Archive for December, 2012
Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [NRSV]
Matthew 1.18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. [NRSV]
Matthew’s Joe the Carpenter
Matthew spends the first portion of the first chapter telling the world his research from his early Christmas present from tryancestry.com 30-day free offer. He gives a concise history of relating father Abraham through King David to the father of Jesus, Joseph. It was customary to track the family relation line through the mother’s side of the family, so what is up with Matthew’s version? He stretches the family tree branches to roots into two neat and balanced sets of 14 generations linking the father of the covenant with the favored king of the people of God up to Joseph’s little Jesus boy.
One of the fun features of the online family tree database helps determine how many generations you might be related to famous founding fathers and mothers or former presidents.. no matter how far the stretch, we are related famous people some where. Unlike my paternal grandmother’s claims that we were of French decent, it turns out that after many years of researching the BRANTLEY name through England and possibly Switzerland. Our family name is said to a meaning: “Those who live in burned out lands.” So we conclude that we are from a long line of moonshiners, indentured servants and squatters. Sort’a makes you proud to know our roots run deep with fame and great integrity.
Joseph’s family tree squeezes a few branches to neatly fit on a the page of history in Matthew’s book for what purpose? He link’s Jesus to a history of God’s self-revealed witness in promise, favor, divine purpose. So why does Joseph have any doubt that God would be ready to continue to prized heritage?
So little is known of Joseph. It many painting and stories his vocation of a carpenter is captured in images of furniture making. But is a time of stone, break and tile construction, it is more likely that he made gates, wooden locks or crosses. These were the places where woodwork was most commonly used in Jesus’s time. But that is not as fitting with our image of contemporary or renaissance carpentry.
Never the less, Joseph, with a great family tree, must have forgotten his royal blood line as well as his trade was working with resources that were more rare than we could imagine. No mighty pine forests, no oak and poplar farms, cedars were scattered and wood was a scares commodity.
Joseph, was a decent fellow. He found himself in an embarrassing social setting with Mary, his fiancée. Joseph being a resourceful fellow, tries to down play, move one, no harm- no foul, perspective. Joseph is ready manage the problem and work out a solution with the lead damage for either he or Mary.
He was a fix-er: Someone who can identify the problem, find a solution and execute with precision.
HERE IS WHERE TO STORY BECOMES read and interesting to each of us personally.
Compare what we know about Mary and Joseph. She found favor with God and was eagerly ready to be an instrument and vessel for God’s work and witness. Joseph see’s the problem not the opportunity. He finds a solution to what he has identified as a problem and is ready to “make it so” as the Captain orders.
Joseph is our modern example of what to do when God’s will and way is 180-degrees from “our best judgment” and we choose to follow God’s instruction. Joe the Carpenter stands as a ordinary good person who lay aside the focus of the self in exchange for focus on God.
It is a Christmas miracle when we see someone choose the heart of God over their own heart.
That’s what we like about the changed-uncle scrooge.
That’s what we like about the big guy in the red suit doing the impossible to bring joy to a suffering world. That’s what we like about the Grinch who has a change of heart.
That’s what we like about one person allowing the news of the Christmas Story encourage the faithfulness of one to like Charlie Brown to keep Christmas when all the others are packing up the decoration of the world.
Joseph is the change of heart guy, who does the good think God asks.
Did he have to? No.
The story could have been very different of he had walked away from Mary or imposed his plans over God’s plans. God didn’t make Joe have faith. Here is the hidden gift of Christmas.
The messengers come to tell it, the question is do we believe and trust our hearts with God’s.
Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is the task of Christmas, All year long.
