Christmas Day – December 25th

advent 25

Luke 2 King James Version (KJV)

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

Advent – December 24th

The Angel Visitation

advent 24

Introduction

“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end’” (Luke 1:30-33).  The King of Heaven is worshiped and adored by the hosts of heaven.  At extraordinary moments, heaven and earth intersect.   On that first Christmas,  the kingdom of heaven touched the earth.  The immortal took on mortality.  “. . . O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8)

Hebrews 2:ff

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with honor and glory.  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says. . .  “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Reflection

We are born to die.  Until Jesus came, that was the end of the matter.  There were hints that the “dry bones” in the desert might once again come to life, but even the Psalmist speaks of life after death in veiled terms.  “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Ps.17:15).  No one had visited heaven and returned.  Only a few had seen angels or heard the voice of God, yet they saw evidence of his power in nature.  When Jesus came, all that changed.  Heaven came down to the earth, proceeded by the royal retinue of heavenly hosts.

I recently watched an episode of the Netflix production, “The Crown.”  At one point, Prince Charles is invited to have supper with his Welsh professor.  There is an awkward moment when he enters the home and is recognized by the wife and child.  The future king of England sits in their modest front room, learning how to count in Welsh with their son.  What a picture of the manger in Bethlehem.  The creator of the universe is stripped of his glory, and laid in swaddling clothes in the manger hay.  The divine takes on flesh.

When Nicodemus visits Jesus in the night, he is told, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:13-15).  For the first time, heaven has come to us and the King of heaven lives with us, teaches us, speaks in parables, does miracles, is visited by angels and declared by God to be his beloved son.  This heaven sent King had to die, as all creatures must die, but then the unthinkable happened:  death’s power was broken and he came to life again.  This is our only proof that there is life after death.  It was witnessed by hundreds in the days following his resurrection, and the church was born out of the confident assurance that He is risen.  Heaven bore witness to earth that we too could enter into eternal life.  Magnificent.

 Prayer

” Lord, on this night, we remember the impossible—God became flesh and dwelt among us.  We don’t know how to handle the divine.  Few have ever witnessed it, yet on that night, the angels came to our planet and celebrated God with us.  We invite you into our home on this special night of celebration.  Thank you.” Amen

Advent – December 23rd

The Good Shepherd

advent 23

Introduction

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt.2:6).  God’s first invitation to visit his beloved son was given to shepherds out in their fields, watching over their flocks by night.  All throughout the Old Testament reference is made to shepherds who leave their flocks open to slaughter.  In contrast, God promises to establish a good shepherd forever from David’s line.  Jesus is that shepherd.

 Luke 2: 8ff

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

John 10:11-16

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Reflection

David had a lot of time on his hands while he tended the sheep.  That is likely where he began to write poetry (Psalms).  He was in touch with nature, and the sounds of the birds and insects and wind and water accompanied his instrument as he set the words of his heart to music.  He was a faithful shepherd, so when he wrote the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” he was fully aware of all that it meant.  Jesus described himself as that good shepherd.  He is trustworthy, looking out for his flock and seeking those who stray.

Isaiah describes another scene, where the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep, preparing a way for them.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you. (Isa.43:2-5)

I miss being a child, particularly at Christmas time.  I liked having adults look after the decorating and baking and gift giving.  I enjoyed being surprised by events such as family gatherings, church choirs, viewing Christmas lights or visiting live manager scenes.  My parents looked after me and made sure that I enjoyed the magic of Christmas.  Now the roles are reversed and I am the one who has the responsibility to create magic for others.  In the evening, when everyone is gone, I like to sit in front of the fire with a cup of tea and fresh baking listening to the words of the “Messiah”.  “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,” sings the choir.  And in those quiet moments, I, like David, sense the presence of the good shepherd, inviting me to lie down in green pastures and restore my soul.

Prayer

” Lord, you invited the shepherds to come to the manger and see Jesus.  Humble folks, who understood the meaning of caring for the sheep were themselves included under the care of the good shepherd.  It is comforting to be invited to trust in your love and care as you stay close to us, leading us, protecting us, and preparing a way for us through the dark valleys.  Thank you for your love.” Amen

Advent – December 22nd

God is Love

Introduction

advent 22

“And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love” (I Cor 13:13).  Creation sprang out of love at the beginning of time. “On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job. 28:6)  We are part of a cosmic plan that is beyond our comprehension.  We had a glimpse of how far God was willing to go to demonstrate His love for us on the first Christmas.  He could have been a “clockmaker” deity who put the universe in place, wound it up and let it run on its own.  But instead, He became part of our story.

