Saturday, December 31, 2011

Days 6 & 7 of the 12 Days of Christmas

The weekend is upon us...and thus, 2012.  Happy New Year to you all.
I spent the day launching my daughter, Lindsay, her husband Pete, and my twin grandchildren, Raewyn and Theo as they are flying back to England - their home.  It's been a bit sad to say goodbye and yet we have some really good memories and stories from their vacation back home here.

This weekend is days 6 & 7 of the 12 days of Christmas.
The 12 days are thought to begin on Christmas day and end on the fift or sixth of January - the day of Epiphany, which is the celebration of the appearance of the wise men and their gifts to Jesus.
On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me,
six geese-a-laying...

In England, where the song originated, a goose was a traditional Christmas meal.  I made one once, and because it was a wild goose it was given a thumbs down by my family.  Yet Geese were important because they were domesticated so that not only did they lay eggs to provide a constant source of food, but they also were raised as a delicacy to eat.
Symbolically, the six geese represented the six days of creation, when God "laid" the foundation for creation, and thus "feeds" the earth.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me,
seven swans a swimming...

Swans are considered to be graceful, beautiful birds...even given as gifts in old England when this song was probably composed.
So what did the authors have in mind?
Isaiah 11:1-2 (NIV)
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--

The scripture says there are seven aspects of the ministry of Jesus:
1.  Wisdom
2.  Understanding
3.  Counsel
4.  Power
5.  Knowledge
6.  Fear of the Lord
7.  The Spirit of the Lord rests on Him

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 5 - Golden Rings??

The 12 days of Christmas occur between Christmas Day and Jan. 6 - Epiphany - the event that commemorates the visit of the wise men (Magi) and the gifts they gave Jesus.
On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A Partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day - two turtledoves
On the third day - three french hens
On the fourth day - four colly birds (see yesterday's blog)
And now today...
On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me,
Five Gold Rings!  

Finally something other than a bird! Right?
Unfortunately No, it's still a bird.
The writer/composer had in mind the ring necked pheasant that was highly prized for both it's beauty and taste!

The song is usually sung as "five golden rings" instead of the correct words:  "five gold rings"

So, what did they have in mind that this was to represent for children to learn?
The Five Gold Rings represent the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses - which serve as a record of God's character and his desire for a nation who's identity is set in Him.  Think about all that relates to knowing these books as representing the character of God.

Deuteronomy 4:5-9 (NIV)
5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me..
6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations...
...what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV)
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 

John 1:17 (NIV)
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

Romans 3:19-24 (NIV)
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 

In Christ Jesus we have the law embodied in all of God's grace and truth...two essential ways to approach what God says.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

12 days of Christmas - Day 4

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
four calling birds,
three french hens,
two turtle doves,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 (NIV)
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,...
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,
15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 

The song "The Twelve days of Christmas" employs symbols that help children remember the various aspects of their faith.  Over the last three days I mentioned the three french hens as the essentials of faith, hope and love;  two turtledoves as the two covenants of the Old and New Testaments; and a partridge in a pear tree as Jesus Christ.  My true love is God and of course, "me" is, well, you  and me!
On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me,
Four Calling birds...

This part of the song actually needs some explanation; as it is not simply "calling" birds, but rather from the old English - "colly" birds. Now, what are "Colly" birds?
Colly means black as coal and a "colliery" was a coal mine with connected buildings.  Colly became the name for black birds.
OK, so why give "colly birds"?
The old school/children's song: "Sing a song of sixpence" talks about "blackbirds baked in a pie".  One of the things I learned in my many travels to England, and especially the Cornwall area is that miners couldn't rely on their lunches being kept free of the coal dust and dirt, so they "tucked" their food inside of "pasties"...dough that was stuffed with potatoes, other vegetables, then baked.  The miners took the pasties to their work and at lunch time they took the pasties apart, literally throwing away the outside to get at the inside, safe goodies.

SO...four colly birds represents the real food inside the outside.
In the case of the Twelve days of Christmas, the thing to learn about four colly birds is that there are four witnesses to the life of Christ - the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the fourth day of Christmas, God gave us this to remind us of some of the things that Christ Jesus did in walking this earth.  It wasn't all, as John reminds us.
John 20:30-31 (NIV)
30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

12 Days of Christmas - Day 3

The 12 days of Christmas serve as a type of "veiled Catechism" during a time of religious persecution.  The song we sing is full of symbols.
Today we're looking at Three French Hens.

On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves,
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
We already noted that the True Love is God.
The Partridge is Jesus because of his willingness to be a sacrifice.
The two turtle doves represent the covenants of the Old and the New Testaments
NOW...a Partridge in a pear tree?
The key is the three part of the French Hens.  
It represents the virtues of the Gospel:  Faith, Hope and Love.

