What Now?

Life Notes—December 27, 2012 

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13

Christmas is over.  The Christ-child was born (again) and Santa came (again). The presents have been opened, some returned and others destined for re-gifting.  The relatives have (mostly) gone home. The weeks of preparation made for a successful celebration, at least hopefully so.  Only the clean-up is left, along with preparing for New Year’s Eve and Day, then off to begin another year.  Ho hum…

My life path was uncertain when my first child was born.  Of course, Carrie and I had planned for it, at least as much as one can plan for a new life being born into an already existing life.  I knew I would have to give some things up—sacrifice, if you will—in order to be the father I wanted to be and my daughter needed.  Some activities and areas of focus in my previous life simply were not going to be compatible with this new life.  Three years later our second child was born, bringing more changes, more sacrifices. Carrie and I invited these children into our lives and willingly rearranged our lives to accommodate them.  Today, they are both in college and you know what?  Looking back, I cannot think of anything I “sacrificed” to accommodate my children.  In fact, at every stage and at every age I wanted to freeze their development and our lives at that point.  Whatever I might have given up was not worth holding on to, anyway.  I gained more adventure and desirable options for my life choices than I ever dreamed possible.  No, our children are not without their shortcomings.  And yes, there have been times we chose one path where a childless couple may have chosen another.  Certainly, children are expensive, but there has been nothing that feels sacrificial, at least not compared to the daily blessings these lives-with-my-life have wrought.

So, what will we do with this Christ-child born again to us this Christmas?  What will we have to sacrifice to allow this new-life-within to be nurtured and thrive?  Like any relationship dependent on us, we must take the first step, whatever that may be.  Once we begin, additional steps will appear.  And as the relationship grows, parts of our old life will begin to fall away because we have found something more fulfilling, a new and better life that makes the previous one seem old and stale and boring.  Remember, it is to YOU the Christ-child is born!

Life worship downtown is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Let the adventure begin!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

No Place at the Inn

Life Notes—December 20, 2012 

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

Not surprisingly, we romanticize the conditions under which Jesus was born.  We attempt to recreate cozy manger scenes based on what we consider rustic-ness worthy of a King—sort of like a western-style resort, with rough logs for beams and exposed stone walls and granite floors.  Rustic; but in a luxurious way.  We dress up adorable children to play the parts of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and the wise men.  We wrap the baby in soft, warm blankets.  It is all very quant and warm and peaceful, and every character has its proper place in the scene.

But it is also misleading.  The most likely reality is that their “stable” was a cave—the only available place offering any shelter at all from the elements.  And not the big, expansive, well-lit caves we toured as children with our families.  But a cramped, dark, dank hole in a hill.  They likely shared the available space with farm animals, as well as their waste.  The “manger” would not have been a quaint, hand-crafted cradle, sized just for a baby—it was a feeding trough for the animals. The “bands of cloth” were not soft, warm blankets, but most likely scratchy, burlap-like strips.

Jesus was born in a small, smelly, cold and noisy cave.  To the extent there were homeless people in that day, Jesus was born where they would’ve been banished to spend the night—in the leftover, undesirable, last-ditch places where no one with any means would consider staying.  There was no place at the inn for the baby Jesus.

Advent is a time to consider where Jesus will find a place to live in us.  Will it be the leftover moments at the end of occasional days?  Will he be the easily-overlooked item on our to-do list?  Will we give him our last moments of consciousness before drifting off to sleep?  If so, we treat him as he was treated from birth—as an inconvenient afterthought.  Or, will we make room in our days to nurture a real relationship?  Will we speak to him throughout our days?  Will we consult him as we make our life decisions, both large and small?  If so, we will raise him to the throne in our lives he was born to ascend.  This is Advent, and it is time to decide where our Christ-child will reside.

This will be the last Sunday of Advent.  Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Where is Jesus’ place in your inn?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Good News?

Life Notes—December 13, 2012 

“John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the throng of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’  So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.’”  Luke 3:16-18

Probably every athlete in every sport goes through some sort of preseason training—a time of preparing, physically and mentally, for the actual season.  Often it involves extended and painful workouts, unusual practice hours and a grueling schedule intended to break old habits and form the athlete into a new being—one in game-shape, whatever that may mean for their particular sport.  John the Baptist was sort of an Advent coach.  His job was to prepare the people for the coming of Christ.  The writer of the gospel of Luke claims “…he proclaimed the good news to the people.”  When I think of good news, I think of something happy and pleasant. But what we read hardly sounds like fun.  It sounds more like a drill sergeant in basic training screaming that we will be rising every morning at 4:00 am and running five miles uphill in the rain before breakfast.

John says Christ will baptize us with fire, separating the wheat from the chaff, the latter of which will be burned with unquenchable fire.  The visual he was using, though it sounds strange today, was probably familiar and powerful at the time.  When wheat was harvested, before it could be made into bread, the non-wheat debris had to be separated out.  That which was not wheat was burned, leaving only the useful portion.

The alchemists of old purified gold and precious metals by burning away the impurities.  Metaphorically speaking, this is what is done with an impure spirit—the impurities are burned away, leaving something cleaner, purer and more useful to the creator’s purposes.  When we accept Jesus into our lives we begin a journey of change.  When we surrender Jesus lordship over our lives we allow the less-useful, sinful parts of our lives to fall away.  We do this so our spirit will draw ever closer to that of the pure and perfect Christ, even if burning away our impurities is painful at times.  It is the only way to get from where we are into the presence of the One we long for.  It requires a relationship.  Advent is a period of training and preparation.  The Christ-child is coming.  Are you ready?

This will be the third Sunday of Advent.  Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  This Christmas, do what it takes to get in the game…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Visions of Angels

Life Notes—December 6, 2012 

“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. Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”   Matthew 1:18-20a

Scripture does not tell us much about Joseph.  We know he was a carpenter who lived in Nazareth.  According to Matthew he was a descendent of King David and “a righteous man.”  We are told he was visited by an angel at least twice.  The first time was to announce that Mary’s pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and would result in the long-anticipated Messiah.  The second came as a warning to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt, for Herod was seeking to kill this ‘newborn King.’  We know Joseph took Mary as his wife, despite her unconventional pregnancy.  And we know Joseph was a part of Jesus’ life at least until Jesus was twelve and found in the Temple, after wandering away from his parents.  Otherwise, Joseph is mostly absent from the Gospel stories.

Even though Joseph seems to be more of a bit-player in the life of Jesus, I imagine him to be a strong, quiet man, content to remain in the background of the strange saga his life had become.  It seems to me, based on the lack of evidence to the contrary, that he faithfully accepted his calling and simply fulfilled his role as best he was able.  Perhaps being visited by an angel is such an awe-inspiring event that Joseph dared not challenge the angel’s direction.  But the Bible is full of tales of others who defied such heavenly instruction.  Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife, accept the son he had no role in producing and raise him as his own.  And by all accounts, that is what he does.  Certainly, his fellow townsfolk must have talked mercilessly behind his back, for being pregnant outside of marriage was a crime worthy of being stoned.  He must have had to daily reconcile his faithfulness to God with the perception and derision of his neighbors.

And yet, most of us are called to be Josephs. Not Mary, not John the Baptist, not Jesus.  We function mostly behind the scenes, doing what we are called to do, offering our seemingly insignificant gifts wherever they seem to fit.  And God takes our combined contributions and weaves them into a Savior.  And nearly hidden in that sin-covering tapestry is a vital thread, without which the fabric would unravel; and that thread is us.

This will be the second Sunday of Advent and the sermon focus will be on Joseph. Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Weave yourself into the body of Christ.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator