Want to Live Forever?

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have imageseen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[a] full of grace and truth.”                        John 1:14

“WANT TO LIVE FOREVER?” the headline read. Sounded intriguing. Reading on, I discovered it was a story about a new start up company, eterni.me, that storsd your memories for future generations. Someday they hope to download brains directly into a computer, but for the time being you just write out or record what you want stored, and they’ll maintain it for eternity. That’s not exactly what I think of when someone asks, “Want to live forever?”

But that got me thinking. Christmas is God’s response to that question. God realized that the weight of our sin and the inclination of the human heart was such that we could never get back to a full relationship with a God all on our own. We were facing the consequences of our sin. We couldn’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get back with the program to have everything right with God; the gates to eternity were closed to us. The only way to change the trajectory of human life was if God intervened; we needed a Savior. And so, in an unimaginable action, God, the divine, became human; the Word became flesh and Jesus was born. The one to whom all creation bowed gave up his standing to become a frail human being who would be helpless as an infant, experience pain and suffering, and even die in a shameful and agonizing death. God showed a willingness to do the unthinkable, to do whatever was necessary, to restore us to the circle of God’s kingdom and the possibility of eternal life.

Augustine rightly observed that without Christmas there could be no Easter. A corollary to that is that with Christmas, God proved willing to go to any length, from birth in a stable to death on a cross, to save God’s people. So on Christmas Eve as we go to the manger to rejoice at the birth of a baby, let’s also remember the incredible commitment of God. In the Lord’s willingness to allow the perfect to become imperfect, the eternal to become mortal, events were set in motion that would allow imperfect and mortal humans to receive the gift of eternal life. Christ came low so that we might be raised up and live forever. That’s a whole lot better than storing memories on a computer.

Prayer: O child of Bethlehem, in your willingness to leave your eternal home, you opened the door to my eternal home. In your willingness to die you enabled me to live forever. The Lord of creation became a helpless baby dependent on others. May I recognize even in Christmas the incredible sacrifice you made, and offer my worship and adoration to the one who came to save me. Amen,

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The Lights of Christmas

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“By the tender mercy of our God,                          
the dawn from on high will break upon us,

 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”                                                       Luke 1:78-79

 

We just put up our Christmas decorations, including the lights for the front of the house.  We have three kinds of lights illuminating the house.  First, we wrapped the porch columns with strings of colored lights.  They look great, but they only go on when you turn on the switch inside the house.  If no one is home to turn them on, they stay dark.  Second, we put a wreath with twinkling lights at the peak of the front porch.  The wreath is on a timer that turns on for 6 hours every 24 hours, so we set it to come on at 5 pm and go off at 11.  Finally, we put battery operated candles in the front windows.  The candles have electric eyes and turn on automatically when it gets dark, either at night or if it gets dark due to a storm.  Three different kinds of lights that give light in different ways.

It seems to me that there were three different ways for God to provide light to the world.  In the Old Testament we saw God raising up judges when there was specific need among the Israelites.  That’s kind of like the light on our porch pillars.  God had to operate the switch to turn on the light, to raise up the leader at the right time.  It worked for a while, but as Scripture tells us, pretty soon people did whatever they wanted to do, and faith became scarce.

Then came the era of kings.  God’s intent may have been to provide on-going light to the people, but instead it seemed that true leadership appeared only intermittently, when there was great need.  Like the lights on our wreath, leadership came and went, with years of corruption in between, and only the occasional David or Hezekiah.  

Finally, God sent a new kind of light to the people of the world – a light that would shine whenever and wherever there was darkness.  Like the candles in my windows, this light didn’t need to be turned on and wasn’t on for a 6 hours then off for 18.  This light would shine no matter what the time, no matter what prompted the darkness.  This was the light that would guide our feet from this world to the next – the light of Jesus Christ.

So as you look at the battle of the Christmas lights this season, take time to give thanks to God for the greatest light of all, Jesus Christ, who came to shine a light on our way and to illuminate the darkest corners of our world.  When you find yourself sitting in the dark, look for the light of Christ – it will be on wherever there is darkness to bring the light of God’s love, hope, peace, and joy.

Prayer:  Light of the world, you have come in Jesus Christ to to offer love and hope to those who live in darkness.  Shine brightly in my life so that I may be guided in the ways that lead to your peace and wholeness.  Shine so brightly that your light shines through me that I may contribute to your work of lighting the world.  Let me reflect your light, bringing love and hope to those who live in darkness.  Today, Lord, I especially lift to you the people of Aleppo and Syria, asking that you would change hearts so that the young, the infirm and the innocent may be saved.  Light of the world, shine brightly in that part of your kingdom today.  Amen.     

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A Kitty Hawk Christmas

image“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”     John 1:5

On a December day back in 1903 at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright made amazing history.  After numerous failures to fly a heavier than air machine, the Wright brothers accomplished something that no one had ever done before.  Ecstatic, they sent a telegram to their sister, Katherine, back in Ohio.  It read “we have actually flown 825 feet.  Will be home for Christmas.”

Overjoyed, Katherine ran down to the local newspaper and pushed the telegram, one of the greatest news stories of the century, into the hands of the editor.  After reading the page, the editor smiled.  “Well, well,” he said.  “How nice the boys will be home for Christmas.”

That editor had no idea what great news he had received; he failed to understand the importance of what had happened.  The scoop of the century was his, and he let it slide right through his fingers because he wasn’t looking for the right things.  He was unprepared to look for the new things that happened, the unexpected things that thrust their way into the world.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?  A virgin is visited by an angel and given startling news.  A child is born and angels proclaim his birth, a star sparkles in the night sky above Bethlehem, but few took notice.  There is no record of celebrations and festivities except among a few people on the fringes of society – shepherds who were from the lowest of society’s classes, and wise men who came from some foreign country speaking a foreign tongue.  There are no accounts of government declared holidays, no synagogue ceremonies to memorialize this great event, no news reports from the day.  Just the worship of poor, dirty shepherds and the gifts of a bunch of new age astrologers.

This Christmas, will we have eyes to see what God is doing in our world?  Are we so caught up in looking for what we expect, that we fail to notice the unexpected but wondrous activity of God among us?  It won’t be spectacular, just a baby born to a poor couple in a backwater town, just an act of kindness by a Christian toward a Muslim, just a simple thing that might not seem so extraordinary, but oh, what an amazing thing it will be.  Let’s keep our eyes open and watch for the unexpected, for the in-breaking of God, for the light that will not be overcome in spite of our blindness.

Prayer:  Holy God, in the birth of Jesus Christ you acted to bring together the everyday and the extraordinary, to merge the Word and flesh, to do the unthinkable and the unexpected.  Few had eyes to see and notice the event, but that didn’t stop you from acting to save your world.  Grant me the eyes to see your activity, and the courage to align my actions with yours so that your kingdom may be served and the light of your love strengthened in the world.  For I ask it through the babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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No Running Allowed

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My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”                                                                                                                 Isaiah 26:9

On Thanksgiving day I used my new non-stick roasting pan for the first time.  I had wanted as roaster for the longest time.  This year, as I got in to cooking more, I found myself dreaming about roasting pans, checking them out on line and really yearning to get one for this Thanksgiving day.  So on Tuesday, I finally broke down, went to Macy’s, and bought one they had on sale.  And on Thanksgiving Day, my turkey came our remarkably well and the clean up was a breeze with the non-stick pan.   It was worth the wait, and I was so glad I finally got what I had been yearning for.

This Sunday begins the season of Advent, a time that recognizes the human yearning and longing for communion with God.  The culture around us has already begun to celebrate Christmas with store decorations, radio music and TV shows.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, you could see ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ on TV, listen to carols on the radio, and finish your Christmas shopping on Black Friday, all before the Thanksgiving weekend was over.  We have become a culture of instant gratification, no longer willing to wait and long for, to want and yearn.  We run toward Christmas, and we want it now.

In the church, we see the effect of this as churches cut back on Advent observance and start Christmas celebrations early in December.  Church members want to sing Christmas carols on December 1st, want the church decorated before the first Sunday in Advent, and schedule pageants and cantatas earlier and earlier in the month.  But the Christian calendar is not made to hurry up the season; it is created to remind us of our yearning, our longing for something or someone who will bring us back into relationship with God once more.  It tells us that we can’t make that happen ourselves; we have to wait, to watch, to hope with yearning and longing for God to act on our behalf.

So this December, I invite you to hold off on celebrating Christmas.  Take time to yearn for a Savior, to long for a renewed relationship with God.   Let this season of waiting remind us that in Jesus Christ, God did for us what we could no do for ourselves, overcoming the separation from God created by our sin.  All our singing and decorating can’t restore our communion with God; only waiting for and receiving Jesus as our Savior can do that.  And we couldn’t make that happen any sooner; we can only wait on God with yearning and longing.

Prayer:  Holy God, help me to wait for this Christmas with a sense of yearning, to long for the celebration of Christ’s birth with a renewed appreciation of what you have done for me and for humankind in the birth of your son.  Let me rest with that yearning so that I may understand once more how far from you I am on my own, and how great was your response when it came.  Let me not rush to celebration, but instead, allow me to live in that place of need, sustained by my hope in you and always aware that I am dependent on you to love and to save.  For I ask it in the name of the one who came in the fullness of time to save your people, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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The Light of Christ

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
John 1:3b-5
A 7-year old child was drawing a picture of the Nativity. The picture was very good, including Mary, Joseph and, of course, baby Jesus. However, there was a fat man standing in the corner of the stable, that just did not seem to fit in. When the child was asked about it, she replied, “Oh, That’s Round John Virgin.”

On Christmas Eve we’ll join our voices to sing “Round yon virgin mother and child” as we hold our candles high. The light of the candles will begin as only a few points of light in the darkened sanctuary. From just the light of the Advent and Christ candles, the light will spread across the room from hand to hand until the room is alight. The candle light will fill the room, allowing us to read the words of the hymn and see one another’s faces. That light will be enough for us.

A young mother, a child born in a stable, a rag-tag group of sheepherders…not the beginning that we would expect for the Son of God. A small beginning, not too different form the light of one candle, but a light and a beginning that cannot be overcome by the darkness that threatens it. As the faith is passed from person to person, just as the light is passed from hand to hand, the darkness recedes. We might not have total light in the world anymore than the we will have total light in the sanctuary, but just as the candle light is enough for us to see one another, the light of Christ is enough for us to see each other in the world, to recognize and care for fellow children of God. The light of Christ promises life, grace and a new future for all who believe.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

May the light of Christ fill your life this Christmas, and may you pass it on, hand to hand, person to person, until the world is alight with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Broken Hearts at Christmas

