then the angel of the Lord comes along and says to Joseph - and by extension to all of us - "they will call him Immanuel - which means God with us."

Not because we're good...or deserve it...or only when we are at worship...or when you're giving...or when you're nice, polite, etc...

Simply, I'll be WITH you.

God sent Prophets, Kings, Apostles, Poets, even Farmers and Fishermen...all proclaimed messages, and some did miracles...but none of that is equivalent to, or nearly as needed, as "Immanuel...with you".

From Heaven He Came

From Heaven He came, O Praise His Name,
The Christ who took my shame.
King of all was He, yet He chose to be
But a man like me
So He came.

The Son of God, chose earth's cold sod
Left heaven's splendor rare.
And with naught to gain, Jesus stooped to claim
Man's despair.

He emptied Himself of all but love,
And came to live here with us.
He stepped from heaven's home
To ascend a cross-throne; wear a thorn-crown
And all for me.
(Words by Jack Hayford, with some changes by me)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gift

I remember the Christmas as if it were yesterday; but in fact it was 1963. December of 1963, I was 14 years old.

John F Kennedy was our president up until Nov. 22nd of that year, and then he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I remember that day even now in my 60+ years. I sat in 9th grade Science and Mr. Rehburn (not sure of the spelling) was our teacher. He came in after lunch and had the saddest look on his face, and then the speakers in the classroom notified all of us that the President had been killed and school was cancelled. For three days we stood mesmerized by TV's coverage and I cried when the casket on the horse drawn wagon went passed his son, John, and the little boy saluted his daddy's casket.

A couple of weeks later, December 6, just 19 days until Christmas, I walked into our house after delivering my morning paper route and, there in the kitchen, my mother stood crying and told me that my Grandma had died that morning, and I can still remember dropping my paper and beginning to cry all over again. The next three days were a blur as we prepared for my most favorite person in the world's funeral.

It was just three days later, the day my Grandmother was buried, Dec. 9th, that the tears were broken when my sister delivered her first born, and my first time being an Uncle. Doug was the first of many nephews and nieces to follow, but it was a break from three weeks of feeling the loss that perhaps was the greatest gift.

Then Christmas came. I have forgotten many of the Christmas' we had. It's the nature of repeated events that they all blur into one. One Christmas, the gift was a six-shooter and holster; another, a football; another, a game, and who could ever forget the tabletop electric vibrating football game that my brother and I spent countless hours playing. Whether you remember or not, take a look back at this:



That Christmas was like all others, but I've never forgotten it. Why? Because some of the gifts that were given out came from my Grandmom's own hands. She had knitted and sewn things and as they were given out to each of us, the normal cheer was replaced by a solemnity - almost silence. This woman we all had loved had just left us and still we were receiving gifts, and I just didn't know what to do.

Gifts are a part of Christmas. Some are never forgotten, most are. It's not the gift that we usually remember, it's the giver. We love it when someone does something that is thoughtful, meaningful, and personal.

Sort of like God's gift in Jesus.
2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)
9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Matthew 1:23 (NIV)
1:23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."

2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)
9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let's Not Overly Romanticize Christmas

This morning I found myself "musing" about the Christmas story, not in ways that romanticize it, but as a story about real difficulties in life. It's always good to see the "end" of something and know that God was at work in shaping the outcomes, and the lessons we learn from it. I am of the opinion that we are better if we approach life's difficulties with Faith in God, and a desire to learn what he has for us to learn. Yet, sometimes life's pains and agonies are very real when we're in the midst of them.

Take Joseph: Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


Joseph was afraid...the angel tells him not to be, but in fact, his reputation, the thoughts that swirled around his mind, his sense of Mary as HIS bride, his family's opinions, his friends and acquaintances where they lived, his joy suddenly deflated, his doubts, etc...these were just the things going on in his heart and mind.

Then there were the logistics...the details of living. A pregnant wife, no relations for the next ? months, the decree that means a journey back to his hometown of Bethlehem, no room when they arrive, giving birth in a stable, etc...

I couldn't help but "feel" for Joseph.

It all makes sense after it's all over with...perhaps, and sometimes it still doesn't make sense; but then that's why it's about Faith!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joseph the Righteous One

Scripture tells the story of Joseph in brief. He appears for a bit of time in the birth story of Jesus and then disappears. So, what kind of a man would God choose to raise his son?

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


The phrase that tells me more about Joseph's character is in verse 19 - "Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."

