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Showing posts from December, 2009

Living in Blessing

I come to the end of the year with a profound sense of being "blessed". Over the last three weeks I have had the opportunity to celebrate three new grandchildren born into this world that I will, however long I have to live, have the opportunity to love and pass along the blessings of God to their lives. It's not easy to live "blessed". "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. 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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 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." Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for th

Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that wil

A Census at Bethlehem

Pieter Bruegel painted in the 16th century. One of his paintings that I love because it's both biblically based and it's a bit of a "Where's Waldo?". The inn is crowded. In the mid-foreground, a woman is seated on an ass, in the company of a man with a saw on his shoulder, and he's leading an ox. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem where Joseph's ancestors come from because of the decree of the Roman emperor for a census. The painting is from 1566 and is entitled: "Christmas Census at Bethlehem". The text in Luke reads: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 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. He went there to register wit

A House of Bread

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own tons to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. Luke 2:1-4 (NRSV) Bethlehem means "house of bread", and so named that because it was a center of wheat and other grain production. Bethlehem had a long history in scripture. It was a place frequented in the Patriarchal period and when Rachel died (remember she was married to Jacob who was renamed Israel by God) she was buried in Bethlehem. In the story of Ruth, she and Boaz meet in Bethlehem, and in marrying they become the grandparents of King David. It is King David who is the most prominent figure from Bethlehem and Luke makes it clear that it is Joseph who is from the line of Dav

Advent Communion

Mary's Song of Praise in Luke 1 is often referred to as "The Magnificat". She prays in worship: And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. " Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV) Ancient near eastern Judaism meant betrothal of a young girl by the age of 12-13. The year of preparation

Whispers of Love

The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:35 (NRSV) Mary lived with Jesus for nine months before the world ever had the chance. Even Joseph, as all fathers must, had to wait to witness his son. It would be family and friends who first congratulated or "oohed" and "aahed" at this little baby. AND, perhaps no one, save Mary and Joseph, had a clue that this little one was not a mere mortal, but had the title "Son of God" because he was Immanuel, God with Us. So, what do you do with a little new born? The scriptures give us little to know. It says they "swaddled him in cloths and laid him in a manger" after he was newly born. Yes, it makes sense that that little babies are cleaned up and then wrapped up to both keep them warm and to give them a similar sense of being in their mother'

Advent - For Unto Us Children Are Born!

The text of scripture says, "For unto us a child is born, a son is given..." and it is the most wonderful news for all mankind. Today, I'm rejoicing in three grandchildren being born on the same day. My Son and Daughter in law, Chris and Sarah's baby boy - Leo Andrew was born at 1:18 this morning in Milwaukee. He weighed in at a strapping 9 lbs, 5 oz. Then, 7 hours later, and across the big pond called the Atlantic, my daughter and Son in law, Lindsay and Peter Osborne had twins arrive. Raewyn Leslie was born first at 5 lbs 2oz, and Theo Harvey was born 2 minutes later at 4lb 15 oz., Moms and babies are doing fine!!!! Grandpa and Grandma are rejoicing like Shepherds on a hill side! THREE in one day!!!

Advent With Joy

The Christmas Hymn says: 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. I was reading this morning and in one of my Advent readings the writer expressed something that intrigues me - "Jesus delighted in being here on earth". For some reason that got me off g

Joseph and George Bailey

Matthew 1:19-20 (NRSV) 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. Advent is about the great love of God...blah, blah, blah. Isn't that how it comes across sometimes. God so loved the world...yeah, I know that. God loves I know that? Do I believe that? God so loves the world, that's true...but God love and care about me personally? I think we struggle with that. Henri Nouwen wrote about this over and over again: "To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?...As long as I keep running about asking, 'Do you love me?', I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs" .

The Art of Manliness

A few months ago in a casual conversation with a friend, I was directed to a web site called "the art of manliness". You can check it out at Not a site necessarily directed to Christ, it is nevertheless filled with material, stories, and articles for men. What I like about it is that it has a moral foundation, and a gentlemen's approach to being a man...something I think that is largely missing in today's world. My meditation this morning is on a man...Joseph. Luke shares very little about him in the days leading up to Christ Jesus' birth, but Matthew gives us a lot to think about. In Matthew 1:18-19 (NRSV), it says... 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 qu

Advent Waiting Part 2

Zechariah's first words in months of time was framed in a prophetic prayer for his son's life. John the Baptist was born six months or so before Jesus, and he was to serve as the forerunner - the one who introduced God's purpose and God's Son to a world so unprepared to see him. Zechariah prayed and prophesied..Luke 1:68-79 (NRSV) 68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 A

Advent Absurdity

The Story of Zechariah is a story of humanity in it's most usual form...myself included. The priest Zechariah (Zacharias) is part of a priestly division who come to the temple once a year for a two week period of time to perform the temple services. He is chosen by lot (straws anyone?) and he enters into the temple's holy place to burn the incense and take care of the candles and bread when suddenly the angel of the Lord appears at the altar. This angel's name is Gabriel which means "man, or person, of El" which was short for Elohim, one of God's names. He meets Zechariah at the altar of incense which was symbolic of the prayers of the people rising up before God's throne. And the angel gives him the news... Luke 1:13 (NIV) 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. "Zechariah, God has heard your prayers and indeed

A Forerunner's Christmas

This morning I read a bit of Luke 1 and the pronouncement of the angel concerning John the Baptist's birth. Luke 1:12-17 (NIV) 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." John's place in salvation history is to serve as a forerunner.

