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Archive for December, 2014

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The Morning of Christmas

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us. Matthew 1:23

 Christmas Star

‘Twas the morning of Christmas, when Love came to earth,

By way of a tiny and humble child’s birth;

His parents had traveled so far from their home,

For the census decreed by Augustus, in Rome.

Arriving in Bethlehem, with no place to stay,

The new baby slept in a manger of hay;

With cattle and donkeys and sheep at his side,

This animal stable was home, for a time.

Angels announced the birth on that night,

To seekers and shepherds and sinners alike;

“All glory to God!” the heavenly host chimed,

“And peace on the earth to all of mankind.”

Beneath a bright star, the news was proclaimed,

Of God come to earth in the form of this babe;

A child who would grow and remake us anew,

And cover the sins of me and of you.

On the morning of Christmas, the Prince of Peace came,

To reconcile souls with their Maker, again;

God with us, Emmanuel, forever to dwell,

On the morning of Christmas, and all year as well!

May the true light of Christmas find its home in your heart today – Merry Christmas!

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Relentless Love 

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20-21

Jesus at the door“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Doris.”

“Doris who?”

“Doris locked, that’s why I’m knocking!”

Love is the theme for the 4nd week of Advent. This is no ordinary sort of love, however. It is not an emotional, touch-feely, teenage-crush sort of love. The true love of Christmas has nothing to do with lights and trees, with presents and parties, or with friends and family – wonderful as they are. If these types of things and activities dominate our Christmas preparations and celebration, we will almost certainly miss the very personal and relentless nature of Christmas love.

This baby-in-the-manger, whose birth we celebrate next week, requires more than the obligatory oohs and ahs we typically shower on new babies. This is not a baby we greet briefly at church before heading home for lunch. It is not a grandchild we enjoy for a few days at a time. This baby needs a place to stay. We sing about the misfortune of having no room at the Inn for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We lament that Jesus’ life began in a feeding trough for cattle, donkeys, and sheep. Although we sometimes romanticize the manger scene, there can be no doubt it was a smelly, dark, dungeon of a place. The baby Jesus, however, finds his forever home in us. What sort of home have we prepared?

There is a portrait hanging in many churches of Jesus standing at a door, knocking. The door has no outside handle, so Jesus can only enter if the person behind the door opens it for him. It is a visual portrayal of Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking.” He assures us that if we open the door and let him in, he will abide with us. Jesus will not enter, however, without a willing invitation.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. While we wait, we can prepare for the birth of the child. Is there room in your life for the Christ child this Christmas? Be assured, if we do not make room for the baby this year, Christmas will come and go, as it always does. We, however, will miss the relentless love the child brings.

Come home to church this Sunday. Jesus will be knocking at your door, soon.

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Glorious Joy 

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8

The theme for the 3nd week of Advent is Joy. When I think of joy, I think of my grandma Hildenbrand. Grandma had the most challenging life of anyone I have known – and she was the most joyful. Her mother died when grandma was a teenager, leaving her as the mother figure to her 4 younger siblings. Two of her 5 children preceded her in death. She lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and two world wars. She was a hard-working farm-wife and mother. Every challenge seemingly strengthened her faith, as I never knew it to waiver. She loved her family and made certain they had everything they needed, accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of love and encouragement.

With me, grandma always looked beyond my shortcomings. She never saw me as I was, but as the person I was capable of becoming. One of the strongest motivations in my life has been striving to become the person she gave me credit for being. Her joy in her first grandchild – me – took on extraordinary proportions, and I still feel her influence, 32 years after her passing. The ability for grandma to see and bring out the best in others was a manifestation of her joy in life. And her joy was the unshakable outcome of her faith.

It is easy to confuse joy with happiness. Certainly, being happy is a good and worthy feeling, but happiness is a cheap and transient imitation of joy. A joyful person possesses something deep inside that radiates delight, apart from the circumstances of the moment. A person who treats us poorly can leave us unhappy, but not without joy. Some people make others unhappy for the sake of perpetuating his or her own happiness, but a joyful person spreads his or her joy to others. There are circumstances where only so many people will be pleased with a decision or a situation. Joy, however, multiplies when shared because joy perpetuates in abundance. That is how grandma was able to see the best in me – she always saw the best in life. Her delight in me (and in her other grandchildren) was such a central part of her being that it could not be shaken by my occasional bad decision or unkind word.

The writer of the book of 1 Peter describes an “indescribable and glorious joy” that is the “outcome” of our faith. Indeed, if we have a strong faith in a loving, protecting, and faithful God who will never leave or forsake us, what could possibly steal our joy? Will we have difficult, unhappy days? Certainly so, but we need not lose our joy in life, nor our confidence that all things will work together for good in the end. Even in the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season, joy lies in wait – just beneath the commotion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Develop a faith that produces joy.

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Higher Truth and Endless Peace 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace…  Isaiah 9:6-7a

The theme for the 2nd week of Advent is Peace, and I have been doing a lot of thinking about peace, lately. I participate in a number of national discussions relating to my profession, and the debates are not always civil. In fact, some of the comments become downright nasty. It is in this context of disagreement that I contemplate peace.

In my opinion, for peace to exist between two or more people (or countries), there must first be a foundation of mutual respect, as well as an acknowledgement that all points of view have value. I do not have to agree with someone to co-exist peacefully with them. I do not even have to like them. I do have to accept their right to believe as they do, however. It is clear to me that our core differences are exposed by what we cannot discuss civilly. Peace cannot be present when one or both sides are defensive. We become defensive when we feel threatened. As long as another person’s point of view on a particular topic threatens me, we will be unable to have a peaceful or productive discussion on the topic. Rather, we will argue about it. When defensiveness enters a conversation, minds slam shut. When minds slam shut, there can be no dialogue, because true dialogue requires giving and receiving. Closed minds cannot receive.

An open mind is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view. Open minds create opportunities to discover higher truths. A higher truth is one that encompasses both original points of view, but goes farther than either goes alone. It does not deny the truth of the individual thoughts, but it includes and then moves beyond them. This higher truth, once reached, is not threatening to either party since it includes what was important to both. Higher truths allow for civil interaction between people and countries. Only by doing the work to discover higher truths will we know peace in our lives or world.

Jesus modeled higher truths throughout his ministry. He accepted his followers as they were and sought to raise them up to his level. Consider the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was about to be stoned to death (John 8). Jesus invited those without sin to cast the first stone – and no stones were thrown. He pointed out the higher truth that all are sinners. Jesus intentionally sought out those that society rejected in order to bring them into his circle of life. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the authority of Jesus hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ birth, describing how his authority would grow continually and bring endless peace. We cannot imagine this type of peace in our deeply divided world. We can, however, follow the example of Jesus and seek higher truths that accept others where they are and lead us all to a higher, more peaceful co-existence.

Come home to church this Sunday. Reaching for higher truths will bring peace.

 

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