How will you respond to Christ? – An Advent Reading

AdventJohn 1:1-5, 10-14, In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”

Over the last four weeks of Advent we’ve experienced the Christmas story through the perspective of Prophets, Angels, Shepherds, and Wise-men. Here we are tonight, at the threshold of Christmas. The moment of focusing on Jesus Christ himself! The Hero of the story. The Savior.

Perhaps this season doesn’t feel like much of a celebration to you. Maybe, right now, life is just hard. Maybe even hopeless. Then this message, that a Savior has come, is especially important for you.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5

If there was no pain, no brokenness, no bondage, the need for Jesus to put on human skin and walk in truth and grace among us wouldn’t exist. If the world were safe, there would be no need for a Savior. Jesus was born into this dark world to join us in our pain, to be the Savior of all broken things.

We can respond to Jesus’ coming by minimizing the need, downplaying his saving power, turning him into an inspirational leader alongside a plethora of other spiritual gurus. Or we can be overprotective of Jesus, grabbing hold of spiritual dogma and shoving unworthy worshipers away, nailing the lid shut on the manger to keep him in, and a messy world out. Both of those responses stem from pride, a foolish belief that we know best.

The response God leans in close to see suits a soiled prostitute or a glittering music star, an orphan or a college professor, a prisoner or a king all just as well. Humility. How can we celebrate Jesus’ coming without first recognizing we needed him to come. And if we recognize our need how could we keep anyone from coming to the manger to meet mercy face to face.

Tonight, with celebration, with hope, with gratitude, we remember the Savior has come.

Is Christ your Savior?

The world is waiting to hear our story. Who do you know that needs the good news of God wrapped in skin, moving into the neighborhood to live with you and me? Where can you shine the light of the good news that the Savior has come?

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for your sacrifice to send your Son to lead us home. Give us humble hearts that recognize our own need for salvation and never despise the need of another. Make us as extravagant in our love as you yourself are. Amen.

 

I am you

SantaThis Christmas the intensity of life has left me breathless. I love Christmas. Often the season feels like a respite from the weariness of life. The broken, ugly parts of the year are folded away and tucked into the closet until the tree comes down and White Christmas has been watched fifteen times!

But this year I just can’t get rid of life’s reality. My legs are shaky from the journey. Not only from my own loss, but also from yours. Daily the news gives us much to scoff, and to dread. Closer to home, church friends are struggling with cancer diagnosis and illness, for themselves or their children.

I could sit and cry for a hundred years. Part of me feels guilty to think that way at Christmas. The other part of me thinks it would be a terrible relief! In those moments I cling to Jesus promise, even invitation, in the beatitudes; “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol, as I often do at Christmas. I find the parallels between our two societies, separated by almost 200 years, is uncanny. I’m reminded there is nothing new, the same drama is replayed in generation after generation. Truth be told I wonder if I’ve found the secret in its pages. We can only celebrate after we’ve first grieved.

Scrooge learned this lesson from the ghosts and tiny Tim. He learned to grieve his own mistakes, to grieve injustice, to hurt for those in need. Only then could the gift of goodwill, the beauty of a Savior, seem sweet to him. Only when he recognized the need could he participate in the solution. He learned that mankind is tied together. A living heart cannot see the suffering of its fellow man and remain unmoved.

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Marley’s warning to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

So what should we grieve? The want and despair of life, of our friends, of our enemies. We grieve injustice, and our own impotence, and too often our indifference. That grief puts us in a place of empathy with others, and gratitude to the One who has lit our hearts with goodwill in the darkness of ignorance and want. We celebrate our own redemption and participate in the reclaiming of mankind for love’s sake.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations 21:4

Mourning is the order of things now. It’s part of the business of life. But it won’t be when the old earth is destroyed and a new order is put in place. Our grieving for what could have been, for what’s been lost, is only bearable when we realize the new order is coming.

