Archive for December, 2015

Adoration of the Child

Gerrit van Honthorst

Well, it’s the first week after Christmas. All the presents are opened, the turkey and ham is either eaten or tucked away for leftover sandwiches, the Christmas music is beginning to fade, the space below the tree where once was stashed beautifully wrapped gifts, is now bare, empty.

Have you ever felt the after Christmas blues? The feeling that comes over you, when you realize that, after all the preparation, after all the decorating, baking, shopping, and wrapping,  it’s all over and now the family is heading back home, there’s no more Christmas specials on TV, and life seems to go “back to normal?” What are we to do with ourselves now that the Christmas season is over? Should everything go back to the way it was?

It seems that when we take down the Christmas tree, we take down our feelings of what the season has really meant to us. We trudge right into January and February. We dive right into the cold, sometimes dreary months as we wait for spring to arrive. We almost treat it as something we just have to endure and we don’t celebrate this time. Now, for those of you who made it to the Christmas Eve services, you might remember how I ended the sermon and I feel strongly about this; “every season is Advent, every day is Christmas Eve.”

We should live our lives as though we are expecting Christmas morning, because we are! We are preparing all the time for Christ’s return, in full glory when he appears in the clouds and calls us all home to the new creation, to our new life, to our new resurrected bodies. But how do we live with this expectation, with this anticipation? What does God call us to do here while we wait?

That message for us is found in Colossians 3:12-17. Here we find Paul requesting that we put something on, like we are clothing ourselves for our daily lives. It is very similar language to those we find in Ephesians when Paul is asking us to put on the full armor of God, the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes ready for the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. In Ephesians, Paul was talking about spiritual warfare, but in our Colossians passage today, Paul is speaking about how to live with one another.

Just before our selected reading, Paul tells us things that we should put to death, the things of this world, sinful things. But here we find him talking about the things that will build the Kingdom of God right here. He is showing us what it will look like, how our lives could be so much different if we live according to the will of God. So many times, I witness this kind of living during the Christmas season, now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of instances during this season when I don’t see it, but for the most part, kindness and generosity are displayed more during Christmas than any other time of year.

So how do we live this way, every day with Christmas in mind?

We do this by following the guidance of verse 16; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Let Christ in. Let him dwell within your heart, guiding your actions, guiding your speech, guiding your thoughts and emotions.

Jesus Christ was born, in this lowly manger, on Christmas morning, not so that we can gather and celebrate a birthday every year. Not so that we can gather for a meal with our families and open presents. Not so that we can decorate our houses, or go shopping, or set up our Christmas trees.

Jesus Christ was born so that we could have eternal life. Jesus Christ was born to perfect God’s salvation plan for his creation. Jesus Christ was born for you, for me, for everyone. He was born to teach us how to live into God’s kingdom here on earth with scripture passages like todays.

So live your life full of compassion for others, kindness to share, humility, meekness, and patience. Be sure to allow love to cover everything in your life, to infiltrate all that you do and say. And when the time comes, when decisions have to be made, allow the peace of Christ to be the deciding factor in your answers.

Nazareth to Bethlehem

LetUsAdoreHimChristmas is just around the bend, just over the next hill. So before we get to the manger, we have to journey to it. We have to make the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, an 80 mile journey through valleys, hills, deserts, and who knows what else.

So the Emperor Caesar orders a census so that he can make sure he receives all the taxes he is entitled to, which forces Joseph to pack up his new bride, pregnant with child, and make this 80 mile journey to Bethlehem. Can you image the conversation?

“Uh, honey, have I told you how beautiful you look today? Yes, yes, well, you see, I know that you are probably not feeling like making a trip, especially since you are so close to having this child, but we need to go somewhere. Not far, just Bethlehem…I know it’s 80 miles, but we should only be on the road for about 10 days, I’ll even rent a donkey so you won’t have to walk.”

The talk probably did not go well, but Joseph I’m sure told her that it was out of his hands, Caesar had issued the census and they were required by law to make this journey. I’m sure Mary did not want to go, she would be leaving home, leaving her mom, leaving her midwife, leaving everything that she knew going to a place where she would probably give birth under circumstances not under her control.

Can you image the questions from Mary? Why does the census have to be now, how about in a couple of months? Why do we have to go there, to Bethlehem, can’t we email in our census count? Why God, why did you allow this to happen? I don’t want to do this; I don’t want to make this journey? I’m not ready.

Well, this journey would have led them physically through God’s salvation plan in the Old Testament, what a great reminder of where this journey was leading them, to the birth of the Savior of the World, the culmination of God’s plan of saving his people.

8 to 9 day into the journey, they see it, Jerusalem, the city on a hill. What a sight, because they would have known that Bethlehem was only a couple hours walk from Jerusalem. They were almost there, the light at the end of the tunnel, relief is in sight.