Our day and time would honestly struggle, if not reject, the label "righteous" on an individual. It sounds so "high and mighty", so "piously above you", as if to relegate that kind of individual to religious snobbery. The word "righteous" in the NIV is the greek word, dikaios, which means a just person, a person of right-ness. Joseph is not a nose-stuck-in-the-air religious snob; he is a man who cares about honoring God with his life. He doesn't know that Mary's pregnancy is of God. He can only assume what any rational person would - that Mary had had relations with another man; and so, his choice is merely a matter of "what would Yahweh want me to do?" He decides to divorce her - because in Jewish law, the "betrothal", or as we would say engagement, was binding and took an act of divorce to break the betrothal. Yet, Joseph does not seek to shame Mary. His plan is to divorce her quietly. For Joseph, being righteous was not a matter of being above another, but rather being able to do God's will in humility.

We need more Joseph's today. Again, my heart goes out to Men. God has given us a great privilege in honoring us with spouses and children, or maybe friends and relatives. Whether single, engaged, or married, can we step up to be "righteous" as Joseph was righteous - a man that honors God with his life?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Joseph, Man of God's Favor, Man of Faith

I am now 61 years of age, and I cannot live apart from the notion that God is the center of all of life. I wished I could say I've known that and operated that way "all" of my life; but in actuality, this is a "growing" thing inside of me, and I expect it will continue to grow however many years of life I live.

The word "favor" in the title isn't written without thought. I wouldn't say I could recognize "God's favor" in everyday life - usually. BUT, I know I'm surrounded by it, day in and day out. God has shown us favor, shown me favor, in the sending of his Son, our Savior, Jesus, to redeem us from our sins. God has shown us favor in giving us His Holy Spirit, to shape our communities of faith, to live and breath his life and light into our darkness. God has given us favor in everyday life with the nature we are surrounded with, with friends and family, with food and shelter. It's a good word, but it's not always easy to put a handle in concrete ways in which it appears to us.

Joseph is a man of God's favor; but having said that, read this passage slowly to realize what that favor meant: Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


Joseph, I want you to choose the unbelievable.
Joseph, I want you to embrace the impossible.
Joseph, I want you to love that which comes from me, and did not involve your own working.
Joseph, I want you to trust me and have faith in my plans, even though they seem inconceivable.
Joseph, I want you to walk into a life as a Father of a Son that is beyond your imagination.
Joseph, I want you to be prepared to face the gossip and finger-pointing, and judgments of those who will never really know - because I don't want you to defend me!


I try not to be one of those "alarmists" about the generation that is following mine. I have two sons, and two son-in-laws, and frankly I couldn't be happier. I have been "favored" as a Dad. But there is a part of me, the pastor part, that is concerned for "MEN - of Favor and Faith". I don't think God will hand us men easy tasks. I think the character of God that so desperately needs to be formed within happens in the crucible and fire of difficult acts of faith - when we choose to embrace the favor of God in spite of the world around us. God wants Men who believe that he wants to show them the full extent of his favor, and wants them to walk by faith in his word - above all other words surrounding us.

Many years ago, I read the words in the Old Testament: 2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)
16:9 For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..." I believed those words then, and I believe them today also. As Men, let us be those who seek God's face and believe that he has great things for us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What was it like?

It is always difficult to think of what it must have like for Mary? By all accounts she is a young girl - 16? - maybe older, but maybe younger too. We don't know. We don't know a lot about her family situation, but there is no mention of dialog with Mother and Father, just her cousin, Elizabeth. Yet here she is, and what she says yes to is not the sort of thing we can brush off as "sure, why not?"

Luke 1:38 (NIV)
1:38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

We get a hint of her character, and the depth of her soul in her "song", Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)
1:46 And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."


I love Mary's heart. As a Protestant, I think we make too little of Mary, and perhaps our Catholic brothers and sisters make too much of her. But what is so obvious is that Mary is filled with joyful praise. The song is called "The Magnificat" because the Latin version is Magnificat anima mea Dominium - "my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord". Mary's small, young person doesn't diminish her grand vision of the greatness of God.

I think I'd like to meet Mary someday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Little Boy Waiting for his Dad

Luke 1:31 (NIV)
1:31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
Matthew 11:25 (NIV)
11:25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Yesterday I had the great delight of driving three hours to pick up my daughter, son-in-law, and twin one year old grandchildren from Ohare. Lindsay, Pete along with twins Raewyn and Theo flew some 8 hours from England to arrive for a three week Christmas stay. I am a happy Dad and Grandpa this morning.