Faith is the "substance", the real thing so to speak, of what we believe.
Hope sustains us in times when things don't seem well.
Love is the crowning of all virtues and when first applied to our relationship to God, it should spill over into our relationship with all others.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (NRSV)
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day two of the 12 Days of Christmas

Luke 2:21-24 (NLT)
21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the LORD.”
24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons {doves}.” 

I've been reading the 19th century English pastor and theologian, J.C. Ryle and his expository notes on the Gospel of Luke.  As I preach my way through this Gospel I find some of these older works to be of invaluable worth in my own thinking, meditating, even praying through scripture.

Ryle makes the point that Mary and Joseph's sacrifice was the act of a poor couple.  Leviticus had prescribed an animal sacrifice for a circumcision, unless the couple was poor - then they could offer two pigeons...doves.  God did not send his son into a world with privilege.  Instead he was born in a poor family, where hard work and scraping to keep things together still did not get you ahead.

The 12 days of Christmas mark the period of time between Christmas and Epiphany (see yesterday's blog if you want more information on this).  The song says of this second day:

On the second day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me:
Two turtle doves,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The 2nd day of Christmas is God’s gift of the Two turtle doves. I have to admit, from early boyhood the idea of a turtle and a dove brought weird images to my mind. I wasn’t sure whether the song was saying the true love gave a turtle or a dove, but it was confusing to try to put the two together. 

Why two turtledoves?
Some have suggested it is a way of reminding children that these were symbols of the sacrifice that Mary brought in lieu of the lamb.

In the Jordan valley a similar species, the palm dove, or Egyptian turtledove, is still common today. 
The nature of turtle doves is that they pair for life - a poetic type and symbol of God’s covenanted love.  The dove appears in the language of Old Testament Poetry to describe the love that never dies.
Song of Songs 2:10-14 (NRSV)
10 My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 

It could be that the symbol of the two doves is the giving of God’s covenanted word in both Testaments - the Old and New.  The two show his faithful love that is fulfilled - even as two partridges stay together for life.  There are two completed aspects of God’s covenant that both point to Jesus – The Old Testament gives us the background for Jesus’ coming in the redemptive work of God through repentance and sacrifice. The New Testament shows the completed work of Christ and the direction of God’s work in redemption through the Kingdom of God.
Two turtle doves…God’s faithful love from eternity to eternity.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas - Day 1

1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

Depending upon where you live, this is either the first day of shopping sales and returning presents, or, it is the beginning of a new series of celebration days.  Of course, to my English friends today is "Boxing Day" - a day that has it's traditions in Victorian England when the servants and their families received gifts (presumably in the boxes) because they would have had to serve their master's families on Christmas day.

For me, today is the first day of the 12 days of Christmas.  Made famous by the Christmas song of the same name, it has a tradition that goes back approximately 500 years.  Since most of us are not part of liturgical churches little of this is known, or adhered to.

These 12 days occur between Christmas and January 6th - which is Epiphany.  Epiphany is from the Greek word that means "appearance".  Epiphany is marked on the calendar as the date the Magi came, seeking the baby born who was 'King of the Jews'.  In some traditions - notably Eastern Orthodoxy - because the Wise Men came bearing gifts, January 6 is considered to be Christmas day!

Interestingly the song named after the "12 days of Christmas" is not just a cute song (or in some people's consideration,  nonsense).  This song has its roots in the 17th century when some parts of the church were under assault.  The song is considered to be a device for teaching truths - a sort of catechism done by song.  The "true love" is God, and "Me" is the believer.

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Why a Partridge in a pear tree?  The Partridge is a bird that will feign injury to protect its young and in some cases sacrifice its own life for the sake of its young.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Peace

Christmas Peace!
Luke 19:38 (NIV)
38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

Acts 10:34-36 (NIV)
34 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Romans 5:1 (NIV)
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Christmas is a message of Peace between God and Mankind.  "God so loved the world..." and it's because of Jesus' birth that peace between God and Mankind can occur.  Also, it's because of Jesus that we can have peace between each other.
For most of our lives we have not had much experience with peace.  The world lives in conflict and in my lifetime our nation has fought in war after war seeking to establish peace - but it still is elusive.
When I think of families on Christmas day being together I cannot help but think of families who are not together because their sons and daughters are gone to war.  Our military is thousands of miles away from home, and somehow "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas" seems appropriate.

It is sometimes hard to believe that God will establish peace upon the earth through Jesus Christ - but I believe he will.
With Christmas Day upon us, let me tell you a story of a famous Christmas carol.
Back in 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard bells from a church steeple ringing on Christmas day.  It was the time of the Civil War.  He had lost his wife in a tragic accident in 1861, and almost lost his son in 1863, who was shot through the shoulder while fighting in one of the Civil War battles.  
That Christmas he heard the bells ringing, and something inside of him happened.  Rather than the cynicism and doubt of what the war was doing to his family, and country; instead something stirred within him that caused him to pause and reflect.
He sat down and composed this carol that reflected on Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace.  It was a statement on his part that though evil from mankind continue, the truth is that God HAS done something to bring peace upon the earth.  