This Christmas I mourn for me, but I also mourn for you. I mourn for children in poverty. I mourn for man’s foolishness that pits one group against another and speaks harshly of their fellow man, giving way to fear instead of courageous love. I mourn for the ignorance, and greed, and scarcity at work in the world. I grieve for the prevalence of disease. I grieve because more often than we want to admit we’re a part of it all. I grieve because I’m a part of the brokenness, often feeding fear and self instead of love.

This Christmas it seems appropriate to grieve. And as I grieve I pray. I pray for me and I pray for you. I pray with hope that the old order will pass away and the new order of things will bring relief. And I pray that in the meantime you and I will be people of goodwill, and that our sweet Savior will help us to endure!

I pray we will emulate the Child of Bethlehem who became one of us. His very presence an act of solidarity, stating, “I am you.” Can we do less?

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

Modern Day Worshipers – An Advent Reading

AdventThe world is sin sick. Wisdom is hard to find. Man’s own opinion beats a path to disaster. All the seminars, self-help books, and degrees in the world cannot make up for our need of a worthy King to worship. To find him, our lives must often be disrupted. We must be paying attention.

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,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

Worship restores balance. Jesus is King. We are not. Our hearts are made glad when we give him the honor due his name. The wise men weren’t the only worshipers of Jesus, or the first. But they were devoted. To leave home in search of him was a commitment. Their worship cost them something.

Are you a modern-day worshiper?

The wise men set the example of worshiping Jesus at all cost. The world around us is drowning in false worship. We too can set the example of what true worship looks like. We can restore the balance in our lives by offering the sacrifice of worship in every circumstance. Come, let us adore him.

Let’s pray:
Father, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in we want to be worshipers this Christmas. Teach us to search you out in the moments of our holiday season. Thank you for your Son, born a King worthy of worship. Amen.

Becoming a Modern Day Messenger of Peace – An Advent Reading

AdventSometimes we don’t know we need good news until it has come. We get used to the broken mess of life. But then light bursts into the darkness and we see our need. Everything changes. The turmoil we couldn’t name before has been met with peace.

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. Luke 2:13-17

The Shepherds were unlikely candidates for the huge responsibility of hearing a great message, of being the first to see the newborn Savior, or being entrusted with the story of peace on earth.

And in reality, so are we. But God has entrusted the story of his peace offering, given on our behalf in the person of Jesus, to anyone willing to hear and share the message.

Peace is not the absence of conflict or war. Peace comes from living under the authority of Jesus Christ. We proclaim his authority. We celebrate that he has come to reconcile all things to God again, bringing peace to every corner of creation.

Are you a modern day messenger of peace?

Let us take off running, just as the Shepherds did that night so long ago, to see the wonder of a Savior born for us. For all. Kneeling before him we have peace with God and man. We have a story to tell.

Let’s Pray:
Father help us to live in the example of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We are amazed that we’ve been caught up in your story. Help us to communicate the powerful message that you have come to make all men brothers. Amen.

Prepare Him Room

Prepare Him RoomGod has always been concerned with the appropriate display of His glory.

The detailed design and construction of the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament were all about displaying the amazing glory of God. Consider the words of David in 1 Chronicles 22:5:

The house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all the lands.

When the temple was finished, we’re told that the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house visibly. (2 Chr 7:2)

The temple, as the focus of God’s glory, was significant to the Israelites. God knew this. In preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, God spoke through Haggai, saying that the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house (2:9). And that it is through this house (Christ) that peace will come.

Christ used this symbolism in speaking of His death and resurrection when He told the Pharisees that they could destroy the temple, and in three days He would raise it up again (John 2:19). The temple, of course, was His body, the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3).

Thousands of years later God’s glory is still meant to be seen in and through the place He dwells. Since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that dwelling place is every believer. Our bodies are now the temples where God, through the Holy Spirit, lives and breathes and exerts his will.

We are His workmanship. He has created us in Christ Jesus for good works. (Eph. 2:10) We are a spiritual house being built up as a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). He has clothed us with righteousness and salvation (Isa 61:10).

If God was concerned how a building built by human hands reflected His glory, how much more is He concerned with how we, His personal dwelling place, reflect His glory?

