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Christmas: Why It Still Matters – Let’s Party!

Let's PartyKey Bible Verses:  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  Luke 2:13-14

Dig Deeper:  Luke 2:1-14

All over the world right now lights are strung and special music is being broadcast and trees are decorated and gifts have been purchased and feasts are being prepared.  People love to break from the routine and celebrate.

Several years ago I read about a parade oriented around “Louie, Louie”—the old rock-and-roll song.  The organizer explained that he just felt like hosting a parade, and that song was as good a reason as any.  Whether we have a silly reason or a solid reason, we will celebrate, because God made us this way.

“What is the chief end of man?” the Westminster Catechism asks.

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

We who belong to Jesus have powerful reasons to celebrate.  God has come to us.  God has shown that this life is not the only life we will ever know.  God has thrown open the gates of heaven to us through Christ his Son.  In today’s Key Bible Verse, we have seen the celebration going on within those gates.  And that’s where we’re headed!

God has come to us in Christ to bring glory to himself in the highest as he grants us peace here in our lives.  What can we do but rejoice?

—Ray Ortlund in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

 

My Response:  What do I enjoy most about the holidays?  What aspects of the holidays lead me to worshipful celebration?

 

Thought to Apply:  Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity. —John Huss (Czech religious thinker, philosopher, reformer)

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

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Christmas: Why It Still Matters – It Is Essential

Why a Virgin BirthKey Bible Verse:  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”  – Luke 1:35

Dig Deeper:  Luke 1:5-80

Many people try to say that the conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary is not essential in the doctrine of the Incarnation.

The words of Gabriel do not agree.  In answer to the question, how can a virgin conceive? he says the words in today’s Key Bible Verse.

Jesus can be called Son of God precisely because he was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  It is an unfathomable mystery that all the fullness of deity should dwell bodily in Jesus (Col. 2:9).  It is fitting that the entrance gate to this mystery should be the Virgin Birth.

A recent book calls the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity.  His ministry is to point away from himself to the wonder of God the Son and God the Father.

And it should cause us to smile with pleasure that the shy member of the Trinity should be assigned the delicate and mysterious work of causing the virgin to conceive the One whose greatness he will magnify forever.  It’s all so beautifully appropriate.

Let’s live and speak so that men and women might know Jesus Christ is the Son of the Most High.  That’s the passion of the Holy Spirit.  To be full of that is to be full of him.

—John Piper in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

 

My Response:  If I had to explain why the Virgin Birth is essential, I would say: …

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Christmas: Why It Still Matters – What’s in the Package?

The Gift of ChristmasThis week’s Key Study Passage:  Luke 2: 1-20

 

Who Said It … Tim Keller

Tim Keller is founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  Over the past 20 years, the church has grown to five services at three sites, with a weekly attendance of more than 5,000, and has planted more than 100 congregations.

Tim is author of The Prodigal God, Counterfeit Gods, and The New York Times bestseller, The Reason for God.

 

What He Said … What’s in the Package?

Christmas tells us that God became breakable and fragile.  God became someone we could hurt.  

Why?  To get us back.

What is in the package of Christmas?  His vulnerability for intimacy with us, which gives us the vulnerability to be intimate with the people around us.

The gift of Christmas gives you a resource—a comfort and consolation—for dealing with suffering, because in it we see God’s willingness to enter this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us.

Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own.  God had to come to you.  The gift of salvation comes to those who are willing to admit how weak they are.

These are some of the gifts that come in the package of Christmas.  If you open this gift and take it into your life, you’ll be blessed.  You’ll also be transformed.

Adapted from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Crossway, 2008).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, don’t let me get so caught up in the frenzy of the holidays that I forget what it’s all about; amid it all, may I take time for peaceful reflection and joyful celebration of my Savior’s birth.

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – Shepherds and Angels

Shepherds Abiding in the FieldIn commentary on verses 4 and 5 of today’s Key Study Passage, the NIV Life Application Bible says: “Watch this quiet couple as they head toward Bethlehem.  God did not soften Joseph’s bumpy road, but strengthened him.  God did not provide a luxurious inn for Joseph and Mary, but brought his Son into the world in humble surroundings.  

When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed comfort and convenience.  But we are promised that everything, even discomfort and inconvenience, has meaning, in God’s plan.  He will guide you and provide all you need.  Like Joseph, live each day by faith, trusting that God is in charge.”

Key Study Passage:

Luke 2:1-20

  1. Imagine yourself as Joseph, heading to Bethlehem with a very pregnant wife.  What is going through your head?  What are you saying to Mary?  What are you saying to God?

 

  1. Read verses 1-7 once very slowly; now reread the passage and jot down three or four observations.  What stood out to you that you hadn’t seen or thought about before?  Repeat this exercise for verses 8-20.

 

  1. How do you think Mary and Joseph responded when the shepherds showed up to see Jesus?

 

  1. Verse 20 says, “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Think of several reasons for “glorifying and praising God.”

 

Spend Time in Prayer: Reflect on Joseph’s bumpy road to Bethlehem, asking for perseverance and guidance as you navigate your own bumpy roads; turn two or three of your observations about the Key Study Passage into specific prayer requests or prayers of praise.

 

Luke 2:1-20

The Birth of Jesus

2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancee, who was now obviously pregnant.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

The Shepherds and Angels

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – “In the Beginning…”

In the Beginning, GodKey Bible Verse:  The Word became human and made his home among us.  John 1:14

Dig Deeper:  John 1:10-14

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”  (Genesis 1:1).

The baby Mary held was connected to the dawn of time.  He saw the first ray of sunlight and heard the first crash of a wave.  The baby was born, but the Word never was.

“All things were made through him” (1 Cor. 8:6, NCV).  Not by him, but through him.  Jesus didn’t fashion the world out of raw material he found.  He created all things out of nothing.

And then, what no theologian conceived, what no rabbi dared to dream, God did.  “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14, NIV).  The Artist became oil on his own palette.  The Potter melted into the mud on his own wheel.  God became an embryo in the belly of a village girl.  Christ in Mary.  God in Christ.

The Word of God entered the world with the cry of a baby.  His family had no cash or connections or strings to pull.  Jesus, the Maker of the universe, the one who invented time and created breath, was born into a family too humble to swing a bed for a pregnant mom-to-be.

—Max Lucado in God’s Story, Your Story

 

My Response: Why is it significant that God entered the world as a tiny baby and was born to parents who seemed so ordinary?

 

Thought to Apply: He was made man, who made man. He was created of a mother who he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in a manger in wordless infancy, he is the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.—St. Augustine (church leader, theologian)

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – God in Everyday Life

In the beginning was the Word 2Key Bible Verse:  In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.   John 1:1

Dig Deeper:  John 1:1-9

What if Joseph and Mary had shown up with a chauffeur, bling-blinged and high-muckety-mucked?  And what if God had decked out Bethlehem like Hollywood on Oscar night?

Had Jesus come with such whoop-de-do, we would have read the story and thought, My, look how Jesus entered their world.  But since he didn’t, we can read the story and dream.  Might Jesus be born in my world?  My everyday world?

Isn’t that the world you indwell?  Not a red-letter-day world.  No, you live an everyday life.  You have bills to pay and grass to cut.  Your face won’t grace any magazine covers, and you aren’t expecting a call from the White House.

Congratulations.  You qualify for a modern-day Christmas story.  God enters the world through folks like you.  The splendor of the first Christmas is the lack thereof.

Step into the stable, and cradle in your arms the infant Jesus, still moist from the womb, just wrapped in the rags … and listen as one who knew him well puts lyrics to the event:

“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1, NIV).

The words “In the beginning” take us to the beginning …. [continued tomorrow]

—Max Lucado in God’s Story, Your Story

 

My Response: I will reflect on what today’s Key Bible Verse means to the world and to my own life.

 

Thought to Apply: Christ becoming human elevates the state of our existence and brings a sacred presence to our natural human lives.—John Fischer (musician, writer)

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – Norm and Norma

Joseph and MaryKey Bible Verse: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.  – Micah 5:2

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 2:1-6

Mary and Joseph are, well, normal.

Normal has calluses like Joseph, stretch marks like Mary.  Normal stays up late with laundry and wakes up early for work.  Normal drives the car pool wearing a bathrobe and slippers.  Normal is Norm and Norma, not Prince and Princess.

Norm sings off-key.  Norma works in a cubicle and struggles to find time to pray.  Both have stood where Joseph stood and have heard what Mary heard; not from the innkeeper in Bethlehem, but from the coach in middle school or the hunk in high school or the foreman at the plant. “We don’t have room for you … time for you … a space for you … a job for you … interest in you.  Besides, look at you.  You are too slow … fat … inexperienced … late … young … old … pigeon-toed … cross-eyed … hackneyed.  You are too … ordinary.”

But then comes the Christmas story—Norm and Norma from Normal, Ohio, plodding into ho-hum Bethlehem in the middle of the night.  No one notices them.  No one looks twice in their direction.  The innkeeper won’t even clean out a corner in the attic.  Trumpets don’t blast; bells don’t sound.  Aren’t we glad they didn’t?

—Max Lucado in God’s Story, Your Story

 

My Response: In what ways do I personally relate to the world of Norm and Norma? When have I felt the sting of rejection or the fear that I’m simply not being noticed?

 

Thought to Apply: When is the time for love to be born? The inn is full on the planet Earth, and by greed and pride the sky is torn—yet love still takes the risk of birth.—Madeleine L’engle (novelist, poet)

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011) by permission.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

Merry Christmas!

Mark 1:14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

Merry Christmas 2From The Pastor’s Desk:

Happy New Year to everyone! Grace and peace to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Isn’t it great to get that”do over” every January 1st?  We can make new plans and anticipate another year filled with joys and challenges in our personal lives and in ministry together.  As we head into this coming year it is good to take time to reflect on our many blessings, particularly the grace and reconciliation we receive from God through Jesus Christ.  We have each other and wonderful facilities and communities from which to minister.  As we begin to make plans, let’s remember to lift all of our work and one another up to the Lord in constant prayer.

Stepping out in faith is never easy.  Indeed Scripture promises that in this world we will certainly have trouble.  What we need to think about is how we will get through it?  What is our way forward in ministry this year?  How will we reach the strangers within and outside our doors with the grace and love of Jesus Christ?  How will God work in us to manifest in us a greater love for God and an understanding of just what God is doing in our lives and in the ministry of God’s Church?  It is exciting to consider all of the possibilities.  Perhaps the most difficult task we have before us is to figure out just what Jesus is already doing in the midst of our world and our lives and how we can participate. 

You may have heard the familiar saying, “What would Jesus do (WWJD)?”  While this certainly bears consideration as we live out our faith,  is it possible that in dwelling on making our plans for the church we have missed the greater reality and opportunity for further growth?  What about what Jesus IS doing (WIJD)?  It may seem a petty point of word play at first glance; however our perspective on the matter greatly influences how we see our role in the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel of Mark 1: 14 Jesus declares, in fulfillment and within the context of the prophesy of Isaiah 40, that the Kingdom of God has “come near”(or is “at hand”, i.e. RIGHT NOW!).  Jews of that time would hear this and consider that Jesus is identifying himself as God, “the One”, and the Savior who proclaims release to the captives and gives power to the powerless.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ inaugurates God’s Kingdom on earth.  Christ is alive and here begins the work of bringing the Kingdom to perfection. The church is established and now we receive this gift of God’s Kingdom through Him.   This is an important shift in thinking about God’s Kingdom and our role in it. Christ is alive and even now working to bring the Kingdom to final perfection.  How can we sacrificially serve Christ in this work?

In light of this, we must now reconsider what it means to participate, as the Church, in God’s Kingdom.  If we receive it as a gift, then we cannot claim it as “our work”, but rather that we are able to enter it because of what Christ has done for us.  That God desires for us to participate is not in question, but we must realize that it is only through the power and gifting of the Holy Spirit and in Christ Himself that we are able to participate-not by our own strength or vision.  It is God’s plan which is accomplished through Christ.  As the church we are not, therefore, a people “inspired” by Jesus in order to complete his work.  No, Christ is alive and able to complete what he started.  We must instead now commit ourselves to the difficult task of figuring out just what it is that Jesus is doing in our own lives, in our community and in the mission of the church.  We must be about the work of discerning and “seeing” Jesus while serving and loving God and one another.

2014 will be an exciting year as we challenge ourselves to look for where Jesus is at work and together order our lives and our church communities in ministry with Him.  The leaders of each church will gather in the presence of Christ for times of dreaming for the future. We will work together with the congregations through the Natural Church Development process to shape the ministries of the church that best reflect where we see Jesus already at work.  Let’s try a fresh approach.  Let’s ask not “What would Jesus do?” but instead, “What is Jesus doing?” and then let’s work together with Christ in God’s Kingdom to be and to lead others into becoming disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wishing You All God’s Peace and Joy in this New Year,

Pastor Heidi

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Advent Calendar – December 25

Christmas DayChristmas Day!

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” John 1:14

Merry Christmas!

From Our Pastor

Then an angel of the Lord stood before 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; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.(Luke 2:9–11)

 

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Merry Christmas 2Merry Christmas!  I hope this letter finds you filled with all good things, especially the joy, the peace, the love and the hope that God has sent in His gift to us:  His son, Jesus Christ.

What good news indeed!  The Savior is at hand, he is come and yet, for us, he is still to come to once and for all eternity reconcile all things and people to himself.  I hope that during this hectic season you all have taken time to prepare room in your hearts to receive this immeasurable gift from God.

As I reflect on the past six months I am reminded that great transitions have occurred both personally and with each church.  We are all experiencing a time of leaving home I think.  For me and my family it has been a literal event.  For all of you, it has involved, once again, a change of pastoral leadership and being yoked together for the first time, sharing ministry in a new way.  As with any of these transitions, the way has not always been easy. It reminds me of this scripture:  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

At this special time in our Christian year, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, we are reminded of yet another call to leave home and experience something brand new.  Both Joseph and Mary would be asked to leave their families. First Mary would leave home, somewhat disgraced and about to give birth, making what we might imagine to be a frightening trip to Bethlehem.  Then Joseph, too, would be told to leave his kin as he and Mary received this terrifying news:   “13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt 2:13)

What an adventure, to set out not knowing where you are going!  Some might call it something else.  I can imagine some of what Abraham and his family must have felt, our family having made such a journey in July.  New Castle and Beaver Falls-not exactly the hinterlands-yet farther than any of us have lived from family and friends.  What range of emotions Mary and Joseph must have felt, still reeling from all that had happened and what had been foretold? A new light would come to a world waiting in darkness and they had been both chosen and chose, each of them, to bear it.  This was wonderful news coupled with awesome responsibility.  A joy beyond belief, yet terrifying and requiring many sacrifices to be made. This would entail a life of journey, upheaval and being forced to live as foreigners.  They would ultimately be asked to give everything; including the very life of the one they fought so hard to keep safe.

            As I consider my personal journey from kindred to become a stranger in a strange land, I also reflect on how each church has welcomed and embraced this stranger in your midst.  I am blessed.  My family and I thank you for your graciousness and helpfulness in this difficult transition.

Central and Riverview have not gone unaffected. Many other churches in many other places are experiencing a similar journey of faith.  We are strangers in an increasingly stranger land.  We struggle to find not only direction, but strength and resources to survive and thrive.  Like Abraham and his family we are called to set out not knowing where we are going to, “the land that I (God) will show you.”

This is not an easy place to be and I think in numerous ways we all would like to go back home or circle the wagons in order to save the piece, the remnant we have left.  Yet, when we look back to Scripture, we find time and again that God moves his people out.  He pursues us-drives us- into foreign places to bless us to be a blessing to others.  The examples of Israel and the life of Jesus Christ, show us that God’s people move out from the familiar far more often than they move in. Jesus Christ reminds us in his Word over and over again that those who would hang on to the world-its wealth, its power and its values (even our very lives) will lose them.  Broken, servant hearts that are willing to travel are necessary for this journey.  The humble beginning of the Savior’s journey here on earth is no different.  We can imagine the brokenness that Mary and Joseph felt.  This marriage would not begin in the happy way they had planned, but rather filled with scandal.

This year will present both churches with many opportunities to move out and to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Our hope and futures are set on what we cannot yet see and our ability to have faith in the overwhelming evidence that God does wonders with remnants, whether it’s His people, or fish or bread or tiny babies in mangers.

Some ambitious goals have been set in the ministries of both churches our way will be filled with fears and struggles as we move forward into a new year of ministry together.  We will be discerning where Jesus is leading us in new places to prepare for new people and we will be focusing on three simple things:  loving God, loving neighbor and serving the world. 

Many in the congregations of both churches have expressed weariness in fighting a world that doesn’t seem to need the church or a Savior.  We want to be the church that God desires us to be and yet we do grow weary. Maybe we are tired because we are fighting against the reality that the church can no longer be simply “be”.  God set it up differently.  God’s people are the” called out” people.

 Our plans are ambitious and yet simple.  It is time to take a step back and reflect and build our strength.  We will work together to build relationships with each other and with those we serve in our communities, inviting and welcoming strangers to the strange land we call God’s  Kingdom.  We will explore ways to serve, hands on, the ministries we support financially. I pray that we will continue to work together to love one another through small group covenant, fellowship and as a Charge as we plan ministry together. 

As your Pastor, I am committed to establishing healthy congregations with a basic, “simple church” approach in order to love God, love neighbor and serve the world and providing the resources for individuals and the congregations to experience a spiritual transformation and relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am equally passionate about Christ’s mission within our communities and how we can work together to best serve and help others to serve our neighbors, including ways to work together in ministry as a Charge.  I promise to work with each church toward these ministry goals.  In doing this, sometimes will we all be like strangers together setting out, not knowing where, but hoping and trusting in our Lord to show the way.

As we go forward in this way, His way, we can trust in His provision.   We will pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to strengthen us and inspire greater passion for God and His mission.  I look forward to the next year in ministry with you.  Let us rekindle and stoke our passion for service in the example and name of Jesus Christ!

Merry Christmas!

 

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Pastor Heidi

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – The Christmas Hope

Kid's Christmas Play 2Key Bible Verse:  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:7, NASB

Dig Deeper:  Luke 2:1-7

Joseph looks at the innkeeper.  The innkeeper looks at Mary.

And we all know what happens next.  Joseph urges.  The innkeeper shakes his head.  His hotel is packed.  Guests occupy every corner.  There is no room at the inn.

The innkeeper huffs and turns.  Joseph and Mary exit.  The choir sings “Away in a Manger” as stagehands wheel out a pile of hay, a feed trough, and some plastic sheep.  

The audience smiles and claps and sings along.  They love the song, the kids, and they cherish the story.  But most of all, they cling to the hope.  The Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.

The Christmas story drips with normalcy.  This isn’t Queen Mary or King Joseph.  The couple doesn’t caravan into Bethlehem with camels, servants, purple banners, and dancers.  Mary and Joseph have no tax exemption or political connection.  They have the clout of a migrant worker and the net worth of a minimum wage earner.

Not subjects for a PBS documentary.  Not candidates for welfare, either.  Their life is difficult but not destitute.  Joseph has the means to pay taxes.  They inhabit the populous world between royalty and rubes.

—Max Lucado in God’s Story, Your Story

 

My Response: As I think about Sunday and Monday’s readings, what should I understand about the story of Christmas?

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

 

Christmas Fun – “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Angels We Have Heard on High

Here’s a great video of the four “Piano Guys” doing some amazing things on (and to) a piano with this favorite carol.

Angels We Have Heard on High

Merry Christmas!

Advent Calendar – December 24

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” John 1:14

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – Imagine a Kid’s Christmas Play…

Kid's Christmas PlayWho Said It … Max Lucado

Max Lucado serves as the minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, and is a contributing editor for Leadership Journal.

The author of more than 50 books, Max has recently written God’s Story, Your Story.

He has been married to Denalyn since 1981, and they have three grown daughters—Jenna, Andrea, and Sara—and one son-in-law, Brett.

 

What he Said … Imagine a Kids’ Christmas Play …

The pint-size Joseph scurries across the church stage, wearing sandals and a robe.  He raps on the door his dad built for the children’s Christmas play, then shifts from one foot to the other, partly because he’s supposed to act nervous.  Mostly because he is exactly that.

The innkeeper answers.  He too wears a robe and a towel turned turban.  An elastic band secures a false beard to his face.  He looks at Joseph and chokes back a giggle.  Just a couple of hours ago the two boys were building a snowman.  Their moms had to tell them twice to get dressed for the Christmas Eve service.

Here they stand.  The innkeeper crosses his arms; Joseph waves his.  He describes a donkey ride from Nazareth, five days on the open road, and, most of all, a wife.  He turns and points in the direction of a pillow-stuffed 9-year-old girl.

She waddles onto center stage and limps with her best portrayal of pregnant pain.  She plays up the part.  Groan.  Sigh.  “Joseph, I need help!”

The crowd chuckles. [continued tomorrow]

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

 

Key Study Passage:  Luke 2:1-20

 

The Birth of Jesus

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

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.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 2:2 Or This census took place before

You Are Invited! – Free Community Dinner, Concert, and Christmas Eve Traditional Candlelight Service

Christmas Eve - Worship With Us

Please join us for a free community dinner in our Fellowship Hall from 4-5 pm, followed by a full 30 minute piano and organ concert of carols and seasonal music at 5:00, and capped off with our Christmas Eve Traditional Candlelight Service at 5:30 pm!

Advent Calendar – December 23

World PeaceAs we await the song of angels “peace on earth,” pray for peace in our homes and families, peace in our communities, peace among our nations, peace throughout the world.

Christmas: A Story for Ordinary People – Ordinary Matters

People Helping PeopleKey Bible Verse:  They share freely and give generously to those in need.  Their good deeds will be remembered forever.  Psalm 112:9

Dig Deeper:  2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:6-10

God writes his story with people like Joseph and Mary … and Sam Stone.

In the weeks before Christmas 1933, a curious offer appeared in the daily newspaper of Canton, Ohio.  A Mr. B. Virdot promised to send a check to the community’s neediest.  All they had to do was describe their plight in a letter and mail it to General Delivery.

The appeals poured in.

Oddly, no one in Canton knew Mr. Virdot.  People wondered if he really existed.  Yet within a week checks began to arrive at homes all over the area.  Most were modest, about five dollars.  All were signed “B. Virdot.”

The man was never discovered … until 2008.  Long after the man’s death, a grandson opened a tattered black suitcase in his parents’ attic and found the letters, all dated in December 1933, as well as 150 canceled checks.  

Mr. B. Virdot was Samuel J. Stone.  His pseudonym was a hybrid of Barbara, Virginia, and Dorothy, the names of his three daughters.  By the time the Depression hit, he owned a small chain of clothing stores.  He wasn’t affluent, but he was willing to help.

Ordinary man.  Ordinary place.  But a conduit of extraordinary grace.  And in God’s story, ordinary matters.

—Max Lucado in God’s Story, Your Story

 

My Response: How is God calling me to be “a conduit of extraordinary grace”?

 

Thought to Apply:  It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you … yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand.—Mother Theresa (Albanian missionary to India)

Adapted from God’s Story, Your Story (Zondervan, 2011)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, may I take time to reflect on the down-to-earth realities of the miracle of Christmas; show me how the wonderfully ordinary story of Joseph and Mary intersects with my own.

Resources

Research Resources

Devotions – daily devotions by Ron Newhouse, a minister of the United Methodist Church

 

Biblegateway –  excellent Bible search and devotions:                         

 

Crosswalk – geared to faith, family, fun, and community

 

Gospelnet – devotions and Bible search tools

 

Lifeway – includes devotions, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, Morning and Evening devotions by Charles H. Spurgeon; literature section includes Power Through Prayer by Edward M. Bounds, and The Imitation of Christ probably by Thomas a Kempis.

 

Max Lucado – “The Teaching Ministry of Max Lucado” 

 

The Interpreter Online  – The official magazine for  United Methodist laity and clergy to share information and inspiration.

 

The Wesleys and Their Ministries – This website is for those who are history lovers or for those who want to learn more about our founding family. The website also contains links to Wesley’s writings. They are comprehensive.

 

Gratefulness website – To provide resources for living in the gentle power of gratefulness, which restores courage, reconciles relationships, and heals our Earth; and to create a global network of people who practice the art of life as gift.

 

Strong’s Concordance – discussion of how Strong’s was written plus study tools. Old Testament is Hebrew;  New Testament is Greek.  

 

Human Rights  in the United Methodist Church – data base with 500 + articles.

 

Biblical History – ancient peoples and places, manners and customs, maps, charts, timelines, politics

 

Our Prayer...”Reaching out…Lifting Up. Website on the use of prayer. The web site  is a service of Guideposts. You will find a means of submitting prayers to the web site on  the Spiritual Life page bottom on our web site.

Method X – Daily Devotions…related to Upper Room, Sacred Space, Prayer Information, Articles

Advent Calendar – December 22

Advent - Week 4The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Light four candles this evening.

Advent is nearly over.  Time to let go of things you can’t accomplish, and be ready to welcome the Christ child joyfully, just as you are.

Blue Christmas – The Winter Solstice

Winter SolsticeDecember 21 is the Winter Solstice.

For some of us, Christmas can be a time of stress and anxiety.

Joy and cheer sometimes are overwhelmed by sadness.

This special episode of “Chuck Knows Church” talks about “Blue Christmas” and what we can do to help others who feel the weight of the season.

God’s Astonishing Promise – The Word in Human Form

In the beginning was the WordJohn, writes J.I. Packer in The Glory of Christ, “wants his book to take all his readers into the full depth of his own understanding of Jesus.  

But if its opening words were, ‘In the beginning was the Son’ or ‘the Son of God,’ Jewish readers, who knew these phrases as titles for Israel’s king, would take John to be affirming the preexistence of a human Messiah.

Gentile readers, knowing Greek mythology, would think he was talking of a hero like Hercules, who had a divine father and a human mother.

So a different way of starting had to be devised.”

 

Interact with God’s Word

John 1:1-18

  1. What do you learn about the One John calls “the Word” in verses 1 through 4?

 

  1. What does John say (v. 14) happened to the Word?

 

 

  1. How can you tell that the divine Word and the human Jesus are one and the same (vv. 15, 17)?

 

  1. What is the significance of the term “the only Son of the Father” in verse 14?

 

  1. How is the only Son’s status different from those who have become “children of God” (v. 12) by believing and accepting Christ?

 

  1. How did Christ’s coming in human form (v. 18) make it easier to comprehend God’s nature?

 

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for the core truth of Christmas: that the only Son entered space-time history as a human to make God tangible and to die a substitutionary death.

John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make.

4 Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. 5 The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. 6 God sent John the Baptist 7 to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.

8 John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world. 10 But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. 11 Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

13 They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan—this rebirth comes from God. 14 So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. 15 John pointed him out to the people. He shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.'”

16 We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart; he has told us about him.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Giving – What Does it Really Mean?

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh Matthew 2:11

 

 

Okay, okay, we’ve heard it over and over again. But maybe the subject of giving is one that we need reminders over and over again in order to get it right. Giving doesn’t necessarily mean buying out the mall and running up huge balances on your credit cards.

 

Granted, the Magi gave gold, incense and myrrh, some of the most valuable gifts possible at that time. But those guys could afford it! They wouldn’t still be paying off their Mastercard bill when the next Christmas rolled around!

 

 

So why do you and I frantically buy and buy and buy at Christmas? Because we want to give and give and give… because we love these people and we want to show it. True. And there’s nothing wrong with giving brightly wrapped packages full of wonderful things at Christmas – or at any other time of the year.

 

But if we truly love, if we truly want to illustrate that love, instead of following the example of the Magi, we’ll follow the example of our Lord – and give of ourselves. For instance, we can give our time – probably one of the most valuable intangible commodities today.

 

 

How much time do you spend talking with (not at – with) your children? How much time do you spend doing little things to make life easier for those around you? How much time do you spend serving the Lord in real ways? How much time do you devote to putting others first in a real way? If you fall short in any of these areas, commit right now to increase that time at least 100% every day in the coming year.

 

 

There are other kinds of giving – like giving in. In these days of assertiveness training, why not go against the flow and let the other person win once in a while? Compromise with your child on an issue that has been a war zone for months (obviously, the issue needs to be one that won’t damage the child if you give in a little!). Let your co-worker win an argument for a change. Give the gift of a peaceful atmosphere by giving in.

 

Give of your talents.

  • Good with a hammer? Give that single woman a hand with some repairs around her house.
  • Good with a needle and thread? Help that single guy with button replacement and seams that have come loose.
  • Good with art? Offer to help out with church publications.
  • Got a little extra time? Volunteer at church or at one of the many ministries around town that can always use another pair of hands.
  • And how many times have you hugged your kids today?            

 

 

Before you head for the mall to pick up those last minute packages, take a few moments to look at the level of giving in your life every day. How much of you do you really give?

Commit today to follow our Lord’s example in giving, and give yourself to others every day. Remember, you can “lay down your life” in many ways that don’t include dying!

 

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  – John 15:13

 

Central Church's Chrismon Tree

Central Church’s Chrismon Tree

 


 

Advent Calendar – December 21

St ThomasToday, on the feast of St. Thomas, we remember the disciple who doubted.

But let us also recall, in the coming holy days, that his doubts and questions led him to a great affirmation of worship as he called Jesus his Lord and God.

God’s Astonishing Promise – Signpost and Signs

John the BaptistKey Bible Verse:  Before John came, … the Scriptures looked forward to this present time.  Matthew 11:13

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:3; 42:2-4; 61:1

Rugged John the Baptist, roughing it in the desert, had a unique mission: to be “the great introducer,” presenting Jesus, the Son of God, to Israel.

Several hundred years before John was born, Isaiah prophesied he would come as a voice in the wilderness, calling the nation to prepare for Messiah’s advent.  Malachi also predicted (Malachi 3:1) that John would be Messiah’s “messenger,” preparing people for His arrival.

Isaiah also explained that Messiah would bring good news to the afflicted.  The Holy Spirit would empower the Messiah, who would heal the sick, bring liberty to the oppressed, and solve the suffering of sin.  Isaiah announced that Messiah would not be contentious and quarrelsome;  He would be gentle.  He wouldn’t crush people already depressed and devastated, as by the legalistic Pharisees in Jesus’ time.

But how would the people know when the Messiah had come?  Isaiah promised that His presence would be known by the signs He performed: He’d give sight to the blind, open the ears of the deaf, give legs to the lame, enable the dumb to shout for joy.  

When John the Baptist was confused and in prison, Jesus sent messengers to him, reminding him that the miracles revealed Him to be the Messiah.

—Paul Enns in Approaching God

 

My Response: How are Isaiah’s descriptions good news for me?

 

Thought to Apply: If Jesus is the revelation of the heart of God, it’s very good news about the nature of God.—RICHARD ROHR (Franciscan monk)

Adapted from Approaching God (Kregel, 1991)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 20

Unexpected GiftThink you are done with your shopping?

Think you’ve sent out all the cards?

Not so.

Add a person who will be totally amazed by the grace of a gift from you.

God’s Astonishing Promise – One of a Kind

Baby JesusKey Bible Verse:  The Lord himself will choose the sign.  Look!  The virgin will conceive a child.  Isaiah 7:14

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 7:10-13; 9:1-7

To shore up the shaky faith of Judah’s King Ahaz when threatened by Syria and Israel, the prophet Isaiah told him to ask God for a sign, “and make it as difficult as you want.”

When Ahaz demurred, Isaiah proclaimed a sign only God could perform. Isaiah predicted (in Isaiah 7:14) 700 years before the event that a virgin would give birth to the Messiah.

Isaiah used a Hebrew word, almah, that meant an unmarried woman.  In the Old Testament, that word always means an unmarried woman—and by inference, a virgin.

Isaiah didn’t use the Hebrew word bethulah, the usual word for a married woman.  

Moreover, when Matthew (Matthew 1:23) quoted Isaiah to explain its fulfillment in the birth of Christ, he used the normal Greek word for virgin (parthenos).

The birth of Jesus was entirely unique.  Although born as a human, as the flawless Son of God He was entirely pure, altogether without sin.  Only thus could He be the spotless Lamb of God, a pure sacrifice for sin.

Isaiah also said of this child to be born, “A son is given to us.”  What a generous gift the Father has given us!

—Paul Enns in Approaching God

 

My Response: “Thank God for his Son—a gift too wonderful for words!”   (2 Corinthians 9:15).

 

Thought to Apply: The virgin birth is far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us.—Madeleine L’Engle (writer)

Adapted from Approaching God (Kregel, 1991)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 19

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His SonGet ready for Sunday.

Find a Bible and read Matthew 1:18-25.

It tells the story of Joseph’s dream.

God’s Astonishing Promise – Blinded by Familiarity?

The IncarnationKey Bible Verse:  But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman.  Galatians 4:4

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 53:10-12

There are situations where human beings are at first filled with awe, and then as they grow more familiar with them they experience first indifference, and then contempt.  

The “spiderman” who works on scaffolding hundreds of feet above the ground has to be on guard against his over-familiarity.  The man who works with high-voltage electricity must also beware of becoming contemptuous of his danger.  And anyone who knows the sea will say to you in effect, “By all means love the sea, but never lose your respect for it.”

We can hardly help being involved in the frantic business of buying and sending gifts and cards.  But we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost fright, at what God has done.  The danger is that our familiarity with God’s insertion of Himself into human history may produce a kind of indifference.  The wonder and mystery may leave us unmoved.  

So much decoration and celebration has been heaped upon the festival that the historic fact upon which all the rejoicing is founded has been almost smothered out of existence.  

At least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact: So great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man.

—J. B. Phillips in Good News

 

My Response: I’ll make time to reflect on the miracle of God’s visit to this planet.

 

Thought to Apply: If you want to get the hang of the incarnation, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.—C.S. Lewis (British scholar & writer)

Adapted from Good News: Thoughts on God and Man (Macmillan, 1963)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 18

ComplineCompline (also Complin, Night Prayer, Prayers at the End of the Day) is the final church service of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours.  Catholic, Eastern Orthordox, Anglican, Lutheran, and certain other Christian denominations with liturgical traditions prescribe Compline services, a contemplative service that emphasizes spiritual peace.

In the Service of Compline, we hear the words, “Lord, you are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name.”

Look for Jesus in the midst of your day today and everyday.

God’s Astonishing Promise – Backwater Birthplace

BethlehemKey Bible Verse:  Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.  Micah 5:2

Bonus Reading:   Matthew 2:1-6

If you pour over the Rand McNally Road Atlas, you will find thousands of small towns across North America.  Some of our presidents, prime ministers, and great leaders have been born in these small towns, but who could have anticipated it?  In the year A.D. 1200, for example, who would have guessed that Dwight D. Eisenhower would be born in Denison, Texas?

Yet the Bible provides astoundingly precise prophecies of Christ’s birth.  Writing 700 years before His birth, Micah predicted that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, so small and insignificant that it wasn’t included in the official list of towns in the book of Joshua.

Christ’s prophesied birth in Bethlehem was well known, however, for when the Magi came to Jerusalem and inquired of the chief priests and scribes, the answer was readily available.

Zechariah added (Zechariah 9:9) that He would present Himself to the nation, riding into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt.  But sadly, although even nature was submissive to the Messiah, His people rejected Him (Psalm 118:22)—leaving in abeyance His promised blessings to the nation.

—Paul Enns in Approaching God

 

My Response:  I’ll thank the Eternal One for Micah’s announcement 28 centuries ago of a Ruler whose reign is still future.

 

Thought to Apply:  It was not suddenly and unannounced that Jesus came into the world. He came into a world that had been prepared for Him. —Phillips Brooks

Adapted from Approaching God (Kregel, 1991)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 17

EarthThere are signs of distress in this fragile planet which we call home.

Pray for the environment and join in efforts large and small to restore it.

Christmas Fun – “The Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah Chorus”

Here is a great little video guaranteed to make your season bright!  It’s just a fun skit — a bunch of high schoolers who to the delight of their audience pondered just how a bunch of monks who’d taken a vow of silence might put on a Christmas concert.

Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah ChorusIt’s from the South Kitsap High School’s Vocal Music Christmas Concert – The Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah Chorus, recorded on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 in Port Orchard, WA.

The Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah Chorus

Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Gift for Atheists – Five Reasons Why God Exists

The Gift of ChristmasA recent article by William Lane Craig, Why God Exists,  published by FoxNews.com on December 13, 2013, offers five strong reasons why God exists.

For atheists, Christmas is a religious sham. For if God does not exist, then obviously Jesus’ birth cannot represent the incarnation of God in human history, which Christians celebrate at this time of year.

However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief. Rather they’ve learned to simply repeat the slogan, “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!”

In the case of a Christian who has no good reasons for what he believes, this slogan serves as an effective conversation-stopper. But if we have good reasons for our beliefs, then this slogan serves rather as a conversation-starter. 

The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something.

The atheist who merely repeats this slogan after having been presented with arguments for God’s existence makes an empty assertion.

So what reasons might be given in defense of Christian theism?  In my publications and oral debates with some of the world’s most notable atheists, I’ve defended the following five reasons why God exists:

1.  God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning.

Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful.

Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.

2.  God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.

Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life.  That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range.  

There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design.

The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance.

That leaves design as the best explanation.

3.  God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil.

But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning?

These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved.

By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties.

Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.

4.  God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  

Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact.  

Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary.

I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave:  God raised Jesus from the dead.

5.  God can be personally known and experienced.  

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.

The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something.

If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!

 7896 William Lane Craig is a philosopher, author, and founder of ReasonableFaith.orghttp://global.fncstatic.com/static/v/all/img/external-link.png, a web-based ministry whose purpose is to provide an intelligent and articulate perspective about the existence of God in the public arena.

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

Central Church Decorated for Christmas

God’s Astonishing Promise – Reverse Geneology

God's Promise to Abraham

God’s Promise to Abraham

Key Bible Verse:  A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel.  Numbers 24:17

Bonus Reading:   Genesis 3:15; 12:2; 17:19; 49:10.

The prophetic failures of psychic Jeanne Dixon are well known.  World War III, she predicted, would begin in 1954; union leader Walter Reuther would run for president in 1966; and Fidel Castro would be overthrown in 1970.

Humans fail, but Bible prophecies about Christ—predicted centuries before they occurred—have been minutely fulfilled.

Immediately after Adam ate the forbidden fruit, God proclaimed the “good news” for the first time, promising from Eve’s offspring a Deliverer who would crush the tempter.  Who would He be?

God chose aged Abraham from Ur to be the father of a new people through whom the Messiah would come.  But the messianic line would not include all Abraham’s descendants—only those of the lineage of Isaac and of Isaac’s son Jacob.  

Specifically, Jesus would be from the family of Judah, the kingly line. Christ would descend from David (2 Samuel 7:16), have an enduring dynasty and a people and kingdom over which to rule, and inaugurate a worldwide reign of peace.

The prophecies foretelling Christ’s genealogy have been precisely fulfilled.  We now await the fulfillment of the final prophecy—His rule.

—Paul Enns in Approaching God

 

My Response: How much do I long for prophecy’s final fulfillment with Christ’s return and reign?

Adapted from Approaching God (Kregel, 1991)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 16

Meister Eckhart

God’s Astonishing Promise – Advent

Advent 2Who Said It …Frederick Buechner

While in high school, Frederick set his sights on writing professionally.  After college and two World-War-II years in the military, he published his first novel to critical acclaim.

He resigned his teaching job and moved to New York City “to be a full-time writer, only to discover that I could not write a word.”  Frederick began attending church, was converted, and decided to attend seminary.

From then on, Buechner wrote, his job “was to present the faith as appealingly, honestly, relevantly, and skillfully as I could.”

 

What He Said …Advent

The house lights go off and the footlights come on.  Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise.  In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised.  The conductor has raised the baton.  The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.  

Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell.  The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move.  Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart.  For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

Adapted from Beyond Words (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, keep my familiarity with the trappings of Christmas from blinding me to its quiet but explosive significance.

Advent Calendar – December 15

Advent - Week 3The Third Sunday of Advent

It’s Gaudete Sunday and time to lighten up and get ready to celebrate Jesus’ coming with gusto.

Light three candles this evening. 

If you have a traditional Advent wreath, light the pink candle.

 

 

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – Flight to Egypt

Flight to Egypt

Flight to Egypt

The two inspired birth accounts chose to focus on different events.  Luke offers details about the angels appearing to the shepherds.  Matthew skips that part of the story and records the astrologers’ arrival and the escape to, and return from, Egypt.  Today we focus on his account.

 

Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 2:1-23

  1. Why (v. 3) would the astrologers’ mission have “deeply disturbed” Herod, a non-Jewish “king of the Jews”?
  2. The religious leaders and scholars (vv. 4-6) accurately answered Herod’s question.  Why were they later hostile to this same Messiah?  (See John 7:40-43 for a possible source of confusion.)  Why is Bible knowledge no substitute for submission to its authority?
  3. How did the astrologers learn (v. 12) that Herod had lied to them (v. 8)?
  4. When Joseph woke up,” Matthew 1:24records, “he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. That was after an earlier dream had revealed that Mary’s child would be the Messiah.  In this passage he is guided by three more dreams (vv. 13, 19 & 22).  What can you learn from his immediate, unquestioning obedience to divine instruction?
  5. Matthew carefully documents (vv. 15, 17-18 & 23) how Jesus’ birth fit into God’s overarching plan.  Are we anticipating Jesus’ Second Advent, as clearly taught in Scripture?  (See, for example, Acts 1:9-11.)

 

Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God to help you see Jesus through the expectant, wonder-filled eyes of the astrologers.

 

Matthew 2:1-23

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.'”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Advent Calendar – December 14

Saint BenedictIn the prologue to his little rule for beginners, Saint Benedict advises the novice to listen carefully with the ear of the heart.

Good advice for Advent, don’t you think?

Do some active listening today.

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – Lost and Found?

Jesus, age 12, at the Temple

Jesus, age 12, at the Temple

Key Bible Verse:  “Why did you need to search? … You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.”  – Luke 2:49

Bonus Reading:  Luke 2:41-52

I used to think that was what the account of the boy Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem was about.  Then I realized Jesus always knew where he was, what he was doing, and why he was there.  It was Mary who’d lost her bearings.

The mystery of Jesus’ true identity had faded with the years as his baby teeth fell out and his voice began to change.  She revealed this by her exasperated words to Jesus: “Son! Why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere!”

She meant, of course, that she and Joseph had been hunting for him.  But Jesus’ real Father hadn’t been looking for him at all.  Mary should have remembered her encounter with the angel and the miraculous, Spirit-induced conception of her boy.  But she’d started to think of Joseph as her son’s dad.

Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem on purpose to remind her.  In his reply, in today’s Key Bible Verse, he could have said, “You should have known that I’d be in the temple” or “back here in Jerusalem.”  But his word choice was deliberate; he said “in my Father’s house.”  If Mary had remembered his true identity, she’d have known immediately where to look for him.

—Steven James in Sailing Between the Stars

 

My Response: I’ll ask God to help me better grasp his only Son’s true identity.

 

Thought to Apply: The virgin birth is far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us. —Madeleine L’Engle (author)

Adapted from Sailing Between the Stars (Revell, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Advent Calendar – December 13

St LucyIt’s the feast day of St. Lucy, who may have first coined the phrase, “You can’t take it with you” to justify giving much of her wealth to the poor.

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – View from Backstage

Revelation 12

Revelation 12

Key Bible Verse:  A woman … gave birth to a boy who was to rule all nations… . Then there was war in heaven.  Revelation 12: 1-5

Bonus Reading:   Rev. 12:1-17

One view of Christmas I have never seen on a card, probably because no artist could do it justice.  Revelation 12 gives us a glimpse of Christmas as it must have looked from somewhere far beyond Andromeda.

Instead of shepherds and wise men it pictures a dragon leading a ferocious struggle in heaven.  A woman clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of 12 stars cries out in pain as she is about to give birth.  

Suddenly the enormous red dragon enters the picture, his tail sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky.  He crouches hungrily before the woman, anxious to devour her child the moment it is born.  At the last second the infant is snatched away to safety, the woman flees, and all-out cosmic war begins.

In daily life two parallel histories occur simultaneously, one on earth and one in heaven.  Revelation, however, melds them together.  

On earth a baby was born, a king caught wind of it, a chase ensued.  In heaven the Great Invasion had begun, a daring raid by the ruler of the forces of good into the universe’s seat of evil.

—Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew

 

My Response: This Christmas Day I’ll thank the Father for his initiative in launching the Great Invasion.

 

Thought to Apply:  God our deliverer, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of our world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope that we embrace without terror the labor pangs of the new age. —Janet Morley

Adapted from The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Advent Calendar – December 12

John the Baptist in PrisonGet ready for Sunday.  Find a Bible and read Matthew 11:2-11.

It tells the story of John the Baptist in prison.

Notice his question and the answer he receives.

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – Storm Warnings

Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents

Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents

Key Bible Verse:I have seen the Savior you have given to all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations. Luke 2:30-32

Bonus Reading: Luke 2:22-35

In the birth stories, only one person seems to grasp the mysterious nature of what God has set in motion: the old man Simeon recognized the baby as the Messiah, and instinctively understood that conflict would surely follow.

“This child will be rejected by many in Israel, and it will be their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy to many others,” he said, and then made the prediction that a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul.

Somehow Simeon sensed that though on the surface little had changed—Roman troops were still stringing up patriots, Jerusalem still overflowed with beggars—underneath, everything had changed.  A new force had arrived to undermine the world’s powers.

The earliest events in Jesus’ life give a menacing preview of the unlikely struggle now under way.  Herod enforced Roman rule at the local level, and in an irony of history we know Herod’s name mainly because of the massacre of the innocents.  I’ve never seen a Christmas card depicting that state-sponsored act of terror, but it too was a part of Christ’s coming.

—Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew

 

My Response:  In what sense does dividing history into B.C.. (before Christ) and A.D. (year of our Lord) eras get it right?

 

Thought to Apply:  We know the story, but we don’t fully understand what it means. O God, we confess that we’re still not ready for Christ’s coming; we’re reluctant to live as if the whole earth were your domain.           —Ruth Duck

Adapted from The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Keeping Herod in Christmas?

A recent article by Brett Younger in Ministry Matters contains an important insight into our celebration of Christmas.

The Flight into Egypt, Nicolas Poussin 1657

The Flight into Egypt, Nicolas Poussin 1657

Twenty-seven Christmases ago I was the new pastor of a Baptist church in Indiana. I decided we would have a Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service—the first ever. I wanted everything to be perfect. It almost was.

Snow fell that afternoon. A junior in high school, Melody, played “What Child Is This” on the flute. Three generations—a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter—lit the Advent candles. We sang the carols “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

We read the story—Mary, Joseph, the baby, and the manger. I remember thinking: This is a Hallmark card of a worship service. This is as picture-perfect a Christmas moment as any church has ever known.

That’s when Danny’s beeper went off. Danny was a member of the volunteer fire department. When his beeper sounded—as it often did— Danny ran out of the sanctuary. We had gotten used to it, but it was still disconcerting. Then we started singing “Silent Night.” As we got to “Wondrous Star, lend thy light,” Danny ran back in and shouted that church member Bob’s mother’s house was on fire. Bob’s family ran after Danny. Danny’s wife got up and left.

Everyone had to choose between listening to the preacher’s sermon or slipping out one by one and going to a big fire. By the time I got Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the crowd— and I use that term loosely—was made up of those who were waiting for a ride home and those who had fallen asleep. That’s not how Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion services are supposed to turn out. Tragedies should wait until January, because they don’t fit our ideas about Christmas.

That’s why King Herod doesn’t fit the Christmas story. The horrifying sequence of events in Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t feel like it belongs in the Christmas story. The most difficult part to cast in the Christmas pageant is King Herod. Walmart sells a variety of plastic Nativity scenes for the yard, but there are no glow-in-the-dark King Herods.

No Christmas card has this verse from Matthew on the front: “A voice was heard in Ramah, / wailing and loud lamentation” (Matthew 2:18). This part of the story may not seem to fit, but we need to hear it. Like a lot of stories, we have to hear the whole story or we get the story wrong.

Every true story admits that even in the midst of blinking decorations and flickering candles, darkness threatens the light. Ignoring the darkness is ignoring reality. We leave King Herod out of the Christmas story because we think we’re supposed to keep the hardships of the real world away from Christmas. Matthew says that Christmas came in the days of King Herod. King Herod was like Joseph Stalin. He executed his favorite wife, his brother-in-law, and three of his sons because he thought they wanted his crown.

We usually imagine angels speaking in soft, reassuring tones. The angel in Joseph’s dream shouted: “Wake up! Hurry! Run!” They escaped to Egypt. They were far from home, but the baby was safe.

Tragically, not everyone was safe. Herod’s order was the death of every boy in Bethlehem two years old and younger. Matthew can’t find words terrifying enough to describe the horror, so he borrows words from the prophet Jeremiah: “wailing and loud lamentation, / Rachel weeping for her children; / she refused to be consoled, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).

The first Christmas was soldiers with swords in the streets; mothers clutching their babies, hiding in the closet, trying not to breathe too loudly, and begging their infants not to cry. There aren’t many questions more impossible to answer than, “Why couldn’t the angel have warned them too?”  Even the birth of the new King didn’t stop the suffering.

It’s not surprising that we skip this part of the story. It’s easy to understand why there’s no carol in our hymnal about the slaughter of the innocents. Perhaps there should be, because we need to understand that Christmas is God’s response to our sorrows.

My second Christmas as pastor of Central Baptist Church, I got a phone call from the county hospital on December 23. The night before, an unwed teenager had given birth to a stillborn baby. The social worker wanted me to lead a graveside service the next morning. She explained that they would normally have the service a day later or at least in the afternoon, but she “didn’t want the girl to associate this experience with Christmas.”  The teenager had visited our church a few times. Marilyn (not her real name) was fifteen and had been raped by her grandfather.

Christmas Eve was miserable. The snow had been on the ground for more than a week. It had rained and so the snow wasn’t pretty. The temperature was in the twenties. It was threatening to rain again. Marilyn’s older sister brought her straight from the hospital. Their parents didn’t come; they blamed Marilyn for what had happened.

There were six of us there: Marilyn, her sister, the funeral director, two women from our church, and me. I knew what I had been told: “We don’t want her to associate this experience with Christmas.” I kept thinking about the story that Matthew tells. Christmas is mothers crying because their children have died: “wailing and loud lamentation . . . [refusing] to be consoled, because they are no more.(Matthew 2:18)  If we have to stand at a graveside on Christmas Eve, we need to remember the hope that comes with Christmas.

The part of this story that we’re used to leaving out—the sadness, suffering, and death—is most important. It’s the hard part that explains why this child is a holy child.

Central Church Decorated for Advent

Central United Methodist Church Decorated for Advent

When we remember the story, we need to remember all of the story. God comes to the worst places and the most painful circumstances to share our suffering, to care for us in the midst of tragedy. Christ has come to bear our sorrows. We have not been left alone.

This holy season is the promise that God’s joy is deeper than our sadness, that ultimately life is more powerful than death, and that the light shines even in the darkness.

Advent Calendar – December 11

Serving OthersToday, try to notice all the people who serve in simple or dramatic ways – waiters, street cleaners, clerks, doctors, nurses, firefighters, soldiers, to name a few.

Give thanks for them.

And if you are one who serves, Thank You!

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – A Bittersweet Affair

Mary and the AngelKey Bible Verse:  I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.  1 Corinthians 2:2

Bonus Reading:  Luke 1:68-79

Mary heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and replied, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.”  Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response, Mary embraced both, accepting Jesus on his own terms, regardless of the personal cost.

When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the sixteenth century, he brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it.  

The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror.  They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.

As I thumb once more through my stack of Christmas cards, I realize that we in Christian countries do much the same thing.  We observe a mellow, domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal.  Above all, we purge from it any reminder of how the story that began in Bethlehem turned out at Skull Hill.

—Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew

 

My Response: How could the way I celebrate Christmas better accept Jesus on his own terms?

 

Thought to Apply:  Bethlehem and Golgotha, the birth and death, must always be seen together.  —J. Sidlow Baxter

Adapted from The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Advent Calendar – December 10

Karl Barth

We remember on this day the life and witness of Karl Barth, who died on December 10th in 1968.

He once described laughter as the nearest thing to God’s grace.

Have a laugh on Karl today.

The Christmas Card Cover-Up – Stark, Not Sentimental

Mary and JosephKey Bible Verse:He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.  Luke 1:52

Bonus Reading: Luke 1:46-55

Contrary to what sentimental cards would have us believe, Christmas didn’t simplify life on planet earth.

The cards depict a calm Mary receiving the tidings of the Annunciation as a kind of benediction.  Luke tells a starker story.  Mary’s confusion and fright reluctantly turns to willingness to accept what God had determined.

Jesus is born far from home, with no midwife or extended family present.  A male head of household would have sufficed for the Roman census; did Joseph drag his pregnant wife along to Bethlehem to spare her the ignominy of childbirth in her home village?

When the foreign astrologers, who dropped by with gifts for a royal heir, realized who he was, they engaged in civil disobedience.  They protected the child by giving the powerful King Herod the slip.

I wonder what Mary thought about her militant hymn, the Magnificat, during her years of hiding in Egypt from her own government.  For a Jew, Egypt evoked bright memories of a powerful God who’d flattened Pharaoh’s army and brought liberation.  Could her helpless, hunted baby possibly fulfill the lavish hopes of his people?

—Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew

 

My Response: The person I’d most like to join in my endeavor is ____.

Adapted from The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  This Christmas, God, let me see behind a Jesus sanitized and neutered over the years to your actual battle-scarred, dragon-slaying Son.

Christmas Greetings!

3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   Luke 2:3–7

Baby Jesus 2

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

            Christmas Greetings to All!  Hallelujah! A Savior is born who is Christ the Lord! Soon we will joyfully exclaim this greeting to one another as we celebrate Christmas together.  Until that day we wait. 

We wait for lots of things in this season, especially as the lines grow longer in the stores and malls. As followers of Christ, we must also be aware that we continue to receive and to watch and wait for, above all, the presence and hope of God, Jesus Christ. We pray for Christ to enter into the bedlam of our everyday lives and speak fresh words of hope into our battle weary hearts.  It can be difficult to understand how this can be when we all know that Christ is already with us, always.

It is interesting that just about every year as we enter the season of Advent, I have encountered the historical debate about whether or not, when the Nativity set is put up in the church, the infant Jesus is “in” or “out” of the crèche.  A good case may be made for either option.  For many it is a matter of faith tradition or denomination.  It has been considered a traditionally Catholic “thing” to leave Jesus out of the manger until Christmas Eve and a likewise Protestant “thing” to leave the child there.  It really goes beyond all of that when we begin to look at the significance of the reason behind each choice.  You may have noticed that last year we did both.  Some nativity scenes featured the babe in the manger and others did not until Christmas Eve. This was not an attempt to appease one school of thought or the other, but an intentional choice to allow the experience of both to permeate and enliven our faith. 

The empty manger reminds us throughout the Advent season that we are waiting for Jesus to come to us again.  It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be waiting for something. In our post-modern culture this is not expected.  We want what we want and we are used to getting it quickly. We try imagining what it was like so long ago to wait expectantly for hope and light to enter in and save the world from chaos and darkness. Even so, this is not difficult to visualize when we take look around at what is happening in our lives, our families, our communities and our world.  We cry out in our souls for that final consummation of God’s Kingdom when all things will be made new. Sometimes in our life journey, we cry out for Christ to enter in and renew our hearts and fill us with the desire for the things of God once more.

At the same time, as the called out people of God who may receive redemption through Christ, we recognize the baby in the manger as the one who has already come and remains with us in the midst of the chaos and darkness that threatens to overwhelm us.  We face difficult struggles and our world needs words of hope from us as those who witness to the light which has come and is still to come.  Christians live daily in that tension. That is, the urgency of the Kingdom realized now and the “not yet” reality of God’s final reconciliation of the earth and all that is in it. The baby’s presence reminds us that we have already received God’s ultimate gift of love-God’s self. We must witness to this great hope and light received. Above all, we are reminded to be thankful. 

As we enter this season of Advent and Christmas, we may cry out to God, “Thank you for coming to be with us and save us.  We pray in all hopefulness and faith for you to hurry to us once more and to finally gather us to yourself!”

Come, let us worship together especially as we celebrate the exciting time of Advent and Christmastide.  Our Worship theme this year is:  Behold! Our Journey with Christ:  the “Advent”ure of a Lifetime.

I pray that you all ponder these things in your heart at this special time of the year and that the Lord’s favor is upon you as you give thanks for God’s many blessings of faith, home, family and friends and especially the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Your Fellow Servant in Christ- Pastor Heidi

Shepherds in the Field