 John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

I John 4:7-8

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

John 4:9-12

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Reflection

We come to the final week of Advent – the candle of love.  This is a love that is so much bigger than the love of a friend, or a lover, or a child for its parents.  This is the love that created us.  Many astronauts who visit the space station are struck by how beautiful and fragile our planet looks.  It is a jewel in the vast, chaotic universe that has been visited by the Son of God.  The attention to detail is infinite; all the people who have ever been born have asked questions and been filled with wonder as they looked for answers.  But, the more we learn, the more questions we need to ask.  A God who could be understood by us is too small.

Despite the wonder of creation, the greatest mystery of all is that the creator chose to enter our story.  It’s as though Shakespeare wrote himself into the play.  But this is not a myth, it is reality.  God became flesh and dwelt among us and “we beheld his glory.”  A God who can only love a few is too small.  Our God is infinite in his love, reaching back in time and forward into the future with an unending river of love, holding us all together and uniting us as his children.  This is good news that gives us hope, peace and joy.  We no longer fear a God who could destroy us forever, rather we run to his knee, as the children ran to Jesus, and let him hold us as in his arms.  There is enough room for everyone.

“Love you forever. . . Love you more,” He says to us.

Prayer

” Lord, thank you for your love that prepared this beautiful world for us.  It cost you everything.  You became involved with us and faced the dark side of humanity.  How bitter to be rejected and tossed aside by the very ones you created.  Thank you for not giving up on us.  Let us share your love with all those we meet this Christmas.” Amen

 

 

 

 

Advent – December 21st

Joy to the World

advent 21

Introduction

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7) We are part of a universal family that includes people from every tribe and nation.  Entrance is through Jesus Christ, God’s beloved son.  Children are born into the kingdom, one at a time.  They hear his voice and respond with a faith that comes from surrender.  Some experience that love from their earliest memory; others go through their entire life without accepting their need for God.  Given a lifetime, Jesus will knock on every door.  He comes seeking us.  When you hear his voice, answer, “Yes LORD.”

Luke 15:11-24 

“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Reflection

We have compassion for the underdog, the sick and the homeless, or the one who’s down on his luck.  Charities collect money and gifts and distribute them to the “needy” this time of the year and everyone feels a little better for it.  But what if those who are truly needy are the ones who are secure, successful, self-assured, proud.  Behind the mask may lie a vulnerability that is hidden away from the world.  Weakness is scorned; only the strong survive.  Jesus asks us to shed the image and honestly consider who we really are.  In comparison to what we should be, we all fall short.  A common expression is “I want to be my best self.”  Perhaps your best self can be seen in the eyes of the homeless or the family reduced to getting their Christmas meal at the food bank.  They know they need help.  They are one step closer to salvation.

We are never asked to put aside our ambitions or deny the gifts we have been given, but we are asked to honestly consider our motives and allow God to shine a light in the dark places.  When a house inspector appraises the home before the mortgage is approved, you want them to find all the flaws so they can be fixed.  The doctor is not there to kill us but to preserve our health.  Parents criticize out of a genuine concern for their child to develop character and overcome the obstacles that will hold them back in life.

The intelligent and wise believe that they can find all the answers on their own.  Even the unknowable is given an explanation.  God is reduced to nothing.  It was the original sin in the Garden.  If we comapare ourselves to Jesus, we begin to see that no one can stand on their own goodness.  He turns it all around. Mary was an ordinary young girl, but God saw her heart and chose to come into the world through her womb.

Luke 1:46-55 (KJV)

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

 Prayer

“Lord, you choose the broken and humble in this world to show your glory.  Help us to be vulnerable to your Spirit so that you can heal us and raise us up to be our “best selves” under the power of your love and grace.” Amen

Advent – December 20th

Joy From the Living Hope

advent 20

Introduction

“By a new and living way, entrance to the very throne is reserved for those to whom Jesus’s blood does now atone” (Heb.10:20).  We have been given the inside track to God’s heart through Jesus Christ.  He is the living way that has broken down all the barriers.  No longer strangers, hiding from his presence because of our shame and sin, we have become children of God, beloved and adored.  Just as the baby Jesus was cradled in Mary’s arms on that first Christmas night, he now holds us and cares for all our needs.  He is faithful and good.  Perfect love casts out all fear.

 1 Peter 1:3-9 

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Reflection

When I was battling a serious illness, my daughter bought me the book by Robert Munsch, “Love You Forever.”  It tells the story of a long-suffering mother who lovingly endures all the challenges her son can throw at her while he is growing up.  After each misadventure, she holds him in her arms and sings,  “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”  At the end of her life, she calls her son home and tries to sing him the song once more, but she is too old.  Instead, her son scoops her up in his arms, sits in the rocking chair and sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my Mommy you’ll be.”  I still can’t get through it without crying.  Apparently this number one bestseller is very popular at retirement homes.

Some of us have a challenging relationship with God.  Like that little boy, we can be extra naughty, expecting to be chastised and removed from his grace.  Instead he picks us up and says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all.  No on can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).  What joy to be loved as much as this.

It is all about grace. . . God’s undeserved love towards us.  Grace contains all the virtues—faith, hope and love.  It produces the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  What home wouldn’t love to have those traits actively demonstrated each day.  Life is the training ground whereby these virtues grow, but as we continue to fall short, fail, and sometimes act as naughty children, our loving Father picks us up and says, “I love you forever–my child you will always be.”

Prayer

” Lord, your grace reaches us in the darkest, loneliest places of our fear and failure.  You love us even when we have trouble loving ourselves.  This is possible because you became one with us at Christmas.  Thank you for this eternal, life-giving hope.” Amen

Advent – December 19th

Joy is Apocalyptic

advent 19

Introduction

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life (Rev. 22:17).  The joy experienced that first Christmas will be matched at the end of time when heaven and earth shall be one.  “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is LORD”.  Instead of a few shepherds, there will be un unnumbered throng who will acknowledge Jesus as the everlasting King of this world.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 Isaiah 26:19

Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.  O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!  For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades thou wilt let it fall.

Revelation 22:1-5; 12-14.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. . . 12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. . . . 16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

Reflection

“See you in the morning,” I would shout from my bedroom door as a child.  Being a little superstitious, I always wanted to hear a reply from my parents before I would go to sleep.  If there was no reply, I would say it a little louder, with more emphasis.  If that didn’t work, I would find them in the house and say it again.  I imagine they were a little surprised to see me out of bed, yet again, but it was an important ritual.  I feared that if they didn’t respond, I WOULD NOT see them again, and that thought terrified me.

Jesus is saying, “See you in the morning” at the end of Revelation.  He invites the world to join Him on that glad day.  Coming as a helpless child, He fell in love with this world, experiencing the joys of family and friends.  He walked the paths around Nazareth in all the seasons.  He watched the sun rise and set each day, and felt the sun, rain and wind on his body as he grew into manhood.  He knew the power of the water and the majesty of a summer storm.  Yet, He left us behind and returned to the Father, making way for the centuries of people to come after him.  His patience allowed me to be born.

We are told that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom, but we also know that we will be given physical bodies at the resurrection.  I want to experience this world as it is healed and returned to the beauty of the Garden of Eden.  He invites us all to come.  C. S. Lewis said,  “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. Your place in Heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it. To every soul, God will look like its first love because He IS its first love.”

 Prayer

” Lord, we are meant for so much more than the few short years we are granted on this earth.  We want to “see you in the morning” and experience completeness in the Garden of Eden that you have prepared for us.  We look to that day when the whole world will acknowledge your kingship and worship at your feet.  We come with joy, even though we have no idea what we’re in for.” Amen

Advent – December 18th

Joy in Service

advent 18.jpg

Introduction

“For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (phil.1:7).  When your heart is filled with love and gratitude, you are able to look beyond your own needs and reach out to the world.  Those who have been blessed by Christ, are filled with a desire to make a difference in the world.  Christian churches have led the way in caring for the poor, sick and oppressed.  Anytime you hear of humanitarian work in the world, you will usually find the gospel message at its core. 

Matthew 25:31-40

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation off the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ . . . “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

 Reflection

It is easy to forget that the government did not always fund health, education and welfare.  Initially it was the responsibility of the family and community to care for those unable to care for themselves.  With the advent of Christianity, the church began to care for the widows and orphans, calling them brothers and sisters in the Lord.  It went beyond the family of God, eventually reaching those who had no knowledge of Christ.  Missionaries and Catholic orders have been painted with a negative brush because of the cultural damage and scandals that have come to light in this last century, but without their unselfish efforts, many of the institutions that we take for granted would not exist.  In North America, the hospitals and schools were all begun by Christians loving their neighbor.  They have become secularized over the past one hundred years, but at the origin was a desire to share the Kingdom of God with the world.  True love serves out of the heart of gratitude from the believer.

God equips each of us with talents and interests that can be used to serve in His kingdom.  Whatever your talents, there is a place for you. “I don’t have anything to give” is false modesty.  Anyone can pray or greet the stranger or befriend the friendless.  Churches and community organizations are always looking for volunteers to do simple tasks.  The star on the stage needs a crew behind the scenes to make it happen.  There are always more acknowledgements for those who are unseen in a program than for the main cast.

The unsung heroes of the world die in obscurity.  Few recognize their work because they don’t look for accolades.  They rejoice when others are praised, and they carry on serving anonymously.  Look for those people in your family and church.  When Christ returns, we will be surprised by those He singles out.  What joy to be thanked by the King of Kings for sharing His love with the world.

Prayer

” Lord, at Christmas we are keenly aware of the needs around us.  Give us eyes to see the ways we can show your love in the world around us.  Encourage us when we feel insignificant and incapable of making a difference.  Help us to see those around us who are sharing your love in acts of kindness and service.” Amen

Advent – December 17th

Joy Born Out of Sorrow

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Introduction

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).  Tragedy is met with a deep sorrow and heaviness that darkens even the desire to live.  Sleep is the only relief from the waking nightmare, and a deep breath erupts in tears.  After a time, the crushing emptiness begins to lift, and one day, you catch yourself smiling.  The joy that comes after the storm is the sweetest.  Good Friday seemed like the worst day on earth, but it was the means by which God saved the world.  Without it, there would have been no Easter joy.

 Psalm 126:5-7

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.  Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.  Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Isaiah 61:1-3

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; . . . to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

 Reflection

A missionary once explained the passage about “sowing in tears” this way.  In an agrarian culture, some of the crop is saved each year for planting in the spring.  It is an insurance policy against starvation, for if calamity strikes, they still have the seed to eat before they die.  But, when spring comes, they must give up the seed to the soil, trusting that what they have left will sustain them until harvest.  Thus, it is with heaviness that they empty the storehouse.  Several months later, the crops come in, and they replenish their granaries.  The sorrow has turned to joy.

Joy that is born out of sorrow is all the sweeter because we remember the pain.  The Isaiah passage was set to a song in the 70s–:”He gave me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness. . . “  The first time I heard that chorus I was told that it had been sung at the funeral of a promising young man who had died in a tragic accident.  The mourners erupted into singing at the graveside, much the same way our family began to sing when we buried my grandmother.  At that time, the pastor whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, Elaine, you’ll see her again.”  A reminder that my sorrow would turn to joy one day.

Because Jesus came, I know that “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” (Rev. 21::4).  Jesus brings us joy out of sorrow.

Prayer

” Lord, at this time of the year, we remember those who are no longer with us.  We are sometimes crushed beneath the sorrows that come in this life.  Alone, we cannot get through these things without deep scars.  But you come alongside of us and remind us that “this too shall pass” because you will wipe away every tear at the resurrection.  As we go through our personal Good Fridays, assure us of the resurrection that will come in the morning. ” Amen

Advent – December 16th

Joy is Family

advent 16

Introduction

“No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth” (3 John 1:4).  Jesus was celebrated by his extended family.  Mary and Joseph vividly remembered the visitation of the shepherds, angels and wisemen as Jesus grew up.  Twelve years later, when they took him to Jerusalem, he became engrossed in his conversation with the Jewish teachers in the temple.  His focus switched from his immediate family to the whole world.  His heavenly father took precedence over his earthly parents, even when it meant going a different path than one they may have imagined for him.

Luke 2:41ff

Every year [Jesus’s] parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.  When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.  After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.  Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.  Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished  His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this?  You father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  “Why were you searching for me? He asked.  “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.  But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Reflection

When a child is born it carries all the hopes and expectations of the parents and grandparents.  Having done nothing, the baby is perfect in every way, resembling the best features of both sides of the family.  And then reality sets in.  The child grows and goes through an awkward stage; they begin to push back and some of the less than attractive traits of the “other side” of the family come through.  If the teenager manages to make it through school and graduates, the parents can once again renew their hopes, and remember their initial joy.

Children are not raised in isolation.  Even if it looks like they are part of a nuclear family with a mother and/or father, during holidays and birthdays, others come and celebrate the life.  Jesus was no different.  When he turned twelve, the family went to Jerusalem for the Passover.  It appears that they went together as a group, and as such Jesus could be found with his cousins and friends.  It took them three days to realize he was missing and by then everyone was frantic.  When they finally found him in the temple with the teachers of the law, he didn’t apologize, rather he reminded him that he had to be “about his father’s business.”  He was conscious of his ministry by the age of twelve.  His loyalty switched from his earthy parents to God.  Mary must have been reminded of the circumstances surrounding his birth.  Did she realize when he was born that she would lose him so quickly?

The joy was turned to sorrow on the cross.  No one mourned his loss more deeply than his mother; one of the only people who stayed with him to the end.  How confusing it must have been to see the promised Messiah, her son, crucified as a criminal.  Where was the promise?  Hope had died.  Her family was destroyed.  But God had a bigger purpose, and on the third day, when he arose, her joy was unbounded.  So it is with our family.  We empathize with our children, but we cannot live their lives for them.  We must believe that they have been entrusted to us for a few short years to shape and mold; then we release them into God’s care, trusting that ”He who began the good work will be faithful to complete it” ((Phil.1:6).

Prayer

” Lord, we are only caretakers of our children.  As part of an extended family, we want the best for our loved ones and share in their joys and sorrows.  Help us to be faithful to uphold them and pray for them so that your good work may be done in their lives.” Amen