This Christmas let’s “prepare him room.”  What needs to be restored, or removed in your life so that the glory of God, through the Holy Spirit, can be resident, unhindered in the earthly tabernacle of your heart?

I confess my fear of disappointment holds me back from embracing his presence fully, and especially from connecting my heart with other believers in unity.

We love the church because we love Jesus who fills the church with himself, the glory of God. Is God’s glory visible in your life, attitude, worship, and your relationships with fellow believers?

This Christmas season, in this chaotic world, people are looking for peace on earth, goodwill to men. It begins with the glory of God alive in us.

Being Modern Day Messengers of Joy – An Advent Reading

AdventOne night in Bethlehem, against the backdrop of the world’s sorrow, joy broke through the darkness, taking everyone by surprise. Angels exploded into the night sky, shocking a rag tag group of shepherds minding their flocks. Israel labored under Roman oppression. The world groaned under the tyranny of sin and injustice. But good news had come!

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying. “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:8-14

The world today is full of fear. Not unlike that night 2,000 years ago. War, conflict, and oppression was as real then as it is now. No one needs to be told how hard life is. We know it. And Jesus is more aware of that reality than anyone.

The contrast of going from a perfect heavenly home, to this messy broken one must have assaulted his senses. But he was willing, for the great joy it would bring him, to come and rescue us.

People all around us are in need of messengers to say, “Don’t be afraid. There is good news, even reason for great joy.” A Savior, who meets us in our pain, our brokenness, our despair, has come. Great need, met with saving grace, produces great joy.

Are you a modern day messenger of joy?

God has given us a message to share with our neighbors and family, our coworkers and friends. We celebrate, as the angels did so long ago, the gift of goodwill to all people that God has given. His Son. A cause for great joy!

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for giving your best gift to the likes of us. We are humbled. Remind us again of our need for you and the joy we first felt when we realized you had met that need. Make us joyful messengers of good news. Amen.

Anticipation – A Story

Baby JesusTiny Allison tiptoed toward the glittering Christmas tree. Her wide, blue eyes reflected hundreds of lights, like stars shimmering in the velvet sky. Inexperienced as she was with the repetition of the holiday year after year, her heart beat fast with the thrill of Christmas Eve anticipation.

Upstairs her mama worked busily, wrapping and preparing for the dawn of Christmas morning. She was unaware a little peeper was straying from her bed. The older children knew the routine. They had dozed off in their rooms early in the evening, unwilling to tempt fate. But Allison’s excitement, refusing to be contained, had kept her awake.

Softly, a plump, pink finger reached out to touch her favorite ornament on the tree. The snowman. Sugared in iridescent glitter, he sported a pale blue scarf situated under merry eyes.

She folded her legs under her on the velvet tree skirt, setting up a silent, fervent vigil. The muffled strains of a Christmas carol floated from the floor above. “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…

Her twinkly eyes swept around the room, drinking in the festive display. Plaid stockings hung above a cheery fire. The red walls reflected the poinsettia’s holiday spirit. Softly her gaze came to rest on the milky white nativity set. Mary and Joseph frozen in porcelain perfection.

Her mother had warned her not to touch the figures many times, but tonight Allison couldn’t contain the urge to hold baby Jesus. Timidly she crossed the room to the table where the family, a cow, some sheep, a shepherd, and the wise men sat amid evergreen sprigs. Slowly the child’s hands plucked the infant from his manger bed, cradling him reverently. “Come and behold him, born the King of angels, o come let us adore him, o come let us adore him…”

She tiptoed back to her station under the tree, baby Jesus held fast in her tender grip. Soothed by the warm fire and soft sounds from above Allison soon dozed off, curled tight in her flannel night gown, baby Jesus pressed against her chest.

At midnight her mama felt her way cautiously down the stairs through the dim house, presents balanced precariously under her chin. Stooping to deliver the packages, she was surprised by a little gift already tucked beneath the tree. Allison’s golden curls shimmered against the crimson cloth. Her pink bow of a mouth was tied in the soft smile of sleep.

As her mother scooped her up Allison’s eyes fluttered, her hands gently opening to reveal the stolen baby, “Has he come, mama?”