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


























Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2008

December 1, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 7, 2008: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 Jehovah, thou hast been favorable unto thy land; Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; Thou hast covered all their sin. Selah… I will hear what God Jehovah will speak; For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: But let them not turn again to folly. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him, That glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springeth out of the earth; And righteousness hath looked down from heaven. Yea, Jehovah will give that which is good; And our land shall yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him, And shall make his footsteps a way to walk in.

I painted a picture for Bruce about a year ago. I actually began the painting a few years ago, but lost interest and inspiration for a couple of years. Then, when Bruce had a new job with a private office, I decided that it would be terrific to finish the painting and give it to him. I changed my tactic; though I had begun with acrylics, I decided to finish the painting with oil paint because I could more easily create affect I wanted with oils. It is painted on a large canvas, about 5’ by 2’. I wanted the painting to be heavily textured.

Every new project I take on becomes a learning experience, and this one was no different. I didn’t realize a few things when I began. First of all, I’ve come to realize that there is a special product designed for texturing paintings. The advantage of this product is that the painter does not have to use so much expensive paint. Also, it dries much more quickly than the paint. The painting has a lot of red in it, and I never realized that red oil paint takes such a long time to dry.

The advantage of oil paint is that it takes longer to dry, giving the painter more time for mixing colors and blending edges. I wanted the colors in the painting to be distinct and yet to flow into one another, so the oil paint gave me time to work on it. Unfortunately, you have to be careful not to overwork the paint when using oils. If you try to get back to the canvas too quickly, you can lose those highlights of individual colors you work so hard to establish by blending the paints too much. Even one brush stroke can ruin the character of the piece. I hated to leave the piece sit so long, but I caused too much trouble if I sat to paint too quickly.

Then, when I was finally satisfied with the piece, I had to let it set to dry. Day after day I checked the paint only to discover that the red was still so wet that I left a fingerprint or two, requiring more touch up. I wanted to give the painting to Bruce the minute it was complete, but even then it was not finished. The paint needed more time to dry. I did some research while I was waiting, and that is how I learned that red oils take much longer than other paints. As a matter of fact, it can take dozens or even a hundred years to dry, especially when it is piled so thick on the canvas. After a week or so, we could get the painting into the frame and Bruce was able to take it to his office without worrying about getting paint everywhere. Yet, even now the paint is not completely dry.

In today’s Psalm, we hear a message of God’s grace. The early church community understood this psalm to be the prayers of a people who have been saved but are waiting for salvation to be complete. We still live in this time of waiting today. That’s what Advent is all about. We know Christ has come. We know that Jesus was born in the manger at Christmas and that He died on the Cross and rose again at Easter. It is finished. But we still wait for everything to be complete. The paint is still drying on the canvas. We are wandering in this world, waiting for the second coming of Christ when God’s promises will finally be fulfilled.


December 2, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 7, 2008: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

2 Peter 3:8-15a But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.

Last week we spent a few days rearranging our living room, cleaning the carpets and painting a piece of furniture that Bruce built a couple of years ago. The entertainment center has been in our room unpainted for much too long, but we just never got around to doing anything about it. We have a lot stored on this piece of furniture: videos, CDs, electronics, vinyl albums and nicknacks. We did not want to have to find a place to store everything while we painted the piece, besides all the work of taking it off and putting it back on. However, we decided that this was an excellent time to do the work since we were preparing for the holidays.

I never understand how those do-it-yourself shows manage to get things done so quickly. After all, they redecorate an entire room in less than a day or two. It takes that long for most paint to dry. Even after it is dry, it takes a few days for the paint to really cure, so that it is no longer tacky. They must rush the completion of these things and never worry about the consequences. They must be concerned only about the surface look and not about the long term use of the pieces they make.

We rushed the completion of our project. We wanted the room to be ready for Thanksgiving Day and the guests we were expecting. So, we put the pieces in the room as soon as we thought they were ready. Since the entertainment center is made up of multiple boxes, we pieced it together as it should go. A few hours later we decided to make a change to the arrangement. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that the pieces were sticking together slightly. We were able to separate them, but not without a little damage to the paint. We learned that despite the fast work on those do-it-yourself television shows, it is important not to rush the job. But it seems to take forever for paint to dry.

Peter, or the writer of this letter, lived in that day when the people were hopeful for Christ’s return. They were expecting Him back at any moment. They were even beginning to doubt the words of Jesus because it seemed to be taking so long. They wondered where He might be and why He was late. There were, I’m sure, even some who were trying to find a way to hasten His coming. It has certainly been done throughout the past two thousand years. Prophets have tried to foretell the time and day when the Lord would come, and cults have built up around ideas and practices meant to spur God on to fulfilling His promises. Every generation since Peter’s day has waited for and tried to hasten the coming of the Lord.

I’m sure most of us are tired of hearing about the end times. After all, we’ve had so many texts dealing with eschatological issues over the past month or so and it is not a subject we like to dwell upon. We live for today, we look forward to that day but we do not want to make it the entire focus of our faith. Yet, this message is not really about what is to come, but about what we are to do while we wait. Some are so anxious for the coming of the Lord that they will do whatever is necessary to make it happen in this time and place. After all, it has already been two thousand years. Isn’t it time?

But we learn from Peter that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day for God. What has taken forever for us has only been a moment for God. The time has not yet come because everything is not yet ready. The paint isn’t dry. God is patient because not everyone for whom the promise has been given has yet heard it. There is great hope in this message: God does not want any to perish. He is patient and longsuffering. Christ will not come until all is ready.

In this passage, written for the believers, Peter says that God is, “longsuffering to you-ward.” There is work for us to do, and God is giving us the time. Those who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ are out there in the world, walking in darkness. We are the light, sent to give hope and peace to all whom God has chosen. God is patient, not for those who haven’t heard, but for us. He is waiting until we do what we have been called to do. God’s patience is our salvation. He is waiting until we have accomplished all He has commanded us to do. It might happen in this generation, but it might not happen for another thousand years. After all, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day to God. He will fulfill His promises in His time according to His word.


December 3, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 7, 2008: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight; John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem; And they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water; But he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.

I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by an author several weeks ago. He was addressing an audience of college students, many of whom were required to read his book for a class. He did not talk much about the book itself, but encouraged the students to pursue education by telling them his own story. Then he opened the room for questions and discussion. The students asked great questions about the book, about his life and about the journey he had traveled along the Rio Grande River.

The author’s name is Keith Bowden and he wrote a book called “The Tecate Journals.” The book was about a ninety day trip during which he biked, rafted and canoed along the Rio Grande River from El Paso Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. For those of you who do not know, Tecate is a name of Mexican beer. By the name of the book, you might suppose that it was all about drinking beer. While some of the book was focused on Mr. Bowden’s search for the brew, there was so much more to the story. We learned, because of a question from a student, that the name of the book was not what he originally intended. As a matter of fact, he said that the publisher cut a great deal out of his book, which made it appear to be more about the beer than anything. They changed the title to reflect this change in the text. Or, they changed the text to reflect the change in the title.

The title of a book matters. The title grabs our attention. It draws us in out of curiosity. What does this mean? Where is this going? What is the author going to say to me in this book? They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but we do that all the time. When you are searching the racks for a book, whether at the library or the bookstore, don’t you go for those that sound interesting? Aren’t you drawn to the ones that peak your interest?

The first verse of today’s passage does not sound like a sentence. It appears to be a title, “The Beginning of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This name means something. Not only is Mark introducing the subject of the story and the main character, he is telling us that this is just the beginning. This is the first book in a much longer story. Mark himself did not write anything beyond the Gospel, but he was telling us from the beginning that there was more. Last week we heard Jesus speak at the end of His ministry, and this week we get to see the beginning. Last week we saw Jesus telling those of faith to stay awake, to keep watch, to be ready. This week we learn the beginning of the story.

Mark does not begin with a nativity narrative. He doesn’t tell us what happened at the stable or with Jesus as a child. He does not tell us about wise men or shepherds or angels. Mark begins with John the Baptist. Isaiah wrote that there would be a prophet preparing the way of the Lord, pointing the people toward the One for whom they were waiting. That prophet was John. He came from the wilderness to preach repentance and to call the people to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. That story continues into today. We still call people to baptism, but we have been given a greater gift than John, because Jesus Christ baptizes with more than just water. What John started, Jesus completed and made even more real because now the Holy Spirit brings a lasting, eternal forgiveness. John was cleansing the people to make them ready for the Lord. The Lord now makes the people His forever and ever.


December 4, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 14, 2008: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the year of Jehovah's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that he may be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations… For I, Jehovah, love justice, I hate robbery with iniquity; and I will give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth its bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

It was Christmas time on an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Raymond and Robert were planning a weekend trip to play golf, but Raymond had to convince Debra to let him go. He decided the best way to do so was to make her very happy and then ask her when she was in a good mood. If she was happy, she would surely want him to be happy. Christmas Day was the perfect opportunity. Robert happened to walk in a room when Debra was wrapping his present. She lied and said that it was for Raymond. Robert excitedly told Ray about the gift, and so Ray chose a present for Debra that would be better than an ugly tie. It was a nice gift, two actually. Debra was thrilled. Then she gave Robert his present—the tie. The men were shocked. Debra admitted her lie and then brought Ray his gift: a DVD player and a bunch of movies. Ray was disappointed because he thought he had to buy something worth more money than what she bought him. Sadly, he missed how happy she was that he bought something she really wanted. She was happy, but he was sad because he was happy about his gift, too.

Isn’t it silly how caught up we get in the Christmas present race? We buy too many gifts out of duty or because we are using it to get something for ourselves. We think we have to spend so much money and buy for everyone. We are so concerned with giving something, anything, that we don’t even both buying a present. We buy gift cards. And while we might be purposeful in choosing the store, what point is there in giving a gift card to someone who will probably just give us a gift card back. That’s not much different than just handing each other twenty-dollar bills.

But it is hard. We all have so much. Christmas is no longer about getting that one special toy for a child because the child has probably convinced Mom and Dad to buy it for them on a regular trip to the grocery store. Does anyone really need another dust-catcher? Clothing is hard because we don’t all have the same taste and what size should we buy? A gift card is a simple solution to an age-old problem.

I was ready to go that way with a birthday gift for someone this year. She is older and lives far away. She probably needs many things because she’s on a fixed income, but I don’t know how to best fill those needs. A gift card seemed like the right gift. However, she does not travel much and most of the stores are too far away. The gift card would actually cause her needless inconvenience. So, I’m thinking a little harder about the gift. I don’t want to get caught up in the duty of the gift and find something that will make her happy.

We are right to consider how Christmas has become too commercial and the misplaced focus on the day. I’ve heard many people talk about how they are going to cut back this year so that they can center on the real reason for the season: Jesus. But gift-giving is very much a part of Christmas. The first—and most important—gift is Jesus Christ, born for our sake and salvation. The nativity story has examples of gift giving. Gift giving is a part of the ministry of Jesus and the early church. Consider the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume, Barnabas who gave the prophet from the sale of property to the Apostles and Dorcus who gave handmade robes and clothes to the poor. Our problem is not gift-giving, but our motivation for such.

We are reminded that the type of gifts that God gave were not material. In this passage from Isaiah we see the miraculous things God has done. Jesus came to accomplish these things for His people. Jesus came to preach good tidings to those humble enough to listen. The Gospel is the greatest gift because it is eternal life for those who believe. Jesus healed the sick, but dis-ease is more than just physical health. Jesus heals our bodies and our souls. Jesus freed those who were imprisoned, not just behind bars of iron but even more so those trapped by sin and death. Jesus brought grace. He comforted those who mourn. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and feet to the lame.

We may not be able to give physical healing to the people suffering in this world, but we can share Jesus. And we can consider our gifts more carefully. Instead of trying to get a gift that will serve our purpose, whether it is duty or because we want something in exchange, let us look more closely at those to whom we wish to give ourselves, that we might touch their hearts honestly and deeply, so that they will truly be happy.


December 5, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 14, 2008: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Psalm 126 When Jehovah brought back those that returned to Zion, We were like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing: Then said they among the nations, Jehovah hath done great things for them. Jehovah hath done great things for us, Whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Jehovah, As the streams in the South. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

A police officer in our town died a few days ago. He was cleaning up from an accident when another accident occurred and he was in the middle of it. Several people are still in the hospital, including another policeman who had been on his way to another emergency when he crashed into another car. It is a tragic story. Policemen from around the nation came to the funeral along with friends and dignitaries from our town. There were many tears as people grieved the loss of a good policeman. Though she was grieving, the man’s wife also wanted the funeral to be a celebration of his life. She had a band playing music while everyone gathered to share their stories. Through the tears there was laughter as they remembered the things that made him loved and loveable.

Some may have been bothered by the rock music and party-like atmosphere. They may have thought that it was disrespectful to have laughing at such a tragic event. But many appreciated the focus on life rather than death, on hope rather than despair.

God has a sense of humor. Jesus often joked when he preached about God’s Kingdom, though often the humor is lost in today’s understanding. Jesus and the disciples are often found around a table with a meal. These were social events with friends. I’m sure they often laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.

There are several places in the scriptures that suggest that in our sin we should not laugh, but rather mourn. In Ecclesiastes 7:3 we hear, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Laughter is seen in a negative light, so many go about taking life too seriously. However, throughout the scriptures, we hear about the joy of God’s deliverance. When the Israelites made it across the Red Sea, Miriam danced. When the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem, David danced. It is very difficult to dance in celebration and joy without laughing!

It is said that laughter is the best medicine. I think that may be true, but even more so, joyful laughter shows the world the condition of your heart. Joy comes from God, and when we know He loves us, we feel the joy of His salvation. The people of God had been through tough times. They were returning to their home after exile, a home that needed to be rebuilt after tragic destruction. But they rejoiced because they remembered the saving grace of God rather than the heartache of the past. They looked to the future, to the chance to make a difference in their world. They remembered that they were God’s chosen people, and they laughed. When we know the joy of the Lord, it is impossible not to laugh. When we do, the world sees that God has done a great thing for us.


December 8, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 14, 2008: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward. Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings; prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.

I can’t help but wonder what Paul was thinking when he wrote this guide of faithful and faith-filled living suggestions. “Rejoice always.” How is that possible? We have good times and we have bad times. Even Jesus wept when He was alive, it is foolish and unhealthy to ignore those feelings which are opposite of joy. Sorrow is a natural part of life and can offer healing and growth.

“Pray without ceasing.” Paul must not have had a day job. How can we spend every minute of every day in prayer? Most of us have trouble coming up with five minutes a day to set aside to talk with our Father in heaven. Oh, many of us will pray while we are doing other things: I like to pray while I’m driving and doing the dishes. But is it enough to chit chat with God while we are doing other things? Don’t we get distracted by the other drivers on the road or that stubborn greasy stain on our pot?

“In everything give thanks.” Everything? Should I give thanks when the cats spit up a hairball on my newly cleaned carpet? How about when my checking account is near zero and I still have bills to pay? Should I be thankful when the storms flood my house or a drunk hits my car? How can I be thankful when I am afraid of what tomorrow holds?

“Quench not the Spirit,” Paul says. But do we really know when it is the Spirit talking? My church, along with many other churches, are dealing with the questions we face living in today’s world. Where do we go from here? Are those who want change speaking for the Spirit? Or is the Spirit speaking through those who believe that we should hold to traditional values? Is God speaking through that dirty, smelly stranger on the street corner preaching a message of repentance? Or is He speaking through the protesters who are marching on City Hall? Which message does He want us to hear? Should we allow those other voices continue to cause confusion in an already chaotic world?

“Despise not prophesyings.” I have to admit that I find this one especially difficult because I have experienced prophets who prophesy messages that fall far from God’s good and perfect word, and they love this text. Anyone who questions the authority of their words is labeled as an unbeliever and destined for hell. Paul says to “prove all things” and yet this is often difficult. How do we prove faith? How do we prove the things of faith when there is so much in the world seemingly disproves everything we believe?

“Hold fast to that which is good.” This sounds easy, and yet how often have we lost touch with the things that are really good? Even now, as we wander through Advent, are we really paying attention? We are spending so much of our time busy with Christmas preparations—shopping, decorating, baking and wrapping—that we forget to spend time in prayer and thanksgiving. We are so worried about whether or not we have picked the perfect presents that we forget that God first gave us the perfect gift: Jesus.

“Abstain from every form of evil.” This makes sense, and we try. But how many of us can honestly say that we can abstain from every form of evil, even for a day? Remembering, as so eloquently worded in Luther’s Small catechism, that ever commandment is not only a message of what not to do, but what we should do to keep our neighbor from suffering. In other words, it is not enough to obey the ‘shall nots.’ We are expected to also do the things that will make life better for our neighbor. We shall not murder or endanger or harm our neighbors, but instead help and support our neighbors in all life’s needs. To keep food from the hungry is to do them harm.

This is a great deal to ask of us. Yet, there is comfort in this passage, the greatest comfort we can be given. Paul writes, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.” We can not uphold all these expectations. We can’t rejoice always. We can’t pray without ceasing. We can’t, or don’t, give thanks in all circumstances. It just is beyond the ability of our flesh. We will doubt what we hear, and we should question every word, until we are sure that it comes from God. Our grasp is tenuous, and no matter how hard we try will we let go of what is good and we will fall into that which is evil. But through it all, the God who calls us is faithful and He will be with us and will help us through. He will help us to rejoice, pray, give thanks, listen, accept, grasp and abstain. And He will forgive us when we fail and give us another chance to live faithfully according to His Word.


December 9, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 14, 2008: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6-8, 19-28 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… And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent unto him from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. And they had been sent from the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, neither Elijah, neither the prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize in water: in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even he that cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

I apparently have a twin that lives in our town. I’ve had several people recently ask me odd questions about my activities. One friend went out of her way to call and ask if I’d taken up riding a motorcycle. Another asked if I substitute at a school. People tell me that they have seen me at odd times and in odd places. Perhaps there’s not really a twin; I might just have one of those average appearances that is easily mistaken for someone else. I’m sure the others get the same sort of questions from their own friends who have ‘seen’ them at odd times in odd places.

The people wanted to know John the Baptist. They wanted to know who he was and where he came from. They were so taken by his ministry that they even wondered if he was the one for whom they had been waiting. He quickly put that rumor to rest, saying that he was not the Christ. “Well,” the people asked, “if you aren’t the Messiah, are you Elijah? Elijah was expected to return to announce the coming of the Christ. As a matter of fact, the Jewish people are still looking for Elijah’s return. They set a place for him at their Seder tables and hope that he will come soon. It was natural for them to think that perhaps John the Baptist was Elijah. John said, “No.”

If John wasn’t the Christ and he wasn’t Elijah, then perhaps he was the Prophet. In this case they were referring to the prophet described in Deuteronomy 18:15, “Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” John emphatically denied being this Prophet, too.

It is interesting that Jesus refers to John the Baptist as Elijah in Matthew’s gospel. He also fulfilled the description of the Prophet in Deuteronomy. John wasn’t being unduly humble by denying that he is either Elijah or the Prophet. Instead, John denies identification with those promises because he knows that the work of God’s kingdom that he has been sent to do has nothing to do with him. If he accepted the role of Elijah, or the Prophet, the people would put too much authority and power into his hands, authority and power that was not his to have. He denied those roles because it was never about him. It was always about Jesus.

When we read the words of Paul to the Thessalonians yesterday, it seemed like an impossible expectation to which we’ve been called. Yet, we are reminded of John the Baptist who was given the most extraordinary task of paving the way for Christ the Lord. Were the people ready? Too many came looking for baptism without truly understanding what Jesus was coming to do. They were ready to lift up John to be something he wasn’t. When Jesus came, they did the same to Him, expecting an earthly king rather than an eternal Savior. We are like John, sent to share the light of Christ. We are reminded in this text that we are not the light. We are simply sent to bear witness to the light.


December 10, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 14, 2008: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Luke 1:47-55 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.

All of God's creation was given for a purpose and as we look at the world in which we live we can see God being glorified by everything that was made. Yet, through it all God chose to redeem the world by taking on the very shape of the creature that has done the most damage—the one who was created in His image but turned away—man. God came in flesh to save the world. God chose a young woman living in Nazareth to be the vessel of this great gift. Her purpose was the bear the Christ child.

We attended a vespers service at Texas Lutheran University the other day. It was a lovely combination of choir, band and narration. The story took an unusual perspective: it was told in Hannah’s voice. Hannah, or Anne, was Mary’s mother. Written and performed by Sam Carter Gilliam, “The Godly Stranger” tells the story of a mother facing the challenges of having a daughter like Mary. She described Mary as only a mother could, with the voice of a mother who did not understand or identify with the heart and purpose of her child. She was shocked by Mary’s pregnancy; she willingly let her daughter leave because she did not want to deal with the embarrassment and fears of having a child capable of such sin. In the end she recognized the grace in the situation and saw her daughter as living the faith that puts God first.

Though the story is not based on the biblical record, it was a wonderful story with an interesting point of view. How might we face the possibility that our child has been called to do something that seems to go against our faith and values? Would we react like Hannah in the vespers service, willingly letting our child walk the hard path alone, or will we praise God in the midst of a most difficult situation?

Mary received the news with joy. She accepted her purpose in life with thanksgiving and praise. Could we praise God if we found out that we have been chosen to do the impossible? She may not have completely understood the plan. She may not have realized that her son would be brutally murdered at the end of His life, but she gave herself over to the call of God without fear or doubt. She saw her purpose and willingly faced it.

At Christmas we are faced with the shocking image that God broke into the world – not as a white haired king to rule, but as an innocent and helpless child who lived and loved and learned about the world just like you and I. Yet that infant was far different. He was not another human, born into a cruel and chaotic world. He was, and is, the Word in flesh. So, while we see the image of God in the manger at Christmas, and adore the image of the baby in His mother's arms, we are reminded that the baby also came for a purpose: to glorify God in the most shocking and horrifying manner. He lived and loved and served, but He came to die.

All of God's creation was given for a purpose and we are part of that creation. We may not know right now exactly what God has in store for our lives. We may never really see the purpose to which we have been called, but we are called to glorify God through our life, love and service. As we listen to the beloved words of Mary as she willingly accepts her calling to bear the Son, we are reminded to face every day with praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done, is doing and will do.


December 11, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 21, 2008: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and Jehovah had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in thy heart; for Jehovah is with thee. And it came to pass the same night, that the word of Jehovah came unto Nathan, saying, Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith Jehovah, Shalt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people Israel, saying, Why have ye not built me a house of cedar? Now therefore thus shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be prince over my people, over Israel; and I have been with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies from before thee; and I will make thee a great name, like unto the name of the great ones that are in the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel; and I will cause thee to rest from all thine enemies. Moreover Jehovah telleth thee that Jehovah will make thee a house… And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.

David was king. By God’s hand, the obstacles to establishing a strong and independent kingdom were overcome under David’s rule. With a city in which to live, a palace for the king and roots being planted by the people, Israel was finally settling down into a golden age of peace and security. David was greatly blessed, and since he was a man who sought after God’s heart, it is natural for him to want to give God an offering of thanksgiving and praise. For David, whose life had been characterized by upheaval, the security of a place to live is the most logical gift. David finally had a home thanks to God, so he thought God deserved a home, too.

We see the world through our own experiences, and we make decisions based on our perspective of the world. I suppose that’s what makes gift-giving so difficult at Christmastime. I used to buy Victoria clothes for Christmas, but now that she’s older she has much different taste than I. I can’t choose clothes that I am certain she would like. It is also difficult for those family members who live far away. How do we choose when we do not even know if they have something already?

Many people are suggesting that cell phones are the perfect gift this year. However, cell phones demand a number of decisions. I know that I am very picky about the type of phone I use, so I would not appreciate the gift if someone bought the wrong type. Also, cell phone purchases usually require a lengthy commitment. How do you make a decision about what type of program to purchase if you aren’t the one who will be responsible for paying the bill? So, our bad decisions might not only disappoint those who were wishing for something else, we might burden them with responsibilities they were not expecting.

David’s heart was in the right place, but he was thinking like a man. Building a house would put responsibility on God’s shoulders, making David superior. The lesser being can not place responsibility on the greater being. God sent Samuel to show him how His kingdom works. It is not for David to provide a home for God. God does not need a home. He commanded the tent which traveled with the people, and when the time was right He would command the building of a permanent structure. But the timing had to be according to God’s plan. And the design would be according to His purpose. David could not choose to build God a house. Instead, God had a house to build for David.


December 12, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 21, 2008: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 I will sing of the lovingkindness of Jehovah for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever; Thy faithfulness wilt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah… Then thou spakest in vision to thy saints, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established; Mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact from him, Nor the son of wickedness afflict him. And I will beat down his adversaries before him, and smite them that hate him. But my faithfulness and my lovingkindness shall be with him; and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also on the sea, and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.

I was watching a show called “Cash in the Attic” on BBC America the other day. The object of this show is for a family to search through their home for objects that can be sold at auction to earn enough money for a special family project. One family wanted to have a party, another wished to purchase some goats, another wanted to renovate an ancient bathroom. I didn’t see all of this particular episode so I don’t know what they were working toward, but they had fun going room to room finding items to sell.

As it turned out, the woman on the show had been a servant at Sandringham, which is Queen Elizabeth’s country home. The royal family spends time there at Christmas and at other times throughout the year. The host of the show asked about her work and any experiences she had with the royal family. She told a story about a moment with Prince William when he was just a child. She thought no one could see her while she played peek-a-boo with William. Suddenly she realized that someone was watching from behind her. She turned around to see Prince Charles. He was very gracious as she curtsied and greeted him. It was a memorable moment for her, and the story reminds us that despite their extraordinary position in the world they are ordinary people.

We look at Prince William now and it is hard for us to imagine that he was once a little boy who liked to pay peek-a-boo with the household servants. He is being trained to be a man of power in this world. He will probably wear the crown of a king some day and sit on a throne, a crown and throne much like David’s.

When we think of David, we think about his power and authority. He was the ruler of Israel during a golden age when they were a strong, independent nation. By God’s hand, under David’s care they established their place in the world, laying down roots in the Promised Land. David is among the greatest of biblical characters, placed on a pedestal by numerous faith traditions. Yet, David was an ordinary shepherd when God called him to serve. He was the youngest of his house; there was nothing exceptional about him. But God does not see His people with a human point of view. He knows hearts and He gifts according to His purpose.

Advent has always been a time of reflection as we wait the coming of the Christ. It was used as a time of penitence during the ancient days of the church, ending with baptism at Christmas. It is natural to wonder about our purpose as we think about how we have failed. What is God calling us to do? What does He want us to accomplish as we wait? We never expect it to be extraordinary, because we are ordinary people. Yet, all those whom we have lifted onto the pedestals of faith were not exceptional. They were just like us, but God called them to something greater. It is God’s work, not ours, that makes the miracles in this world.


December 15, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 21, 2008: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27 Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith: to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.

A doxology is a hymn of praise, and that is what we have in this passage from Paul. The doxology could be as simple as the first few words and the last few words, “Now to him, the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.” This passage is much more complicated than that because the writer has given us a reason why God deserves the glory for ever.

He is able. When we think about the Christmas story, so much of it seems impossible. The story of Mary, a pregnant virgin, is beyond our understanding. It is so unbelievable that many have taken great pains to explain away Mary’s virginity by taking note of language differences and probabilities from the time and place in which she lives. Even Mary thought it impossible. She asked, “How can this be since I have not been with a man?” Yet, God is able to do this thing.

The story of John is no less miraculous. John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were very old. Zechariah received the promise that John would be born while in the temple and he was struck dumb by the angel who’d been sent to give the message. At John’s birth, when Zechariah obediently gave him the name John, despite the questions from family and friends, Zechariah’s voice came back. It might not seem so miraculous with today’s modern medicine, but for a barren woman of advanced age in Elizabeth’s day to have a child was impossible. Yet, God is able to do this thing, too.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah. They were waiting for the good news that God’s promises were fulfilled in a mighty king who would lead them into another golden age. They knew the promises and expected them for themselves. Paul, however, saw that there was a mystery in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He saw that God was working miracles in people who were not of Israel. He saw Gentiles being moved by the Holy Spirit into faith, active faith. It wasn’t just a confession of the mouth, but it was a movement of spirit and flesh that was changing the world. One person’s testimony led to a community gathering together to praise God. That praise was testimony for others who joined along in the song. The scriptures tell us that hundreds, even thousands, came to believe just on the word of one or two witnesses. This seems impossible to us, especially when we think about the differences in culture between the apostles and the gentiles. Yet, God is able to do this thing.

Why is God worthy of praise? Because He is able to bring the obedience of faith through the words offered by those He has called to share the Gospel. He is able to give strength to His people to face extraordinary odds, to do the impossible, to tell stories that are ridiculous and yet true. The purpose of the Gospel is not only the salvation of those lost in the darkness, but to bring the obedience of faith to those who hear the message. God is able to make His hand move in the lives of those who were never expected to hear or understand the Gospel message. God gives us the strength to continue taking that message into the world. This is the obedience of faith, living an active life of praising God by sharing His Gospel, and His heart, with those we least expect will hear.


December 16, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 21, 2008: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. For no word from God shall be void of power. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

I finally finished decorating my Christmas tree last night. It has taken several days to get the lights and ornaments placed, and then I had a decision to make. I usually like to cover my tree in tinsel, that silver stringy stuff that looks like icicles. The tinsel catches the light and makes the tree brighter, sparkly. We have a cat, and each year Tigger feasts on the tinsel. I know it is not good for him, so I pondered whether or not I should use it this year. We picked a pretty tree. The ornaments and lights were well placed. Except for the lack of glitter, it was beautiful. I added strings of beads, which made it perfect. No tinsel necessary.

I don’t mind that it took several days to finish the Christmas tree(s, I have several in the house). Though some of my ornaments are simple glass balls, most of them are have some special meaning. I have one ornament that was made by my mother. It always has a special place on the tree. I have several made by my sister and myself—we work hard each year to surprise each other with something new and unusual. There are a number of ornaments that were from Bruce and my first Christmas tree, and as this is our twentieth anniversary year, those are particularly special. I even have a few balls that I can date back to our Christmas tree from when I was a child.

I have some ornaments that are not so personal, but just as meaningful—a nail, reminding me of Jesus’ purpose in coming; a set of wooden ornaments from the Holy Land; a bear from Harrod’s in London; and Mickey and Minnie from Walt Disney World. Each ornament brings back a fond memory, reminding me of stories about my family and friends. Decorating the tree is not just an exercise of setting up something pretty, it is a chance to consider my life and reflect on the many blessings I have received.

The word “bless” is interesting, especially in our day and age. We think of people who are financially well off as ‘blessed’, but that is not always true. I’m not even sure we can count on happiness being equated with blessedness, although it is much closer. Blessedness is much holier than we make it out to be in our common language. As a matter of fact, as I was doing research today, I discovered that the Middle English word from which is comes actually means “to consecrate with blood.”

Someone once told me that “to bless” means “to speak well of.” It can also have something to do with the bestowal of divine favor and good things. God blesses us. This we know is true. Now, if we think of blessing in terms of worldly goods or happiness, then there need not be any shedding of blood or divine action. But the lasting blessing comes at great cost. The lasting blessing is God’s favor upon us. It is God’s eternal gift of life through His Son, the son He brought through Mary.

Our blessing comes through blood, not only the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross, but also the blood shed at His birth. Mary was an ordinary woman, not even a woman. She was little more than a child when the angel spoke to her. She was given this most extraordinary purpose, to bring the Savior into the world. This was indeed a blessing. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth said the same. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” They were consecrated with blood, blessed by God’s divine favor. And we are blessed forever through them. This is a most extraordinary thing.


December 17, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 21, 2008: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

John 14:1-14 Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go, ye know the way. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also: from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do.

“The Polar Express” is a story about a boy who has reached the age of questioning about Santa Claus. As he is falling asleep on Christmas Eve, a magical train arrives to take him on a special journey. The train is filled with other children about the same age. The train takes them all to the North Pole where they get to meet Santa Claus and see the reality of the one they doubt exists. They go home to discover special gifts under their trees and they believe, at least for a little while longer.

There is a scene in the movie when the boy is trying to see Santa Claus, but the elves are all too excited and are in his way. He walks over to the sleigh where the reindeer are waiting to take Santa on his worldwide journey, and one of the jingle bells falls onto the ground. The boy picks up the jingle bell but can’t hear it. That’s the sign of the loss of innocence we see in these children who no longer believe—they can’t hear the jingle bells on Santa’s sleigh. The boy holds the bell to his ear, closes his eyes tightly and whispers, “I believe, I believe.” He cautious shakes the bell and hopes. At first it is very quiet, but then the jingle-lingle of the bell is clear. It is real. He still believes. When Santa chooses the boy as the special recipient of a gift, the boy wants only that bell. He doesn’t want some big toy or trendy gift. He wants a simple reminder of the gift he’d been given, the gift of belief.

December 21st is observed by some as the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. He is an interesting character to consider in these final days of Advent. Thomas is the very image of doubt. He searched for truth, demanded proof and refused to believe unless he had tangible evidence. He wanted clear answers to questions that still remain a mystery to us today. In today’s passage, Thomas wanted to understand Jesus how they could follow Jesus to a place they did not know. We wonder the same thing today. After the resurrection, Thomas insisted that he had to touch the wounds on Jesus’ hands to believe.

The more deeply we study the story of the nativity and incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the more unbelievable it becomes. The more mature we become in our faith, the harder it is to continue to believe in things like the virgin birth and the star that guided the wise men. The more modern research reveals about the world, the more difficult it is to accept the mystery of God’s plan for faith. But in the end that’s what He asks of us: to believe. We are called to be like children, to hear the jingle of the bells and know without a doubt that everything God has spoken is real.

We might argue about the value of the stories of Santa Claus and the affect that he has on the lives of our children, but in the story we see a parallel with faith. Children believe without proof. Children have the most passionate and precious faith, both in Santa and in Jesus. They are our model for living faith because they do not doubt, the simply believe. May we all believe in the Christmas story with such faith.


December 18, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 28, 2008: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth its bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth. And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory, and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Jehovah, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.

When I was pregnant with Victoria, I was absolutely certain that she was a boy. I don’t know why. I had no reason to think so. I didn’t know what the wives tales meant or how it should feel if I was carrying a boy. I just knew in my ‘gut’ that it was a boy. Bruce and I decided very early in the pregnancy that he would choose a boy name and I would choose a girl name and we would use whichever was necessary. Since I was certain Victoria was a boy, I didn’t bother choosing a name.

About a week before she was born, Bruce said, “You really need to choose a name. It could be a girl, you know.” I responded, “Fine. Victoria.” It really was that quick. Although I had read some of the name books during my pregnancy, there was little thought put into the decision, but I think it is a beautiful and absolutely perfect name for her. If the name has a meaning (it does mean conqueror or victory), it was not part of my decision. I like the name and I think it fits my daughter beautifully.

Other people are far more intentional with their name decisions. Some people want to honor someone special like a grandparent or favorite teacher. I heard of a couple who chose to use parts of several people’s names they wanted to honor. These names often seem bizarre because they aren’t recognizable. Others choose names that remind them of their favorite things. I heard a story recently about a couple who has chosen to name their children after Nazi figures and words, including Hitler. Whatever the reason, those families have a purpose to the name they give.

We find in the scriptures that names often mean something special. Children are born and given names that represent something about the character of their life. Isaac means, “He will laugh” and he was given that name because his mother laughed when she heard that she would bear a son. Jacob means “supplanter or held by the heel” and we know why he has that name by the biblical record. He took the birthright from his brother.

Jacob’s name was changed, however, which is something God did throughout the biblical record. Jacob became Israel, which means “God wrestler.” Jacob contended with God and his name was changed to do define his new place in God’s plan. Abram became Abraham and Sara became Sarah because God added His Spirit (Ha) to their life and their names. Saul (responder) became Paul (humble) because Saul was humbled by Jesus on the road to Damascus and called to a totally different life in God’s kingdom. These names each have a purpose and the changes mean something in the story of the people to whom they were given.

The Jews had been exiled, but by God’s grace they were redeemed and returned to their homes in Jerusalem. The city that had been destroyed by war was restored to its glory. The song of praise in today’s passage is a cry of thanksgiving to God for remembering His people and saving them. This transformation is a great and wonderful gift, and God is glorified by it. The prophet says that he will not be silent; he says that he will shout God’s praises until the whole world sees what God has done for His people. Jerusalem will have a new name, no longer forsaken or desolate, God now delights in her.


December 19, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 28, 2008: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

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.

A new Adam Sandler movie is due to come out in the movie theaters in just a few days. The movie “Bedtimes Stories” is about a man whose life is not going quite the way he was hoping it would go, so he is trying to find a way to make it better. Meanwhile, his sister asks him to watch her children while she goes out of town for a job interview. The stories he tells the children at bedtime are wild and exciting. He soon experiences the story in real life. The trailer asks “What if you told a story and the next day it came to life?”

Skeeter, the character played by Adam Sandler, thinks he’s controlling the story, so he makes up a story that will bring him good luck and riches. He quickly realizes, however, that the story is controlled by the kids. When they add odd bits like “it started raining gumballs” and “an angry dwarf kicks him” those are the parts that become real. His life becomes a new adventure every day: gladiators, wild west, space battles. When he finally realizes that he can’t control his life through stories, he finishes the story. However, the children weren’t done yet. “Oh, that’s not the ending” said his nephew. “Somebody threw a fireball at Skeeter.” Skeeter answers, “You want me to catch on fire?”

I don’t know how the story ends, but in the trailer Skeeter goes around that day worrying about the fireball that will strike. He goes to a home improvement store and purchases fire protection products: fire extinguishers, hoses, fire proofing spray. He’s so sure that the words will come to life that he lives his life in fear.

Now, this could not happen. There is no way that it could really begin raining gumballs or that an ordinary human being will end up in a space battle. Yet, there is one whose word is real, someone whose very word comes to life. It is the God whom we praise who speaks and worlds are created. He commanded and everything we know came to be. He said a word and the sun, stars and moons were set in motion. He told a story and every being was given its place in this world. He spoke and mankind was given dominion over all creation, from the smallest bugs to the greatest trees. God ordained the purpose of every life, from the humblest maid to the mighty kings. He alone is worthy of praise for His word is real.

“And he hath lifted up the horn of his people,” the psalmist writes. God spoke and salvation is assured for all God’s people. Everything we have, everything we experience, comes because God is in control of the story. This could be a frightening thing for some who do not realize that whether or circumstances are good or bad at this moment, God has our best interests at heart. Whatever happens, God will make it good for those who love Him. We are not just characters in a movie, or even ordinary people in the world. We have been given a special name: child of God. We can live in fear, or we can go forth trusting in God’s goodness and mercy, knowing that He who has created everything is near to us always.


December 22, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 28, 2008: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Galatians 4:4-7 …but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

The local radio station was doing a segment on toys the other night. They were asking callers which toys were their favorites when they were kids and how much they would be willing to pay to relive their childhood. For those of us who have been around a few years, some of those toys are now collector’s items and worth a lot of money. Some items were selling on e-bay for hundreds of dollars.

The discussion on the radio carried over to our dining room table. That evening we all gathered for a decent meal together and we began talking about the conversation online. We do not get very many opportunities to share this kind of family time, with Victoria at college and Zack so busy. At first Bruce and I were sharing memories of our childhoods, our favorite toys and the way we used to play. We talked about the saucers we used to have and how we used them to fly down snowy hillsides. Bruce’s experience was a little bit different than mine since he grew up in the country and I grew up in the city. We talked about our toy trucks and dolls and other favorites. I remember one of my favorite toys was a Spirograph.

After a while the children got into the conversation, sharing their memories. And though their childhoods were not so long ago, it is fun hearing the things they loved most about it. Zack had a Little Tykes car that he refused to get out of on the Christmas day it became his. Victoria remembered some other toys that kept them busy for hours at a time. It was a wonderful conversation, a chance to really enjoy each other’s company and to share those things that mean the most to us with those who mean the most to us.

The Christmas season is a time for family. It is a time to gather together, for homecomings and remembering. Many people will be traveling over the next few days to be with the people they love. Some will drive, others will fly and some will even take trains or busses to those destinations. While there, they will share good food and conversation. Presents will be swapped and toasts made. Daughters home from college will help make cookies and sons will help Dad with the lights. Families with children will share old traditions and create some new ones.

It is a time when relationships are put to the test. Unfortunately, for some families the pressure of holiday gatherings is too much to bear. Old grudges bubble to the top and bitter rivalries explode. Those who are afraid that they have not lived up to the expectations of their family may approach the gathering with resentment. Others may use the time to place greater burdens on those from whom they desire more. Those relationships are strained and the people will have a difficult time experiencing peace on earth while they carry the weight of the brokenness.

God is like a Father. We are His family. The scriptures for today make us wonder about our relationship with Him. How affectionate is your relationship with God? Is He like a family member with whom you might sit around the dinner table sharing memories of your childhood? Or is the relationship strained and uncomfortable? It is interesting that the scripture for today looks at this relationship through the eyes of slavery. We were once slaves to sin, but now are set free to be sons of God. Yet, we tend to hold on to our sins. We are slaves to those things that keep us from knowing and loving God fully and freely. The same thing happens with our earthly families.

It was fun thinking about our childhoods, but there are so many amazing things to still happen to us as we grow older, set free from the bonds of childhood to go forth in faith to do as we have been called to do. Christ came, born of a woman which makes Him as human as you and I, but He is something much more. He is the Son of the Living God, as fully divine as He is human. He came to make us sons, setting free those who are burdened by the Law and opening the door so that we might also be adopted. The Kingdom of God belongs to us, and we are called to live and laugh and love in that Kingdom for God’s glory. We are heirs of that Kingdom and are called to make it bigger and better with our hopes and our gifts so that others might also be adopted as heirs.


December 23, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 28, 2008: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Luke 2:22-40 And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord), and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of the law, then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, According to thy word, in peace; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel. And his father and his mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning him; and Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel; and for a sign which is spoken against; yea and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul; that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she had been a widow even unto fourscore and four years), who departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks unto God, and spake of him to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

“Buy our product and you will have the happiest kids, the whitest teeth, or the cleanest clothing. Our product provides the fastest connection, the most reliable service or the cheapest price. With our product, you will be more popular, more beautiful or more intelligent.” Every ten minutes on our television sets, we are bombarded by promises. A promise is defined in Webster's as “an assurance that one will or will not do something.” Companies around the world recognize the incredible power of a promise to today's consumers. They spend billions of dollars producing and airing commercials that will attract the greatest number of people to their product. Unfortunately, these promises often go unfulfilled.

Jesus was surrounded by promises that God had giving to His people throughout their history. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, which came true in Jesus. David was promised that his throne would last forever, which came true in Jesus. The book of Isaiah the prophet is filled with promises fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promises.

God spoke much more specific promises to the family of Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah were given John, the one who would make way for Jesus. Mary and Joseph were promised the incredible gift of a baby who would truly change the world. Two others were made promises: Simeon and Anna.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man who had the Holy Spirit on him. We do not know his age, but he is portrayed as an older man, white haired and wise in appearance. God made him a promise: that he would see the salvation of Israel before he died. One day a couple with a young boy came into the temple to dedicate their son. Simeon saw the boy and knew God had fulfilled his promise. He praised God and said, “Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” Simeon’s purpose was to see the Light, which is Christ, and once he saw Jesus he could rest in peace. We do not know what happened to Simeon after that day. I have always assumed he died immediately, but it really does not matter. Here we see the fulfillment of yet another promise.

Perhaps in a way Simeon did die that day. The nation of Israel had certain expectations about the type of Messiah that would come to save them. Simeon was in the temple that day, not because he was waiting for the Messiah but because the Holy Spirit led him there. Imagine his thoughts when he realized he was seeing the salvation of God in the flesh of a poor infant child. Could the Messiah, the king of Israel that will bring salvation to the Jews, really be found in such a humble being? What were his expectations of the promise? Did he believe with unwavering doubt or did he go forth with the same question we have heard throughout the birth story? “How can this be?”

Anna also knew God’s promises. She never left the temple, spending all her days and nights worshipping and praying. When she saw Mary and Joseph’s child, she praised God and told everyone who was waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises that she had seen the Redeemer. How many did she tell? Why weren’t there more people who knew that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting?

Why did the Jews doubt when Jesus appeared thirty years later? Anna shared the good news, and the shepherds share the good news. Perhaps people have not changed that much over these many years. Though we are inundated by promises on the television and other media, I wonder if we are all that different from them when we doubt a promise will be fulfilled. People are people, after all, and we don’t believe much without proof. And we put our own expectations on those promises. Jesus, even as a baby, didn’t seem like much of a Messiah. Thankfully some people had faith and shared their stories. We, too, amidst our doubt and uncertainty, are called to believe that God has, and does, fulfill all His promises. In faith we glorify God as we praise Him for His faithfulness.


December 24, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, December 28, 2008: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Matthew 2:13-23 Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son. 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. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead that sought the young child's life. And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God in a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee, and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.

Everyone goes through hard times during their life. The world gets in the way of our success, happiness and health. We deal with health issues, broken relationships, unexpected changes and financial stress. Sometimes our troubles come to us as individuals or families. Sometimes they strike whole communities. The current economic crisis is affecting people all over the nation and the world. There is never a good time to have a crisis, but it is especially hard at holiday time.

Children do not understand what it means to have no money. We’ve all heard the joke about the blond who says, “I can’t be out of money, I still have checks left in my book.” Kids today see the world through new, modern eyes: they think money comes out of the machine. I’m sure many mothers have heard what I have heard, “Mom, if you don’t have any money, let’s just go to the ATM and get some.” They do not understand that Mommy has to have money in the bank to cover the request for cash at the machine.

This is especially difficult at Christmastime when they are disappointed that there is nothing under the Christmas tree for them. After all, shouldn’t Santa be able to bring presents? Too many parents have had to tell their children that Santa is having trouble this year, too. This is beyond their ability to comprehend. Children suffer the most because they do not have the means to solve their problems. They aren’t able to seek help. They don’t have the information they would need to ask questions. Some are small enough that they can’t communicate, yet they know when something is wrong.

It is not easy to assign blame in this situation and everyone is suffering, but the children are innocent victims who will suffer the greatest loss. But that is the way it often happens, and children often blame themselves when something is 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.

December 28th is the day we remember the Holy Innocents, the children were caught between God’s divine plan and Herods very human one. Herod, the king of the Jews, heard the rumor that wise men were seeking a child, “that has been born king of the Jews.” Though he was an old man and he was just a puppet ruler of the Romans, he was afraid this new child king would take his throne away. So he called in the wise men to discover the place where the king was born. His priests were aware of the same prophecies that the king would be born in Bethlehem, so he sent the wise men to that town to find the baby. “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” But Herod did not want to worship and God knew Herod’s heart.

Many children lead a much more difficult life. Children have no power, no authority. They trust with innocence and faith that those who have charge of their well-being will care for their needs: emotional, physical and intellectual. Many caregivers aren’t really concerned with the needs of the children; some are even cruel and violent. Too many children suffer from neglect, beatings and every kind of abuse. Children are starving while parents are satisfied. Children die every day because those who have the power and authority act out in selfish and self-centered ways. Things have not changed over the millennia, even in Jesus’ day children suffered at the hands of adults who did not care if a child lived or died.

So, as we remember the Holy Innocents, let us also remember that there are still children who are suffering at the hands of those who will abuse their power and harm anyone that stands in their way. Let us also remember that the children are most often the innocent victims of circumstances so far beyond their control that there is no way they can understand them. Whether it is a family who has fallen on hard times or caregivers that do not care, the children are the ones who will suffer the most because they can’t stand up for themselves.


December 25, 2008

Dear Friends,

Merry Christmas.

Thank you for allowing me to come into your computers for another year. It astounds me that God has given me the opportunity and the gifts to share these simple messages of Christ and His Gospel with you. I appreciate your prayers and the notes I receive from you throughout the year. I pray that you will continue to be blessed by these words and that you will grow in grace and faith in 2009. God bless you all.


December 26, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, January 4, 2009: Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12; Psalm 147:12-29 or Wisdom 10:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Jeremiah 31:7-14 For thus saith Jehovah, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Jehovah, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither. They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. Hear the word of Jehovah, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off; and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as shepherd doth his flock. For Jehovah hath ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. And they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow unto the goodness of Jehovah, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith Jehovah.

“Good King Wenceslas looked out/on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon that night though the frost was cruel when a poor man came in sight gath'ring winter fuel.” This is the first verse of a familiar Christmas carol. The story goes on to tell how Good King Wenceslas asked about the poor man he saw outside his window. He ordered his page to gather a feast and to follow him to the man’s house. It was bitter cold outside and the king’s page quickly became tired and unable to go on. King Wenceslas told the page to walk in his footsteps where he would find the way a little easier. Amazingly, the page did feel warmer and comforted following in his master’s footsteps.

The feast of Stephen is celebrated (at least in Western Christianity) on December 26th. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death when he was found guilty of speaking against the Temple and the Law. Saul (later Paul) was there to lead the mob, to approve of his stoning. Stephen gave witness to the glory of God even as the crowds were threatening his life, telling the story of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament scriptures and from his own experiences. In his last breath, Stephen asked Jesus not to hold it against them. He was a man of mercy and a witness of God’s forgiveness even to those who destroyed his life.

The promise of Christmas which is the ultimate promise of God is that God will turn the world upside down. Death leads to life, mourning leads to joy, anger leads to mercy, and sorrow is ended as God fulfills His word in our world. God will comfort His people and they will be satisfied.

It is hard to imagine being satisfied when we are facing an angry crowd like Stephen, but Stephen was not concerned. He looked up to heaven, saw it open and witnessed Jesus standing at the right hand of God. As he was facing death, he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, crying out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He walked in the faith that he’d been given, following in the footsteps of his Master. He knew there was something greater waiting for him and did not fear death.

Good King Wenceslas was known as a kind ruler. Though he was probably not a king, but rather a duke, he did actively live his faith in word and in deed. His father was a Christian, but the record is hazy on his mother’s religion. Some legends claim she converted at marriage. If she was converted, she did not take the faith very seriously: she convinced his brother to murder him so that he could take over the rule of the kingdom. For this he is remembered as a martyr and a saint. His virtue and his piety also is remembered.

In the song’s story, the page finds comfort in the footsteps of this kind king as they went through the harsh winter weather to help a man in need. Stephen took comfort in the image of Jesus at the hand of God as he faced the mobs who threatened to stone him. We find comfort in the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Him we are satisfied. We live in a day when so much seems to be wrong with the world. People look at the evil and pain around the world and sometimes wonder if God has abandoned us. There are many people who do not believe in the existence of the Almighty God. There are no easy answers to that questions we face as we look at the world in which we live. But for those of us who believe there is hope in the promises of God. We do not have to wait until the morning to dance and rejoice, for Jesus Christ has brought us new life and the fulfillment of the promises.


December 29, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, January 4, 2009: Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12; Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Psalm 147:12-20 Praise Jehovah, O Jerusalem; Praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders; He filleth thee with the finest of the wheat. He sendeth out his commandment upon earth; His word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: Who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: He causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. He showeth his word unto Jacob, His statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; And as for his ordinances, they have not known them. Praise ye Jehovah.

In the story “The Princess Diaries,” Mia discovers that she is the only child of the prince of Genovia, a tiny country in Europe. She discovers her identity when her grandmother, the queen, arrives to tell her that her father has died and that she is the only heir to the throne. Mia has to learn how to deal with the fame and the problems of being royalty as well as the responsibilities of power. There is always someone lurking in the background who wants her to fail, hoping that they might gain what she has lost.

In the second movie (I’m not sure how closely the movies match the books by Meg Cabot), Mia arrives in Genovia to celebrate her 21st birthday shortly after graduating from university. She will soon take over the throne since her grandmother wants to retire. However, a member of the parliament (who will benefit greatly from her failure) brings up an ancient law that says a woman may become queen only if she is married. A man can become king without a wife but a woman, the law says, must have a spouse. As unfair as this law sounds, it is the law in Genovia and they must abide by it.

So, this word sets the entire family into a desperate search for the right spouse. They consider all the single men who are eligible and appropriate. Some are too old, some are too young. The man must have the right lineage, but some royal possibilities are unattainable. They finally find a nice looking young man from England with a title named Andrew who agrees to marry her. Unfortunately, she’s also met, and fallen in love, with the nephew of the guy who wants her to lose her crown. His name is Nick. She realizes his identity and gets angry, though she finds out eventually that he was never scheming. He loved her too. In the end they get married and live happily ever after.

It took just a word to set off the search for the perfect husband for Mia. They went through portfolios and looked at pictures. Then they invited all the eligible young men to a ball. She meets both the right man and the better man. It took the rest of the movie for her to win the right to be queen without a husband and to discover real love. She proves herself to the people of Genovia with her kindness and her royal character. In the end, Andrew is relieved to be set free and Nick seeks her hand in marriage. She offers a word of forgiveness and they begin their relationship for real.

In the beginning, God spoke and everything came into existence. He speaks and the sun shines and the rain falls. His word brings the snow, the frost and ice. He speaks again and the warm breezes melt the snow. His Word set the creation into motion and keeps it going. God spoke another Word, however. This was a word of redemption. It was a word of forgiveness and mercy. It was a word that brought hope to His people and to the world. It was spoken to His people, to those who believe. It began a new relationship with those whom He loves.


December 30, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, January 4, 2009: Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12; Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:[1-9] 10-18

Ephesians 1:3-14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Natural Bridge Caverns is a tourist sight outside San Antonio where my daughter works as a tour guide. The caves were discovered in 1960 and the site has grown tremendously ever since. A few men worked to clear paths and develop the caves to make them easily accessible for visitors and they began to give tours of just a portion of the many miles of caverns at the site. They eventually expanded to two guided tours available; one that focuses on the science and the other that focuses on the beauty.

They did not stop with just those cave tours. There is a gift shop and snack bar available for the guests to buy souvenirs and lunch during their visit. A rock shop sells geologic décor and other related merchandise during the summer. They also have a sluice so that visitors can pan for gems. Buckets of dirt are available, guaranteed to have at least one gemstone for discovery. They also have a climbing wall, hiking trails and a play park for those who are not exhausted by the climb through the caverns. For the most adventurous there is a discovery tour that takes guests spelunking in some of the undeveloped parts of the caverns. What started as, literally, a hole in the ground has become one of the most visited tourist sites in our area, with hundreds of guests daily. At the busiest times they see more than a thousand people, some local and others from all around the nation and the world.

The people who own the caverns have been expanding their business each year. Not only do they offer new and exciting experiences, but they have marketed themselves well. They present interesting and worthwhile tours and plenty of other activities to keep everyone happy. It is a favorite destination for schools and youth camps. The visitors have so much fun that they bring family and friends and they tell others to plan trips to the caverns during vacations. Word of mouth has made the Natural Bridge Caverns a successful tourist attraction.

In the beginning, God spoke the world into being. He named the sun, moon and stars and put them into motion. He called out to the water and it separated, creating the oceans and mountains. From that day on, God has constantly expanded His sphere of influence over the world. He began with one man named Adam. They He gave Adam a wife. Later He called Abraham into a relationship, followed by Isaac and Jacob. Jacob became Israel and God established a bond with His chosen people. Then when they failed to live according to His Word, God sent His Son to bring redemption and reconciliation. This grace was given not only for His chosen people, but for all the world.

Now we are called to join in the work of God as we take His Gospel message of forgiveness into the world. It started with just one person—Jesus Christ—and now His Kingdom reaches around the world. We might think we can’t possibly affect the world around us, but God takes us who are little more than holes in the ground and gathers us together into an ever growing people who are deeply love and gifted by God. For this we sing His praise and share God’s grace with others.


December 31, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, January 4, 2009: Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12; Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom 10:15-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:[1-9] 10-18

John 1:[1-9] 10-18 [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 beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

It is hard to believe that we have reached the end of another year. The holiday season will come to a close after the final parties and family gatherings are done on New Year’s Day. I’ve noticed some of my neighbors are already taking down their Christmas decorations. The Christmas merchandise is at 50% off or more as the stores try to empty their shelves and set up for the next holiday. The Christmas cookies have gone a little stale and the wrapping paper has been taken by the garbage can. For most people, the image of Baby Jesus will be packed away with the decorations. Soon Christmas will be long forgotten as everyone gets back into a normal schedule of work and school.

The world seems a little different during the holiday season. Many people take extra vacations. They have visitors from out of town that join in the celebration. The television schedule is different with lots of special programming and the radio stations play continuous Christmas music for what seems like months. We don’t pay as much attention to the news; most of those responsible for reporting the stories take vacation, too. We are a little nicer to our neighbors and a little happier. Perhaps we act differently because there is a special spirit about this time of year. Or perhaps we act differently because we set aside the stress of ‘the real world’ for a short period of time to celebrate. Whatever the reason, we are about to enter back into that world where we have to chase after the worldly dreams that we think really matter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was not born so that we can celebrate His birth and then pack Him away in a box until next year. He has come to save the world. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the light, the life, the way, and the truth. He is our Redeemer. He is our hope and our peace. Without Christ, we can have no love, no joy. There are some Christians who question the whole idea of celebrating Christmas. They feel that Christ is lost in the hullabaloo a long time ago and that it is just a pagan holiday. In some ways they are right. Too many people consider Santa more important than the Nativity, presents more important than love. And when the season is over, we go on with our lives as if nothing special happened. Yet, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the end of our story, it is just the beginning. It is the means by which God gave us His Son through whom we have our salvation. Jesus is not someone to remember just in December, He is the living Lord of our lives, our Redeemer and friend.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Christmas is a fleeting feeling. The joy of the holidays is overcome by the concerns of the world. The generosity of the season is bound up by credit card debt. Those who were faithful to attend worship services will take a break until Easter because they did their duty through December. Even many Christians have had enough of Jesus for the moment. He is a reason to celebrate in December but that is the extent of their faith. But Jesus cannot be put in a box and He shouldn’t be forgotten now that the season is over.

How will we face the world as the old year turns into the new? Will we pack Jesus away with the ornaments and tinsel like the rest of the world, or will we remember His mercy every morning? We need not linger at the manger to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts. As a matter of fact, in faith we leave to manger and look toward the cross where our salvation was won forever. Jesus was born to die. He came to shed His blood for our sake. But we also need not set aside the spirit of Christmas just because the calendar turns to a new year. The things that make the holiday season special—the lights, the happiness, the kindness and generosity, the joy and faith—can remain strong in each of us as we remember that Jesus continues to be with us now as always. We will miss the Christmas lights that have brightened the darkness of December, but we are now called to be like John, to bear witness to the true light, the light that is Christ.