The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. [NRSV]
years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Dr. Paul Ruskin on the “Stages of Aging.” In the article, Dr. Ruskin described a case study he had presented to his students when teaching a class in medical school. He described the case study patient under his care like this:
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she babbles incoherently for hours on end. She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her name… I have worked with her for the past six months, but she still shows complete disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort to assist her own care. She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
“Because she has no teeth, her food must be pureed. Her shirt is usually soiled from almost incessant drooling. She does not walk. Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her screaming awakens others. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but several times a day she gets quite agitated without apparent cause. Then she wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case, Dr. Ruskin then asked his students if any of them would like to volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered. Then Dr. Ruskin said, “I’m surprised that none of you offered to help, because actually she is my favorite patient. I get immense pleasure from taking care of her… and I am learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew before. She has taught me the spirit of unwavering trust. And she has taught me the power of unconditional love.” Then Dr. Ruskin said, “Let me show you her picture.” He pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old baby daughter.
Now, I like that story for several reasons. For one thing, it shows us the importance of perspective. And it shows us how essential it is to have all the facts before we make a decision. It reminds us too, that our children have so much to teach us… if we will tune in and pay attention.
Sometimes the events described in the Bible bowl us over with their sheer size.
- Genesis of God commanding light and darkness to go their separate ways, summoning the seven seas like charters, and, with a word, drawing up the massive continents from the primordial ooze of the formless earth.
- Or, hundreds of thundering Egyptian chariots dashing headlong after fleeing Hebrew slaves. Suddenly the once dry gap in the sea is invaded by a violent wall of water,
- Or again, the vision in the Book of Revelation of the saints in heaven gathered in a multitude greater than the eye can see, an ocean of faces and white robes larger than the mind can measure, an endless throng finding the place in their hymn books, and triumphantly singing, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!” Compared to this, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sounds like a quartet.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and the familiar story we have heard from Luke’s gospel is itself one of those events which threatens to overwhelm us by its scope. It begins, to be sure, in a small and gentle way, shepherds resting on a Judean hillside keeping wary watch over the flocks. But suddenly the episode spills beyond the edges of imagination’s canvas. The night sky is flooded by the light of glory. First there is one angel, then another and another, until finally there is a heavenly host, putting on an angelic display so terrifyingly spectacular that the King James Bible seems deeply understated when it reports that the shepherds “were sore afraid.”
The important thing to notice is that Luke does not dazzle us with spacious description.
- How bright was this shining glory of the Lord? Luke does not say. What did the angels look like? Luke is silent.
- How many were there? Luke declines to count them.
- What exactly were the angels doing as they filled the sky with song? Luke has no comment.
- What expression was on the face of the newborn savior? Luke says nothing.
It is as if Luke pulls our attention away from the events themselves and focuses it instead on something else, namely the responses of those who were involved.
The shepherds were “sore afraid,” but returned from Bethlehem “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” The people who heard their reports “wondered at what the shepherds had told them.” Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” As for the “glory of the Lord,” Luke is reticent, but when it comes to those upon whom it shone, he breaks his descriptive silence and saves his fullest language to portray what happened in their lives and hearts.
But there is another, and more important, reason why Luke turns our gaze from the light itself toward the faces of those people who were illumined by it. Luke wants us to search those faces and to find our own faces reflected there, to find ourselves once again filled with wonder, to ponder these things in our hearts, to contemplate the possibility that we, too, might glorify and praise God this Christmas Eve for all that we have experienced because of the life of the Christ child born that night.
Luke does not want us to be fascinated by this story’s height; he invites us instead to explore for ourselves its depth.
There was once a Christmas pageant at a small church in which the part of the innkeeper at Bethlehem was played by a high school student. He was a quiet and polite boy, but the kind of boy for whom the word “awkward” was an apt description — awkward in manner, awkward in social relationships, even awkward in size, his growing frame always pushing at the limits of his clothing. His peers liked him well enough, but he was the sort of person who was easy to overlook, to exclude from the center of things.
When Joseph and Mary appeared at the inn, he stood … awkwardly … in the doorway, slumping a bit toward the couple as they made their request for lodging. He then dutifully recited his one line, “There is no room in the inn.” But as Mary and Joseph turned and walked wearily away toward the cattle stall where they would spend the night, the boy continued to watch them with eyes filled with compassion. Suddenly responding to a grace which, though not part of the script, filled the moment, he startled himself, the holy couple, and the audience, by calling, “Wait a minute. Don’t go. You can have my room.”