While at the airport I had one of those Advent moments. Waiting at the terminal where passengers come through the doors after clearing customs are all sorts of people. Most are very quiet until their loved one, or friend, or business colleague comes through the door. If it's a loved one or friend, there's the hub, sometimes kiss, or some other show of affection. The impersonal thing is the person standing to the side with a sign with either a name, or a company name, etc... I can't say it's a bad thing, but it doesn't compare with warm welcomes of family.

Yesterday while I stood waiting for my family members to arrive, a young Mom with two little children showed up. The little girl looked like she was about 18 months old. She could stand, walk, and whisper to her Mom, but definitely clung to her leg for safety. The little boy was the antithesis of his sister. About 4, I guess (I have a three year old Grandson to compare with), he arrived at the rope line and within seconds I could hear him say, "Dad, We're waiting Dad", as he, Mom, sister, like all of us stared plaintively towards the glass doors for our loved ones to make their appearance. It did not stop at that. He was quiet for all of ten to 20 seconds at a time I would guess. "Dad, Where Are You Dad", was the cry of his little mind and heart. And on and on it went. Ten minutes, twenty minutes passed...he did not give up. No one seemed to mind.

I smiled and saw the heart of the child that Jesus said was indicative of those who "got it". The little boy is undeterred in his expectancy. He does not care who is listening; and he does not mind repeatedly asking for His Dad to show up.

Advent means "arrival", "waiting in expectancy", craving Immanuel, "God with us".

His Dad walked through the door, and the little boy, oblivious to security rules and concerns, went under the ropes and ran to his arms, and his Dad swung him around in a circle and they hugged, and kissed, and all I kept hearing was "Dad, You're Here"...and it made me smile.

Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Son of David

Luke 1:26-33 (NIV)
1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."


Who is this messiah? What will he be? What is it that will be born among us?
The very first words about Jesus announce that he is the fulfillment of an ancient proclamation - the fulfillment of David's family promise. He is a King and shall be the King of God's promise to David -- get this, over 1000 years before!

David was a King for a time, a season of history, and yet is considered Israel's greatest King. David was called "a man after God's own heart". Flawed and faithful, he was a human who saw God as central to all of life. In 2 Samuel 7, David announces he is going to build a house for God. God says "No" - "You won't, but your son Solomon will"; AND THEN, God says the words that find their fulfillment a 1000 years later:
7:11 "...'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom." 2 Samuel 7:11-12 (NIV)
In the immediate history this is Solomon, but it is Gabriel before Mary that the promise comes to it's fulfillment.

Here is the deeper meaning of God's purpose - the Kingdom of God - and here is the King that shall reign over God's Kingdom.

Jesus:
Name of wondrous love, name all other
names above,
Unto which must ever knee bow in deep humility.

Jesus:
Name decreed of old to the maiden mother told -
Kneeling in her lowly cell--by the angel Gabriel.

Jesus:
Name of priceless worth to the children
of the earth
For the promise that it gave, "Jesus shall his
people save."

Jesus:
Name of wondrous love, human name of
God above;
Pleading only this, we flee, helpless, O our God,
to Thee.
Amen.


- William W. How, 19th century

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"May it Be to Me As You Have Said"

In the Christmas story of Luke's gospel everything begins with Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel is brief, but makes clear her response is one that chooses to believe.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)
1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.
37 For nothing is impossible with God."
38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.


"May it be to me as you have said". That might be the most simple, best statement of faith that exists. "Yes Lord" is faith. This young poor peasant girl is willing to do the unfathomable. She says yes to God, and she also therefore says yes to "questioning", "suspicion", "finger-pointing", "gossip", "shame". A young virgin conceiving a child by God...impossible. What would you say if someone called you with that line. But, here she is, this woman who says "May it be to me as you have said."

Thomas Merton put it this way:

"Mary", he wrote "was as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun."

May It Be to Me As You Have Said
It was the whisper
of a young woman's ready response to God
that opened to the miracle of saving grace
entering our world in the person of Jesus, Our Lord.
- Jack Hayford

"To You, Today, A Savior..."

May we be as open to God, a window to let in his light.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Kingdom

I read in Luke's gospel the continuing story as it unfolds with the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary:
Luke 1:26-33 (NIV)
1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."