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

I awoke this morning to the idea that I would ask each of you to join me in praying Jesus' prayer:
"Lord, let your Kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Believe...Believe...Believe...Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve

As I write this, Christmas Eve has begun.  But, like so many people around the world the beginning is actually on the evening of the day.  Tonight we will gather in simplicity - hymns and carols of Christmas.  We'll tell the story all over again in scripture and song.  It never tires me to hear it anew.
When Zechariah and Elizabeth birthed John, who was to be the forerunner of Jesus - 30 years down the road - Zechariah's tongue was loosened and he spoke for the first time in almost a year about what God was showing him in the birth of his son.

Luke 1:68-69 (NIV)
68 "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David

The horn was a symbol of God's calling the people.  The shofar was a ram's horn and was used to call them to seasons of worship and celebration.  John was going to be that horn that called the nation to God doing something in their midst.  Later in that same prophecy, he said:
Luke 1:76-79 (NRSV)
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

I love the words of this:
  • knowledge of salvation..
  • forgiveness of sins...
  • tender mercy of God...
  • light to those sitting in darkness...
  • the dawn from on high breaks upon us...
  • to guide to the way of peace...
Christmas Eve all around the world is celebrated for all of these reasons.  A savior is born, sent to us by the Father who sought a way for us back to him.  All over the world there is this sense of joy, mystery, peace that settles over Christ's communities as we acknowledge the simplicity and beauty of what God has done.
There is a legend in Northern Canada that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the spirit of peace hovers over everything - the cattle, wild animals, all fall to their knees in worship.  Stories like that are part of a bigger picture - the need to say something is happening that none of us can believe on our own.
William Shakespeare wrote about Christmas Eve and this peace:
"Some say that whenever that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated
The bird of dawn sings all night long;
They say that no spirit can walk abroad;
No planet strikes,
No fairy takes,
No(thing) has power to charm,
So hallowed and gracious is this time."
Zechariah speaks in his prayer at the birth of his son John words that echo that same spirit of Christmas eve:
"The dawn from on high will break upon us..."
In a few hours I will gather with my family of faith at New Life and we'll sing the songs, read the scripture and once again say "thank you God for this wonder full gift".

Peace to you and your household, and your family of faith

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry and Joy in Christmas

John 3:16-17 (NIV)
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The Bible is full of the word "Joy", but only once is the word "merry" translated, and it's not good.  Jesus said the word in a parable that was meant to rebuke a man's desire to get Jesus to side with him in a dispute about material wealth.
Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"
15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

The greek word for merry is "euphraino" which if you look closely you'll see the word "euphoria".   To the person who thinks life is a series of accumulations of material things, Jesus says, "Watch out, Be on doesn't consist of the abundance of possessions."  
That isn't what most of us want to hear on Christmas.
We wish each other a "Merry Christmas", and by that we mean have a great time celebrating Christmas - gift giving, food, drink, carols and all.
Because Christmas is Merry.  It is euphoric.  God has come down and He is with us.

There is no reason for Christmas apart from Emmanuel.  Joy has come to the earth.
We give gifts because God has given us a gift - free, and without asking for one in return.
We feast because Jesus is the bread of life.
We light candles because Jesus is the light of the world.
We sing carols because Heavenly hosts sing God's praises in fields at night.
We revel in God...look what he has done.

AND, most of all, we say "thank you Lord" because you came to reverse the curse.  There is no place for condemnation - there is only reunion when as prodigal sons and daughters we come home to the Abba Father.
He came to restore relationship
He came to undo the fall.
He came to tell us we are all sons and daughters of God.
He came to tell us that we are all meant to be something far beyond what we could ever imagine.
Acts 2:28 (NIV)
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'

Merry, Joy, Peace

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On Saying "Yes Lord"

Matthew 1:20-21, 24 (NIV) 
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."
  24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Luke 1:35-38 (NIV)
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...
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.

Luke 2:11 (NIV)
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV) 
36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 

Luke 6:46 (NIV)
46 "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

One of the favorite carols of Christmas for many is "Joy to the World".  It's song that expresses a sense of hope in God's entrance into humanity, bringing redemption, and establishing his Kingdom rule.
The words:  Joy to the World, the LORD is come say something important.  In our age of relativity and self-authority is strikes me that we can sing the songs and never get the message.  Just like the passages above...the promise to Joseph and Mary is that they would be birthing God's son - the one who would redeem, and also rule (Matt. 1:21 & Luke 2:11).  They heard the words from the Lord - God - Yahweh - and had to consider the options before them.  Joseph awoke and "did what the angel of the Lord commanded him".  Mary responded with "I am the Lord's servant...may it be to me as you have said."