Making Room for the Baby:
Every baby will keep every parent up all night, at least once. It’s a rule. Whether because they are teething or colicky, anxious or tummy-troubled, or just plain fussy, it’s part of a baby’s mission in life to keep its parents awake weeping and wailing.
We parents are “hard-wired” to respond to an infant’s cries. What has kept us grieving all week, a grief that can’t be spoken? What has kept our hearts hurting all week, a pain that won’t go away? When an infant or child is in trouble, or hurt, or killed, both our right and left brains insist we must do something to “fix” the situation. If our hearts melt at the mere sound of a distressed infant, how much more do our hearts overflow in anguish at the sight of children being harmed or in harm’s way – even if our own nerve endings are jangling and cross-firing.
Before there were “white noise” recordings, washing machines, or long car rides to soothe the plaintive cries of a child, parents in every culture on the planet came up with the same plan to quiet a crying child — lullabies. Sweet melodies, slowly cadenced, softly sung, lullabies “lull” little ones into a dreamy place. They also have almost lulled me to my doom. One of my favorite CDs is Tom Wasinger’s “The World Sings Goodnight,” which I have downloaded into the playlist of my truck. These 33 lullabies are from all over the world – Bolivia, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, Egypt, India, Algeria, Iran, to name a few other than the more obvious ones from the US and Canada. My problem is that as I’m barreling down the highway listening to these lullabies, I’m also being lulled to sleep.
Ask your people what lullabies were sung to them growing up. You might start with your own, and refresh their memories about lullabies that are as famous as “Away in a Manger” (Luther’s cradle song) or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Frere Jacques” (Brother Jack) or “Rock-a-bye Baby” (written in late 1700s when some English immigrants to the new world saw how native Americans carried their children) or as forgotten as Brahms’ “Lullaby and Goodnight” (Brahms Lullaby) or “All Through the Night” (a Welsh folk song first recorded 1784) or Paul Simon’s lullaby written for his son “St. Judy’s Comet”.]
I suspect that everyone here has noticed that the actual words of some lullabies aren’t always all that comforting think “down will come baby, cradle and all.” But the cradling arms and rocking-chair rhythms in which these songs were sung created a safe, special place for a fussy infant.
In this week’s gospel text we heard the first hymn of the new age. Jesus’ birth announcement came in the form of a song, Mary’s Song, known as “The Magnificat.” The “Magnificat,” Mary’s hymn of praise to God, is nothing less than her first lullaby to her baby, to the embryonic Messiah. The first thing Jesus heard in his mother’s womb, outside the beating of her heart, was Mary’s lullaby telling him in the womb how blessed his mother was with his presence. Mary’s lullaby tells her child that his conception is a product of both God’s “mighty arm” and God’s great mercy.
Here is Mary’s Song. Let’s say the lullaby together.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Like most lullabies there are some dark and downside stanzas. The proud get knocked off their high horses, or fall from their pedestals. The powerful are scattered and brought low. The rich are sent away empty. But the melodic leit motif of Mary’s lullaby affirms God as Savior, committed to the covenant, keeper of the promise made to Abraham and all his ancestors generations ago.
Mary’s lullaby is sung to offer comfort and to inspire action. But it’s more than that. Mary’s Song “extolls,” “magnifies,” “praises” the Lord. But not just for what has occurred in the past, but for what is to come in the new future God has made possible through the child who is to come: Emmanuel, God With Us.
There is good linguistic evidence to suggest that the term “lullaby” is derived from a Hebrew idiom “lilith-aba” — or “Lilith begone.” “Lilith was a demon/witch from early Israelite literature who was believed to steal little children. “Lilith-aba,” “Lilith begone” was part of the words sung over a child to protect the little one from evil. “Lilith Aba” became “lullaby.”