Christmas is about many things: decorations, lights, candy and cookies, gatherings with friends, children's pageants in church, carol sings, Christmas movies and Santa Claus, and the list goes on and on. Yet, as I read the words of Gabriel I'm reminded that first and foremost of all, Christmas is about the Kingdom of God. The angel Gabriel came announcing, Luke 1:32-33 (NIV)
1:32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."


The prophet Isaiah had said it first: Isaiah 9:7 (NIV)
9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

And the book of Revelation reminds us that God "wraps it all up" it will still be about the Kingdom of God: Revelation 19:11-16 (NIV)
19:11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.
12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.
13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.
15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.


Here is the reminder of what Christmas is all about. It was God's entry into the world, "Immanuel" = "God with us", and in his coming Jesus reminds us that "...the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Many years ago we use to sing "The King is Coming, The King is Coming..." Well, he is!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's St. Nicholas Day



December 6 is a memorable day in the Advent Season. When our children were growing up we hung stockings out and filled them with treats on St. Nicholas Day. It is St. Nicholas of course that serves as the model of Santa Claus in America, or Father Christmas in places like England, or for my Dutch friends, Sinterklass.

Some Christians struggle with including Santa Claus in their Christmas celebrations, but if we embraced who this man was, we would see how he served as an example of what celebrating Christmas is all about. St. Nicholas was an early church Bishop from a place called Myra in what is now modern day Turkey. He lived during a time of persecution and was imprisoned and persecuted for his faith. He died on Dec. 6, somewhere near 350 A.D.

Tradition has it that he was the "Children's Bishop". He cared deeply for children and there are many stories, probably most are myths, of his exploits on behalf of children. As the successive generations of the church followed the person of St. Nicholas evolved. In Germany he became Weinachstmann - Christmas Man; in France, Pere Noel took over St. Nicholas' job. He arrived each Christmas to provide for children and the poor, cakes, cookies, and candy, placing them in shoes that sat outside. In England, it was Father Christmas who had a beard and a sack of toys. When the Reformation took hold in Germany and other parts of Europe, the veneration of Saints was banned. Still St. Nicholas' day continued to be a part of the Christmas season. When new world settlers from Holland settled in New York, Sinterklass was heard by English speaking people as "Santy Claus". In 1808, Washington Irving wrote about Sinterklass in his book A History of New York, and described him as "a rotund little man in Dutch clothes, with knee length trousers and a broad brimmed hat, traveling around on a flying horse wagon dropping gifts down the chimneys of his favorites on the Eve of St. Nicholas."

While Irving made gift giving by Santa Claus a part of Christmas lore, it was a professor of theology, Clement Moore, who ultimately made Santa Claus a part of the Christmas season when in wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas, now known as "The Night Before Christmas". The story is that he was inspired by a man who drove a "hack" - a horse drawn taxi cab - who had a long white beard and a reddish nose. He wrote the story for his children and what was meant as a private poem to his children was made famous the following year when it was published in the New York paper. What the story changed was Santa Claus' visit was not tied to St. Nicholas day on Dec. 6th, but instead occurred on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th after the children had gone to sleep. Santa came with a sleigh drawn by 8 reindeer, all of whom had names! He wrote: "down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound..." and after he
"filled all the stockings; then he turned with a jerk,
and laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."


Clement Moore's poem has become part of American Christmas tradition and even today movies continue to be made (with a certain amount of stupidity) that embrace the idea of Santa. Santa has evolved, but what hasn't changed is that this character once lived as a generous, faithful Christian leader who inspired others to love and be generous. So, on this day, St. Nicholas' day, go ahead and give a gift to someone who doesn't deserve it, who doesn't know it's from you, and for the sake of Christ alone. Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

JOY



This morning I get to celebrate the Second Sunday in Advent with my brothers and sisters at New Life Fellowship. We who celebrate Christ's Advent get to seize the Joy of this season. Joy isn't about happiness - for happiness depends upon happenings. Joy is that settled confidence that God is in charge...all is going to be ok.

Scripture: Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)
2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.


I love the way the Prophet Isaiah explained it - Isaiah 51:11 (NIV)
51:11 The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.


The famous Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" captures the essence of this passage - a ransomed Joyful overtaking...and sorrow and sighing fleeing away - when George comes home at the end of the movie, now aware that the debt and shame of the money is not what matters. What matters is his family and friends. He ends up surrounded by them and they sing together "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the New Born King..." That is not happiness on display, that is JOY! The Joy of a ransomed everlasting Joy upon his head.

