Monday, December 31, 2012

Simeon on the New Year

It's the last day of 2012.  Moreover these days after Christmas lead up to the Epiphany - an event seldom celebrated or acknowledged in Evangelical churches in the West.  

Epiphany is the event in scripture in which Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple for his consecration, and circumcision - all of which marked him as part of the Covenant of Abraham.  The specific passage is Luke 2:22-35 (ESV) 
22  And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)
24  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
25  Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,
28  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29  “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

30  for my eyes have seen your salvation

31  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33  And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.
34  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed
35  (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 

Simeon represents every person whose "looking" for God in their life.  He was 'waiting' and it was all led by the Holy Spirit.  He was an elderly person who had waited his whole life for the revelation of the Messiah.

This is the 5th and  last of Luke's "Christmas Songs".  
Elizabeth in 1:42-45
Mary in  1:46-56
Zacharias in 1:67-79, 
The Angels in 2:13-14
NOW, Simeon.

What kind of a song is it?
It is a song about Salvation - "my eyes have seen your salvation."
It is a song about God's heart for the world - "that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 
32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
It is a song of Prophecy:  The Sign, The Sword.

Jesus is the sign - literally, a "miracle".  He is not so much a demonstation of God's power as he is a demonstration of God, his truth, his mercy, his love, his grace and  his heart.  But this sign is "appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, a sign that is opposed."
The most important question we must face is Matthew 22:42 (NIV)
42  "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?"...

Jesus is a Sword that pierces Mary's heart.  Mary would watch her son grow up, take on the mantle of his work the Father had sent him to do; and then she would stand on the side and watch him die on the cross.  

What did Joseph and Mary hear in Simeon's words.
They were marveled at all...and probably sobered.  How could a new born baby have so much put upon him?  

For them, it was a time of new beginnings.  Their lives were forever changing, and they were entering into a future that would change the world.  

Here's where we are's the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year.  Simeon speaks for all of us that God's heart is still for the world to know His Son and to understand what Jesus has done in coming into the world.

God so loved....that's the beginning and the End.


Friday, December 28, 2012

The End and The Beginning, Part 2

I am thinking - musing if you will - about this subject of the End of the Year.  TV stations, Magazines, Media in general often do a "year in review", highlighting the major stories, issues and events of the year.
As Christ's people how are we to approach the year's every day the same, so therefore there is no difference between Dec. 31st and January 1?  Or does it provide us an opportunity to think about where we've come from over the last year and give some opportunity to think about where the year ahead is going?

Of course there's something for ignoring the present and casting our hope on what we're going to do that is not necessarily helpful.  Here's one passage that speaks to me about that:  Luke 12:13-21 (ESV) 
13  Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
15  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,
17  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
18  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
20  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
21  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

I especially am drawn to the words that Jesus uses at the end... "one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
 I remember growing up in a household without a lot of money.  My father's concept of money was "if you want something go out and earn until you can afford to get it".  There was no borrowing, no credit, no advances.  So after three summers of canning factory work, paying for my college tuition, room, board, etc...I had enough saved for the best car I ever owned - a 1964 Mercury Breezeway.  It had a rear window that was slanted and would go down.  I loved this car.  This was a car that had a V8 engine that was so smooth, and a touch of the accelerator meant I was cruising at 65, and then push the button and the rear window went down, letting in air without it blowing on your face.  I've never forgotten that car.  Yet two years into owning it, I got into a winter storm and collided with a vehicle in front of me, and then six other cars hit each other behind Mercury was an accordion, both front and rear were damaged beyond repair.  At the time I thought I'd get another one, but I didn't, and now it's a distant, but still good, memory.

That bit of musing in the past is a way of saying that all things in this life will matter how much we love them.  When a life consists of the thirst for more and more, while ignoring the real issue of life - where am I headed? - Well let's just say the scripture says that a person like that is a fool...Jesus said it, look back at Vs 20.

Let's be rich towards God...acknowledge that everything we are, everything we have, everything we are living for is ultimately all from God.  We gain our possessions because we work, and that work is a gift of God.  We give ourselves to others because that is also a gift of God.

At the end of the year, we begin steps are taken...and old ones can be erased.  In the past there are things we can say "I'm glad this is over", and hopefully there are things we can say, "I'm glad I was there".  But no matter, we can always know that God was there.  He has been with us through all of our the past.  Now, what would it be like for us to think..."He's with me right now...and will be with me throughout this day...and into this next year."?  
This is my quest...that the end is just the beginning of a new walk with God.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The End and the Beginning

Most of us are familiar with the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  It's an old English carol, published sometime around 1780.  When sung it repetitively and progressively recounts the gifts given on each day from day 1 to day 12.  These twelve days are traditionally a part of the celebration of church from Christmas day to the celebration of the Epiphany - which means the first appearance of the Lord Jesus, when as a baby his parents presented him to be circumcised.  