So perhaps the very first Hebrew lullabies were not just about putting small children into a sleeping stupor, but also keeping us alert to the approach of evil and to take decisive action against it. Mary’s first “lullaby” to Jesus, “The Magnificat,” was just such a tune. Mary’s hymn sang sweetly about the great gift she had received from God. But Mary’s hymn also sang fiercely about the actions and changes that would come about because of this new work of God in the world. Mary’s first “lullaby” sung to baby Jesus was not designed to put him to sleep, but to wake him up. “The Magnificat” woke the baby Jesus up to his mission and message just as the sound of his mother’s voice had awakened the baby John to his mission of proclamation and preparation.
The Messiah has come. Things will change. God is present and working great changes in the world according to God’s covenant and promises.
It is impossible to escape “Santa Claus” this time of year. No matter how hard we try to make Christmas about Jesus, that big fat guy in the red suit keeps showing up. Instead of getting sucked into a consumer-culture’s Santa Claus, maybe we should be telling the “lullaby” of the original Santa Claus, the actual Saint Nicholas, the Magnificat Nicholas.
Nicholas lived in the third century in what we now calls Asia Minor, or the Middle East. He rose in the ranks of the church and even attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. But instead of accepting his high role and rank in the new church hierarchy, Nicholas chose a different path. Having inherited significant wealth, Nicholas didn’t just refuse it, chuck it, or give it away in one big lump sum. Instead, Nicholas spent his life and his inheritance on saving others, especially the very people named in the Magnificat the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the condemned. Nicholas bought a young woman out of slavery (what today we would call the sex trade industry). Nicholas purchased pardons for those condemned to death because their primary crime was being poor and desperate. During the time of famine, Nicholas bought grain and distributed it for free to the most destitute and desperate.
Saint Nicholas lived the lullaby sung by Mary to Jesus before he was even born. St. Nicholas took words of “comfort and joy” and transformed them into witnesses of challenge and love. It is what we are called to do. It is what the Christmas story reminds us to do.
Our Response: A wedding ceremony was about to begin. Members of the bridal procession anxiously waited for the organ music to accompany them down the aisle. But there was only silence. One of the ushers tried to get the organist’s attention by snapping his fingers. Still there was silence. The usher then tried clapping his hands. Still no response. Finally, the now panicking usher called out the organist’s name. “Neil … Neil,” he shouted and all the people in church obediently dropped to their knees.
The Magnificat in today’s Gospel message is enough to have us all kneeling. In the worlds of “O Holy Night,”
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born! O night, O holy night, O night divine!
It’s not until you fall on your knees that you can stand up to your true self, to the person God is calling you to be this Christmas season.
Would you join with me now as we fall on our knees and sing our own personal Magnificat to God?
Luke’s word to us this day is that God hears those prayers, and that it is into just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that the power of God is born. It is there that God entrusts the treasure, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things — setting things right.
On a dark night in a feed stall in Bethlehem, the treasure which was entrusted to Mary became the treasure for us all. All the Herods and all the priests and all the powers-that-be gathered around to do their worst. But on Easter morning, just as Mary said, “God stretched out his mighty arm ….”
Credits: Reading from Long, Sweet, and Others mentioned here in.
1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” [NRSV} (46-55) 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The Family Connection Mary receives some incredible news concerning her life and faith.
1. God is pleased with her faith and willingness to be part of the grand work.
2. Mary become pregnant as a unwed, teenage
3. Mary is almost cast out by her fiancée and family Her response is to go visit the one person in her extended family who would welcome her with unconditional love and patience.
This is the first and greatest gift of Christmas.
If there is one person you can love and entrust yourself with without limit or condition, you can experience the power of Christ and Christmas every day. Period.
If you have that person you can turn to that may not give you everything you want but will love and listen and welcome you no matter what mess you may find, then you have THE treasure of God’s love.
If you don’t, the best way to find this love is to show this kind of love.
Mary, in her confusion, excitement, fear and celebration runs to aunt Elizabeth’s house.