Now we can image another conversation and not a good one either. They arrive in Bethlehem and Joseph realizes that he might have made a mistake. The town is full of people; after all they are there for the census as well. Oh, no, will we have a place to stay. I’m sure this wasn’t said, but I can only image Mary saying to Joseph, “You idiot, didn’t you make reservations? Now we are not going to have a place to stay.”

Many times we hear of Jesus being born in a stable, just outside of an Inn, other places it’s believed that he was born in the room off the back of Joseph’s parent’s house where they would have kept their animals.

Either way, the baby is born with the animals and laid in a manger, a feeding trough. Humble beginnings for the Savior of the world.

How many times do we feel like we are on a journey that we don’t want to take? We had different plans for our lives. We feel like we are being forced to do something that we don’t want to do and we seem lost, like we don’t know which way to turn.

I once heard a funny but very true statement; “If you want to hear God laugh…tell him your plans.”

So we anticipate, we patiently watch and wait for this birth. Silently watching the manger for the birth of a child. But we also wait patiently for Christ’s return, for the glorious day when all of this earth will be re-created, as we all will be re-created through resurrection to our new bodies. So every season should be Advent, and every day should be Christmas Eve.

Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth

Mary and Elizabeth1This Advent we have been Journeying with the characters of the birth narrative of Jesus Christ. We have already talked about Mary of Nazareth and Joseph of Bethlehem, but now we turn our attention to this wonderful visit between Mary and Elizabeth. Here is the scripture for us; Luke 1:39-45.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Now, I want you to think about only one thing from this passage today. Although there are many different ways we could look at this, the one for today is the fact that Mary journeyed to visit Elizabeth. But why?

First, we have to be aware that this was not just an opportunity to hop in a car and drive across town, or even across the state. This journey took about 10 days, on foot, not an easy trip to make, so therefore, it must have been an important one. It was.

You see, Mary has just been told that she is pregnant with the Son of God, let alone the fact that she was not married and still a virgin. This is big news, troublesome news. I can’t imagine Mary completely overjoyed with all this information, especially since she hasn’t shared it with anyone yet, not even Joseph. So why Elizabeth? I see it this way, Mary needed encouragement.

How many times to you need encouragement? You’ve come to a difficult time in your life, maybe a job decision, maybe you’re dealing with a possible divorce, the loss of a loved one, or maybe you’re just confused and in need of some comforting conversation to help you. Do you have someone that you can go to in order to get the advice or comfort you need? If you don’t, I encourage you to find someone in your life that you can share your tough times with so they can encourage you.

So it is with Mary, she travels to see Elizabeth with this wonderful, yet challenging news and receives encouragement; encouragement to talk with Joseph, to journey faithfully in this calling on her life, even in the little things that happen during a pregnancy. It is after she gets this pep-talk that she shares her wonderful song, “The Magnificat.” Beautiful words shared after her meeting with Elizabeth.

So I encourage you again, to find those around you that you can share your hard times, as well as your celebrations and truly live into this Christmas Season.

Joseph of Bethlehem

JosephNot a single sentence, not a single phrase, not a single word, just stories about this incredible figure that we look at today. Joseph of Bethlehem. Joseph, the carpenter, Joseph, the fiancé of Mary, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, Joseph, the example for all of us today.

Joseph was engaged, actually betrothed, to Mary, a young girl for Nazareth, probably an arranged marriage by their parents. This engagement was a peculiar thing, and I want us to see something very interesting that we hear about in Matthew 1:19.

Joseph, a “just” or a “righteous man” by the New Revised Standard Version, decides that he needs to divorce Mary. Now remember, they are not officially married yet, but in this time, the betrothal, or engagement, is legally binding. So Joseph is thinking to himself that he needs to divorce her, to save her from public disgrace.

First, let’s think about this for a moment. Joseph is engaged to Mary and finds out that she is pregnant, what does this mean? Well, the only logical explanation is that she was unfaithful to him and is now pregnant with another man’s child. How would you think in this situation? Betrayed, upset, angry, hurt, devastated? All of the above?

We can imagine that Joseph hears this news while Mary is visiting Elizabeth, only a few miles from Bethlehem. What news to hear about, conflicted with what to do, Joseph heads back to Bethlehem, all the while deciding what to do.

So the thought comes, “I’ll divorce her, but I will do it quietly.” Why quietly, why not tell the world? Because he was a righteous or just man, in two different forms.

First, Joseph was a just man in knowing what the law requires upon a situation like this. He knew the consequences of this story leaking out to the public. He knew that Mary’s life would be ruined. Mary’s life was in his hands. So he decides to divorce her quietly, without sharing reasons why. But why would this be so important?

Here’s an explanation Adam Hamilton came up with; soon after Joseph broke off the engagement, everyone would find out that she was pregnant and would assume that it was Joseph’s baby, meaning he slept with her while they were engaged and then broke off the engagement. The shame would be on Joseph, not Mary. Mary’s life would then be spared. Joseph would be the one who people looked down on. He would be the scapegoat.

He would have done all of this because he was a righteous man, the second definition of the term. It was not his observance of the law, his pursuit of justice, or even the knowledge of all of this; it was his compassion and mercy that led Matthew to call him righteous in this scripture passage.

Let’s look at this from a different angle. Joseph found out that Mary, the love of his life with whom he was engaged, tells him she is pregnant and with all the emotions he was feeling, began a journey back to his hometown. What a trip that would have been, what an emotionally charged journey he must have taken. All of the things playing over and over in his mind, trying to process everything that had just happened.

It was probably the worst moment in his life. He is taking a journey that he did not want to take, one that led to possibly the worst moment in his life. We’ve all been there when things don’t seem to be going right, when we are stricken by grief, when we hear of things happening in this world like the latest mass shooting in San Bernadino. Families are torn apart and it seems as though God is absent. Where was God in times like these, when tragedy strikes and it seems all hell is breaking loose.

Too many questions, not enough answers. But if we look to the season of Advent, what God was and is doing in our world today, we see that something was happening in those very moments, when everything feels like it is falling apart.

Joseph was making his long tumultuous journey back home in his lowest time, and we are surrounded by so much evil and hatred in this world. In Joseph’s journey, God was at work in Mary’s womb, God was orchestrating the greatest thing to happen since the creation of the world. But not only that, God was involving, inviting Joseph to play a part in this great plan of salvation, even though he didn’t know it yet.

God is at work in this world, sometimes we don’t see it. This Christmas, see the wonderful work that God is doing in this world, be a part of it, invite others to join you.

Mary of Nazareth

Mary-of-Nazareth-Nativity“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

This past Sunday we focused on Mary of Nazareth, who she was, where she came from, and what God was calling her to do.

Mary, a young, 13 year old girl, not married yet, from Nazareth, not much in the world’s eyes, especially for this time and place. You could consider her lowly, poor, insignificant, but then again, that’s how God seems to like us.

Enter the angel, or the messenger with a big announcement. Actually, it’s the second announcement. The first announcement came to Zechariah, regarding the birth of John the Baptist. This first announcement comes to Zechariah and Elizabeth, much older than Mary and barren, you see, they can’t have children, at least that’s what they thought. Zechariah is a priest in the area of Judea so he has more social and political stature than many, and certainly more than Mary.

But the second announcement, the birth of the Son of God, this incredibly important announcement, comes to Mary, this lowly, 13 year old girl from a no name town, according to the world, an insignificant nobody. What does this messenger, Gabriel, have to say to her?

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” She was chosen by God for this task. Was she excited, overjoyed at this visit? No, by all means she was scared out of her mind, she was confused, what could all of this mean. Gabriel spoke peace to her soul when he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Now I think most of us know the rest of the story, if not, here’s a brief synopsis. Gabriel follows this “do not be afraid” message with the rest of the story. Mary will become pregnant, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and she will name him Jesus who will become the Son of the Most High and he will rule forevermore. Nothing major, just a basic message that will change her life and our lives, forever.

But what I really want to look at this morning is this whole idea of “finding favor with God.” Let’s take a look into what this means and what is going to be required of Mary because she “found favor.”

Let me preface this, like many other topics discussed in the Bible, it’s not what you think. Many times, we think in the ways of this world and how we are trained by the culture around us. We think that finding favor with God would be similar to finding favor with our bosses, our spouses, our parents, or anyone else we are trying to live in relationship with.

So it is with the world, social status, health, and wealth. But this is not the message that was brought by Gabriel to Mary.

This message brought with it a great deal of social criticism. What would happen if others found out that she was pregnant, and not married? It’s not like our day, when this has become an almost everyday occurrence, in Mary’s day, if she was found to be pregnant outside of marriage, worse yet, engaged, she ran the risk of being stoned, to death. This was the custom.

Although she did not know it at the time, this message brought with it a life of traumatic experiences. She was going to raise her son, not to just learn a trade, get married, and have a family of his own, but it was going to be life filled with ridicule from religious and political leaders. She was going to have to watch her son be arrested, face a public trial, be condemned, flogged and ultimately crucified on a Roman cross, even though he didn’t deserve it.

This was not going to be an easy life. This was not going to be a comfortable life. Is this what it means to “find favor” with God? Is this what we want from our lives? Do we want God to “find favor” with us too? Mary had to have big dreams for her life and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this.

Maybe we have hopes and dreams of that perfect life, shaking the dust of this town, seeing the world, building things, building our lives, living the life we can see in our mind’s eye. But then God sends a messenger. Holy interruptions many times come at the most inopportune time.

God is calling each and every one of us to his plan for our lives. Like Mary’s, this calling, this messenger, brings the news of God’s call on our lives. This call is sometimes difficult.

After taking all of this in, this messenger and the message from God, what was Mary’s response? We find it in verse 38; “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Humbled by God’s message, Mary accepts this holy calling in her life to be the mother of the Son of God, even if it is going to be incredibly difficult.