May we discover JOY in the Lord as we worship him today, and throughout this Advent.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Husband and Wife - Faith Partners

As I thought ("mused") on the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, I couldn't help but wonder how the two of them "together" came to this place of "settled faith". What I mean is that their togetherness speaks loudly about a husband and wife being convinced as one, the way the scripture defines a marriage, about what God wants to do in their lives.
Here's the passage again, read it aloud and slowly, catch the togetherness:

Luke 1:57-66 (NIV)
1:57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.
58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,
60 but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."
61 They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.
63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John."
64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.
65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.
66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.


Zechariah had been quiet - mute - throughout this whole period. Elizabeth and he spoke a language together of the Spirit of God. It came to them that God was at work in their marriage, in their family, in each of their lives - together.

My brothers and sisters, if you are married, can you believe that God has a work he wants to do through the two of you as a couple? Do we believe that the "one flesh" that God said would be a marriage is still the goal of striving "in" our marriage?

I am concerned as I see so many couples struggling to keep their marriage alive and with a desire to be a couple doing God's will together. It's become all to frequent that couples settle for being "married singles". Married? Yes, but only in ways that are legal and social...we live together, we share finances, we have a family to raise, we serve God, we even are intimate with each other...but, all of this is not leading to oneness and I've heard to many couples say "we're not together".

Elizabeth and Zechariah discover this oneness when they mutually together say "God has done this and therefore together we will walk this out in faith". Faith Partners - a couple who understand that God is at work in "them", to do and to will of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12,13). Oh that we had churches full of faith partners.

If you're not married, and would like to be, this is the mate you're looking for. One who strives for oneness in God. One who wants God to be the Lord of the marriage and Lord of the direction of living that out in faith.

May Advent be for all of us who are married a time of renewal of being faith partners.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Elizabeth's Quiet Faith

The Christmas story in Luke begins with the priest Zechariah, and before the first chapter ends, Mary is pregnant with Jesus. In between there is Elizabeth.
Luke tells little about her.

Luke 1:5-7 (NIV)
1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.
7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.


Zechariah has his visitation in the temple service by the angel Gabriel...and he walks out without the ability to talk - not so much a punishment, but a divine sign that something happened to him in the temple, and perhaps his lack of affirmation was God's way of saying, "Then just watch".

Zechariah comes home to Elizabeth...and he isn't talking. More than one wife can relate to that, but in this case his lack of talking isn't his tired, worn out emotions and body, but rather it's the Lord's doing. What did Elizabeth know? What did she understand? What did she do? It's obvious, something has happened to her husband, and she doesn't get to "hear" it from him...it is merely acted out. They made love... Luke 1:23-25 (NIV)
1:23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.
24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.
25 "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."


It seems very strange for us "moderns" to understand just what it meant to a woman in her day to be "barren". It is a frustration that many a woman can identify with when they "try" over and over to have children without success. But, for Elizabeth it was more than just frustration...it was "disgrace". "What's wrong with her?" "What has she done that God will not allow her to have a child?", and more.

There's only one more link to Elizabeth and it comes after Mary is visited by the angel and is herself now pregnant. Luke tells it like this...Luke 1:39-45 (NIV)
1:39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"


Elizabeth is mainly a quiet figure in the story. But to Elizabeth we see a faith that goes beyond human emotion.
1. She points out the defining characteristic in Mary - "Blessed are you who believed that the word God spoke would indeed be fulfilled".
2. She speaks out the quality of Mary's blessed state - "she believed the Lord"
Remember the words of Jesus later...Luke 11:27-28 (NIV)
11:27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."


Elizabeth...quiet, full of faith, and understands what's going on.