Jesus reminded his disciples, and all who were listening who were not following him as a disciple, that the first, greatest (most important) "commandment" [entole = command or requirement] was to acknowledge God's authority with all that we our hearts, soul, and mind.  It affects all of our being to say "Yes Lord".
It strikes me in a sober way to hear the words of Jesus... "why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?"

That is the simple challenge of Advent and Christmas isn't it?  We welcome into the world the Savior, who is Christ the LORD.  He is the one whose Kingdom is established, his reign will never end, and he invites us to come in as a trust, and submission, to his rule.

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

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, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins 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.

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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Visitors

Many people travel over Christmas.  It's not unusual for households to swell as every available room, couch, cot, even sleeping bag gets used.  That will be the same for our household as nine adults, one pre-schooler, three toddlers and baby make their way in to stay.  I recently found out that two million people per day travel from now through the New Year just on airplanes alone.  It's a busy season for Christmas travel; and spending time together with family is probably the most typical tradition of our Christmas season.

But imagine if you will sudden guests...visitors you had never met before who showed up seeking you.

Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
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."

These "Magi" (from the Greek word Magoi) are star-watchers, astrologers, who notice a star in the sky that directs them toward Jerusalem.  You'll notice they know in advance the purpose of the star - a sign that a King of the Jews has been born.

It is interesting to hear the traditions that accompany this story in Matthew.  In tradition, they are three - although nothing in the text says there were three.  I doubt that three strangers from another land seeking a King would cause Herod to react that much...but maybe 30 or 100 would!  Also, we are not told where they are from...just that they come from the east.  The star that appears to them is quite different in that it hovers over an area and "leads" them to that area...seemingly appearing as they need direction.
What we do know from the text is Jesus is born and Mary and Joseph are now in a house but still in Bethlehem - Matthew 2:11  
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him...

Much speculation has said they were Persian.  Not just astrologers, they were "sages" - wise men - elders from a tribe that had some prophetic awareness of the event that would happen.  
A few years ago a book - The Revelation of the Magi was written which purported to have translated an ancient text.  It is supposed to be written as a journal by the Magi themselves.  These "Magi" are people of prayer, even silence, who are descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve.  Seth is believed to be the origin of the Jewish people as Abraham descended from the line of Seth.  In their tradition a prophecy had been given:  "A star of indescribable brightness will someday appear, heralding the birth of God in human form."  Every year faithful Magi waited in prayerful silence for this star to appear.  When the star appears they believe it is the fulfillment of the prophecy and they move towards it - except that they discover in their journey that they alone can see the one else seems to be aware of it.

It is interesting that nothing in the text of Matthew 2 seems to indicate anyone from Herod's inner circle knew of a star.  They go to Jerusalem and Herod's throne because they mistakenly believe the child is born of royalty.  When they ask Herod where the child is, he calls the Jewish experts in to inquire where the Messiah was to be birthed:  Matthew 2:4-5 (NIV) 
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:

Herod falsely calls the Magi back to tell them to go search for the child...but why?  If Herod really believed the prophecy of Bethlehem's birth place and the purpose of the Magi's search wouldn't he have sent his own army to find out?  Perhaps he didn't really believe it was true, so he sends them on their way.
Matthew 2:9-11 (NIV)
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The star reappears as they take the next part of their journey.  It is a short distance, perhaps 5 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and they find the child with Mary...and probably much to Mary's surprise, they present gifts and they worship.  
In all likelihood it was another shock to Mary and Joseph in the strange beginnings of their marriage and this child born to them.  The Magi probably spoke a different language and so it might not have even been clear what they were saying, but the act of worship was nevertheless clear to must have seemed all strange.
The gifts:  gold...incense...myrrh... are all gifts worthy of a King.  Gold represents deity, incense the fragrance of his character and life, and myrrh was used in embalming - thus the purpose foretold of why Christ Jesus was here on the earth, as one destined to die.  

Warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, the Magi return to their country...their mission accomplished.
So, what do we make of this story?
It is a clear sign from God that Jesus' birth was for all nations.  Not only the Jews, but the nations would recognize who Jesus was, and what he accomplished.
They are "seekers"...people who know down deep in their soul that something more in life exists that just material possessions, or status, or wealth and power.  
The ancient prophecy of Jeremiah rings in truth here:  
Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD..."

Scripture tells us to not forget to strangers.  Hebrews 13:2 (NIV) 
2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

It is a strange thing to contemplate - that we are surrounded by something much bigger than our own comprehension, and God is constantly invading our space to accomplish his purposes.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bothered by the Birth

Matthew 2:1-3 (NLT)
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.

I'm not sure who said it first, but I heard Dr. Phil say it years ago, and so I'll attributed it to him:  "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
Well, in the first century, it was King Herod...and he was deeply disturbed when he heard news of a King born of the Jews.
This story in Matthew 2 follows Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus at the end of chapter 1.  None of the other Gospels include this story of the visit of these "Magi" - star searches - from another country.  I'll share more about them tomorrow.