No one knows for certain the meaning of the song.  It has been suggested it was used as a memory device for the church to remain faithful when persecution forced teachings underground.  It is also suggested it was merely part of a game in which each person is tested to see if they can repeat the first, all the way to the end without missing a point.  It simply is not known.

What is known is that this week is both the end and the beginning of the year.  We have a week to sort through all that 2012 has been, and a week to prepare as we enter into a new year.  So what shall we do with it?

To begin with let us recall our year as a it forward and recall all that has occurred.  

Is there someplace in that year that we have lost step with God, with fellowship, worship, prayer, and his word?  It's important that we begin again.

Psalm 111:10 (NIV)
10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. 

Is there a need to establish a time to meet with God in a disciplined other words, not haphazardly, but consistently?  It does not mean we have to spend a certain quantity of time to make our fellowship real.  It is merely important that we have some time.  Even taking five minutes a day to open God's word, read a chapter or a number of verses, and keep reading from the end spot the next day will yield a gathering sense of what God is saying to each of us day by day - and we're taking in God's word as food for our soul.

John 1:1 (ESV)
1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is our Savior, but he is also the object of our living.  As Christ's followers, his disciples, we live in  such a way that our lives are a pursuit of all that He is and what we can become in him.
In the END, that is where we are, and where we are going...we are the people of God, and have been given the gifts of God for a life of fellowship with God that we might know the fullness of God that leads us towards  eternal life in Christ.

Colossians 1:15-23 (ESV)
15  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
17  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
19  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
22  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
23  if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day Through A Child's Mind

Our house is filled once more, it's Christmas morning, and with the exception of my 1 year old granddaughter, every one is still nestled in bed sound asleep.  It's Christmas morning and the grandest day of the year, I believe.  We have walked through Advent, taking our time to savor the story, piece by piece, person by person, and all the way see that God is at work.

Let us not succumb to the terrible belief that we are all on our own.  God who came - Immmanuel - to be with us, is still with us.  "I will never leave you nor forsake you" were Jesus' words.  He who sovereignly worked among the Ceasars and Herods of the world is still working...and we, no matter how small or insignificant we may feel, are as known by Him as an Innkeeper and Shepherds...and a Mary and Joseph were in those days.

Christmas is God's magic...

It is a joy to have family to share Christmas with...and in honor of my grandchildren...all 5 of them...I repeat this prose I discovered years ago...It still tugs at my heart and brings a smile.  A little child understands - here'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!  


Monday, December 24, 2012

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 our church family 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 "Shofar", 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 song of praise Zechariah sings.  Look carefully again at what he proclaims God is going to do for us in sending John to His people:

  • 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..."

We may not experience any remarkable things this evening.  Yet, this much is true, something has come that has forever changed the earth.  While the world will celebrate, sing, proclaim, and exchange gifts; it is God who is to be praised:

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." 

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".

A Prayer:  "Father, we cannot comprehend the gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus.  We cannot understand your heart for us, but we can see it.  We can see that you so loved the world - you so love me, us - that you sent him to us that we might know and seek your life, your salvation, your mercy and grace.  Help me/us - who every day walk through the better part of our days numb to your presence and what you're doing - to turn our lives continually over to you.  May you be our greatest gift this Christmas.  AMEN!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday, The Fourth Week of Advent - "All is Calm"

Luke 2:1-20 (NASB) 
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

All around the world people will gather with friends in fellowship and worship on this last Sunday in Advent.  Worshiping as a church - a group of people committed to Jesus Christ by faith and fellowship - is a seeming inconsequential act given the world's situation.  There is always conflicts, wars and rumors of wars, politics and the drama of political opponents, natural and tragic man-made disasters.  The headlines are filled with the really "important" aren't they?  

If you and I could have picked up the Jerusalem Post Newspaper on this day, what might have we read in the headlines of the day?
• “Ceasar’s tax decree create scarce accommodations for travelers”
• “Herod decrees every citizen to return to their home town, and pay these new taxes”
• “Roman Army moves on Gaul and sends more troops to Palestine”
• “Caesar and the Senate announces new building projects”
Caesar Augustus was on the throne - "the ruler of the entire Roman world" - hence "all the inhabited earth". The great nephew of Julius Caesar was a political pro who had fought and manipulated his way to power. He conquered territories and every foe until he became absolute ruler of Rome's empire - which stretched from Scotland to India.  He was called "Augustus" when the Roman Senate threw their support towards him. "Augustus" means "holy", "revered one". Some of the Greek provinces in show of political support had named him a "god" and adopted his birthday as the first day of the year (Sept. 23rd). They hailed him as "savior", and even one discovered inscription notes he is "the savior of the world".