May our Advent be a time of "watching", "waiting", "seeking understanding" in all that God is doing around us, and through us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Christmas Lights

Our trees - yes trees - one inside we cut last weekend, and the one outside that stands large and tall in the front yard are both lit, and as well, there are also lights around the house. We love Christmas decorations, especially the Christmas lights. A couple of nights ago I saw the lighting of the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on TV.
It was Martin Luther almost 500 years ago that came up with the idea of lights in the Christmas tree. He was walking in the dark near his home and noticed the stars twinkling through the evergreen branches. He felt as if the hand of God had touched his soul and he came up with the idea of putting candles on the tree inside of his home. For centuries to follow candles were developed with special holders to place on Christmas trees. This made for two things: 1) It created beauty in developing decorations for Christmas; and 2) extreme fire hazards as every year not only trees, but houses would catch on fire. It was an employee of Thomas Edison, who developed the first electrical lights, that would come up with the idea of stringing electrical bulbs together to decorate his own Christmas tree. Edward Johnson's idea caught on the 1880's, and newspapers sent reporters from far off places to get stories on this new invention. Yet, it was expensive. It was not until after WW I that General Electric and Westinghouse would produce Christmas tree bulbs that the average American could afford to purchase. The evolution of Christmas tree bulbs has continued to this day.

Why do we decorate the tree this way? While tradition is linked back to Luther's idea, it had it's roots in scripture.
John 1:1-5 (NIV)
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.


Even there, John is thinking back to an Old Testament Prophet who talked of the Messiah's coming in terms of light - Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)
9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...
9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.


The promise of the Messiah is that he comes as light in the darkness of the world. The promise of the Messiah is that "the light shines in darkness, but the darkness doesn't understand (recognize) it..."
Think about it...Jesus says to us: Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.


"The Light has come and the darkness can
Never be the same, O hallelujah"

May the lights of the Christmas reminds us always that Jesus Christ has come, and that before he comes again, WE are his lights.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Listening - An Art


We began to decorate our home two weeks ago. This last weekend, the best Christmas tree we've ever had (and I say that every year) went up in our living room. We've decorated the rest of the house the way we wanted to over the last few days...why? Because decorating our home is an external action of our internal desire. NOW, don't get me wrong, I don't think that people who do minimalist decorating only have a little desire. I just mean that our decorating is a part of the season we are celebrating - Advent, a preparing for our King.

But, what if we're not preparing? What if we've come to that place in life where it seems week in and week out not much changes. It's the same old, same old. Life chugs along and there is no expectation of God being involved in anything in my life?

I would urge a less hectic rushing around, and a more deliberate "slowing", "listening", "watching", because there we will more likely encounter God.

Here's the passage for today's Advent Reading:

Luke 1:5-20 (NIV)
1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.
7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,
9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.
16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
18 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
19 The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."


Zechariah didn't anger Gabriel, and in that further sense, didn't anger God. Zechariah received a gift...silence. It is as if the Angel Gabriel said, "Zechariah you're struggling to believe that somehow life as you know it...and life as you have come to believe won't ever be different...could somehow be different. I want to give you a gift and allow you to watch, observe, catch the gift of what I am about to do...be amazed, you are not alone, God is right there in the midst of your life...even though you don't see it."

Listening to God is an Art. Take some time to be silent today...intentionally, prayerfully, deliberately and ask God to show you what he is doing. My prayer is you'll be amazed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 3 - You're Not Alone

Who we are is not nearly as important as Who We will become. We are not living today without a sense of our past, but it is not the past that "must" frame our lives - as if to say that we have "always been such and such" therefore we will always continue to be that.
One of the beautiful things about being a Christian is that I believe God is present in my world, and that he "manifests" that presence from time to time, just to make it clear that I am not alone.

In Advent, we see that very clearly. Take the story at the beginning in Luke's gospel: Luke 1:1-7 (NIV)
1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.
7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Zechariah appears to be a rather "hidden" priest in Israel's history. Scripture records the name Zechariah over 30 times, so his name doesn't stand out. But his name means something = "Yahweh Remembers". The beginning of Advent is with God... Remembering...Zechariah...Insignificant...Elizabeth...a wife...Both of them good people of faith...but unable to have a child.
The scripture has several stories of impossible situations like this. Perhaps the most amazing is Abraham, who at 99 years of age hears the word from God, "...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:3
It's God's way of saying to Abraham, "You have no idea of what I can do through a person, even if they don't think they are anything at all."
Zechariah and Elizabeth begin the story of Christmas in Luke's gospel. They appear to be no-bodies, unnoticed...maybe even looked down upon because they couldn't, seemingly, have a child. But God knew, and God remembered, and God entered in...and when God is involved that changes everything.

So, on this Advent day, let's remind ourselves: "I am not alone". No matter where my life is at, no matter how difficult the days may be, and there will always be times of great concern and struggle, even suffering...I am not alone!