In the Family Way
Mary travels to the home of Uncle Zachariah, who is mute until the birth of his son, John, who would become the baptizer of many and the messenger of the Lord calling for repentance and the preparing of our hearts of the coming of God’s own. He is unable to speak because he talked too much about what he did not know.
Do you know someone like that? They are the expert on the ball game, the shopping deals or the politics and they don’t know when to stop talking and just listen.
Sometimes our Christmas gifts are what we need and not what we want. This economy and it’s strain upon our incomes and lives should be a wake up call to our materialism. We don’t need nearly as much as the commercials and advertisements tell us what we need.
Sometimes not having what we want is thrust upon us. Just as Zach could not speak, he could spend more time hearing. If we spent the resources and time of Christmas shopping on worshiping and serving Christ, we might begin to appreciate what Zack learns through his time out… God’s family is larger than he ever dreamed and God could do much more wonderful and miraculous than Zachariah could imagine.
Is there someone you could give the gift of silence to this year?
They could open up a box of quiet that took a whole day or weekend to experience.
Is there someone you could give the gift of boldness to this year?
Someone who is always quiet and in the background and they could speak freely and with all confidence.
What if these two gifts were exchanged in our homes and families?
Parent’s listened to children and children listened to parents? What is the Parents would be strong and the children child-like. What if the boss would serve and the servant take the responsibility of leading.
Shepherd hearing the first words of the King of kings? That kind of insider news would be for the inner circle and the privileged? Wise men of other cultures and traditions being shown a guiding star follow what the learned scholars and teachers had studies for a millennium?
What is the news You need to hear? What are the signs you need to pay attention to see and follow. Who are the families that need to hear the Good News and see it in acted and lived out right now?
Christmas is about the Larger Family too
Through out most every Christmas movie and show this pre-Christmas season talks about Christmas being for the children and for the family. We need to do a little bit of correction:
This pre-season of Christmas is a time for families and children to be making ready for Jesus Christ. If Santa Claus can be a helpful figure to show us selfless giving and generosity to a world that has a need for joy, then that bring all the help that Santa can bring.
Mary visit’s her aunt and when she walks in the door of the house, Elizabeth’s child becomes excited. The sign that what is going on in one person’s life is connected to each other’s live. Mary had her own agenda for visiting her aunt and uncle. God had another. Zack had other dreams and plans, and so did Elizabeth about having a child in her retirement years. Bottom line: God is at work through us all.
Continuing to do the impossible even now: Giving us messengers of hope, promise and accountability. You and I are in this story, in our hearing the words and gathering to worship today.
Where will we go with the Good News today?
What will be say God can or cannot do this year?
What will be brought to life when you say yes to God’s call in your life?
What will be shut off and not possible, when you doubt, refuse or not follow?? That is the dangerous Question…
Merry CRISTmas and Happy HOLYdays to you.
Luke 12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
Matthew 16:1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’3 And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. 5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. [NRSV]
Matthew 24 1 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. 15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17 the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or “There he is!’—do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, “Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, “Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed,’ 49and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [NRSV]
1000 years is figure of speech that draws on Old Testament imagery of a really long time. It is not a literal 1000 years. If it were literal then we would have to interpret that 1000 years through God’s understanding of time as a day is 1000 years then Christ’s return would have been in a day or 6000 years later as Bishop Hippolytus of Rome explained in the first century.
The theology of millennialism draws on eight verses from one chapter of one book is not a balanced nor full use of scripture.
Look at Jesus own words in Luke and Matthew:
Signs are good, important and essential to watch for in our understanding of God’s work in the world.
Luke 12.54 “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
Signs can have multiple meanings. It is through time that we signs bear out the truth but the evidence that follows. You see storm clouds and then it rains.. the dark clouds as a sign of the thunder and flood to follow.
What are the signs of the present time? We are in the midst of war. Nations are threatening to escalate to global war. The Muslim faith is rapidly out numbering the Christian faith around the world.
Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, drought, disease, cancers, poverty, political hysteria, melting glaciers, desire to be served rather than to work, jealousy, prejudice, fears, and somebody stop me..
When you see these things ask yourself this: “Is this what heaven is like? Are these signs of God’s kingdom and reign? Is this what God wants for us?” I say, NO!
These are the signs of the present age. These are the signs of the world we living in. We are called to seek God’s kingdom where we see glimpses of God’s grace at work.
There was a pasty, proud preacher who claim to have prayed a hurricane past his church and university without compassion on the neighbors who experienced the full brunt of the storm. Not signs of God’s work.
Why is this 1000 year reign of Christ thing important to so many folks?
A: At times, we have a desire to know what God has said is not for us to know. We want to know what is in our Christmas presents before we open them… Every child snoops, shakes or peeks to find out what is in the wrapped package. Our quest to know about the end of time, God’s divine plans, and Chirst’s return
(In all honesty, trying to pinpoint at time and moment that Christ has said he did not even know boarders on blasphemy and is easily as waste of time)
But that does not stop us from trying to make sense out of senseless events in the world.
For example, we need only look to the tragedy in CT at the elementary school. Are the twisted and vengeful actions of a son against his mother and her class signs of God at work in the world? NO!!
It is a wake up for those who know God’s power and love to take on a hurting and twisted world. Who is going to tell people like this shooter about the love, power and grace of Jesus Christ. (We could say, he doesn’t live in Jackson so it’s not our responsibility, but somebody didn’t teach him another way to deal with his rage and anger.) If you and I don’t reach out to a hurting world, who will?
We have gathered together for worship on the last Sunday before the end of the Mayan Calendar ending on the 21st. What are we doing to prepare for the coming of the end?
It is rather easy to dismiss the warning of a pre-determined time, based on Matthew 24:36, “About the time and hour, no one knows..”
And yet we have to look to Jesus’ warning to pay attention to the signs, if we see wars, famine, lying leaders and natural disasters do we say, “business as usual” mind the gap and continue on as you were?
What is the wise magi in the East had not been looking in the heavens and studying the charts and signs in the heaven? Would they have known other wise to go to Bethlehem with great treasures to celebrate the birth of our spiritual king?
If they had not paid attention to signs in the night sky, we might never have the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas. Oh my, what a shame.
If the shepherd had not listened to the super-natural experience of heavenly voices they may not have gone to see the baby lying in the manger.
The Christmas story is filled with signs. If we ignore the signs we learn nothing. If the doctor says watch your blood pressure, it is a sign of what is going on in our heart and vascular system. If we are watching the check engine light burn day after day and never have it checked out, then we wonder why our car stopped on the side of the road with out warning.
Watch for the signs, see what they prove in them selves. If it floods where you live, MOVE!
If your life seems short, make the most of it. If you days are long and all ahead of you, plan for a long future of LIVING.
As for the 1000 years.. don’t worry if Christ is coming on the 21st of this month or not until the 22nd century… worry about Christ coming into your heart right this minute.
Be focused on telling, teaching and planting the love, power and grace of Jesus Christ in the lives and hearts of those around you. You see the signs: so make a difference through Christ, today.
Christmas is God’s promise to be present with us… now and 1000 years and for eternity. Don’t get hung-up in ‘the’ day, live this one as if it were.
If Christ were coming this week and a 1000 years would follow of peace would you want to make certain you were right with God and if doing that mean you were in right relationship with your family, community and world… would you ignore signs? I hope not.
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. [NRSV]
If we heard this for the first time in our own historical context, it would sound like this: In the end of the second term and reign of President Barack Obama, when Nathan Deal was governor of Georgia and Wayne Phillips was mayor of Jackson, Georgia, and Scott Chewning was Mayor of Flovila, and during the time Bishop Mike Watson lead the North Georgia Conference and Dan Brown as District Superintendent… the word of God came to one of our youth when they were out in the wilderness.
The Word of God is not heard by the political and religious leaders. The inspiration and calling came not to the parents with their wisdom, resources and experience. The Word of God came to junior, who came to be known as the “Baptizer.” (A historical note from Church history: John the Baptizer was not a Southern Baptist as ‘they’ sometimes profess, nor was he a United Methodist.) John was able to hear God’s word when others could not or would not.
