Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2004
December 1, 2004
Advent It is December 1 and it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas around our neighborhood. It seems like another house lights up with colorful decorations each day. We use Christmas lights to overcome the darkness of this world. It is getting closer to winter and the longest night of the year. The days are shorter and the inclement weather makes it gloomy. The lights remind us of the coming holiday and make us smile even while we are frustrated by our busy schedules and all that we have to accomplish.
Some people have had their Christmas decorations up for weeks. The problem with starting it all too early is that it confuses the children. They do not have any sense of time. They do not understand the difference between two days and two weeks. Everything is soon and it can be so disappointing when soon takes so long. As I have been preparing my lesson plans for December, several books have mentioned the need to be aware of the children’s impatience and their frustration. In their excitement, they will be less attentive and less likely to sit still for long periods of time. It is important for us to plan lessons that will be short and exciting, moving quickly from one activity to another.
It is also important to give the children some sense of the time. We made advent chains in our class yesterday. This is a chain of twenty-five loops which the children will use to count the days until Christmas. Beginning this morning, they can tear off one loop for every day. It will be Christmas Day when the loops are all gone. We have other Advent calendars in house. We have several devotional books we like to use, as well as trees that get filled with ornaments as time passes. We have found calendars filled with chocolates – they get to eat one piece each day. We also have a fabric calendar that has pockets in which I can put toys or candy for each day. As the children have grown older, they have lost interest in the cheap plastic toys I used to use. Last year I found bible verse cards. Now, when they go to the calendar each day, they are fed with the word of God.
The Church looks at this period of preparation much differently than the world. We decorate our homes with lights to overcome the darkness, but in faith we are called to empty ourselves of our worldly façades to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Light which is Jesus. We rush and worry about all the things we need to do before Christmas Day arrives, but our faith calls us to rest in the hope of the promise. We grow tired chasing after the light when we should just wait patiently as the Light comes to us.
“Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:27-30 (ASV)
It is fun to get involved with the whole Christmas spirit. We have lights on our home and are working on making in the inside festive. We are enjoying the hunt for the perfect gift and the planning for the season. Unfortunately, there are many people who suffer greatly during this month. They are stressed out and frustrated. They are anxious and worried. They are trying to find something that can’t be found while missing out on the very thing that would really fill the void in their hearts.
Another translation of this passage uses the word ‘hope’ instead of ‘wait’ in verse 31. The lights on the houses are beautiful at this time of year and it certainly helps brighten our dark days. But those lights offer no real solution to our troubles. Advent is supposed to be a time of joy and preparation. Unfortunately, it is often a time of depression and destruction. More marriages fail and more people commit suicide during the holidays than at any other time of year. People can’t handle the stress because there is no hope in worldly preparations we make. There is hope in Christ, and it is this hope that should be our focus as we count the days until Christmas. Thanks be to God.
Snowmen We made scribble snowmen in preschool today. The whole idea was to scribble white on to a sheet of blue paper. After that was finished, the children were to find what looked like the head, glue on some eyes and a nose, and then add green and red buttons to make it look Christmassy. Now, this was an unusual activity because Miss Peggy usually expects the children to color neatly in the lines and make people pictures with eyes, nose and mouth.
What I found interesting about this exercise is that the children who are more advanced in their drawing ability had more difficulty dealing with the free form of this project. They automatically drew circles for the head and body, added the eyes and nose. They did not like scribbling; they wanted it to be a clear picture of the snowman. This was fine, the pictures turned out great and the snowmen are very cute. It just goes to show you that people of different gifts and abilities are able to succeed at different times and in different ways.
This is very true of our spiritual journeys. We do not all have to be in the same place at the same time. And we certainly all do not have the same gifts. There are some Christians that are mature in their faith and others that are just getting started. There are those who have discovered their gifts and are using them daily to glorify God and others who are just beginning to see how abundantly God blesses His children. We need to understand these differences and learn how to love one another despite them. A mature Christian should never consider him or herself better than another Christian based on these differences. We are brought together by the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and encourage one another. And we have to remember that sometimes the things we can do make it difficult to do the things we should be doing.
I’ve heard it said that new Christians make better witnesses than age old Christians. The reason for this is the fact that the new Christian has a passionate heart for evangelism and they aren’t stuck on the details. The mature Christian often trips over his or her knowledge, concerning themselves more with the getting the doctrines of faith right and perfect rather than speaking the simple word of God into the lives of those who will hear. It is necessary to grow and mature, but we have to remember that all children of God have gifts, even when they are just tiny babies. And sometimes the babies can do things better than the adults.
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should lay his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” Matthew 19:13-15 (ASV)
There is nearly a year between the ages of some of my children at preschool. While a year seems like nothing to adults, at four and five a year makes a huge difference. Their motor and critical thinking skills develop quickly. They are more vocal as they grow older and they are developing a sense of identity that helps them project more clearly onto a page their vision of the world. They understand things better such as body parts. The five year old is more likely to draw limbs and facial features, while a four-year-old’s person is out of proportion with missing body parts.
Yet, even the younger child has something to add to our class and they can do many things as well as the other children. They are an important part of our group and I am glad when I can find something that shows their abilities and encourages them. This is how it should be with those who are mature in faith. Rather than finding fault with a young Christian’s understanding of God, we should be finding their gifts and encouraging them so that they too will use their gifts to the glory of God. I think all too often we squelch the fire that burns in the hearts of new Christians because we try to force them to be at the same place on a faith journey others instead of helping them to grow from where they are.
Cranes Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl who developed Leukemia in 1955. Paper folding, or origami, was a well established recreational activity in Japan for centuries by the time Sadako lived. There were certain patterns that were especially popular, based on the cultural icons of the Japanese people. In 1797 a book was published called “Hiden Senbazuru Orikata” which means “The Secret of One Thousand Paper Cranes Origami.” This book was the first to describe the steps in making origami, a tradition that had been passed verbally for over a millennium. By this time there was already a tradition that if a person folded one thousand paper cranes, they would be granted one wish by the gods.
Sadako’s best friend convinced her to fold a thousand paper cranes so that she could wish for good health. Unfortunately, Sadako died before she was able to finish her task. Her classmates finished her work and she was buried with her cranes. There is now a memorial sculpture honoring Sadako and her hope for peace in the world. Her Leukemia was the aftereffects of the radiation of the Hiroshima bomb. Those paper cranes became a symbol of the hope for peace in the world. Now children from all over the world send paper cranes to the memorial to share in the hope.
The legend of the paper cranes has spread to other countries and is being taken up by even the governments that have reached the end of their ropes when it comes to dealing with violence in their nations. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand recently instructed his cabinet in the making of paper cranes and they spent a meeting making paper cranes. There is a movement in the nation to somehow overcome the insurgency that has ripped apart the lives of so many people in south Thailand. On Sunday, December 5, they will drop nearly 100 million paper cranes on three provinces. The cranes have been made by people all over the country and will be dropped by military plane to mark the birthday of their king.
There are those who consider this a wasted effort. They see the dropping of a 100 million paper cranes as nothing more than an inconvenience to those who will have to clean up the mess after it is all over. They may be right to an extent. The gods do not grant wishes and paper can’t stop bullets. However, the Prime Minister recognizes that there is a great need among the people in those places – a need for hope. That hope needs to go beyond just symbolic gestures, so he has promised to give a scholarship to every student that finds a paper crane with his signature will receive a scholarship and the unemployed will be found a job.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Romans 8:22-25 (ASV)
We put our hope in many things. Sadako put her hope in a thousand paper cranes, but that hope disappointed because she was unable to finish them before she died. Her friends put their hope in the same cranes, hoping that they would bring peace to the world. Perhaps it is a waste to drop 100 million paper cranes in a war torn area and it certainly is not something in which we should put our hope. Even the promise of a scholarship or job is so remote that it will be disappointing for the many people for whom such a gift would be life-changing.
As Christians we have a hope that does not disappoint. It is a hope that we can’t see or touch or feel. The world looks no different today than it did before Jesus’ birth. It is still filled with sinners, suffering and pain. Yet, there is a difference because we now live in a hope that does not disappoint; a hope in the promises of God that we will receive in His day. It is especially manifest during this time of Advent while we wait for the birth of our Lord Jesus and look forward to the second coming of our King. We live in hope, looking forward to that which will be rather than hoping for impossible dreams.
Feast of St. Nicholas There is a house down the street that has a fabric representation of Santa Claus hanging by its fingertips from the rooftop as if he had slid off the roof and is holding on for dear life. Of course, Santa has made his presence known in other places. He's at the mall getting his picture taken with children who are giving him their Christmas wish lists. He is appearing in parades, movies and on television. He is a major part of the American Christmas celebration and he's making his way into the cultures of other countries.
Santa did not start out as a big fat guy wearing a red suit trimmed in fur. He evolved from a much older story of a Christian saint that did wonderful kindnesses. It is said that Nicholas was orphaned at a young age by wealthy parents. His generosity showed from a very early age. One story tells of a poor man who was going to have to sell his daughters into prostitution because he could not afford their dowry. Nicholas threw a bag of gold coins through the window of a poor man’s house, a generous gift that saved the girl from a horrible fate. Nicholas also gave the man dowries for his other daughters. Other stories describe him as a lifesaver – sailors from a storm and three innocent men from execution whose deaths were bought with a bribe. Yet another story tells that one day as Nicholas knelt in prayer in a church, an elderly minister approached him and asked who he was. The young Nicholas replied, “Nicholas the sinner. And I am your servant.” Soon after, Nicholas was made bishop of Myra.
December 5th was traditionally the day the Christian church celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas, but due to a lack of evidence about his life, his feast was dropped from the calendar. It was traditional to give gifts to children on his feast day. Children were always an important part of the celebration of St. Nicholas’s life. A boy was selected to be bishop from December 6th to Holy Innocent’s Day (December 28). This probably came from the story of how Nicholas answered the call into ministry.
As Christians began to celebrate Christ’s birth around the winter solstice, Nicholas became known as Father Christmas and the traditions surrounding his feast were moved to December 25. As St. Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus, the focus has continued to be on children, though now he is more like a magician than a saint. The giving of gifts has become a way to bribe the children into good behavior, so that the presents are more like rewards than gifts. The gifts of St. Nicholas were gifts that saved the recipients from horrible lives, even death. The dowries were given not because the girls had earned the money, but because Nicholas had such great love that he wanted to save them from the life of prostitution. The men who were saved from death were not necessarily innocent, but Nicholas gave them the gift of life. In these stories, we see examples of the kind of love our Lord Jesus had for us. We did nothing to earn His love or deserve His gifts, yet He gave more than we can even imagine.
“I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (ASV)
Santa Claus is very much a part of Christmas in many places in the world. Gift giving also has a long tradition, for many it is the whole purpose of the holiday. We spend Advent preparing for the day, spending too much money on too many things that have little to do with the real reason for the season – Jesus. We can still include kindness and giving as part of our Christmas traditions if we recall stories the Christ-like generosity of those figures we identify with the Christmas story. The wise men gave gifts, just as St. Nicholas is remembered for his generosity. We need to remember, however, that it is not the presents that make Christmas, but rather the birth of our Lord Jesus, the greatest gift of all. Though we should be wary of the focus on Santa Claus, there are many aspects of the St. Nicholas story we should continue to impress on our children – love, generosity and commitment. But most of all, we can look at the stories of St. Nicholas and remember the great sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us the greatest gift of all, forgiveness and true life. Thanks be to God.
Turboman In the movie “Jingle All the Way” Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to great lengths to get the hottest toy for his kid. He’s willing to pay any price or do anything to make the boy’s Christmas the best ever. His real reason is much less selfless – he’d been rather distant from his family for months, working way too many hours and breaking too many promises. When he realized he was about to break another one, he tried to move heaven and earth to find the toy. There was another character that wanted the same toy. These two kept meeting up with one another, trying to out bid or out run the other to win the prize. Arnold’s character found himself in the perfect position to get the toy and he gave it to his son. Patience won out, and in the end the son realized that he didn’t need the special toy because he had such a terrific dad. He gave it to the other guy and everyone lived happily ever after.
We think that the only way to have a happy Christmas is to fulfill the desires of our family and friends, so we spend way too much money on the things that we think they should have. Unfortunately, our decisions are often guided by advertisements – the merchandisers pick and choose the important things to have each year and fill our homes with print and television ads hyping this item or that item. They make us feel like our lives will be incomplete if we don’t have that new toy or electronic gadget. They entice our children until we give in because we do not want them to be disappointed. Unfortunately, most of us can’t afford to spend a thousand dollars on a few Christmas presents and if we did, the hot item is often gone even before we can get to the store to purchase it. It was humorous in the movie to see Arnold running all over the town for a doll, but it is not so much fun when it is our task to find the hot item of the year.
“What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good so long as they live. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 (ASV)
It is fun to give, to share our blessings with those we love and we should not cancel Christmas because it seems like the true meaning has gotten lost in a pile of advertisements. What we need to remember as we continue our preparations for Christmas is that the advertisers do not really know what will make us happy. They know how to sell things, to make the items look appealing to the consumer even if the consumer can’t afford them. They know how to make it seem like the world will end if that item is not under the Christmas tree.
Though we might want the hottest item or the newest game, we need to consider the cost of purchasing that which will eventually spoil or fall apart. Is it really worth standing in line or going into debt for something that will be forgotten in a day, week or month? No, there are much greater gifts to be given this holiday season – love, time, faith, hope and peace. Our children might be disappointed if they don’t get that toy, but they will be even more disappointed if we do not have the time to enjoy the season with them. Most of all, we need to realize that Christmas is about the work God has done, giving us the greatest gift. It is eternal – the forgiveness, the grace, and the peace that comes from hope in His promises. Turboman will not save anyone, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ has. Thanks be to God.
Peace In 1986, when asked about the peace efforts around the world, Richard Nixon said, “As American, we have many great strengths, but one of our weaknesses is impatience. The Russians think in terms of decades, the Chinese in terms of centuries. Americans think in terms of years, months, and even days. But if the quest for a realistic, lasting peace, we expect overnight success – instant gratification – we are bound to be disappointed.” I suppose this quote is as appropriate for our world today as it was nearly twenty years ago.
This impatience appears in all aspects of our life, particularly when we are suffering from illness or injustice. We get tired of laying around, so we push ourselves to get moving too fast. We stop taking medicine the minute it seems we are better, even when the prescription calls for a regimen that lasts several days or even weeks. We think that just because we are felling better today, we don’t need to continue with the care. However, our body has not yet overcome the infection and we suffer a relapse.
When the difficulty is some sort of injustice, we become frustrated when evil has any sort of victory. We do not like to see anyone suffer; we do not like to suffer ourselves. So, when the rich oppress the poor or the powerful afflict the weak, we cry out in confusion and anger. We can’t explain why the world has to work this way. It is this very uncertainty that makes a great many people doubt the existence of God. How could a loving and compassionate God allow such things to happen? How could the Savior tolerate the arrogance of the wicked as they celebrate in their victories? We want the suffering to be gone now. Today, not tomorrow or in a few years. We demand that God finish the job according to our expectations even though we can’t see or know the world through God’s perspective. Sometimes there is a greater victory to be won on the other side of the suffering.
“Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the judge standeth before the doors. Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment.” James 5:7-12 (ASV)
The verses that precede this passage from James give warning to the rich and the powerful about their sins against God and humanity. It warns them that their life of luxury and self-indulgence will be repaid at the Day of Judgment. This is a passage of hope to those who have suffered under their hands. Yet, the promise in James does not say that God’s people will not face suffering, but rather that they need to stand firm and be patient through it. If a farmer tries to pick his crop too early, he will end up with a poor quality and quantity of produce. The plants need that final rainfall to complete the growth cycle. So, too, does God’s plan need to be allowed to go to its conclusion according to His perspective. Even when t seems as though the wicked are winning the battle, we know God has won the war. We need only live with patience and trust, knowing that God will bring us through. Thanks be to God.
Meter A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: “I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses.” When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note, “I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.”
I read this joke recently and it really made me laugh. I thought about all those times when I was running just a bit late hoping for that close parking spot. It is amazing how much longer it takes to get some place when a parking spot is unavailable. A quick trip into a grocery store can take five or ten extra minutes when it is busy, considering the longer walk to and from the car. Now, I’m not one to go driving around a parking lot for hours just to find that perfect spot, but I do admit that when I am rushed I hope that I will get lucky. It is very tempting to park illegally, especially when we think we’ll just be a minute. What harm could it do?
Yet, whenever we do something wrong, we put others in a bad position. It is a no-parking zone for a reason – not just to inconvenience us. It disrupts the normal traffic pattern, causes hazards for pedestrians and blocks access for emergency vehicles. When we park illegally, we make people angry and perhaps even put lives at risk. It may seem like a victimless crime, but we never know how our sin will affect others.
Now, as we live in Christ, we know that we are forgiven, even those sins which we have not yet done. Yet, we should not expect that forgiveness will necessarily remove the consequences of our sin. In our story, the minister’s greater sin was not that he parked illegally but that he expected to get away with it by asking forgiveness. In doing so, however, he put another man into a difficult situation. Should he have compassion on one man and forgive the sin, or should he protect many others from the possible dangers created by this sin?
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities.” Psalm 51:1-9 (ASV)
Our Lord Jesus Christ has answered this prayer of the psalmist. He has had mercy on us, cleansed us from our sin and forgiven us our trespasses. This is the joy of our faith, that though we were dead to our sins, He has made us alive to sing and praise His holy name. This life is not meant to live on the edge, doing the things that make our life comfortable and convenient but that also put others into the position of temptation between right and wrong. We are made saints through faith, but we remain sinners in this life, tempted to do the things we should not do. Sometimes we do these things willfully, asking for forgiveness even while we are doing them.
The next time we are tempted to park in a no-parking zone, I hope that we will all remember that our sins put others in jeopardy even when it seems like a minor infraction. Grace forgives. Grace also allows us to suffer the consequences of our sin so that we will know how we affect the world around us when we give in to the temptations that we face. Forgiveness is never a license to do what we know is wrong, it is a gift from God which sets us free to live and love according to His word. Thanks be to God.
Angels If we think that the Christmas season is hectic for us, imagine what it must be like for Santa! He has to get presents ready for millions of children all around the world, get his sleigh souped up and keep his elves in line. We might go to a couple of parties, he has t be at every one! Whatever we have planned, magnify it by a million or so and you have Santa’s schedule. Well, one day Santa was feeling a bit frazzled by all the activities of the day and he was ready to bite the head off the next person to ask him a question. At that moment an angel came into Santa’s office to ask him where he wanted to put the Christmas tree. Santa responded, “I’ll tell you where to put it!” and that’s how the tradition of putting angels at the top of the tree began.
Ok, so a bit of humor can’t hurt our frazzled minds, especially since we are all probably feeling a bit like Santa at this point. Two weeks until Christmas and there is much to do, yet we should not get so involved in the wrapping that we forget about the present that is found on the inside. Christmas is about Jesus and I wonder how many have taken the time to remember the Christmas story and think about the people involved in this wonderful event.
Take the angels, for instance. In our little joke, the angel did not bring very good news. As a matter of fact, the last thing Santa wanted to hear was another question. We tend to think about angels as being bearers of good news – and certainly the messages they gave were good news to us. But was it what the hearers of that day wanted to hear? Mary was visited by an angel that told her she would bear a child – for a young virgin this was not good news. The community would make her an outcast and she would be rejected by her husband to be. Joseph had a visit from an angel that told him to take Mary as his wife despite her pregnancy. Both Mary and Joseph believed the message of the angels, but it could not have been easy to accept these strange experiences. Another visit was made to some shepherds in a field.
“And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” Luke 2:8-14 (ASV)
Many people collect angels, I have several that I keep on display in my home. These statues and pictures show angels as sweetness and light, beautiful beings with wings made of soft white feathers and looks of love on their faces. They are often playing instruments or displaying a prayerful attitude. They are creatures that would bring no bad news; they would cause no one fear. Most of us would not mind meeting an angel face to face.
Yet, whenever we hear about the visits of these awesome beings they say, “Do not be afraid.” The message the angel took to the shepherds was indeed good news – the king was born in Bethlehem. Yet, I do not think they would have been immediately excited about the visit. Imagine what it was like for those shepherds to be in a dark field when suddenly a light surrounded them – not just any light, but the glory of the Lord. Then, a great host of angels appeared singing praises to God. We might wish we had been among those present in that field that day – the first witnesses to the birth of Christ – but I think our emotions would have been much different if we had been. I am sure it would have been a most humbling experience.
As we are caught up in all the hustle and bustle of the holiday, it is easy to forget the awesomeness of what is happening. The Lord God Almighty has come to earth in the form of a child – God in flesh, Emmanuel. We think of Christmas much like those angels we have on our shelves – sweet, beautiful, joyful and filled with peace. Yet, Christmas is an awesome event, the time when God ripped through the barriers of time and space to come in flesh to save the world. This is cause to make us think and humble ourselves to receive this good news that the angels bring. Thanks be to God.
Natural phenomenon As we have learned recently, when it rains streams form in the desert and run wildly, if only for a brief period of time. There is a creek not far from our house that was absolutely dry when we arrived in Texas ten months ago. Every time I drove over this creek, I wondered how long it had been dry. It seemed as though it might have had water fairly recently, but I could not imagine how it would dry up so fast. We have had a very wet fall, the aquifer is so high that springs are flowing in the back of some people’s yards and the dry creek beds are still running with water. The water flows along the natural path of the earth when it can not seep into the ground.
Now, I can imagine the cowboys or natives in the days of old Tejas, when there was little scientific understanding of this natural phenomenon, telling tales about this mysterious flow of water. They may have attributed the phenomenon to the wrath of the gods, to demons or spirits or to some other supernatural cause. These myths or legends may still have some value for our society because the ancient stories taught us a lesson about caring for creation or living uprightly in this world. However, we can easily discount the story from being scientific or historical representation of the truth.
It is not surprising, then, that the world will seek to discount our own stories that are found in the scriptures. I watched some of a program on the Discovery Channel last night about the Egyptian Pharaoh named Rameses. They compared the evidence of his life to the biblical witness of the story of Moses. They found natural explanations for many of the things we call acts of God. They showed how a particularly wet season in a place far from Egypt would cause the Nile to become red and kill the fish, then chase the frogs from the Nile. Strange weather patterns could cause hail storms in Egypt. Then the lack of frogs meant an overpopulation of gnats and flies. The plagues on the flesh of animals and man would be a natural affect of the unhealthy water and bugs. Locusts and darkness are not unusual in desert regions. Sandstorms can block the sun for days at a time. The only one they could not explain in this manner was the plague on the firstborn, but they showed what they believed to be proof that Rameses son probably did not die in such a way. In other words, they have reduced the story of the Exodus to the coincidence of natural phenomenon and mistaken history.
There are many who have tried to explain away the Christmas story. Some even do so to convince Christians that they are foolish for believing in Jesus. They have to find some natural reasons for the events that surround His birth as proof that Jesus was nothing more than a man born in unusual circumstances. They are willing to accept that He had important lessons to teach us, that He was a good man that we should follow, but they are unwilling to see the miraculous in the event. If Mary was really a virgin and the star was really an unnatural astronomical event, then Jesus must be much more than they think. Since they do not believe, they want others to stop believing.
“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than Sheol; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, And broader than the sea.” Job 11:7-9 (ASV)
I enjoy listening to the theories the experts find to explain the natural possibilities of the stories we find in the Bible. The show about Rameses was quite interesting, seeing how the forensic scientists and other researchers have come to their ideas, but it won’t affect my faith. Yes, the definition of the Greek word used for virgin in the Bible might mean “young woman” but that does not mean that Mary was not a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her. Yes, the star in the story could have been a conjunction of two planets, but that does not mean that God did not create a supernatural star to guide the magi.
We live by faith. This does not mean that we can’t think about the stories we read in the Bible and consider the possibilities of who these things might have happened. However, we live in faith despite what the world says about our stories. Even when it appears the world can explain away the miraculous, we know that God is far greater than anything we can imagine. He can use the natural to make miracles and we only see a small fraction of what God can do in this world. When the world tries to convince us that we are wrong about believing in Jesus, we can only walk in faith knowing that God is greater than His creation. Thanks be to God.
Makeover I like to watch the show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” In this show, carpenter Ty Pennington remodels the house of some deserving family. He does not just go in and do a room or two. He often knocks down the entire structure to enlarge it and change the configuration to make it more suitable for the family situation. Then the crew, which includes designers and professionals of every type, makes the new house a real home with new everything. The family gets rooms that fit their personalities, new appliances and electronics and landscaping that provides a beautiful environment in which the family can really live. They often get swimming pools or hot tubs. Sometimes they even get new cars. Occasionally they even pay off the entire mortgage of the house so that the family has no future housing worries. They do this entire job in less than a week.
I watch that show and think about how cool it would be for Ty to come by my house and do that for me. I wouldn’t even need the destruction phase of the project since our house is brand new, but I’d love to have someone come decorate my house and give me a wonderland of a backyard where we can play and swim. Of course, I realize that this show is not meant for a family like mine. After all, we are rich in every way – we have more than we need, good health and secure jobs. The families chosen for this show are in some sort of need. One family had a sick young man and a house full of dangerous mold. Another family had a young girl allergic to the sun – the makeover gave them everything they needed to give that child a relatively normal life. A family of orphans who could barely make ends meet were given a home where they could live and stay together, without the help the younger children may have been sent to foster homes. A woman who runs a ministry helping disabled people become independent was given a new home as well as an office in which to do her work. These people deserved the makeovers. Not all were poor, but they were all in need.
“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is unto generations and generations on them that fear him. He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down princes from their thrones, and hath exalted them of low degree. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath given help to Israel his servant, that he might remember mercy (As he spake unto our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.” Luke 1: 49-55 (ASV)
I don’t need Ty to come to my house even though I really would like him to do so. I don’t have the type of need that he meets with his team each Sunday evening. He does life-changing work, work that will make a real difference to the health and welfare of the families he chooses. A remodel done on our home would be for pleasure and would have no life changing affects on our lives.
When you read the scriptures, it is obvious that Jesus came for the poor, the sick and the humble – those who need a Savior to change their lives. He did not leave out the rich and healthy, but only those who had a real need found refuge in the words and actions of Jesus. There are people in this world who call themselves Christian because they find something in the life of Jesus that they want to emulate. They often see Jesus as a friend, as a role model. Yet, when asked about sin and their need for a Savior, they will deny they have any such need. They do not truly understand the reason Jesus came into the world.
Mary knew. Mary knew that Jesus offered a life-changing gift, the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. If a person sees themselves as good, they have no need for forgiveness and salvation. This is why true faith comes to those with a humble heart. It comes to those who recognize their true need, the need for mercy and grace which is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not an example of how we are to live in this world; it is the gift of life for those who are dying from their sin. He gives us everything we truly need. Thanks be to God.
Statue A statue of Jesus was found in the Rio Grande River several months ago. No one knew how it got there; they did not know the proper owners. It was relatively unscathed, only a few scratches from its trip on the river. It was found on a small island in the middle of the river, witnesses first thought it was a man. When they picked it up, the police from Eagle Pass, Texas did not know what to do with it. At first they wanted to just get rid of it, but realized they needed to keep it for awhile to give the rightful owners a chance to get it. No one came to claim the statue and the police had to get it out of their evidence room – their station had become a pilgrimage site for many people who thought this finding was a miracle. They gave it to the local Catholic Diocese which is going to share it among its parishes. It has become a symbol of hope for the displaced and immigrant.
The police did not just want to give it away because they knew it must have an owner. They searched the region, put out news bulletins and contacted many churches in the hopes that they would find someone who recognized the statue. They had no luck in their search, so took responsibility for it, giving it to the ones who they thought would take the best care of it.
Imagine what it must have been like for Joseph. He was preparing to marry a young girl named Mary when he discovered something disturbing. He probably paid a dowry to her family, having given them money or perhaps even carpentry work in exchange for her hand. Then he found out she was pregnant.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us. And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth a son: and he called his name JESUS.” Matthew 1:18-25 (ASV)
I have always read this passage and thought Joseph to be somewhat of a cad for wanting to abandon poor Mary in her state. How could he think that divorcing her quietly would be the best thing for the family? Yet, the baby that Mary was carrying was the child of another man. Joseph did not want to usurp the rights of the father by giving the child his name. He was releasing Mary, not because he did not want her but because he felt it was right to give the other man the opportunity to have Mary and the child. He wanted to do this quietly because he did not want to hurt Mary in any way. It was the most righteous option for the society of their day.
The angel of God cleared up the confusion and told Joseph to take Jesus as his own. By naming the child, Jesus became Joseph’s legal son and responsibility. There was no other earthly father whose rights needed to be considered, for the child came through a miracle of God. Joseph quickly obeyed the word of God that came to him in that dream and he saw prophecy fulfilled in his own home as the Son of God was born to his own wife. Thanks be to God.
Legends The Christmas season has become the foundation of a multitude of legends and myths, stories that describe the origin of many things we now use as part of our celebration. There is a legend about tinsel on a tree that tells of a tired mother who could not accomplish everything she wanted to do for her children. The Christmas tree ended up sitting on the porch for days before she could get it put up in her home and while it was there the spiders covered it with webs. By that time, the woman was so tired that she just sat down and cried at the frustration of her situation. It is said that the baby Jesus saw her pain and turned the ugly webs into beautiful silver which is how we began using tinsel on the tree.
Another legend tells the story of a little boy on his way to church on Christmas Eve. The people always took gifts to put at the manger, gifts that would be given to the poor. The boy had nothing to give and was quite sad that he had to go see Jesus empty-handed. His sister suggested that he should pick a flower from along the side of the road. As they walked, all he could find were ugly weeds, but he eventually picked one to take. He was embarrassed to walk into the church with his meager gift, but he did. The other people laughed as he walked forward but the baby Jesus knew the hurt in the boy’s heart. So, Jesus turned the ugly weed into a beautiful red flower – the plant we know as the poinsettia.
Many of these stories have a theme of gifts, but there is a deeper, underlying theme – our gifts are not good enough without the love of Christ and the touch of his power. These legends and myths help us to remember that we need Jesus.
“But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God. For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (ASV)
Christians know that the greatest gift given is Jesus. He has done great things for us and through us does great things for this world. Without Him, we are hopeless, peaceless, joyless and without true love because all these things come from Him. We can give the most expensive and beautiful gifts in the world and still not accomplish anything of importance. The most important thing we can do is bring glory to God, but our gifts and works done on our own will never bring Him glory. It is only through Christ that God is made known to the world.
We put so much time and money into this special aspect of the holiday. It is not necessarily a bad thing that we give presents because it is a reminder of what God first did for us. However, all too often we get caught up in the duty of the gift giving rather than the heart. Christmas is not about giving gifts, but recognizing the gift that has been given. When we look at our holiday celebration through the eyes of Christ, we realize nothing is good enough and that we need Him to make it right. Then, God is glorified and the world sees Him as He is – the gift giver who gives the most indescribable gift. Thanks be to God.
Cash On the show “Seinfeld” starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine were known to have once had a relationship. For the first few seasons, however, they were just friends until one day they were both unattached and lonely. They decided to try again, but they wanted the relationship to be about more than physical relations. They did not want to lose the friendship they had built over the years. Things were going well until it was time for Elaine’s birthday. Jerry had to choose her present very carefully because everything would have some deeper meaning. He could not find anything. Every gift he considered would send a signal he did not want to send.
He finally decided to give her cash. He put $182 in a card. Of course, she thought cash was not a good gift. She answered, “What are you, my uncle?” Jerry answered, “Well come on. That's $182 right there. I don't think that's anything to sneeze at.” The card he gave was no better. It called her a ‘great pal and more,’ clearly giving her the message that she was not as important to him as he was to her. He thought the ‘and more’ would make the care suitable. She did not know how hard it was for him to come to the decision, but her response shows us how much importance we have put on the gifts that we give. We are certain that everything we do for one another gives some sort of message. For kids, a big box is better than a small one. For women, small boxes are better than big ones (which usually hold some sort of kitchen appliance.) While we have taken this idea of meaning behind the gifts a little bit too far, it is not a new thing. Even the gifts taken to Jesus at the manger had meaning.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” Matthew 2:1-12 (ASV)
As if the story of the magi was not amazing enough, the wise men even took gifts that have deep and important meaning to the life of Jesus. These foreign wise men, gentiles, from a nation far away recognized the star in the sky as a sign of the new king of Israel. They were familiar with the texts and the promises of the God of Israel. They traveled a dangerous and difficult journey to go worship this new king. The followed a star that seemed to move as they moved, guiding them to the place where they would find the child.
On top of this miraculous visitation, the wise men brought three gifts that foresee the work of Jesus in this world. The gold was a symbol of royalty and wealth, but even more so it was necessary for the care and protection of Jesus. The escape to Egypt would cost a great deal of money. The frankincense was a sign of Jesus’ ministry, a foreshadowing of his role as High Priest when He would present the perfect lamb – Himself – to atone for the sins of the world. Myrrh was an expensive ointment that was used only for the anointing of the dead. By giving this gift to Mary and Joseph, they pointed to the day when it would be used for Jesus’ own flesh – not the most appropriate gift to give to a new mother. However, it also indicated the importance of Jesus’ death in the purpose of His life.
While we should not put too much pressure on our family and friends this Christmas by looking for some deeper meaning in every present under the tree, we should realize that many gifts do have a meaning. Jesus Christ, the gift of God whom we celebrate at this time of year, was much more than just a man given to serve as a role model or example of a godly life. He was the Savior. The wise men, strangers from a strange land, saw Him worthy of worship. Their gifts prophesied His grace in life and in death. Knowing this helps us to look beyond the glitter and wrappings of Christmas to the cross which is where the manger always leads us. Thanks be to God.
Party I held a part time job as a mobile disc jockey for three years. I worked for a large company that did parties of every sort. Each contractor was given a set of equipment to use, a standard collection of records and a number of prizes that could be given our during a party. If the customer asked for special equipment, such as extra speakers or spot lights, we were given these items for us at that party. We were paid for the party and received bonuses for referrals. Sometimes we received overtime and tips – depending on the party.
Our responsibility was to do a good job. We were asked to keep our own personal collections up to date with the latest music and to ensure that we had the songs our clients wanted. There were standards for certain parties that we could borrow from the company, but some music was worth keeping in a collection for the sake of convenience. The parties were assigned according to personality and experience. Since I was fairly young, I usually did school dances and weddings, and during the December I got to do a few office and church holiday parties.
Each party had a unique personality, depending on the expectations of the hosts and the guests. Most parties are easy to work because people are there to have a good time. Weddings were harder because the guest list reaches over generational and cultural lines. I often battled between the desires of the bride and her mother – the bride wishing for upbeat modern music, the mother wanting oldies. I have to admit that sometimes it was quite frustrating and there were times when I felt like the party failed because it was just dead. It would take some time until I figured out the right mix of music that would make everyone happy. Sometimes it took encouraging the host or some of the guests to dance. Sometimes it took games. Sometimes it took walking around to the tables to ask what people wanted to hear. The good disc jockey was the one who could put life to a party that had no life.
“The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 (ASV)
This story is a miraculous witness to the work God can do in this world. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. While I doubt that this will literally happen in our seeing, this is what God does every day with His Word. He doesn’t go into cemeteries to raise the dead so that they will be walking on earth again. Rather, He speaks His word into our lives and brings to life those who are dead in their sin. He puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in God’s promises.
It took something extra to put life in a dead party. It took harder work to bring people who did not wish to dance on to a dance floor. It took something special to bring out the spirit of the celebration. I’ve heard it said that there are dead churches, places that seem to have no life. Perhaps this is true, there are many Christians who are like the walking dead – not really believing the message of the cross and the forgiveness of sins which Christ brought when He came into the world. Yet, if God can bring life to the valley of dry bones, then He can bring life to the deadest of congregations. We can be like Ezekiel, to speak God’s word of promise into their lives and we too will see the bones rise up and dance. Thanks be to God.
Cookies I have been making Christmas cookies during my spare time over the past week. Most of the cookies are easy to make, just a quick mix, scoop and bake and I have tasty treats. I like to mix all my refrigerator doughs at the same time, and then I can just pop them into the oven whenever I have a few minutes. There are several types, however, that need more attention. Yesterday I worked at making my final batch, the most physically and time demanding cookie I make.
Polish cookies are made with a dough that is rolled into very thin strips, deep fried and then covered with powdered sugar. The first time I made these cookies on my own several years ago, I rolled them very thin, fried them and realized that I had not rolled them thin enough. The dough needs to be paper thin, so thin that you can almost see through it. Then the cookies just melt in your mouth. It took hours to make these cookies yesterday even with Vicki’s help and I woke up sore this morning after all that rolling. It is amazing the muscles you use for a task like this that don’t normally get used. I would not ache so much today if I used those muscles more often. The more we work and stretch our muscles, the better it is when we do take on a physically demanding task.
The same is true of our faith. We need to work our faith to stretch it and build it we will be prepared when we face some test. All too often we let our relationship with God go, putting the world and everything in our life in front of our time spent with God. We forget to read the scriptures, we barely say our prayers. We get so caught up in our lives that we set faith aside for a time when we will need it. However, it is more difficult to walk in faith and trust during those times of trial when we have let our faith go. This is why God gives us small trials throughout our life so that we will be prepared when we need it most.
“O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee. Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: Depart from me therefore, ye bloodthirsty men. For they speak against thee wickedly, And thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O Jehovah, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: They are become mine enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 (ASV)
God does not tempt us, but He does help us to build our faith through trials as we journey through this life. These tests of faith are not meant to catch us unfaithful so that we will be punished, but rather they are designed to help stretch our faith muscles so that they will be prepared for those greater difficulties we will face in our life. We tend to react to such tests with a “Why me?” attitude, but we should accept this discipline trusting that it is by God’s grace we will grow and be ready for the true tests of our faith.
God knows each of us intimately. He knows what we need and how far we can be stretched. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Let us walk daily in faith, thanking God for His incredible blessings, even those that do not seem so blessed while we face them. We will find, as we walk through the other side of the experience, that God has done another good work in our lives. Thanks be to God.
Heritage Since my website includes stories of our travels from England, I often receive notes with questions about the history and architecture of the country. Internet sites and picture books do little to really tell what these places are like to those who have never been there. The questions are often strange and impossible for me to answer after such a long period of time, but I try to help as best I can. I recently received a letter asking about the size of one particular building and why it was a relatively modest building compared to other manor houses.
The writer assumed that the size difference was totally financial. Bigger houses must mean bigger wallets. However, there are many other reasons why one manor is grandiose and another modest. The location of the home would make a difference – one house on a trade route would need to be larger because there would be more company. A home that is in a family for many generations would be larger because wings would be added as the family grew. People of importance, with power and influence would likely have a larger home because they would host events which would reach beyond their own family. Those who have relationships with leaders and authorities would have larger homes for a variety of reasons. With clout comes privileges – less taxes, discounted materials, cheap labor are just a few possibilities.
The two homes the writer compared were not close enough for comparison. One manor was the home of a wealthy wool producer, the other a gift from a monarch. One belonged to a family that had recently come into money, the other an ancient family with roots deep in the power of the country. One owned the home for only a century, the other had property that went back hundreds of years. One was the home of a family, the other a place of national importance. Most of us can more likely identify with the first family. We don’t know anybody of importance; we have no privilege or power. We live in a normal home with a normal life doing the work we do.
In some ways it is hard to identify with Jesus. The child born in the stable was there in Bethlehem because His earthly father was a son of David. His genealogy reaches to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the line of kings, the chosen and anointed of God. Mary, His mother, is from the Levitical line, the chosen of the chosen to lead the worship of God and guide the spiritual life of the nation. It is hard for us to imagine being part of such an important line of ancestors. Yet, the genealogy of Jesus is filled with people with which we can identify.
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren; and Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Hezron; and Hezron begat Ram; and Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon; and Nahshon begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king. And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah; and Solomon begat Rehoboam; and Rehoboam begat Abijah; and Abijah begat Asa; and Asa begat Jehoshaphat; and Jehoshaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Uzziah; and Uzziah begat Jotham; and Jotham begat Ahaz; and Ahaz begat Hezekiah; and Hezekiah begat Manasseh; and Manasseh begat Amon; and Amon begat Josiah; and Josiah begat Jechoniah and his brethren, at the time of the carrying away to Babylon. And after the carrying away to Babylon, Jechoniah begat Shealtiel; and Shealtiel begat Zerubbabel; and Zerubbabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Matthew 1:1-15 (ASV)
The genealogy of a Jew was quite important. They needed to establish their place in the nation of Israel. Since there was much prophecy concerning the heritage of the Messiah, it was especially important to establish the tribe from which Jesus came. He was to be the King eternal, from the House of David, a seed of Abraham, a lion from Judah. How could we ever think He was our brother? Yet, as we look at this list of names, we see that it is also made of people with whom we can identify. There are foreigners and sinners, believers and doubters, righteous and unrighteous, kings and common folk. Jesus certainly had clout. His life is built on the history of the people of Israel. Yet, He was born in a stable of a man name Joseph who is married to a young girl named Mary. No one would have thought Him to be a King about to build the most incredible kingdom. He had no money, no relationship with the powerful. Yet, He saved the world. Thanks be to God.
Beginning One of the most popular gifts to give around a holiday is a new pet. Unfortunately, this is not the best gift to give, especially at such a hectic time of year. I watched a report today with an interview with a volunteer from the Humane Society and she had some excellent suggestions. Even if the family for whom you wish to purchase a pet really wants one, you can’t know for sure if you are picking the right animal for that family. A cat or dog that seems most wonderful for you might not fit in the atmosphere of a different home. Also, the family might have too many activities to take on the responsibility immediately.
They recommended that you buy all the things they will need to have a pet – a carrier, food, toys, litter boxes or gift certificates for pet stores. Then the family can find and purchase the pet of their dreams without being forced to have someone else’s idea of perfect. We think that the moment we give the gift is the beginning, but the reality is that it takes far more than just getting the animal to have a pet. When we picked up Tigger seven months ago, that event was just part of a long process of picking and preparing for his homecoming.
When we think of Christmas, we think of it as the beginning of something. After all, when Jesus was born, He began something new in the realm of God. However, His birth was not the beginning. The Old Testament scriptures take up nearly three fourths of the Bible, pages that are filled with the prophecy and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus’ birth was not a brand new thing, but was a new step in the story of God and His people. Jesus was before He was born.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-14 (ASV)
Christmas is not the beginning, it is the culmination of the promises that God made to His people. Things changed when Jesus was born, made new with His life and His love and the hope we have by His grace. Just as a new pet in a household will change the lives of those who live there, so too does Jesus change the lives of those who believe in Him. But that change is not sudden, just one moment in time when someone suddenly believes. The change began two thousand years ago when Jesus was born and it has been happening as seeds are planted in the heart until they finally bloom with faith. It may seem sudden, but God works in the lives of those who do not yet believe, preparing their hearts for His Word that became flesh that day in the stable. Even now, many who have never believed are being touched by His grace. Thanks be to God.
Gifts The story “The Polar Express” has been a favorite Christmas story for many years. It is especially popular this year with the movie released earlier this fall. It is a fantastic story of belief, about children who have reached the age of understanding who finally give up the hope of Santa’s visit to their home. They have become disillusioned with the season because they realize the whole idea is a lie. The main character is a boy who no longer believes. He is old enough to want proof and so lies awake Christmas Eve in the hopes of hearing the bells of Santa’s sleigh. Instead, he is invited on a most incredible journey and he realizes that seeing is not believing – even when Santa is standing before him, he can’t hear the bells until he believes.
One of the other characters is a boy who has never known Christmas at his house. He is poor, lives on the wrong side of the tracks. His home is not covered in lights and he has no tree bearing ornaments and tinsel. He has nothing but disappointment because there is no one to bring Christmas surprises. It is not always poverty that makes for disappointments. Sometimes it is a lack of caring or an inability to find that perfect gift. Christmas for many people is not a day of joy, but of sadness.
It might seem odd to talk about sadness on Christmas Eve. It is supposed to be a time of joy. There are many reasons why we might be disappointed on Christmas Day. When we are far from our families and friends, we feel a certain sense of loneliness at the holidays. When the dinner does not go quite right or when there is a big mess to clean up, we wonder why we go to all the trouble. It takes twenty minutes to unwrap the gifts that took four months to prepare, and then it is all over. There are many reasons why we aren’t all laughter and joy on Christmas day. We have to remember, however, that the first Christmas was not a day of happiness, but of pain, uncertainty and questions. Mary had a baby, and anyone who has experienced it will know that it is painful and frightening. Joseph must have been disappointed about having to force Mary into giving birth in a stable. The shepherds were frightened by the angels and then they were sent from their fields to find a baby lying in a manger. What makes this Christmas story so special is that those involved responded to the disappointment, fear and frustration with willingness and faith.
“Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to enrol themselves, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enrol himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child. And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased. And it came to pass, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child. And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken unto them.” Luke 2:1-20 (ASV)
The boy in the story was chosen to be the first child to receive a gift on Christmas from Santa. Rather than the perfect gift or the most popular toy, the boy wanted to have one of the jingle bells from Santa’s sleigh. That bell was proof that Santa was real. He lost the bell, but realized that he did not need proof or the perfect gift. All he needed was faith. In the end Santa found the bell and put it under his tree, so he had faith and the gift.
There is joy in the Christmas story for those of us who live now, after the resurrection. We see the purpose of it all, we know the whole story. For those first people – Mary, Joseph and the shepherds – Christmas was a special day but it was not perfect. Mary’s firstborn lie in a feeding trough. Joseph had to find a way to keep his wife and child warm. The shepherds left their flocks on the hillside in search of a mysterious child. Yet, they all walked in faith, knowing that God was in control. Mary pondered all these things in her heart and the shepherds went forth praising God. No matter what happens this Christmas in our homes, I pray that we too will respond to the story of the birth in faith. May you be greatly blessed this Christmas and that you will know the joy of walking in faith even when things don't seem so perfect. Thanks be to God.
Pool Have you ever read a mystery thinking that you knew the answer until the very last page? When you get to the real solution to the mystery, it seems so obvious and you kick yourself for missing it a hundred pages before. When this happens, the author has done a great job weaving the story, leading you in the wrong direction or giving you just enough information so that you will make the incorrect assumptions without digging more deeply into the story.
It is likely there was good reason to choose your answer. The character you decide is the villain probably did have some role to play in the crime. He or she may have purchased the weapon or been in the right place at the wrong time. There is most likely motive for the crime and you are not the only one to make that assumption. If you read the story a second time, however, you would see the true villain more clearly from the beginning, recognizing the character, actions and motives that make him or her clearly the real answer to the question.
This is not an entirely accurate analogy to use for today’s devotion because we are talking about the difference between goodness and evil, reality and a story. However, I wonder how many of us have experienced something similar when reading and studying the scriptures. Have you ever had one of those ‘aha’ moments when something that was once a mystery in the Bible is suddenly quite clear? There are many stories in the scriptures that make sense, but there is more to the story that we discover as we delve more deeply into the text and into the history.
“And as he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. When I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed his eyes with the clay, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing.” John 9:1-7 (ASV)
Archeologists have recently discovered the Pool of Siloam, that pool where Jesus sent the blind man to be healed. Now, this story has had a great deal of meaning to me, it speaks of healing and forgiveness, of how Jesus can overcome even that which has been part of us from birth. Yet, when we discover that the Pool of Siloam is a special place, we realize that there was even more to this story than we first thought.
The Pool is located very close to the Temple, it is even connected to the grounds by a road that run between the two. The Pool of Siloam was a place for ritual cleansing, used for making the priests clean for their duty serving God. The waters were so pure that it was said they could even heal a leper, yet can you imagine the priests allowing a leper into the water? The way they looked at illness and disease, they may have thought that someone like the blind man might make their water unclean.
Jesus did not need to send the man to the Pool. He could have grabbed water from someone nearby and splashed his face. It was not the water that healed the man, but rather the word of God. However, this man needed far more than physical healing. He needed spiritual cleansing. He’d been blind from birth, convinced by the world that he was a sinner unworthy of anything spiritual. He would have been healed, but uncomfortable with entering into the lives of the faithful because nothing was changed. He was no longer blind, but how could that overcome a lifetime of rejection by the religious structure? He needed more than just physical healing. He needed cleansing that would purify him before God and make him right with his Creator. It was not necessary for this cleansing to take place before God, but it was for the man. Without such spiritual healing as came from entering into the life of the faithful community, he would never have felt right before God. Jesus knew and He made sure the man was made whole by sending him to that pool on that day. He does the same for us, giving us everything we need so that we are not only right before God but also that we feel right. Thanks be to God.
Children The earthquake and tsunami that has devastated so much of the coastline along the Indian Ocean has consumed our attention and prayers. Thousands of people have died and many more have lost everything. It will take days to finish the rescue work, find the bodies and bury those who have died. The newest hazard is the disease that goes along with the poisoned water and the rotting flesh. More will die until everything is cleaned up from this horrible disaster.
The physical rebuilding will take years and billions of dollars. The emotional impact may last even longer, particularly for those who have lost everything. The saddest stories are those of the children who have suffered. It is expected that about one third of the dead are children. There is even more who have lost their families. Hospitals and governments are putting out pictures of children that have been found along roadsides in the hopes that someone will recognize them and contact the officials with information. Without knowing if the parents are even alive, it is nearly impossible to identify the youngest children.
The young suffer the most because they do not have the means to solve their problems. They don’t have the means to seek help. They don’t have the information they would need to ask questions. Some are small enough that they can’t communicate with rescuers or hospital workers. They are and do not know how to deal with strangers. Though there are many people who care for these children, the ones they love most have abandoned them. They are left alone in a big, scary world.
There is no one to blame for this natural disaster, everyone is suffering greatly from the devastation. However, the children are innocent victims who will suffer the greatest loss. But that is the way it is in many situations. Children tend to blame themselves when something goes wrong. When there is violence or anger, they can’t stand up for themselves. When there is separation, they are left alone or lonely for what was once a family. They are easy victims because they have so little control and so much innocence to the ways of the world.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she would not be comforted, because they are not.” Matthew 2:16-18 (ASV)
Today is the day we remember the Holy Innocents, those children in Bethlehem that got caught between the Lord God Almighty and the political aspirations of one man named Herod. He did not want to be put out by another king, particularly one that has been promised by God. He sent soldiers to dispose of all the children in Bethlehem to ensure his place in the palace.
We imagine this to be a horrid event with blood running down the streets as thousands of children are slaughtered. The reality is that it was more likely just a dozen children, yet that does not make it any less horrid. One life taken for no good reason is one life too many. One child suffering for whatever reason is one child too many. We remember these children today and still grieve with those who lost children to one man’s ambition. In light of this remembrance, let us also remember and pray for those children who are suffering this day in the devastation of the tsunamis and the ones who have lost children in the disaster.
Soap One of the hardest things to get used to when we installed a water softener in our house was the fact that we did not need to use as much soap. We were so used to using great quantities to ensure that our clothes, dishes and bodies get clean. However, it takes far less soap in soft water to make suds and thus the soap works better. With our softener we were given a supply of products that were specially designed to be used with our water. It has been nearly a year and we still have plenty of soap. Our salesman stopped by a few months after the installation to find out how we like the equipment. He mentioned that a family down the street had already used up their soap – a year supply in a few months. Obviously they never figured out that they do not need to use less.
The thing is, when you use too much soap it takes even more water to clean out the suds. If you run clear, clean water in a sudsy glass, it will eventually get out all the soap but it takes awhile. The clean water goes to the bottom and pushes the dirty and soapy water over the top. There has to be somewhere for the dirty water to go, adding clean water to dirty will not make it clean. We have to find some way to remove the dirty and sudsy water.
“And he brought me back unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward; (for the forefront of the house was toward the east;) and the waters came down from under, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar. Then he brought me out by the way of the gate northward, and led me round by the way without unto the outer gate, by the way of the gate that looketh toward the east; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side. When the man went forth eastward with the line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass through; for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, upon the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then said he unto me, These waters issue forth toward the eastern region, and shall go down into the Arabah; and they shall go toward the sea; into the sea shall the waters go which were made to issue forth; and the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every living creature which swarmeth, in every place whither the rivers come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish; for these waters are come thither, and the waters of the sea shall be healed, and everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh. And it shall come to pass, that fishers shall stand by it: from En-gedi even unto En-eglaim shall be a place for the spreading of nets; their fish shall be after their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given up to salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not whither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail: it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.” Ezekiel 47:1-12 (ASV)
This is an amazing vision of the new earth that God has promised. The River of Life that flows from the Temple will be made of such pure and clean water that it will bring healing and life to the land. Notice that the river grows as it goes away from the Temple even though it is not joined by any tributaries. Also, the waters pour into the Dead Sea, the saltiest body of water in the world and yet the fresh water from God’s river makes it a place filled with life. The trees along the river bear fruit always and do not die, another effect of the life giving and healing water of life.
This just goes to show that the ways of the world are much different than the ways of God. While it takes us time and resources to make the dirt go away, it takes only God’s power to change filthy to clean. Our works might accomplish the task eventually, but we could never make the Dead Sea clean by our own power. Neither can we make our lives clean without the grace and power of God. Thanks be to God.
Jokes In comedy they say that timing is everything. Some jokes that are funny will fail miserably if they are spoken at the wrong time in the wrong place. A joke about a peanut butter sandwich won’t be funny to someone who is starving. A joke about a priest, rabbi and imam would probably cause hard feelings in an ecumenical conference and a joke about military incompetence would not go over well in a theater full of soldiers. It is funny to watch the television comedians try out their material on an audience. Jay Leno often makes a big joke of the way his monologue is failing. He talks about the silent audience, turns to the writers and comments on how one joke failed or how it might have been better a different way.
The same is true of other words. There is a right time and a right way to evangelize. There are appropriate times to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and appropriate ways. We want to share the grace of God with everyone, particularly when we are feeling extraordinarily thankful for our salvation. It often happens in the beginning of our faith or at times when our faith has grown or changed. We know the promise of God and we want others to have it. Unfortunately, at those times of passion we aren’t thinking very clearly about the people to whom we are speaking. A grieving daughter at the funeral of her mother does not need to hear how she should change or she will be going to hell. She needs to hear how God’s grace brings peace and joy even in the midst of tragedy.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus came when He did? It seems like such a strange time, two thousand years ago. There is nothing particularly special about that time period. Why not wait until the modern age when the life and death of Jesus would have had a more immediate worldwide impact? How about a thousand years before that, so that more people could benefit from the New Covenant? Why did He come at that time in that way in that place?
“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11 (ASV)
Jay Leno is one of the most professional comedians in our world today. Yet, despite his excellence and fine writers, he often fails at making the audience laugh. His timing is not perfect. He does not know everything about his audience, he can’t foresee what’s in their minds or hearts. We do not always know the right time, way or place to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who need to know God’s grace. We fail. We say things that hurt people. We pick the wrong moment and miss the right moments. Timing in comedy and in evangelism is everything and we often fail.
God did not fail, however. He knew the right time and the right way to overcome the sin of this world. He sent Jesus exactly when we needed Him to come, to do exactly what needed to be done. We do not understand why. We do not understand why the right time was two thousand years ago, it does not make sense to us. We can’t quite grasp the need for the cross or for Christ’s blood to cleanse us from our sins. We might have the right words, we might be able to explain it theologically, yet there is something about all this that we do not quite understand. Yet, God knew this was the right time and the right way and because God was right, we now rejoice in His grace and the reconciliation we have through Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Best and Worst We have reached the end of another year. It is hard to believe that another 365 days have passed. The news programs have been looking over the past year with the best and the worst in every possible category. People have been able to vote on the Internet for the best commercial or the best news story. The categories are not always positive. One survey asked which scandal would be most remembered in the years to come. Other surveys ask for the worst people, events, books, movies or movies. On this New Year’s Eve, we are taking a moment to remember what has happened and think about what we can learn about it to help us into the future.
The other thing we are doing today is thinking about the changes we want to make in our lives. We all made mistakes in the past, we all have things that we could do better. I don’t usually make lists of resolutions, because I know that change can and should happen at any time. I also know that resolutions made on New Year’s Eve generally fail within the first month. However, I have decided to try harder at a few things in the coming year. I will be better at remembering birthdays and anniversaries. I will better at keeping track of my mail, email and appointments. I will be more active in asking my children about their schedules so that we aren’t remembering to do something at the last minute as we were last year.
All these activities have to do with having and keeping up with a calendar. My son bought me a new spiral bound calendar for Christmas. It is a pretty one with pictures of artwork done by the Impressionists. A new calendar is so nice and clean, it is like a new beginning. So far there is nothing marking the pages. There is nothing from the past; it is all in the future almost like beginning a new life. Now, we certainly don’t have a new life from one year to the next. I will be the same person tomorrow that I am today. I might manage a few changes eventually, but I will continue to be me. My new calendar will not make me any different, even if I manage to keep it up to date this year. There is something that does make us new, someone who gives us new life.
“My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked. Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:1-14 (ASV)
It is good to look back over the past year so that we can learn from our mistakes. It is good to recognize the things about ourselves, as individuals and a community, that should be changed so that we will be the best we can be in the coming year. We think about best of the past year so that we can model the good things they have done. We think about the worst of the past year so that we can avoid their pitfalls. No matter how much we try to change, we have to remember that moving from one year to another does not make us a new person. A clean calendar does not indicate a new life. There is no magical power passing through midnight on New Years Eve that makes us different. It takes work to make our resolutions happen in our lives. But real change happens through faith. Jesus Christ gives us a new life. He gives us new hope and new joy through His new covenant. The world around us is not new, but in Christ we are different because we are forgiven and have overcome the past. Thanks be to God.