The world was caught up in the Caesar cult. No one entertained the possibility of a rival to his throne.

Seen through the news of that day, Joseph and Mary's movements were of insignificant nobodies from a nothing town traveling to pay the tax of the "god" Caesar by traveling to another nothing town south of Jerusalem. No one noticed the movement of a young couple riding a donkey from their home town in Nazareth to Bethlehem. They rode to Bethlehem because that was where Joseph was originally from. Did anyone notice? 

The mystery of grace is capsulized in Joseph and Mary's movements that evening 2000+ years ago. The King does not reside in halls of power...not in Rome...not in Washington D.C. The King is King regardless of whether he appears poor and powerless. The world is about to be turned upside down and no one knew of it.  The young unnoticed couple traveled to a little-known village of a few hundred people - Bethlehem, "the house of bread", where King David had come from, and Boaz had married Ruth, and Jacob had buried Sarah more than a thousand years before.  Bethlehem was a small village...a few hundred people.

Prophets had spoke of it: Micah 5:2 (NASB) 
2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." 

God knew of it. In fact God knew of a lot of things that first Christmas.  He knew of this young couple, Joseph and Mary, and had come to tell them of his plans.  He led them to this little town through the decrees of this Caesar - who assumed he was running the world.
And so this poor couple - she of suspect pregnancy - he of stalwart faith - walked and rode to pay their taxes to the powerful and rich.
The Messiah would indeed be born in tiny, insignificant Bethlehem! As the Virgin traveled, her steady beating heart, hidden from the world, kept time with the busily thumping heart of God.

The Creator had woven Himself
a robe of virgin flesh. 

The baby Mary carried was not a Caesar, a man who would become "a god", but a far greater wonder — the true God who had become a man!

Today, all around the world, people will gather in churches, cathedrals, basilicas, and even houses for one purpose - To celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus, our Savior. 

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of 4 billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don't let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is a part of our reading of Scripture that all the self-chest-pounding politicians and all the governments, and all of the world's nations and people, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God's people. 

Mary and Joseph who have to be got to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill the Caesar's decree, are leading an invasion.  God is invading the world, and instead of an army, he sends a force of two - a Man and a pregnant Woman.  

Do not think, because we experience turmoil in our world, that the hand of the Lord is stimied. It is not our comfortability but our holiness that He seeks with all His heart. And to that end He rules the whole world. 
Proverbs 21:1 says: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.
"He is a big God for little people and we have great cause to rejoice, that unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in Heaven that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ." (John Piper).

Here we are the day before the night before...and All is Calm!
Silent Night, Holy Night.
All is calm, All is bright,
Round yon virgin, 
Mother and child,
Holy Infant 
so tender and mild,

Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Silent night, holy night.
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, loves pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy place
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday, Day 21, The Third Week of Advent - On Wondering and Wandering

Colossians 1:9-20 (NIV)
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 

I walk out the door of my house in our small village every morning to let our dog use God’s facilities. It’s not fun, but gratifying to know he waits for me every morning – a 7+ year old dog who doesn’t have accidents is something to be thankful for! 

These mornings are especially “wonder-ful”. It’s cold…in fact, very cold outside, but bundled up, I still can’t help but look up into the sky to see the stars that light it up. In the cold wintry air they seem even more glorious. There is an old hymn written in the 20th century by John Jacob Niles, a musician who collected folk music from African-American and Appalachian sources – in other words music from rural life. 
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I...
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

I don't always understand what makes for "poor on'ry people...but he got it right, it was universal, "like you and like I".  We don't tend to "look up" and behold the wonder like we ought to.  It’s wonder-filled to contemplate the creator who created the universe – the stars and galaxies down to the sub-atomic particles.  Our God created humankind and that “in his image” as well! Then the day comes when the creator enters the creation. Theologians call it “incarnation”. I think its “wonder-filled”. Christ the second person of the Trinity, the maker of the universes, chose to take that step from eternity…willingly, lovingly, leaving all the power to come and live among a “poor, ornery people, like you and like I.”
The Son of God, the Son of Man…creator, created…divine, human…the image, the imaged…
I stand out under the stars and look up at the universe and wonder…and say “Wow”!