Herod "reigned" in Judea.  The Romans had divided the area of Palestine into several governmental units, but Jerusalem was the most important, and that they put Herod in charge.  Herod was partly Jew by ancestry, but he was all Roman in terms of power, material goods, morals and life purposes.  He controlled Judea with an iron fist - for 33 years total.
This week North Korea's Kim Jong ll died and with him a brutal dictatorial reign that looks like might continue thru his son.  When you think of Herod, think Kim Jong ll.

Herod was hated by the Jewish population - both for his brutality as well as for his suppression of all that was good for faithful Jews to love and serve God.  They never accepted him as King, just a despot who the Romans controlled their people through.
The idea that a "King" had been born would have great troubled him.  The fact that it was "baby" was of little consolation to was a rival, and Herod crushed all rivals.

I'm struck how Christmas brings out both love and disdain among people.  For many people, Christmas is a reminder that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to come and redeem all - at least all who want redemption.  Christmas is amazing - not because of the music and glitter, but because it becomes a celebration of all that is good and needed in the world.
Psalm 65:1-5 (NLT)
1 What mighty praise, O God, belongs to you in Zion. We will fulfill our vows to you,
2 for you answer our prayers. All of us must come to you.
3 Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.
4 What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple.
5 You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas.

At the same time there are those who every year seek to squash all public recognition of Jesus' birth.  It seems that every year someone will declare their unbelief and seek to do something to publicly diminish the celebration of Christmas for those who believe.  What do we do with that?

The announcement of Jesus' birth is done through an Angel, Shepherds and Magi...a strange mixture of spiritual beings, common laborers, and foreigners.  The point is, it is an announcement to those who believe and seek him - and for those who don't it's disturbing.
No matter the upsetting...or the discouraging words...I wish them a Merry Christmas, and hope that the name of Jesus becomes precious in their heart and mind.  It is a time to celebrate the announcement, not argue it.


Monday, December 19, 2011

There is Room After-all

The story of the birth of Christ includes many characters...Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angel Hosts are some of the good ones.  Caesar Augustus is the emperor...can't help but equate him to Darth Vader!  Another character that seldom gets good reviews is the innkeeper in Bethlehem.

Luke 2:6-7 (NRSV)
6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

You notice, the text does not say there was an "innkeeper".  Like the legend of the Magi in Matthew 2, inferences have been made down through history about various aspects of the story.  It even says in vs 6, "While they were there, the time came..."  It's quite possible that Mary and Joseph were already in the town for a time when the baby Jesus began to come.  Since there was a census, the town would be bloated with extra people, and in all likelihood, since this was Joseph's ancestral home, there were many who traveled here to fulfill their obligations to the Romans.
Still, the idea that "there was no place for them in the inn" is troubling when you consider it means turning an obviously very pregnant woman away.  SO, the innkeeper gets bad press.

I was pastoring for about 4 years - back in the late 70's - when I first came across this story - a story that has been for me worth reading each year.  It reminds me of the way in which God comes to each of us, and when we're busy, pre-occupied, even angry or depressed, we're likely to push him away.  Yet, in each of our  hearts, there is that need to say "come in, there's room for you in my life".  Here's the story:

No Room in the Inn
The story, now a legend, is told how Wallace Purling added a new touch to the Christmas play in a small town in the Midwest. Wallace was a little slow in the learning department. He was nine at the time and should have been in the fourth grade but was still in the second. In spite of his mental slowness, he was liked by the other kids in his class even though he was quite a bit taller and bigger than they.
According to the legend, Wallace fancied being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the director, Miss Lumbard, thought he might better fit the role of the innkeeper. After all, he wouldn't have too many lines to remember and, because of his size, he would be able to present a more forceful refusal to the much smaller Joseph.
So the big night came. Behind stage, Wallace was so totally engrossed in the play that Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
Then came Wallace's part.
Looking exhausted from the long journey, Joseph and Mary slowly approached the entrance to the inn. Joseph knocked. The door opened immediately, and with Wallace putting on his gruffest voice declared, "What do you want?"
'Seek elsewhere,' Wallace barked. 'This inn is filled.'
"We seek lodging," Joseph replied.
"Seek it elsewhere," Wallace barked. "This inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There's no room in this inn for you," Wallace stated strongly.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired," Joseph pleaded.
For the first time, the innkeeper began to let down his guard and relax a little. There was a long pause ... and silence. Now the audience was beginning to feel tense.
"No! Begone!" whispered the prompter from the wings.
"No!" Wallace repeated automatically. "Begone!"
Joseph looked at Mary, put his arm around her, and with heads bowed in sadness, they slowly walked away.
But the innkeeper didn't close the door and go inside. He stood there with mouth open watching the forlorn couple leaving his inn. He was genuinely upset. His eyes unmistakably filled with tears.
Then totally unexpected, Wallace departed from his memorized script...
"Don't go, Joseph," Wallace called out. "Bring Mary back."
And then with a broad grin lighting up his whole face he spoke out loudly and clearly, "You can have my room."
Some in the audience felt Wallace had ruined the pageant. Others, however, felt it was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Courage

Matthew 1:18-24 (NRSV)
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, is a word to describe many things.  Firemen, Police, Soldiers, to name a few.  Those who take risks - not for foolish reasons, but for the sake of others.
Courage isn't something we take a course in.  There are not "Four Steps to Build Courage" that I'm aware of.  It's part of the character of an individual who is not selfish and believes that others matter...that the world doesn't revolve around them alone, but it has larger, more noble purposes to fulfill.
Joseph is a man of courage.  He took a risk. Mary had already said "Yes" to God and now she was explaining it to her husband to be.  Joseph sat and listened - in disbelief, and yet he knows that Mary isn't this kind of woman...yet.  There was a public way to get rid of involved going to the Elders at the city gate and informing them of what Mary has done.  Then they would absolve him of his duty to marry, grant him a divorce decree; and probably ostracized, or maybe even stoned Mary.
How do you work through disappointments, pain, shame?
Yes Joseph was aided in his decisions by a visit from an Angel...most of us don't get angelic visits to make wise decisions.  Yet, the decision to go ahead is a courageous one.  The words would fall from neighbor's lips, the town would talk, maybe they would have to leave and go someplace else..."this is not Joseph's child".
The word to Joseph was what every faithful Jewish man had longed for, for several hundred years... a Messiah would be born, God would come among us - Emmanuel.
Joseph woke up and did the courageous thing.

I got the inspiration for this blog after watching an old Christmas movie - Home Alone!  Yes, the zany movie of the little kid left behind with two bumbling thieves as his nemeses.  It's not all of the slapstick stuff that he uses that made me think of this passage.  It's the scene where he meets his neighbor in church - an old man he has feared, believing the worst from his brothers.  There he finds out that the man is separated from his son - an argument years before that left them estranged.  The little boy, Kevin, asks him why he doesn't call.  There's reasons, but not are good, and in the end, they leave the church with his admonition to the old man - go ahead, make the call.  The movie ends with the family all coming home and all is well.  One of the very last scenes, Kevin walks to the window, looks out to see his neighbor reaching out to hug his son and his son's wife and granddaughter.  Go ahead, I dare you not to have a choked up tear!

It hit me...Christmas is a great time for taking risks to repair and reach out in Christ's name to someone you have lost.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Sadness of Christmas

Luke 2:25-35 (NIV)
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

1 Timothy 2:4-6 (NIV)
4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time.

Yesterday I wrote on this encounter that took place just 8 days after Jesus was born.  His mother and father take him to the Temple where he will be circumcised and officially given his name - Jesus.  There an old man - a faithful, devout Jewish man - who had been given a word from God that he would see the Messiah before he died, sees Jesus in Mary's arms and speaks these words that bless and announce the destiny of Jesus' life.
To all people - Jew and Gentile.

Mary and Joseph stand dumb-founded.  Simeon is a human voice speaking the truth of their baby Son's life to come.
But, in the midst of this there is solemnity.  Simeon turns towards Mary and says the sobering words:
A rising and falling of many
A sign to be spoken against
Hearts revealed
A sword through your own Soul, Mary.

The sadness of Christmas is for Mary very personal.  She has borne a son who is destined to die.  He is the one who is come to redeem, but like all sacrifices, by way of his own sacrifice.

One of the saddest aspects of Christmas is that this can be a painful and lonely time for many who have lost loved ones - especially in the last year.
There's room at Christmas for sadness,
There's a place in God's heart for you,
For He knows pain and loss,
Which he felt on the cross,
So this time is also for you...
For God knows what it's like too.

Let's remember that the birth of Christ is for ALL people - especially for those humbled in sorrow, and feeling the loss - especially when they know all around people can't understand why they are still sad.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nunc Dimittis

Luke 2:21-35 (NIV)
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.
22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Simeon stands in contrast to the Christmas terms: Joy, peace, Merry, etc...  He is an aged priest and perhaps easily dismissed as just an old man who doesn't have it all together anymore.  But that would not be consistent with the text and how God used him to make a pronouncement.
He is "righteous and devout" which means he cares deeply about God, and the future of his people.  And he has this thing...this spiritual hunch...sort of a prophetic "bucket list" thing - "I believe before I die I would see the Messiah"
And so one day he is in the Temple Jerusalem.  It's 8 days after the birth of Jesus, and Mary, Joseph and the infant make a six mile trek to fulfill the requirements of the law - that their new-born son be circumcised and thus put their child under the covenant established through Abraham, some 2500 years before.  It is here that he will receive his name - Jesus - which means "Jehovah Saves".  I'll say something tomorrow about the use of the sacrifice; but for now it is an exquisite moment for this old aged faithful Jew.  He walks with stilted gate and as he moves towards Mary and Joseph and the baby, he has to stop...something in his spirit says, "Look Simeon...this is the one".  It had been "revealed" to him - the word is normally used as part of a business transaction - you'll get this from this.  This aged man has been "waiting".  How long?  Months? Years?  It does not say.  But something in his soul, in his spirit is stirred and he moves towards the baby...lifts him in his arms and speaks the words -