Peace on Earth

In my readings today, I came across this Advent theme of "peace on earth". It seems like peace evades so many people. We live in a time where darkness seems all around us. Yet, we must cling to this person of peace no matter what may be occurring. The prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus' coming proclaimed in Isaiah 9:6-7a, "6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace . 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace ..." In Jesus we have the prince of peace. The one whose life brings a settled faith in God as the ultimate ruler and judge, and who is full of life and peace for those who are willing to cling to him. In Luke 1, the Advent story begins with Zechariah, a priest, who was visited by the angel and the birth of John the Baptist who would be the "forerunn

How precarious it must have been

Sunday School and carols sing about the birth of Jesus and the role that Mary played as the mother of Jesus, and of Joseph, at first not only skeptical, but clearly hurt and wounded by the thought of his bride getting pregnant outside of marriage. The nine months of Mary's pregnancy is more vivid for me today with two daughters - my daughter-in-law Sarah now in her 40th week awaiting our next Grandson, and my daughter Lindsay in her 34th week with twins, a boy and a girl. Over the weekend we got word that Lindsay had to be hospitalized with high blood pressure and a concern for a condition called pre-eclampsia. She's being taken care of in a hospital, resting, and having tests done to see if there is unusual amounts of protein in the urine. As a father, I'm concerned, and happy she's being taken care of. Our son-in-law, Peter, is keeping us abreast of what's happening, but being 4000 miles away with an ocean in between makes it all very anxious. So, I've

2nd Sunday in Advent - Living With Tension

We live in the beautiful tension of the Holiness and Grace of God. John 1:14,16-17 (NRSV) 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 3:16-17 (NRSV) 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. God's holiness leads us to the truth about ourselves, and about the world around us. We, and those around us, indeed the whole world, need a savior. We need grace to counteract the selfishness of our resident sinfulness. We die to self in receiving the grace of God. It is that grace that relieves us fr

An Advent Saturday

I often wondered if I, and the people of God, prepared for Sunday as much as we prepare the setting for a day of football, would we get much more out of our worship experience? Remembering how the Christmas story began is part of this: Luke 1:5-11 5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth... 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. The setting was an angelic visitation during his worship. The visit of God's messenger frightened Zechariah, even as it would

White Christmas

I don't know why it is that there's such a desire for many of us for a white Christmas. Is it the sentimentality of it? It is nostalgic? It certainly is partly crazy! We got our first real snow fall last night. It meant traffic jams and slippery roads, and gingerly walking from the parking lot to the building I teach in. White Christmas? The movie White Christmas is classic...the song, I believe, is the most recorded song in all history. Bing Crosby's rich voice and Rosemary Clooney's doesn't get any better than that. Remember? I don't think it's just White Christmas that has immortalized it. Who can forget George Bailey running through the snow on the way back to his house, or the snow blowing on the bridge, or the scene in which he plows his car into the tree? There's so many movies that have played off of that theme. It's engrained within us. Of course a white Christmas is limited to the northern latitudes; but

Praying through Advent

A Scripture Reading from Luke 1:46-50, 46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. I cannot read the Messianic prophecies, nor the announcements by angels in Luke and Matthew, and not see that the only response that makes sense is prayer. I have a confession to make. I have always struggled with prayer. Early on in my walk with Christ, I approached the pastor of the church and asked him, "Why do I struggle so much to pray?" You would think that after 40 years, 37 of them as a Pastor myself, I'd be able to laugh and say that was those days when I was young and not very spiritual. Well, I'm older, and alth

The Root of Jesse

Christmas for most people involves a tree. There are many historic reasons for the inclusion of the evergreen tree in the Christmas season, and I may share one or two of them as the season goes along. Perhaps the most basic idea is that in Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere that is) the leaves fall from the deciduous trees and the days of light grow shorter, darkness more and more invades the earth, and the cold weather drives us indoors. I personally love winter, but the symbolic part of "life" retreating can't be missed. Along comes the evergreen tree and reminds us that life continues in the midst of the darkness, the cold, the winter season. 2800 years ago a prophet looked all around the land of Israel, and all he saw was "darkness, gloom", a foreboding sense of trouble that would lead to war, captivity, exile for his people, Israel. Isaiah prophesied faithfully to a nation that had lost hope, and forgotten it's heritage. He spoke truth into the

Christmas memories

I have some vivid memories of Christmas past. Born in 1949, Christmas was a grand affair filled with Hallmark kinds of memories. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin called Fox Lake. I was one of 7 kids - a twin and my parents were blue-collar hard working folks. I remember going with my Mom to the town near us that had a Sears and J C Penney's dept store for Christmas shopping. The stores were decorated to the hilt with Christmas fan-fare and Christmas hymns and music was pumped through the store. The city I grew up in hung decorations from the street lights, and banners across the main street declaring "Merry Christmas". We were a German immigrant community (by and large) and so almost everyone was either Lutheran or Catholic. Even in public school Christmas was recognized and celebrated. We actually had "Christmas Vacation"! I remember hymns and carols on television. Every year the city would put on a Christmas party at the city's community b