Think about this: Jesus Christ came and You and I became something because of it: 

…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 (NIV)

This morning, our prayer comes from Psalms 36:5-9 (NRSV) 
5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, 
your faithfulness to the clouds. 
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, 
your judgments are like the great deep; 
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. 
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! 
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
8 They feast on the abundance of your house, 
and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 
9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday, The Third Week of Advent - A Cosmic Birth of a King

I was listening to a national radio announcer talking about the birth of his daughter.  It was a sweet moment of reflection as he recounted how old she was and what he remembered of that day she had come into the world some years before.
All of us who have had children remember our children’s births.  They are more than dates on a calendar, they are dates etched in our memories and forever change the ordinariness of most calendar dates.

In Advent we celebrate the date of the Incarnation.  Jesus came to live among us, born of a virgin, born of a woman, a human baby yet God.  He set aside his divinity to take on the human flesh that would forever change the relationship between God and Mankind.  Yet what is so different about the birth of Jesus was that it was more than a human birth – it was a Cosmic Birth.  A birth made in the heavenlies.

Let us remember that the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is from Heaven – a plan of old that God would come to the earth to save his people from their sins.

Daniel 7:9 (NIV)
9  "As I looked, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)
13  "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
14  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

When Jesus stood before Pilate he made that confession:

John 18:33-37 (NIV)
33  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews…?"
36  Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world… 37  "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world…”

So what is our response to this all?  Is it simply to acknowledge the truth behind it all and go on our way?  Or is it to recognize that He is our King!
Psalm 47:2, 6-7 (NIV)
2  How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!
6  Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7  For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.

Paul said it to Timothy – we have an allegiance to CHirst as Lord, as King, that goes way beyond His authority and right to rule.  He is born into this world to save His people from their sins, and that is why he is our King.
1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NIV)
15  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.
16  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
17  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday, the Third Week of Advent - "Christmas Tree Lights"

John 1:1-10 (NIV)
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.
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.
10  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  

Luke 7:22-23 (NIV)
22  So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
23  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

It's a snowy day outside - some 16+ inches by days end.  The snow is pretty, and because of the droughts last summer, much needed.  I awoke early this was very dark, but the street light showed the intensity of the snow falling.  I left the lights down, and turned on the Christmas tree lights.  It was one of those wonderful moments.  It was quiet, while still dark, the lights of the tree lit up the room.  The storm outside sets the white of the snow against  There's always been something glorious about the lights shining in the darkness.

Among the many myths, or stories, surrounding the Christmas tree is the story of St. Boniface, the 8th century missionary who brought the Gospel to the German tribes.  One of the "gods" of the pagan tribes was in a pagan god named Odin.  Odin was a Norse god, connected to warfare, conquest, as well as Shamanism and was the father of the Norse god Thor.  The Germanic tribes were rooted in their belief of the magical powers of Odin AND the belief that he lived on in the giant Oak trees of the forests.  Legend has it that one Christmas Eve, Boniface became so incensed with the worship of an Oak tree and the impending sacrifice of a young boy to that tree, that he took and ax and chopped it down in front of the tribe.  They stood and waited for the gods to come an strike Boniface dead; but nothing happened.  Boniface preached the gospel and reminded them that the "gods" of wood and stone did not exist.  Only God, the creator of those things was real.  He told them that this season is the celebration of life, and that God sent his Son into the world to bring light and life to darkness and death.

Centuries later Martin Luther would be on a prayeful Advent evening walk and see the starlight glisten through the evergreens, and the idea hit him to put the tree in his home and put candles on the tree to celebrate Christ the Light and Life of Christmas.

These stories, or legends, of Advent and Christmas should not be diminished.  We live in a world full of darkness and desperately needs the light of life.  When John the Baptist inquired of Jesus' work, Jesus replied with "go back and report what you've seen and heard - healing from sickness and disease, the resurrection of the dead, and the gospel preached to the poor".  It is life that he is witnessing to.  Life that goes beyond our life here, a life that is rooted in the eternity of who God is - the author of Life.

As a child I remember hearing the song "O Christmas Tree" sung in German - "O Tannenbaum"  No one knows who the author really is, but the melody is an old German folk song.  The best known version of the song was written by a German composer in the early 1800's.  The English translation that is best known was translated as "O Christmas Tree".

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You are the tree most loved!
How often you give us delight!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You are the tree most loved!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your beauty green will teach me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wed., the Third Week of Advent - Two Babies in the Manger

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) 

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.

Matthew 18:1-5 (NIV)
1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
2  He called a little child and had him stand among them.
3  And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5  "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

 In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government‑run program were in the orphanage. They related the following story in their own words:

 It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary  and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.  Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

 Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. (No colored paper was available in the city.) Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn‑out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll‑like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.