Simeon's pronouncement is beautiful.  As a child I heard it over and over again in church.
"Lord, let your servant depart in peace, according to your word.  
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which you have prepared for all people.  
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."
It is called the "Nunc Dimittis".  "Now Dismiss"
Joy to the World,
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King...
Advent means arrival.  The waiting is over.  Salvation is here.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Through a Child's Mind

My twin grandchildren arrived last and sound.
It is a joy to have family to share Christmas with...and in honor of my grandchildren...all 5 of's what Christmas is all about:

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity,
convinced every word
was revelation.
She said,
"They were so poor they only had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and they went a long way from home without getting lost.
The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a barn, with an ox and ass (hee‑hee)
but there were three rich men who found them because a star lited the roof.
Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned!!"
    Her eyes inflated to the size of silver dollars.
"The Baby was God!"  And she jumped in the air,
whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion...
which is the only proper response to the Good News of Jesus' Birth!  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Magic of Christmas

Isaiah 25:1 (NIV)
1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. 

Isaiah 29:14 (NIV)
14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." 

Revelation 15:1a,3-4 (NIV)
1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign:...they sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." 

Psalm 40:5 (NIV)
5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. 

In ways that go beyond our comprehension we find it difficult to use words that express something amazing.  "Wow", "Awesome" come to mind from my generation.  There are a lot of other words, different words, that come from different generations.  What we're trying to say at times is that something has occurred that is extraordinary.  Scripture uses the word "wonder" to describe things God is about.
Isaiah's famous passage is Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

You note he is not called a wonderful counselor, he is called "wonderful", etc...

When C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe he told the story of a place called Narnia, where it was always winter, and the difference between the good of Aslan and the evil of the White Witch was the "deeper magic" of Aslan's sacrifice.  The deeper magic of Aslan breaks the curse of the Witch's hold.  Clearly this is Lewis fictionalizing the story of the Gospel of Jesus.

Christmas is the "deeper magic" of the Word becoming flesh and through his humanity forever destroyed the curse of the Fallen mankind.

Advent leads us to Christmas and this "wonder", this "marvelous", yes, let me use the word, "magical" time of the year.  Why is it that we can use the words of kids and not let the words sink deeply into our own soul.  
The wonder of God is that all along he knew exactly what the world needed and "in the fullness of time" he sent his son to deal with that need.

NOW...since he did that for the world and "worked his magic" then...why can't we believe that he continues to do that in our world today?
The "magic" of God that walked in Galilee and Judea 2000 years ago is still at work in our own villages and cities today.  
Jesus is not a magician...he is God, full of wonder, marvelous, glorious in majesty and the one who turns the curse around.
Remember the carol "Joy to the World"...the Lord has come, let earth receive her King... Vs. 3 says it this way:
No more let sins 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.

This is the magic, the wonder of Christmas


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Friendships for Advent

Luke 1:26-45 (NIV)
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.
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!"

There are so many different stories that surround the first Advent.  The visitation of the angel Gabriel is one of a handful - I said handful - of times that the heavenly beings that live in the presence of God appear to humans.  When angels appear its always to say something, or do something, that directly relates to the work of God.
Gabriel comes to tell Mary what is taking place - "you will be with child...a son...Jesus...Son of the most High...who will reign over His Kingdom that will never end."
Mary is all likelihood a teenage girl, one who is nevertheless "pledged" (promised) to be married.  Do we realize what the angel was telling her God wanted to do?
How will it happen?
"The Holy Spirit (not an angel) will come upon you, and power of the most High (that's the second time Gabriel refers to God as 'the most high') will overshadow you...which is why the baby will be called the Son of God."
This ALL to a teenage girl!  She is afraid, but not disbelieving.  She is aware that a Messiah will come; but through ME?  It's all troubling.
THEN Gabriel tells her a way to understand this all:  "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child..."

Here's something to reflect upon, to ponder....Mary "hurries" to Elizabeth.  Why?  Is it to see for Elizabeth also pregnant?  Is it to run away from those who will judge her?  Why does she hurry there.
She spends three months with Elizabeth.  They live together, think out loud together of what is going on.  They spend time making sense of faith in the midst of a world that has little room for seeing the world through the eyes of faith.
Elizabeth becomes a reference point...a place to see truth in the midst of confusion...for Mary.

We all need that.  The world is too confusing; it is too disbelieving for us to live in as God's children.  We're told everyday that faith is irrational; that the world is a matter of getting ahead...claw your way through to get what you want...don't trust anyone...don't believe in anything.
The story of Mary and Elizabeth is a reminder of the meaning of community, of friendships for a shared faith and journey.
This story reminds me that Advent is not just an individual event; it's also a community and friendship meeting.
"How can I ever let God's grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it?"  - Henri Nouwen.

Who can you call today and reaffirm to them that you need them to walk with you in this journey of faith?  Who can you reach out and say "you matter to me"?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Future

Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)
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."

Romans 8:19 (NIV) 
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

Titus 2:11-13 (NIV)
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Revelation 1:4-8 (NIV)
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

Often lost in the season of Advent is the realization that there are two Advents in scripture.  The first Advent, of course, is the celebration of Christmas - Immanuel - God with us.  Jesus "came" to the world and in his birth the stage is set, through an ordinary life of humanity, to be the "grace of God that brings salvation to all men."
Jesus' life, death, and resurrection mean that we have all that is needed to live our lives with eternity in view.
Now, we wait for the Second Advent.  The word "Advent" means "arrival"; and it is the recognition that Jesus is coming again.  I've seen many Christmas cards with the picture of the manger, the baby, Mary and Joseph, "peace on earth, goodwill to men", etc...but I don't remember ever seeing a picture of Jesus in his glory with the words, "Are you ready for Christ's return?".  Perhaps it might seem out of place for many...isn't Advent about Jesus coming as a baby?  Well, yes in part it is, but it is also about his Second Advent...that God who is faithful sent his Son the first time - "in the fullness of time" - and the creation eagerly awaits His coming again.  The question, then, for each of us, is are we also eagerly waiting for His coming?


Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Week of Advent: Candlelight

This is the beginning of the 3rd Week of Advent.
Isaiah 61:1-2a (NIV)
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor...

John 1:4-9 (NIV)
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.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 

It's not as common today as I remember growing up - candles in the window.  We frequently light candles, but especially during Advent.  Candles, of course, are  no longer the main source of light for households; so they simply add to the decorations, the ambiance of a room.  Still, a single candle burning in a darkened room changes everything.  The light pierces the darkness, rendering it without it's power.
Did you know that the candle once served a people in their faith?  The tradition of candles in the window goes back a few hundred years ago to Ireland.  During one of the periods when the English monarch brutally sought to repress Ireland's Catholic heritage, the English monarch launched a persecution against the Irish Catholic church, and especially it's priests.  Now, I should add, this had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with political power.  The English had separated from Rome and were concerned that their Irish subjects would lead a rebellion against the English unless they also were separated from the Roman church.  When this occurred Priests became outlaws, forced to stay in hiding, and in coming out to lead the Mass put their lives in danger.  So, Irish households began to put candles in the window around Christmas - and, leave their doors unlocked.  When the English asked why they did this, they told them it was to leave a place for Mary, Joseph and the baby to come to their houses.  The English thought it just another stupid Irish superstition and let it go.  What really happened was candles in the window indicated to outlaw Priests that this was a safe house to come and stay at.  It became a means of survival and a way to say that the darkness does not rule the day.
We've put candles out, not because of religious persecution, but because Jesus was "the true light that gives light to every person".
Jesus is the light that shatters our darkness of sin, illuminates our path so that we can see what God really intended for our lives - a life of fullness and abundance, apart from the darkness of sin, fear and death.
Jesus is the light of the world, and one day at his Second Advent, our world that longs for peace and compassion will have the true Light of the World to show the way.


Saturday, December 10, 2011


2300 times the Bible uses the every book it appears...but here's a few that seem worth meditating on today:

Matthew 7:7-12 (NIV)
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Luke 6:38 (NIV)
38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Matthew 6:2-4 (NIV)
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NIV)
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
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.

The word "give" appears 2300+ times in every book, and in many different ways.  Among those are these above which remind us that there is a lot of "soul" work that takes place in giving.

This Advent season is secularily referred to as "the shopping season".  Linda and I spend time talking about gifts, and gift giving.  I know people who shop simply and I know some who shop until they drop!  It is the Giving season we're told.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive", Jesus said.
"God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son"

We give best when we don't give to get.  We give best when we can do it anonymously, secretly without regard for recognition or payback.  It is good for the soul to give.

The first Christmas was simple...a baby in a manger, a mother and dad, and some shepherds with angels.  The shepherds were the lowliest of society.  They were God's first when it came to a birth announcement - perhaps it was God's way of saying "I'm for you".  You may not have much in life to offer God...that is probably good.  When much is there, much is required; but when much is not there, when all one has is not nearly enough, make no mistake God is still for you.

Here's a suggestion for Advent.  Carry around with you dollar bills, even $5 bills, and everytime you go past a Salvation Army Kettle drop something in, even if it's several times during the year.  Honoring Christ Jesus who gave us everything by remembering those who he will not forget is doing so "in Jesus name".  Giving anonymously, secretly, without regard for the tax receipt, or the recognition is good for the soul!