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“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.'”
                                                                                         Matthew 2:16-18
Wednesday night many of us were glued to our television sets watching events unfold in San Bernadino, California.  We learned to our horror that multiple shooters had opened fire in a reception hall hosting a holiday party. We followed the developments as police chased a dark SUV and as shots were fired killing the two occupants of the car.  We watched as police went door to door looking for other assailants, and as commentators spoke by phone to terrified residents barricaded in their homes.
This morning we still have many questions – was this a terror act, a disgruntled employee, or some combination of the two? Why did the perpetrators leave the site of the initial shooting after a relatively short shooting spree, and why didn’t they leave the area to escape police?  We may never know the answers to all of our questions, but all of us should feel our hearts breaking for the families of those who were killed, for those who were injured, and for the bereft family of the couple who appear to have carried out this shooting.
On Thursday morning, the New York Daily News ran a large headline reading, “God Isn’t Fixing This!”  Earlier our president made a statement we all need to hear, regardless of your stance on his policies, when he pointed out that saying that our prayers and thoughts are with people is meaningless if we don’t do anything to help. I don’t know what the answers are to these horrifying mass shootings, but it is time that we do more than simply wring our hands and say isn’t that terrible.  It is time to do more than pray for the victims and think about the injured.  It is time for us as a nation rise up and tell politicians and the NRA that we won’t stand any longer for their platitudes.  The majority of NRA members favor tighter gun controls, but the NRA hierarchy won’t give an inch, sure that it will result in a slippery slope.  Politicians who are funded by significant NRA donations dare not vote for gun control.  We cannot, however, as people of faith, simply stand by and let this ‘do nothing’ response continue as it has after Sandy Hook, after Columbine, after Virginia Tech and on and on.
We may not be able to prevent every gun death, but surely there are things we can do that will decrease the number who die by gun violence.  Whether mandatory background checks or refusal of guns to people on terror watch lists which Congress refused to pass this week, whether reducing the size of legal gun clips or creating smart guns that are sensitive to fingerprints, there are options that will lead to fewer gun deaths, including the 2/3 of gun deaths that are suicides.
We often forget that the Scripture cited above is one of the readings for the Sunday after Christmas.  When we think of the holiday, we think of holly jolly Christmas, tinsel and presents, cookies and egg nog.  But at the heart of Christmas is the broken heart of God, a heart that ached on Wednesday night.  Christmas is the affirmation that Emmanuel has come, God With Us, in Jesus Christ.  Through him, God has experienced not only the joys of human life, but also the pains and sadness.  And yet, even amidst the incredible pain of the death of Jesus, God remained faithful and acted to save.
As we approach this Christmas, let’s give thanks for a God who cared enough to be with us fully, to live our human life, but who calls us to be more – to act for those who cannot act for themselves, to imitate the gracious action of the divine creator, and to be about the work of God today, not just praying empty words but acting as the instruments of God’s saving love..
Prayer: O God, our joyful approach to the celebration of Christ’s birth was jarred by the tragic news of this mass shooting.  I wonder how such sadness could enter into the season of light.  And yet I know, Lord, it was precisely to this world of darkness that Jesus came to bring hope and love. Let the light of Christ shine in me, through my actions and my words, as I work to bring hope and love into the darkness in your name.  Amen.
 

Justice at Christmastime

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

Christmas is a time of peace and joy, as the angels sang, it is a time of good will toward all. So it is particularly jarring for many of us when the problems of the world intrude on our Christmas celebrations. We hear about demonstrations on the streets of Philadelphia and major cities across the country relating to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; we read about challenges to U.S. immigration policy; we are told that the economy is improving but most of us know people who are out of work. Are these “tidings of comfort and joy?”

The song of Mary, known as the Magnificat, reminds us that the first Christmas was not about making us feel good, but about God’s determination to turn the world upside-down. The proud will be brought low, the powerful pulled down, and the rich will be empty. The birth of Jesus didn’t mean vacation days and lots of presents, but God’s setting things right as God intended them to be, instituting justice and righteousness throughout the world. In the events of the first Christmas was contained the promise that the day was coming when if the rich did not make the world right, the poor would find sustenance in their God, and if those who had plenty did not share, then God would provide for the hungry and send the rest away. It was a promise of good news to the least, and an invitation to those with much to share and do right by the least, or find that God will scatter them in the thoughts of their hearts.

Christmas may be a time of joy and goodwill, but it is also a time to renew our commitment to do what God requires of humanity – to seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). In this holiday, let us remember that Christmas without justice is an oxymoron. The best gift we can give to Jesus on his birthday is to reaffirm our determination to be people who care for the least of God’s children until the Messiah returns to care for them in person.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you came to bring hope for the hopeless and new life to those whose lives were dead, not only from sin but from the oppression of others. Help me this day to be sensitive to the needs of the world around me. Open my eyes to the places where your children suffer and yearn for release. Give me the determination to act, in whatever ways I can, to bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is despair, and possibility where there are only dead ends. Let me be a conduit of new life, in imitation of your blessed coming so long ago. This is my birthday gift to you. Amen.