 All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat_he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very
seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad‑lib.

 He made up his own ending to the story as he said, "And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him for always."

 As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him - FOR ALWAYS.

 I've learned that it's not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts.

 Suffer the little children to come unto me,  and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.   (Mark 10:14)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday, the Third Week of Advent - Births

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV)
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.

 The world is filled with the big and powerful.  The headlines in Jesus' day were probably filled with Caesar's decrees, and the Senate's deliberations.  Maybe there was a fiscal crisis, or the threat of war.  There were taxes to collect, a census to gather in.  The government was big, powerful, and didn't let anything get in its way.

Then, as in now, everyday in fact, babies are born.  The powers to be are oblivious to the news.  They are filled with a sense of the crucial, the crisis, and not the coming to be.  Births remind us that God renews mankind everyday.  That the really important things in life come in humble beginnings, and with little fanfare.

Jesus came into our world to begin something new.  They didn't know anything about him, and yet within a few years he would begin to change the world in ways in which no politician or powerful dictator could ever imagine.  While the world's leaders cajole, threaten, fight, exercise authority over things and people; Jesus comes to hearts, one by one, and he asks to be let in...and each time someone lets Him in, the world changes one more time for the good.

I interrupt this Advent blog to say births still continue to change our worlds.  Three years ago today, Dec. 18, three beautiful children were born into our family.  Raewyn and Theo came into Pete and Lindsay's world, and Leo came into Chris and Sarah's world, and thus they entered into our world - the Papa and the Nana's...Happy birthday to all three of you.

Away in a Manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
'Til morning is nigh.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday, the 3rd Week of Advent: "Do Not Be Afraid"

What is it about fear that can control our lives?  What is it about fear that enters into Advent?
I know people who "dread" Christmas.  They feel overwhelmed by the "things" to do.  They obsess about the gifts that need to be given, or even the ones they will receive.  They get crabby with the many things they "have to" do.  

 Instead of entering the Christmas season, Advent, with a sense of celebration they enter it with apprehension, even fear, and can't wait for it to get over.   

Let me share a thought later on this in Advent, but first...

Isaiah 11:1-3 (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--

3  and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;

Matthew 1:20 (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. 

Here there are two contrasting fears.  The prophecy of Isaiah is that a "shoot" - the Messiah - will come and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, AND, "he will delight in the fear of the Lord".  This "fear of the Lord" is not a quaking, dread; rather it is a deep sense of honor, a great commitment of living for God's purpose.

When the angel comes to Joseph in Matthew 1 he says "don't be afraid", because Joseph is trying to figure out how to deal with the public disgrace that is his in Mary's pregnancy.  Here is a fear of what others think, what others will say.  To his credit Joseph hears God's word through the angel and he obeys it - i.e., he turns away from the fear of man to honor the fear of God.

Fear is an aspect of life that all of us have to deal with. We fear what we cannot control.  Our fears speak loudly into our loud that it is all that dominates our thoughts and emotions.  What is it that causes us to create in our minds the worse case scenario?  Why think the fearful?  Is it because we can't control everything around us and it's not so easy to trust and turn things back over to God.

The answer to our fears is "trust".  "Lord, I trust you" is a prayer I pray a lot...because there is a lot of life to turn over.  The alternative is to live in have a mind filled with thoughts that can only be described as lies from the enemy.  Jesus told us that when we knew the truth, the truth would set us free.  In other words, we don't need to be controlled by, captivated by our fears.  Did you notice I didn't say we don't have to have fears?  It's not a matter that we fear.  All of us go through things that leave us fearing.  It's more that we face them with a sense of trust and leave them in God's control, while dealing with them in every way we can.   Fears are real, but God is willing to deliver us from them so that they don't control our hearts, minds, wills.

We see this clearly in the Advent story.  Look again at the readings.
Mary responded by saying:   
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. [Luke 1:38]
Joseph: "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife." [Matthew 1:24]
The Shepherds:  "...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." [Luke 2:15 ]

They each said, "Lord, I believe you...I trust you." 
We cannot control all of life.  There will be fears around us day in and day out.  Yet we can choose to say "Lord I trust you" and learn to conquer those fears with faith.

Isaiah 35:3-4, 10 (NIV) 
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, ... he will come to save you...10 and 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.

 A Prayer:  "Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day.  Preserve me with your mighty power, because I trust in you.  I give to you all my fears.  I trust in you.  Deliver me from my sins, and keep me from all adversity, for I trust in you.  In all that I do today, direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes, for I trust in you.  This I pray through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen"