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.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes









Good News














Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2006

December 1, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 10, 2006: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Luke 1:68-79 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people, And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of his servant David (As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old), Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To show mercy towards, our fathers, And to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father, To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies Should serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people In the remission of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us, To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.

The birth of Christ was a carefully orchestrated series of events. God planned every detail long before the day Jesus was born. The story began hundreds, even thousands of years in the past as God foretold of His birth through the patriarchs and the prophets. The story includes not only Jesus, but families whose stories are woven throughout the history of Israel.

This week we learn of one such character. John was born just a few months before Jesus, but his story is exactly the opposite in some ways than Jesus. John’s mother was very old, the wife of a Levite. Zechariah, his father, was a priest who served in the Temple. They had both almost lost hope in having a child, Elizabeth’s child bearing years had long since past. Yet, Zechariah still prayed for one day when he was serving in the Temple an angel came to him. Zechariah trembled in fear, but the angel said, “Fear not: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

John was so taken aback by the statement that he responded, “How can I be sure of this?” We will hear similar words from Mary as we hear her story, but for Zechariah this was the wrong question. It showed doubt and a need for some control in the situation. Yet, can we blame him? After all, he was elderly – so old that having a child would be a strain on both his wife and on him. Would they be around to help the child grow? Would they see him successful? Would they see him married? Would they see him even walk and talk and laugh?

Zechariah doubted the angel and he was struck speechless until the day of the child’s birth. The words in today’s psalmody are the first things Zechariah had to say after the birth of John.

When John was born, Elizabeth did as she had been told; she said that the child’s name is God. The people who were there for the happy occasion were shocked. After all, it was customary to name the first born after the father, so the child should have been called Zechariah. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and he wrote, “He is to be called John.” And so it was. Then Zechariah’s voice returned and he sang this song of praise – this prophetic psalm of grace. He foretold the coming of the Messiah and blessed the child. The song tells of John’s place in the unfolding story of God’s salvation – as the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. For Zechariah, the Lord was God. We know that the Lord is manifest in the child for whom we are waiting – Jesus Christ.

Zechariah did not speak these words on his own. They came by the power of the Holy Spirit. They continue to prophetic heritage that had been pointing toward the coming of the Christ for generations. The psalm reflects the promise found in the prophets, such as these words from Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts.” John came to cry out in the darkness to prepare for the coming of the light. Zechariah knew by faith that they were on the edge of a new day, the dawn of a new beginning. His doubts long since passed, Zechariah gave his beloved son to the Lord to do as had been planned so long ago.


December 4, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 10, 2006: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11 I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

Paul had an incredible ministry. His travels took him all over the ancient world and his preaching founded churches in many cities. Paul had a passion for the Gospel and he wanted the world to know the love and mercy of God found in Christ Jesus. He wanted to save the world – or better stated, he wanted the world saved by God’s grace. So, he traveled extensively – faced persecution, hardship, hunger and even a shipwreck.

Yet, Paul’s concern was never about numbers. He did not preach the Gospel so that the pews would be filled in the church. He did not teach about Jesus so that the congregation would grow larger. He did not invent programs that would bring people through the door. Paul cared about the hearts of all those who became Christian under his supervision. He cared about their souls. He cared about their eternal lives.

So, Paul did not preach the Gospel and take off for a new place. He left only when he was forced to move on by those who sought to destroy his ministry and his life. However, he was never far from his churches in spirit, and their well-being was always on his mind. That is why he wrote so many letters – to correct, rebuke and especially to encourage the Christians into maturity of faith in the Gospel.

Paul’s flowery language in today’s passage might seem a bit overwhelming. Did he mean to be so gushy when he was writing to the church in Philippi? These verses are part of the formal greeting, which in Paul’s day would have included a formal word of thanksgiving and reassurance of continued relationship. For Paul, this was of utmost importance – that the Philippians know that he was with them in spirit, bound by the Holy Spirit, and that he cared very much for them. Even more importantly, he cared for their every day lives.

I imagine that most of us are preparing Christmas cards to be sent to friends and family members in the next few weeks. Many people include some sort of newsletter in the card to get those far away up to date with what’s happening in their lives. These newsletters are filled with good news, highlights and remembrances of the big events. Or, they are filled with bad news of illness or death, difficulties and hardship. When you have just a small space to share a year’s worth of news, you pick the most important things. Yet many people do not like those newsletters because they are sound boastful or depressing.

Paul’s letters aren’t always pleasant to hear because he does speak forcefully about living rightly and righteously. He does correct and rebuke the churches for their failures and failings. He demands much from the Christians under his care. However, he cares very deeply for each and every one of them. He cares about their hearts, about their souls and especially about their eternal life in Christ. This is evident by the way he cares about their every day lives. He writes to encourage them to be all they can be, to continue living in God’s grace to the fullest. He writes to build up the church from the inside, so that work that Christ began will be perfected and will flow out into the world.


December 5, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 10, 2006: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Luke 3:1-6 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the region round about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, And every mountain and hill shall be brought low; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Christmas is a time when we see many beloved stories – in movies, on television. Many of us have even purchased those favorite childhood shows on video or DVD – shows like “Frosty,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” We love to watch these programs because we love the characters. We cry when Frosty melts. We cheer when Santa asks Rudolph to lead the sleigh on Christmas Eve. We even laugh when Burgermeister Meisterburger trips over the skate and breaks his leg. These characters, for many of us, are almost real because they have been a part of our lives for so long.

It is easy during the Christmas season to think of the Nativity story with much the same point of view – as a story with characters. There are characters that we love and characters that we hate. We wonder at the way things happen, but some of the details are so extraordinary that it is hard to believe them to be real. The Nativity is more story than history, particularly in a cynical world.

Matt is a producer and the head writer for a hit comedy variety show. He is a cynical man who lives in a cynical world – he has no real sense of the importance of faith. AS a matter of fact, he thinks people of faith are brainwashed wacko nutjobs. His writing often focuses on the absurdity of faith and the Christian lifestyle. Some of the skits are rather funny, particularly if you can laugh at yourself. Of course, some people are offended by many of the sketches, that adds to the humor of the whole thing.

Harriet is a brainwashed wacko Jesus freak Christian and she is one of the actresses who stars on the program. Matt is in love with her. Their relationship has been like a roller coaster, partly because Matt can’t take Harriet’s faith seriously. This is one of the ongoing plots on the television program “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”. On last night’s episode, Matt decided to focus the show on Christmas. Knowing Matt’s opinion of Christians, the writing team kept looking for the absurdity of Christianity. They found many websites proving the unreality of the Christmas story – the star was a comet, Mary wasn’t really a virgin but was a young girl, the first Christmas could not have been in December. They thought Matt wanted them to find everything that is wrong with Christmas and make fun of it. In reality, Matt wanted to do a Christmas show – funny but real.

There are plenty of people who will try to criticize the Christian perspective about this time of year, to reduce the Nativity to nothing more than a nice story with a creative plot and characters. What we see in today’s passage, however, is that Luke found it essential to include historic references in the midst of his telling of the story. He placed John in history, putting him in the context of other people who lived in that time.

As we look at the story of John, it is easy for us to think that it would be ridiculous and perhaps even compare him to the ancient myths. John was born to elderly parents and was likely very young when they died. Though he may have been raised by family or friends, his adult lifestyle is so unusual it is reminiscent of stories of feral children. Perhaps his wild man persona with horsehair clothes and bizarre diet is because he lived alone in the wilderness from a young age? We might assume that John is little more than a myth, like the story of Romulus and Remus. However, Luke puts John in the context of history which gives us some reference in time and space for not only John, but also the birth of Jesus. The Nativity is not just a story, Luke gives us a report of an event that changed the world. Even though some of the details seem unbelievable, we can be assured that the birth of Christ is real and is worth our time to know and experience in this world.


December 6, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 10, 2006: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Malachi 3:1-4 Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in ancient years.

I have been trying for the past couple of weeks to get my house under control – to clean up my clutter and organize all my things. In the past year we have made major changes to our furnishings, so our usual plan for Christmas decorations won’t work. I have been trying to figure out where everything will fit, to store the things that will be in the way and to make this house look beautiful for the holiday. It seems like as soon as I do one task, there’s another that I have to do. I clean up the clutter and discover the dust. I clean up the dust and realize I need to vacuum. By the time I finish those tasks, clutter has accumulated again. It takes constant vigilance to complete the work that has to be done, and even then I am sure I will have to continue cleaning to keep it looking nice.

All of this is in preparation for a time of joy and friendship, of happy times and pleasant experiences. We are waiting for the coming of the Christ child. We are attending parties with friends and family and gathering for programs starring our little ones who sing with great passion and gusto even if they are a little out of tune. We are lighting our homes with Christmas lights to break up the darkness of the night and filling our kitchens with the most delightful smells of Christmas cookies, cakes and other goodies. We are listening to, and humming, Christmas songs all day long. I can’t help but think to myself, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” as I go through my day.

Yet, what does Christmas look like? To the world it is Christmas trees and Santa Clause and perhaps even a nativity scene here or there. It is “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” but how does that line up with scriptures like this one from Malachi?

This week we meet John the Baptist who does not portray a typical image found in Christmas cards or children’s stories. He is rough, wild, and harsh. He cries out in the wilderness for the world to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Isn’t it funny how we prepare for Christmas by overspending, overdrinking and overeating, but John brings us a message that is completely different.

Malachi foretells of John’s coming as a witness and messenger to prepare for the coming of the Lord. However, the messenger won’t bring a happy story or expectation of a silent night. Instead, Malachi warns that the coming of the Lord will be sudden and that He will come like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Something is going to happen when the Lord comes and it will mean transformation, cleansing.

These are two very different images of cleansing, however. It takes a great and hot heat to refine metals, a heat that is almost unbearable even for the refiner. For the element being refined, it means destruction of everything that is impure, burned away by an unimaginable heat. This is not a typical image of Christmas for us. Neither is the launderer’s soap. Today is laundry day in my house. There is bound to be some garment that will need extra care. I will have to spray the item with a special cleaner and perhaps scrub it a little before throwing it in the washer to be cleaned.

One image – the refiner’s fire – is harsh and perhaps a little distant. Though the refiner must remain close to the metal while it refines, he does not become actively involved in the refining. The fire does all the work. On the other hand, the launderer is thoroughly involved with the cleansing of a garment – handling each item with the special care necessary. We are reminded by these two images that our God is both distant, refining with fire, but also very near, intimately involved with our very souls. He cleanses out the impurities in ways that might seem harsh, but He also does so in ways that are gentle.

When the refiner is finished and the launderer is done with the work, the finished product is pure and clean. The same is true of the work God does in our life, and yet we never seem to be complete. The reality is that though the work of Christ finished the work of salvation, we are also continually being refined and cleansed by our God until that day when Christ will come again. It is like my housework – there will always be something to do until it is really finished. During this time of Advent, we long for the peace and joy that comes with the child in the manger, but we should never forget that we are longing for something even greater – the Day when Christ will come again.


December 7, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 17, 2006: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; O Zion, let not thy hands be slack. Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that sorrow for the solemn assembly, who were of thee; to whom the burden upon her was a reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all them that afflict thee; and I will save that which is lame, and gather that which was driven away; and I will make them a praise and a name, whose shame hath been in all the earth. At that time will I bring you in, and at that time will I gather you; for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I bring back your captivity before your eyes, saith Jehovah.

The book of Zephaniah is hardly joyful. The prophet announces to the people that God will bring judgment to the nations, including His people who had abandoned their faith. Yet, the prophet does not leave them without hope. Today's reading tells of the restoration that will come when God completes His work. Zephaniah foretells the rejoicing that will go on within the city of Jerusalem. "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more."

To the Jews, prosperity meant God was near, misery meant that He had abandoned them. Though God was never far away, it was not hard for them to fear when things began to go wrong. When the nations could overwhelm them with their power, it was obvious that God was no longer protecting them. Yet, God has a purpose for all things, including those times of pain and suffering. They help us to turn to Him, to repent of our sin and look to Him for our needs. God did not intend for the Jews to be destroyed, He knew that He would provide salvation in His time and way. After judgment, God cleanses His people, purifies their lips and they call out to their God. The day will come when He will bring them home. "At that time will I bring you in, and at that time will I gather you; for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I bring back your captivity before your eyes, saith Jehovah."

Our greatest trouble is trusting God. It began so long ago in the Garden of Eden, when Eve believed the lie of Satan about the Word of God. She did not trust that He spoke the truth; she saw goodness in the thing He said would bring pain, and took it into her own hands. The Israelites did not trust that God would take care of them. They grumbled in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. They turned to other nations for help against their enemies. They asked for a worldly king when they had the King of kings as their ruler.

God does not force Himself on us when we turn from Him. He allows the natural consequences of our mistrust to humble us before His throne and we cry out for the One we know can overcome our difficulties. He never allows more than we can bear, but He does allow enough that we will remember His covenants and faithfulness so that we will trust Him again. Over and over again throughout history, God did this with His people. They were defeated by their enemies and then restored when they turned to Him. They were taken into captivity, but then were returned to their home when they looked for Him. We suffer our own consequences when we turn from God, but He is always near to respond when we repent and trust Him.


December 8, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 17, 2006: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Isaiah 12:2-6 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Jehovah, even Jehovah, is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall ye say, Give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name, declare his doings among the peoples, make mention that his name is exalted. Sing unto Jehovah; for he hath done excellent things: let this be known in all the earth. Cry aloud and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion; for great in the midst of thee is the Holy One of Israel.

There has always been a curiosity about ‘the red planet’ which is Mars. Science fiction stories both written and in the movies have long suggested that there is life on Mars. Unidentified flying objects (UFO’s) are often associated with Mars with the aliens being called Martians. The curiosity has gotten even more intense in the past few years as N.A.S.A. has been able to send equipment into space to give us more detailed information about the planet. They have even been able to land rovers on the planet, which has provided a close-up view of the surface for scientists to study.

A number of years ago scientists discovered evidence of ancient water ice. This fueled the sci-fi theories that Mars had life and that the life had to leave or it would die. Of course the beings would come to the closest planet with water – earth. Even more recently, however scientists have discovered evidence of flowing water – fresh made gullies inside a crater. Though it would take a great deal of work to prove the theories, they are suggesting that the water is bubbling up from under the surface and running down the crater wall in a mudflow.

What makes this so important is that life is dependent on water. The only thing that human beings need more than water is air, but we can’t live even a few days without something to drink. We can live for weeks without food and we can survive under extreme circumstances. However, we need water to live. The same is true of all things living – plants, birds and animals. Some beings can go a long time without water, but eventually they need something to drink.

I suppose that is why water has always played such an important role in religious ceremonies. During the Feast of Tabernacles – the feast that memorialized the journey from Egypt to Canaan – the priest gathered water in a gold jug from the pool of Siloam to pour over the altar as a form of sacrifice. It was done in remembrance of God’s gracious provision of water for the wanderers in the desert. There were times when the water God provided saved their lives.

We may not realize it, but we look toward many things that we think will save us. We get involved in relationships to save us from loneliness. We work hard to save us from poverty. We chase after all sorts of leisure activities to save us from boredom. We do everything within our power to keep our bodies healthy and our minds young to save us from death and dis-ease.

The psalm for this week is from the book of Isaiah, a song of thanksgiving and praise. The singer recognizes that there are other things that we choose that we think will save us from the things that make life difficult. However, the singer confesses faith that the only source of salvation for him is God. So he pours out a sacrificial offering of the one physical thing that is really necessary for life in thanksgiving, trusting confidently that God will provide.

There are those who have suggested that if something goes wrong with earth, that perhaps Mars will offer a possible escape for human beings. The discovery of water makes that a slightly more realistic prospect. However, there is no real salvation apart from God. As we draw closer to Christmas during this season of Advent, we are reminded of all that God has done. We are reminded of the baby in the manger and we look forward to the Day of the Lord’s coming who was, is and will be our salvation. That day, though it will be a day of judgment for the world, will be the day when God’s promises are finally fulfilled. Thanks be to God.


December 11, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 17, 2006: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Christmas is a time for joy and peace. The music brings happy thoughts to our mind and we can’t help but sing along to the carols as we go about our day. Our schedules are filled with happy moments – parties, gift exchanges, opportunities to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. There are characters like Santa who always have smiles on their face and nice stories that always have a happy ending. It seems like at this time the charge from Paul should be easy.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time being happy all the time. The hustle and bustle of the season makes it a stressful time. Demands from co-workers and family give me little room to rest. Exhaustion leads to illness, which makes everything harder. There is not enough time to do everything, not enough energy to accomplish all the tasks and not enough laughter to get us through. It is made especially difficult when faced with people who expect that smile on your face at every moment. “What is the matter with you, it’s Christmas!”

Yet the joy and peace to which Paul refers is not the kind of joy and peace that most people are seeking at this time of year. As a matter of fact, it is the very seeking of an external joy and peace that makes us even more stressed. As we chase after laughs and good feelings between all people we lose sight of the real source of our joy and peace. We forget that Paul has called us not to be happy, but to rejoice in the Lord. We forget that the peace of God does not necessarily come with peace on earth, but that it is something that dwells within the heart of a Christian who trusts in God.

So, instead of seeking joy in our activities and peace between peoples, we are called to keep our hearts and minds on God our Father. When things get out of control, when we get too busy to smile, when we exhaust ourselves into illness, we are reminded that none of that has anything to do with true joy and peace. Joy in the Lord and peace to His people have everything to do with our relationship with God and His place in our life. The Christian life does not guarantee a life without difficulty, so why would we think that the Christmas life would guarantee a turmoil-free idyllic state?

Instead of expecting unattainable happiness and perfect relationships, Paul reminds us to rejoice in the Lord always. When we do so, we keep our eyes, and our hearts, on the true prize which is peace in our hearts. When peace dwells in our hearts, we have a whole new perspective about the world around us. Instead of being stressed by too many activities, we realize that there is one thing that matters – Jesus. Then perhaps we’ll take care of ourselves by choosing a better way to celebrate this wonderful season and we’ll end up truly knowing what it means to have the peace of God.


December 12, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 17, 2006: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7-18 He said therefore to the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And even now the axe also lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do? And he answered and said unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath food, let him do likewise. And there came also publicans to be baptized, and they said unto him, Teacher, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you. And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort from no man by violence, neither accuse any one wrongfully; and be content with your wages. And as the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, thoroughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire. With many other exhortations therefore preached he good tidings unto the people.

I have heard it said that fire was one of the greatest inventions of man. Yet, man never invented fire. Man did invent ways to create fire. He discovered the use of sticks or stones that make sparks. He found ways to control fire and to use fire. But man never invented fire. After all, a lightning strike can cause a forest to burn without any help from mankind. It is likely that the ancient people of the world first used fire that was created during a storm, and perhaps even carried live coals from place to place to build a new fire.

Even though man did not invent fire, the ability to use and control fire was one of the most important accomplishments of human history. Unfortunately, fire has not always been controllable. Lightning still strikes and controlled fires go out of control. During the winter all too many houses burn down because some candle flame has been placed to close to something flammable or some spark flew out of a fireplace. Fire can destroy within minutes, but even when it destroys it can do good things.

Farmers burn their fields after a harvest to remove the stubble and to renew the earth. We learned last week that fire burning at an intense heat will remove the impurities from metal during the refining process. It might seem horrific when a fire burns a forest, but forest fires play a vital part of the ecological process; it thins the brush and dead wood while opening up the pinecones which releases the seeds. All this brings about new growth and strengthens the forest.

For the past few days we have heard the call to God’s people to live joyful and peaceful lives, so we would expect a similar theme in this week’s Gospel lesson. Then, as we begin to read, we hear the words of John the Baptist, “Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” This is not a very pleasant passage, for who wants to face the destruction that comes with the wrath of God? Where is the Good News?

The good news is in the very fact that God is a consuming fire. His wrath is not like an out of control fire that completely destroys a house. His wrath is like the refiner’s fire that destroys all the impurities and makes the silver pure. His fire will destroy all that makes us unrighteous, taking away our sin and our hardness of heart, leaving behind that which is good, right and true. His fire cleanses without destroying. His fire tempers and makes us pure.

That is truly good news. The God who comes to dwell amongst us has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire, destroying all that separates us from Him. While it might seem like John the Baptist is preaching hellfire and damnation, he is giving the people a message they need to hear, “Repent!” And they receive it with enthusiasm, asking, “What can we do?” They hear the message that brings joy, that the promised Messiah is coming and they want to know what they can do to be ready.

It is a message we still need to hear today. Will our good works bring the salvation we desire? No, because God has already accomplished that salvation – that’s the good news. But John reminds us not to run from the coming wrath, because it is that very wrath that will cleanse us, renew us, and make us pure and righteous before God. God’s fire does not destroy, it makes us whole. Thanks be to God.


December 13, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 17, 2006: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice.

I think I’m done. I think I have finished my Christmas shopping for this year, having managed to find all the things I wanted to give to those I love. I think I have prepared all my Christmas cards and they are just waiting to be mailed. I think I have put up the last of my decorations and that we have managed to make the house look clean and festive for the holidays. I am nearly done with my Christmas crafts, waiting only for the parts necessary to complete the task. Except for some baking and wrapping, I’m ready for Christmas.

For many, this is the moment to begin rejoicing, because now is the time to relax and enjoy the festivities. Yet, we have to wonder why preparing for something so special and wonderful as the birth of Christ could have become such a time for stress and exhaustion. We shouldn’t rejoice when we are done with our shopping and decorating, but should rejoice with thankfulness and praise to God that we can do these things. As we prepare for Christmas, we can afford to purchase gifts for our children, that we have good health to put up a thousand or more Christmas lights to decorate, that we have so much of ourselves to give to others at this time of year.

It could not have been easy to be John the Baptist. He was born to elderly parents who probably died when he was very young. Though he may have had family to provide care as an orphan, his circumstances led him to lead a most extraordinary life. He lived in the wilderness, clothed himself in camel’s hair and ate locusts for lunch. We automatically assume that such a lifestyle would include also a disregard for social graces such as bathing. We hear about John, his life and his words and we imagine that he must have been like those homeless people we try to avoid on the street. We think he must smell and that his personality is very ‘in your face.’ We picture him angry and hateful, full of wrath, harsh and perhaps even violent with his message.

As I have thought about John the Baptist this week, however, I have realized that we can’t make such an assumption. We can not assume that he smelled because he was unbathed. Despite the fact that he lived in the desert, John was a Jew, the son of a priest. He did not abandon the law of his father. As gross as we think it is to eat locusts, they were considered clean and were acceptable food for the Jews. Camel’s hair is not silk, but it is not an unsatisfactory material to cover the flesh. He dressed the same as the prophets of old, such as Elijah. John’s unusual behavior was not necessarily an act of rebellion against the social graces, but it was instead a statement against self-indulgence. Silk and fine jewels do not make a priest, and yet the priests and other temple leaders had become accustomed to living the fine life. John was setting a different example – extreme, perhaps, but different.

As we prepare for the coming of our King, we tend to think in grandiose terms – more tinsel, more lights, more presents, more food. We decorate our homes in silver and gold and fill our bellies with rich things to eat. We exhaust ourselves to prepare and stress out over details, forgetting that the One who was to come would not come into a world filled with light and life. He was coming to a world filled with darkness and death. He is the Light, and John came to be a witness to the Light. He did not need to be adorned with finery or eat grand feasts. He has something to give to the world – hope. He lived a simple life and spoke the truth. The people were drawn to him and they listened to what he had to say. He called them to repent – to live the simple life, to do what is right and to wait patiently for the One who was to come. He calls us to do the same as we prepare for Christmas.


December 14, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 24, 2006: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Micah 5:2-5a But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she who travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of Jehovah his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. And this man shall be our peace.

We live in a small town. The first time we drove down Main Street, Victoria was incredulous. “Main Street is a dirt road!” We usually tell people that we live near San Antonio because they will undoubtedly not have heard of our town. Of course it is a growing community with new housing and business being built daily. Yet, the town will never be very big or very important. However, bigger is not necessarily better.

This is the time of year when we are attending all too many Christmas parties with White Elephant present exchanges. Most of these parties include some sort of game where the guests get to fight over the packages. In one game everyone is given a number and the numbers are drawn from a hat. When your number is drawn you go to the pile and choose a gift. If you have seen something that has already been opened that you like, you can steal it from the other guest. Then they have to choose something new.

It seems like most people go for the big boxes. I suppose they think that the big box will be something extra special like electronics or kitchen appliances. That might just be true, but then again the gift might just be a gag wrapped in an extra large box. Bigger is not necessarily better. As a matter of fact, at one party the big box contained a package of hemorrhoid ointment. The small package might just have something that glitters like gold or jewels.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, the prophet Micah foretells the coming of the Messiah. He points to a rather strange place, the very small town of Bethlehem. Though Bethlehem was the birthplace of David and was the site of the tomb of Rachel, it was relatively unimportant in the day Jesus was born. Bethlehem was not the seat of kings. The people expected the king to be born in a palace – Bethlehem had no palace. The seat of the king was in Jerusalem.

But in Bethlehem would be born someone greater, a ruler in Israel whose origins were of old. It would be the birthplace of the Everlasting, the eternal One. Though they will suffer a time of separation, a time of exile, when He comes they will be returned to one another and He will stand as their shepherd. In Him they will abide.

We love our little town and though it will never be probably never be famous or a place of great importance, it is home. We would not expect anyone of consequence to be born here, and yet you never know which of our children might be a future star or even president. Something great can come out of a small box. That’s what happened to little Bethlehem – within her walls the Messiah was born as was promised through the prophets. Today Bethlehem is still not very big, but we remember the city every Christmas as the story of Jesus’ birth is retold. Among its landmarks is one of the oldest churches and one of Christianity’s most holy sites. Most of all, out of Bethlehem came a child who grew into the One who came to dwell with us so that we might dwell with God. Bigger is not necessarily better, for in the little town of Bethlehem the Savior was born. Thanks be to God.


December 15, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 24, 2006: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Luke 1:46b-55 My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 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.

During Advent we take a moment to remember the woman who was chosen to carry the baby Jesus in her womb and then in her arms, but we should be careful to not raise Mary to too high a pedestal. There are those who make Mary almost god-like and perfect. She is equated, in some circles, with the goddess of pagan faith.

However, Mary need not be perfect to be blessed of God. Her life certainly was not pain free. She was just a child when she became pregnant – mistreated as a whore. She gave birth in a cold stable, and then went on the run with her husband and young child to save his life. She was widowed early since Joseph was much older, so her position in society was quite low. She deeply loved her son, but at times he seemed to disregard and disrespect her. Think about the stories – the day he went to the temple and they could not find him, the wedding at Cana where He told her that it wasn’t time, the time she and Jesus’ brothers went to talk to Him and He told her that those listening were His mother and brothers. And then, after all this, Mary watched her son die a horrible death – execution on the cross.

Mary’s story is not one of a goddess or a woman of sinless perfection. She was a woman, chosen of God to bring the good news of salvation into the world. She had the rare, single honor of being the one to bear His body, but this is not why she is called blessed. She is called blessed because through all these trials, Mary remained humble and faithful to the God she loved.

Mary has been raised to a pedestal that is not hers. She has been made by some to be equal to Jesus in virtue. However, claiming her sinless perfection is necessary for Jesus to be perfect, rejects the reality that Jesus is also fully human. Mary gives Him that part of His character. She gave Him the flesh and blood, the will that can be tempted and the heart that can cry out in agony on the cross. God, the divine aspect of His character, gave Him the ability to stay perfect and sinless. In this passage, Mary herself tells of her failings, crying out in thanksgiving to her Savior. If she were perfect, why would she need to be saved?

Mary deserves our respect, not because she is greater than you and I, but because she is just like you and I. She was specially chosen to bring the Gospel to the world in a very unique way, but her story as a sinner and saint is just like ours. There were times her actions as the mother of Jesus put her as an obstacle to His ministry. She was a sinner in need of a Savior.

When you read the scriptures, it is obvious that her son came for the poor, the sick and the humble – those who need a Savior to change their lives. He did not reject the rich and healthy, but it was only those who had a real need that 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.


December 18, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 24, 2006: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Hebrews 10:5-10 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a body didst thou prepare for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hadst no pleasure: then said I, Lo, I am come (In the roll of the book it is written of me) To do thy will, O God. Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law), then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

We hang up decorations, we bake, we buy presents. We do so many things to make our world a little nicer, even if it is for just a short period of time. I have heard several people talking about how busy it has been this year and how far behind they are with all their work. One lady said that she wasn’t sure she was going to bother with some of it because it is so late. “Why bother now, we won’t even have time to enjoy it.” Others are skipping on some of the preparations because they are planning to go out of town. “Why bother, we won’t be here to enjoy it.”

A friend of mine said that she is almost done, but her problem is much different than some of the others. She told me that she isn’t having company for Christmas. She said, “I don’t know why I am even bothering this year. No one is coming to visit, there will be no one to enjoy it.” I told her that I really understand what she is feeling – why bother going to all the trouble if no one will enjoy it? She added that it really does not matter to her family. Her boys don’t mind the decorations, and perhaps even like them when they are up, but it would matter to them too much if it never happened. For some people, this has been a time for changing the old ways and doing things a new way.

The new way is perhaps simpler, less hectic, more focused. For some the old way was void of meaning, void of truth, void of heart. It had become a very shallow way of celebrating something wonderful filled with materialism, greed, exhaustion and overindulgence. That’s what Charlie Brown sees in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Instead of living and celebrating in the joy of the season and in the glow of God’s grace, Charlie Brown sees the materialism all around him and he is depressed by it all. So, he tries to direct the Christmas pageant but seems to fail at every turn. His friends didn’t help matters by acting greedy, demanding and rude. The television show was created in 1965 – not much has changed over the past forty years.

When we realize that the way we are celebrating Christmas has nothing to do with what the season is all about, we turn around and try something new. We set aside the old ways because they no longer work. That’s why Jesus came in the first place. In today’s lesson, the writer of Hebrews shows us that Jesus came because the old way no longer worked. It was impossible for us to become righteous by obeying the Law, so Jesus did what was necessary to make all things new. The old offerings did nothing to bring forgiveness, but Christ was born and willingly faced the cross, doing God’s will for our sake. The Christmas story is sweet and wonderful until we realize that Jesus was born to die. It is easier to keep the manger and the cross separate. Yet, it was for the cross that Jesus was born and for our sake He came to die. In His act of obedience, Jesus abolished that which came before and made everything better. We might wonder why anyone would bother to do such a gracious thing, but for Jesus it was a total submission to God’s will and purpose for His life.

We are called to do the same, to live as Christ lived. We are called to willingly obey the will and purpose that God has ordained for our life. We aren’t meant to suffer the pain of the cross in the way that Christ suffered, yet we are meant to follow in His footsteps, living in the shadow of the cross and in the light of His glory. Though they may seem very different, they are the very same thing, for it is in the cross that Christ is glorified and it is there we find our peace. And as Linus said, “That’s what it is all about, Charlie Brown.”


December 19, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 24, 2006: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Luke 1:39-55 And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 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.

This week we have the choice of using Luke 1:46-55 for the psalm, since it is a song of praise, or for part of the Gospel lesson. We’ve already looked at that passage by itself, but it is worthwhile looking at it in the context of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was heavy with child, in her sixth month, by the time Mary met with the angel Gabriel. It must have been particularly difficult for her, as she was an elderly woman. When Mary heard the words of the angel, she went immediately to see Elizabeth. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had no reason to believe that she might be pregnant, except for the words of the angel. She doesn’t seem to doubt the words, she simply asks “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The angel answers that it would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if this was something Mary could feel as it happened. Was there some physical or visual sign that the Holy Spirit had come? Did she experience a tingling or have a sense of the presence? We don’t really know. We only know that Mary did not question the words of the angel, but accepted what had been told to her with a willing obedience to the call of God.

Yet, there must have been some sense of uncertainty in Mary because she quickly departed her home and traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth. We don’t know her motives. She was probably scared and needed time to digest the experience and build the strength she would need to face the persecution that would come when her family and friends discovered her indiscretion. I think she also went because the Elizabeth’s pregnancy was the sign that the angel gave her to confirm everything. Mary needed to know that Elizabeth was pregnant. It was too ridiculous to believe without seeing. If Elizabeth was indeed having a baby, then everything the angel said was true. It was real. Then Mary could deal with it all knowing that God is indeed with her. It was then that she could sing her song and praise God for this gift. Without this encounter, Mary may not have ever had the certainty or the strength to stand up against the struggles she would face with her family and friends.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, probably to help her elderly cousin in those final months of her pregnancy. Mary could do so much for Elizabeth, to allow Elizabeth to stay off her feet and yet still provide for the care of Zechariah. It gave Mary time to pray and to grow accustomed to her situation. It also gave the baby time to grow in her womb until her pregnancy was just becoming visible to the world. It was then that she went back to face her family, her friends and her betrothed.


December 20, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 24, 2006: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Psalm 80:1-7 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; Thou that sittest above the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up thy might, And come to save us. Turn us again, O God; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. O Jehovah God of hosts, How long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears, And given them tears to drink in large measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbors; And our enemies laugh among themselves. Turn us again, O God of hosts; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.

It is the season of parties, so we’ve all seen at least one invitation to some gathering whether it is an office party or a friend’s open house. Invitations use an abbreviated form of communication, giving only the most important information, answering only the necessary questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? We try to make our invitations as attractive as possible, so that our guests will want to come. We promise fun, good food and fellowship, adding a bit of glitz and glamour to the invitation to guarantee that we’ll have at least a few people come to be with us.

Our scriptures for this week are like an invitation. In Micah we learn where the party will take place – in Bethlehem. Bethlehem seems like an odd choice for the party, after all it was a nowhere town. Jerusalem was not so far away, wouldn’t that have been the better choice? Though Bethlehem was a humble place, it was the City of David, the city of bread. It was in Bethlehem that God’s promises would be fulfilled – the Bread of Life, the Son of David. Micah also tells us the party will begin when the woman in labor gives birth.

The scriptures give us several answers to the question, “Who?” Mary cordially invites us to the birth of her son, whom Elizabeth tells us is Lord. God, Savior, the Mighty One is the Host, according to Mary. The psalmist recognizes the Shepherd of Israel and the Lord God of hosts. Notice how the characters, even God, are described in lowly terms. Mary is humble; Elizabeth feels unworthy to be in the presence of the mother of her Lord. God is described as the Good Shepherd, a rather unusual identity considering the shepherds were the lowest of the low in the culture of the day.

With this invitation we learn that God does not do things the way we might do them. We add glitz and glitter to everything, going bigger which must be better. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle, rich food and expensive presents. God turns everything upside down, choosing the lowly and humble above the grand and privileged.

Today’s psalm is a cry for God’s help. The psalmist recognizes that the current circumstances of God’s people was brought on by their disobedience to God’s word and will. Yet the psalmist has confidence that God will fulfill His promises to His people. He will answer them and turn His face back to them. He will raise them up and He will shine His face upon them. In their darkest hour, He will come to save them.

This week we are invited to that moment. It is not a moment of glory as we might expect, but instead it is a moment of pain in a stable in Bethlehem as a child is born. The invitation is not for the rich and the powerful, but for the poor and lowly. The invitation is to come before a manger, but to ultimately to come before the cross of Christ. When we cry out for salvation, it won’t be found in something glitzy, but in the shine of God’s face in our life. It won’t be found in a palace, but in the manger. It won’t be in the glow of candlelight or Christmas lights, but in the shadow of the cross.


December 21, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 31, 2006: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 But Samuel ministered before Jehovah, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made him a little robe, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, Jehovah give thee seed of this woman for the petition which was asked of Jehovah. And they went unto their own home… And the child Samuel grew on, and increased in favor both with Jehovah, and also with men.

Last Monday was the last day for people to send packages through the mail. I, unfortunately, waited until last Monday to send my packages. The lines were very long and the attendants very slow. There were so many people, all of whom had piles of packages to send. I wondered as I stood in line whether it was all worthwhile. Did those distant people really need those insignificant gifts? Would they really make a difference in their life?

For many of us, long distance relationships are a way of life. My children never really had the opportunity to get to know their grandparents because we have always lived so far away. Yet, they have a relationship based on letters, phone calls and brief visits. Those times together have definitely impacted their lives as the grandparents told stories, imparted wisdom and shared dreams. There are lessons to be learned and faith to be passed on. Though it might seem like there could be no impact, there is so much that can happen even with brief moments together, letters and gifts sent through the mail.

You have to wonder what it must have been like for Hannah. Apparently barren, she finally conceived a child. As she prayed for a child she made a deal with God. She said that she would give him back to God. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah delivered her gift to the temple, where he grew and learned and served. Yet, Hannah did not forget her son. Every year she returned to make sacrifices and to give Samuel a gift. She must have worked very hard to give him a new robe each year. Did that gift ever have an impact? Did she do anything to make her son the man that he became?

Of course she did. Even their brief times together were part of his growing and learning. I can imagine that she fawned over him in his new robe each year, reminding him of the meaning of that particular garment. I can see her with Samuel nearby, singing her favorite hymns or reciting her favorite scripture. She loved Samuel deeply and did not let him go even after she had five more children by the hand of God.

Samuel was a gift to Hannah, and Hannah gave him back to God. Hannah also gave him to Eli, whose sons were very disappointing. They did not live according to the ways of the Lord, nor did they serve the Lord. They served themselves. Eli was not the best of fathers, did nothing to train his children in the right ways. However, Samuel was a form of redemption, a second chance. With Samuel, Eli could teach a child in the ways of the Lord.

In this passage we see the impact people can have on one life, even if the time together is limited. “And the child Samuel grew on, and increased in favor both with Jehovah, and also with men.” This was an important time in Samuel’s life. It was when the foundations of his future were built. He was taught about God, about life, about love. He was trained in the ways he should walk. As he grew older, he would recall the lessons of his youth. Even if he never remembered the source of the lesson, it became part of his life.

The impact might be insignificant, but everything we do that touches another person will make a difference. This is particularly true of children. God gives us the opportunity to teach the young about our faith, to give them the start in life that will take them on the road to which they have been called. Samuel’s life might seem to have been in the hands of Hannah and Eli, but it was always God in the background paving the way. The joy of it is that God calls us to be a part of His work, to build up the next generation of leaders.


December 22, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 31, 2006: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Psalm 148 Praise ye Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah from the heavens: Praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his host. Praise ye him, sun and moon: Praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For he commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away. Praise Jehovah from the earth, Ye sea-monsters, and all deeps. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; Stormy wind, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills; Fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children: Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For his name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and the heavens. And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, The praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah.

The scriptures we are reading right now are for December 31, the first Sunday after Christmas. We are already looking at life after Christmas, even though we are still waiting for the coming of the big day. I don’t know about you, but in our house we are getting to the point of being downright tired. We are planning an open house for tomorrow evening and though it is a great deal of fun to have friends over to celebrate, it is also a great deal of work.

I went out to do some of our shopping today. Though I’ve tried to do some of the work ahead of time, there are simply some things that need to be purchased at the last minute. It was crazy out there. Parking lots are full, so drivers are making risky moves to get the one free spot. People aren’t paying much attention to the other people, so focused on getting the last can of cranberry sauce off the shelf before someone reaches for it. Lines are long and though many people are friendly, many were also rushed and impatient. We all know we are in the same boat, trying to remain calm and enduring, but it is hard sometimes. As a matter of fact, I caught myself saying, “Is it over yet?”

I didn’t mean it. I really enjoy Christmas, and even enjoy the preparations. We are having an open house because I love sharing our blessings with our friends and neighbors. I love to do it. But it is so easy to fall into the same attitude of those around us, to focus on the end rather enjoying the journey. After I said it I realized things were not really so bad.

The stores were crowded and they were out of some of the things I needed, but I had the time and the resources to look elsewhere. Most of all, I have more than enough to be able to share what I have with others. I have so much for which I can be grateful. Instead of praising God, I grumbled about my tired feet and my busy schedule. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the holiday prep I ran into a dear friend at the store. Our conversation was wonderful as we have had little time to get together despite our trying in the past few days. She told me that she prayed she’d run into me today, and there I was in the same store. It was a most wonderful God-incidence. Though I rejoiced about seeing her, I didn’t praise God for the encounter.

Christmas is still coming and there are still surprises waiting for us this season. However, we already know about the greatest gift, which is Jesus. We know the story of the Christ child, from manger to cross. We know why God brought Jesus to the world and we know of our need for a Savior. We know all this and yet we long for that moment when Christmas comes, looking forward to the baby and the joy of that moment. It is a fun journey, hard sometimes but exciting. Yet we spend all too little time praising God for all that we know to be true. We also miss out on the simple blessings, wondering when it is going to be over instead of praising God for the blessed moments.


December 26, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 31, 2006: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Colossians 3:12-17 Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Today is St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, his story is found in Acts chapters six and seven. In the early days of the church, the apostles tried to take care of all the work that needed to be done in the growing fellowship of believers. They studied and taught the scriptures and the stories of Jesus, and they took care of those in need. They realized that it was impossible for them to do everything, that they needed help if they were going to be able to focus on preaching the Word to the world. They chose seven deacons to do the tasks of administration, the business of the church. Stephen was one of those seven.

Stephen wasn’t just a servant, however. He was a man of God who also did works of great wonder and spoke with the grace of God. He was seized by the authorities because they opposed the spread of “the Way” as Christianity was called in the beginning. They claimed that Stephen spoke blasphemy and persuaded some men to testify against him. Based on lies, Stephen was found guilty and was sentenced to death by stoning. “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Luke 6:15, NIV)

Stephen gave the most eloquent speech, laying out before them the story of God’s love. He reminded them of the works of God’s power in the life of Israel and the promises of God that still lay before them. Then he placed the one whom they crucified in the midst of the story, showing them that everything was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He showed them how they missed the Messiah, and how they betrayed the God they claimed to love. They stoned him for his words, but even while Stephen received such brutality he knew the peace of God. He prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit and fell on his knees to ask for forgiveness – not for himself, but for the ones who were killing him.

As we read today’s scripture it sounds like a message filled with ‘do this’ and ‘do that’ and yet this is not a message of law, but of Gospel. You are God’s holy and beloved, you who have heard God’s word and believe. Being of God means a life of peace and joy – though this does not mean it will be a life without conflict. As a matter of fact, for many Christians the peace of God comes with the risk of violence and even martyrdom. Stephen could have appeared before the Sanhedrin and given them what they wanted – fearful trembling before their power and their authority. He might have been freed, but he would never have been free. Instead of cowering before them and giving in to their demands, Stephen spoke the Word of God into their lives. The Word of God brought death to his body, but he had no worries because he had God’s peace in his spirit.

The life to which we are called is never going to be easy. We may be taken out of our comfort zone and put into a position of risk and difficulty. We may have to do something that shocks and upsets the world around us. We may have to say the very things that will bring scorn from our neighbors. Though we do not see any stonings in our corner of the world, Christians are still dying for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. We cry out for peace, and we strive to work for peace, but the peace that God promises is not something we can achieve by doing this or that. It comes from God.

As we live in that peace, we are called to be the holy and chosen people whom God has made us by His grace. This means growing in the grace of God and becoming the visible manifestation of His love in the world. We are told to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are told to bear with one another, to forgive as we have been forgiven and to put on love above all else. As the peace of Christ rules in our hearts and we live in thankfulness, the world will see the word of Christ dwelling in our lives – like Stephen. For some, this life of peace will be offensive and they will seek to see it end. We might be tempted to hide that peace or to work toward a false sense of people. But as Christ dwells amongst us, we will grow in grace and will naturally live the life to which we have been called, the life of thanksgiving and praise. As Paul writes, “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


December 27, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, December 31, 2006: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2:41-52 And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast; and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not; but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day's journey; and they sought for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance: and when they found him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for him. And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? knew ye not that I must be in my Father's house? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and he was subject unto them: and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

I can’t imagine being Jesus’ mother. Some days it is hard enough being the mother to my two children. They have grown up so fast and have become so mature. It is hard to keep up with their activities, let alone their intellect. It seems like every generation goes just a little bit farther than the previous generations. Take math, for example. I remember that the math I was learning in high school was much more difficult than the math my mother had learned. Now my children are learning even harder math. Even Zack’s eighth grade lessons are beyond what I remember learning. They can’t come to me for help, I don’t have any to offer.

What must it have been like to be the mother of the Son of God? Did she have anything to offer Him? Yet, as we hear in today’s scriptures, she did give Him something very special. She gave Him her faith and the activities that revolved around her faith. She, and Joseph, gave him the traditions of their religion by taking him to the temple regularly according to the Law of Moses and the Word of God. We might want to think that since Jesus is the Son of God He would not have needed human parents to instill the habits of the Jews into His life, and yet we are reminded that God chose to bring Jesus to the world as an infant – into a family who would give Him a solid foundation in life. He did have something special, but God chose Mary and Joseph to train Him in the ways of the world.

Some parents decide early in their child’s life that it is better not to take their children to church. “I don’t want to force my religion upon them.” “They should make their own choice.” “If I drag them now, they will rebel or it will become mindless and meaningless behavior.” While it is true that some Christians become like zombies when it comes to religion, how do these children learn this behavior? Are the parents who are dragging the kids to church doing it for all the wrong reasons? Do they really want to share their faith or are they doing it out of some duty? Perhaps that is why too many Christians today are lifeless and rebellious when it comes to religion.

But what we see in the scriptures is not a story about parents dragging a boy to church. We see Mary and Joseph who have been raising their son to believe as they believe, to live as they live. We see parents who had instilled such a love of God in their child that He had a need to be in His presence to learn and grow and mature in His faith. He was not in the temple because someone had to drag him there. He was living as He had been taught to live, in the presence of God with a heart to know Him more deeply.

Though I am no longer able to help my children with their math, I can give them something. I can encourage them and share with them my own desire to learn and grow. By admitting that I do not know everything, I give them the freedom and the courage to ask for help from someone who can. By living every day actively pursuing knowledge, I share with them the same love – and habits – which will continue as they grow older and move on to a new phase of their life. Mary and Joseph did have something to give Jesus. They gave Him their faith, shared with Him their life and their love and trained Him in the ways of the world in which He lived. As He continued to grow and mature, He had that foundation given to Him by His parents. It was not mindless and meaningless behavior, but a heart for God and a life of dwelling in His presence that they shared.


December 28, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, January, 2007: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Isaiah 43:1-7 But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in thy stead. Since thou hast been precious in my sight, and honorable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men in thy stead, and peoples instead of thy life. Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth; every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, yea, whom I have made.

Vicki is half way through her junior year of High School, so she has been busy thinking about the future. She has already been researching colleges, looking at the programs they have to offer trying to find the best fit for her goals. Besides programs, there are a number of things she is considering such as finances and locations. Unfortunately for me, some of her best choices are far from home.

That is the way it is in our day and age, however. Very few families live close to one another anymore. It is not such a strange idea for Vicki since we have always lived far from what Bruce and I consider home. The life of a military family means new places sometimes a world away from anything or anyone we know. For many families, distant homes are necessitated by jobs, health or other relationships. A couple meeting at college could be from opposite ends of the country – they have to choose the right place to live.

Several days ago the news was filled with stories of how difficult it was to travel. The planes were filled with people trying to get to family and friends for the holidays. The roads and other forms of transportation were also busy with visitors. There are many, however, who can’t make it home for the holidays. For those people, this can be a very difficult time of year. Despite the fact that they may have chosen to live so far away, it is easy to feel abandoned and alone when family is gathering without you. Yet, many families have lived so far away from family for so long that they have developed their own traditions.

We are once again seeing an oracle of promise from Isaiah in today’s Old Testament passage. It is a promise for the exiles who have been away from home for so long. It is a promise that they will return soon to Jerusalem. Yet life in exile was not nearly as bad as we would suppose. As a matter of fact, the Jews who were taken to Babylon were often the educated and gifted. They were well respected among the strangers, given decent jobs and wages. Many had accumulated wealth and property. They were in exile for so long that many of the Jews who had been taken captive were dead and it was their children receiving the promise. Would they really want to leave the good life they had created to return to a desolate and barren place?

In this promise is a reminder to those wondering if they should go – the Lord God Almighty, the Creator and Redeemer loves His people. They are His chosen people, called by His name and created for His glory. He dwells amongst them and they are His. It might seem foolish to leave the good live to go back to the unknown, but that unknown is the life to which they have been called and for which they have been created.

We are also called to a life that glorifies God. The journey might not be easy. We may have to walk through the waters of a flood or face the fire, but God is with us. He has called us by name. When I worry about Vicki because she is far away, when she is lonely because she was not able to travel home, we can rest assured that God is with us through it all.


December 29, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, January, 2007: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Psalm 29 Ascribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name; Worship Jehovah in holy array. The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters: The God of glory thundereth, Even Jehovah upon many waters. The voice of Jehovah is powerful; The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty. The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars; Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox. The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire. The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness; Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve, And strippeth the forests bare: And in his temple everything saith, Glory. Jehovah sat as King at the Flood; Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King for ever. Jehovah will give strength unto his people; Jehovah will bless his people with peace.

We went shopping yesterday for a desk. The desk that was in Vicki’s room was much too big and impractical for her. Her room has been an absolute disaster recently because she has been unable to organize her things in a way that makes it all useful. She usually just leaves the things that she uses regularly on the floor because that is where it handy. She thought a new, smaller desk might help.

I didn’t think a desk was going to do her any good. She never uses the desk to work anyway, especially since the flat surface of the top usually gets covered with things. While it is important for her to purge some of the junk from her life, she also needed to discover a way she could organize everything she has left. I told her to think outside the box. Instead of looking for a desk, perhaps she should be looking for something unusual for a bedroom that might serve as a storage cabinet. I remember when we were decorating our bedroom, Bruce and I chose a kitchen block to use for our linens and a television stand. It has worked very well. When she got her mind off the idea of a desk, she found the perfect piece.

We get our minds set on one idea and we refuse to look beyond that for other possibilities. I know that I do that with housework. There is a specifically way I like to stack the dishwasher and if someone comes in and does it differently I tend to move things around to fit my way. I know I should just be thankful for the help – and I am. But I do it because I am sure that the way I have been stacking the dishwasher is the best way to ensure clean dishes.

I think we can become the same way about God. Oswald Chambers once said, “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specifically designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.” God is far more than we can imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and to serve Him to His glory. Yet, with our words we still try to make Him fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The psalmist in today’s passage knows that God is far bigger than human reason and understanding can imagine. He praises God by singing of the awesome power of His Word. We should do the same, never using God’s Word to put down others, but rather as a way to lift them out of their tiny box into a greater understanding of His love.


December 30, 2006


December 31, 2006