Christmas Day 2012

May your day be blessed!

How can you cope with the end a world and the beginning of another one? How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube, or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the more devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between…

– N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth

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Christmas Eve 2012

The Word Became Flesh (John 1:1-18, NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Have a blessed Christmas. May you experience the Love of God hugging you tight. May the Peace of Christ bring peace to your hearts. May the Joy of the Holy Spirit be felt deep in your bones.

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Advent Saturday (3) 12.22.12

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” Matthew 19:13-15
Grace and peace to you today!

Disciples of Jesus must learn to see grace in the little things of life.

Matthew recounts one of my favorite stories of Jesus in this telling of his welcome to the children. Jesus was continually being pressed on from every side…a healing here, a casting out of demons there, a banquet with “sinners” over there, and always the desire for teaching and learning about the Kingdom of God…on a hillside, in a boat, at the temple courts. Jesus was a busy guy and sometimes it seems that his disciples were the “handlers”, trying to protect him, watch his schedule, and make sure he is not approached by someone he wouldn’t want to deal with…like children.

Children were not valued much in this culture. They couldn’t “do” anything. Girls of course, wouldn’t even inherit anything. Most adults were too busy with living to pay attention to the children. Except parents are parents wherever you go in the world. And just like parents today want a picture of their child with santa, so too parents sought out Jesus for a simple blessing of their little ones. Like everyone else, they no doubt pressed in on Jesus. The ever vigilant disciples said “No!”

Jesus never missing an opportunity to teach etched these words in his followers and most likely every follower since. “Let the children come to me. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such.” The small. The insignificant. The useless. Jesus not only welcomes them but declares His Kingdom is made for them. Jesus seems to always see grace in the little things.

One of my favorite traditions at Christmas is filling the stockings of my children (and now daughters-in-law and grandchildren). I look for good deals on simple items all year long. As they have grown and the items have gotten a bit larger, we have had to buy new stockings. The old ones just weren’t big enough. One of the things that is always in the stockings is chocolate. York Peppermint patties for sure, but then I look for chocolate bars and candies that are not so usual. Not a lot necessarily, but unusual. Home Goods is often a place I find what I am looking for.

After scoring a few days ago I was thinking about the simple joy I get from buying non-traditional stocking stuffers. My children love it and I realized it is one of those simple acts of grace in my life that I have often taken for granted.

My friend Kelly got out of prison a month ago. He had to stay on site at the Salvation Army for 30 days (which felt kind of like prison, but a better). I am picking him up tomorrow at 10 am to spend the day at our house. We will grill ribs, watch football, and Lisa is having us make cookies. Kelly and I have been looking forward to this day for over 4 years. Today on the phone he asked me if we were going to stop for coffee. We have talked about that for a long time as well. A simple visit to the coffee shop with a friend. An act of grace. A delight. A joy.

How many do we miss?

In these days that have been so harsh, it seems to me that disciples of Jesus need to get back to the simple act of finding grace in the small things. And rejoicing in the life they give to us.

Lord Jesus, give me a mind to understand and eyes to see and a heart to appreciate the small acts of grace that are all around me. Amen.

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Advent Friday (3) 12.21.12

Grace and peace to you today!

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”

Each of the last four days there have been news accounts of a few more funerals held for the killed children from Newtown, CT. It is hard to watch those stories as the short lives of 6 year olds are remembered. “She loved to pick dandelions.” “He was an avid Patriots fan.” “He loved to play with his little sister.”

Unfortunately, these kinds of tragedies involving young people are taking place on a regular basis. Just in Minnesota in the last weeks there have been a number of tragic killings. This past summer a father in River Falls, near where I live, murdered his three children. The loss of young lives is seems so much more painful.

And then there is suicide. It is the third leading cause of death for teens in our country. I attended a funeral on Tuesday of a life that was cut short. A young man of seventeen who had many friends and was loved by his family…for some reason took his own life. It has been a painful week for my friends, the young man’s family and all of his friends.

The Orthodox Church was packed with people. It was literally standing room only with people in the aisles on the sides of the sanctuary and at least three rows deep in the back. The balcony and the steps leading up to the balcony were full. The grief was heavy. I trust the liturgy was comforting for many.

There was a moment toward the end of the service that stood out for me. After all the incense, all the prayers, and all the chants reminding us of how temporal life is, a very tall, old priest stood up for a word of encouragement. He was in full vestments, hat and all, had a long white beard and hair. He began quoting scriptures of comfort. And then he began to say, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…” and as he did he stretched out his long arms as wide and open as he could, “…and I will give you rest.” It was such a holy moment that I felt encompassed in the love and care of my heavenly Father. My wife Lisa said later that she felt like she was being hugged by Jesus. I hope others felt the same way.

In these days of mixed emotions of grief and loss and joy and excitement, my prayer for you is that there will be a holy moment for you to experience the grace of a hug from God and that you will know that the invitation of Jesus is always available…”Come to me…and I will give you rest.”

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Advent Monday (3) 12.17.12

Good News!

“Long live the King, the King, Long live the King”
The Herald brings good news: a son is born.
“Long live the King, the King”, the people sing
Joy in the kingdom, good news this blessed morn.

Duke and Duchess rejoice!  Come to the feast!
Prophets, priests and scribes come celebrate this day!
Share the bounty from the great to the least!
Long live the King, He will show us the way.

But this King’s reign on earth would be cut short.
The principles of wealth and faith and law
Hold too much power in the worldly court.
This King’s way quickly pointed out that flaw.

But rising again He gives hope to all, 
Living forever, “Good News!” heralds call!

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Advent Friday (2) 12.14.12

Peace that passes all understanding to you, today.

Another shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut this morning. While it wasn’t their school, I shudder at the thought of my daughter-in-law and 5 year old grandson having to deal with the aftermath of something that horrific.

One of my best friend’s 17 year old step son took his own life on Wednesday. There are no words to convey the hurt and pain or bring solace and comfort to such a situation.

The vulnerability of my friends in house church last night was a blessing as we talked about fear and anger and frustration that confronts us and our friends and how the good news of Jesus ministers in the midst of that.

On my way home I thought about the words of this hymn written in the 4th century. It ministered to me then, and it ministers to me now. I would encourage you to let this be your Advent prayer today, and take some time to meditate on the words and meaning of what the author is saying. The powerful words for me today are in the third verse, “that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away” because of the Light of Christ. God bless you richly today.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.”

“-Liturgy of St James, 4th century

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Advent Thursday (2) 12.13.12

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:28-31
Grace and peace to you today!

As I read the newspaper and listen to the nightly news and keep track of status updates one common theme seems to be weariness. People are tired.

Tired of political ineptitude and fiscal cliffs.
Tired of busy-ness.
Tired of working without time off.
Tired of being unemployed and too much time off.
Tired of gossip.
Tired of bullying.
Tired of the expense of everything.
Tired of others making them tired.
In some cases, tired of life itself.

We are a weary people.

Followers of Jesus however, know the truth of the Isaiah passage. In the midst of weariness…God is God. And he is the One to renew our strength. In him alone is our hope.

May the hope of Life in Jesus today and forever be yours!
God of Hope and Strength, I am weary. I am tired. I need you to raise me up. I need you to be my rock, my fortress, my strength, my comforter. Thank you for coming to me in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

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