"Lord, remind me today of your presence. Help me to see you in my life, and in the lives of others. I am concerned this day for ___________________. Please help me/help them. Yet, I will say today...I trust you Lord. I love that you are a God of goodness and grace, and that my life counts before you...thank you Lord, Amen."

ACTION: I just saw a Christmas Movie (yeah, I'm a sucker for Christmas movies) about a guy in the military who receives a Christmas Card from someone he doesn't know, who writes just to say "thank you" for serving our country and for making a difference over there. This morning I ran across an article that Linda showed me and think it's a great Advent idea. It's a story about Amy Grant, who is a spokesperson for the Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which distributes holiday letters and cards to troops and wounded veterans all over the world. The link to the site is at: http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.53fabf6cc033f17a2b1ecfbf43181aa0/?vgnextoid=3f8dab0de3d64210VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD
The address is on that site and it's a great way of reminding the guys and gals overseas serving our country in the military that they are not alone either.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where We Are From!

Matthew 1:1-16 (NLT)
1:1 This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram.
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the father of Abijah. Abijah was the father of Asa.
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh. Manasseh was the father of Amon. Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile: Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel. Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud. Abiud was the father of Eliakim. Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok. Zadok was the father of Akim. Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar. Eleazar was the father of Matthan. Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.


When I read this passage this morning I started thinking about how complete the record is. I don't have anything to recall past a few generations. I am the son of Lyle, who is the son of William, who is the son of ???, who is the son of ???
My grandfather's family came here from Germany in the 1860's. He, supposedly, was born in 1872. No one has the date for certain, but it was somewhere's in that time. He was born in America, the first in his family if I got the story correct. My father was born in 1913, and my mother in 1915. I was born the 6th (ok, my twin brother was 5th and I was right behind as 6th) out of a family of 7 kids.

I can remember the modern record, but I don't have the generations in reverse...not like Matthew did for Jesus' line. There are 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile, and 14 from the return from Exile to Jesus...impressive!

The people in Jesus' day longed for a Messiah, one who would relieve them of their bondage under the Romans. They wanted someone who would make them proud of who they were and reclaim the dignity of God's chosen people. Don't we all want to know and feel that relationship connection?
We don't get it by genealogical backtracking to see where we came from. It's fascinating to discover, but not essential to faith in Christ. It is enough to be linked by faith to our "birth in Christ".

Matthew said "Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham." Didn't Matthew know that Abraham came before David? Of course, but his purpose is to say Jesus is the King, who's glory lies in the promise to Abraham: "Genesis 12:3b (NIV)
"...and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."


It's Paul who writes later: Galatians 3:16 (NIV)
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

SO, this Advent day #2, let us stop and give thanks for our heritage. Our physical heritage of family, and our spiritual heritage of Christ. In Jesus we see God's purpose - a bring all of the families of the earth together into his Kingdom, and for his Son to reign as King. We are children of the King! That is where we are from.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Preparing For Christmas - Advent 2010


As a Christian, I am a follower of Jesus. Technically, the word for a follower is a "disciple". A disciple is a learner, one who is committed to allowing Jesus to be more than Savior, but also a teacher. What does he teach? Simply the scripture says that Jesus told his disciples to make disciples by "teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you". What have we done in the name of Christ these days? We have raised up a generation of "church people"...people who have become members and affiliated with a denomination; but we have misplaced the real purpose of raising up followers of Jesus - disciples.

Perhaps Advent can call us back to his purpose for our lives, for the church as a whole. Perhaps we can prepare our hearts over the next four weeks to "receive our King".

Advent comes from the Latin, "Adventus", which in Greek was "parousia" and means "coming or arrival". The church has celebrated Advent for almost 1700 years, give or take a few years. Catholic?, I don't think so. It has an appeal that goes way beyond one denomination. It has appealed to my spirit and soul for over 25 years. I remember Christmas as a "season" not a day. I remember as a child that Christmas was a time of "anticipation", waiting, watching, looking for the surprise around each day. One day it would be cookies baking; the next a new decoration; the next memorization of a bible verse for the church's program; the next a festive gathering....every day something new and something that reminded me that I had entered a "magical" time (see C. S. Lewis) and I hoped it would never end.

On this first day of Advent I would only "plead": Please come along and journey alongside of me as we "prepare our hearts" and proclaim every day, "joy to the world, the Lord has come".

Today Read: Isaiah 11:1-3

What to do? Look for someone to share the miracle of Advent with and ask them to come along..."It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

Come back tomorrow as we journey through Advent!