The dynamic message from this little noted introduction of John the Baptizer speaks of his spiritual relationship with God. He was INTENTIONAL about his spiritual growth. He left home and was in a spiritual retreat at Camp Wilderness. (Not a Disney World.) He had traveled to the south near Jericho and the Dead Sea to a mountainous region for the specific purpose of being apart from the world to be present with God.
You ever notice that God speaks to Moses while he is alone at work. God calls to Mary when she is not with her family, to Joseph while he was sleeping, Jonah when he is hiding, Seldom is God revealed calling out to send us when we are at church, all dressed up and thinking Godly thoughts and singing praising songs and lifting lofty prayers. (Just a reminder that worship is for what God get’s out of it and not what we get from it, counter intuitive to our experience, but we are not worshiping each other, we come to worship God.)
Finding, hearing and experiencing God often comes when we are away from distractions. Retreat: Stepping back, out of the battle to gain a better position to advance or change our goals. Retreat is not so much running away as it is being INTENTIONAL. Choosing to be with God, on purpose living,
This fits with John’s message: Repent the Messiah is coming, Get everything straighten up!
What John the Baptizer hears is not anything new. How disappointing.
It would be great if we could go on a spiritual retreat and God tell us how to repair the economy, how to restore our fortunes and stability of our nation. How to feed, clothe and equip the poor to care for themselves, How to transform the captive, the ignorant and the oppressors. OH, God has told us how to do these things: Trust and follow his example. Again, nothing new here.
What is different about John’s example for us is that he not only heard, but he responds with FAITH IN ACTION.
If being a Christian was only a matter using our noodle and thinking correctly about God and the theology of goodness and love and forgiveness and truth and hope and stuff like that.. We would simply need to find a comfortable chair and never leave it. Meditating Night and Day on the God and we’d go straight to the father in less than a month.
But God calls us to be living body, in the world.
John the Baptizer hears God’s word, and trust it enough to take that message to the homes, business, streets and pastures of the whole region until everyone had heard. Jew and Gentile, peasant and politician alike.
Facebook is an interesting phenomenon: People are willing to tell the whole world what they are doing at the drop of hat. How often do we use this open and self-revealing tool to tell people about God’s Word and power for real life struggles. I mean more than the, “I’ll pray for you..” I mean calling people to faith, to trust, to right-living, to hope, and back home. The catch is if someone starts being too bold, most folks with ‘hide’ or un-like of un-friend rather than hear the word.
John’s message continues to be our message to share: Christ is returning and we need to get things straighten out before he gets here.
Is he coming in a 1000 years? He said he was coming 2000 years ago. Did he mean it? Is he still coming? Is Christ here with us now?
Forrest Gump was asked, “Have you found Jesus?” to which he replied, “I didn’t know he was lost.”
Hear John’s Message Now?
Who is getting ready of Christ? Does that mean buying up stores of food waiting for the Mayan prediction? We will look into this next Sunday… So stay tuned
John’s message is to take action. Not just any action, rather making what is crooked, straight; what is raised up, brought low, what is below standard, raised up.
“And Order of Priority Please”
When you go out to lunch at a restaurant a waiter or waitress takes your idea of a meal and translates that request to the cook staff who transforms your words into a plate of nourishment. Have you ever been successful in simply speaking or thinking what you want to eat and it appear before you with no one taking any action? Nope, didn’t think so.
As the disciples, we are those who need to be listening for God’s Word (through study, prayer, retreat, Christian fellowship: because the world is telling everyone to be lazy or easy or afraid or dependent on the latest fade or idol.
Real people around us are looking for someone to tell them, teach them, inspire them and challenge them to share the heart and mind of God in their lives:
To that end: Here Goes: Fine a method that works for you and share the Word of God with 49 people this week. Print up cards, write letters, make calls, start conversations, give gifts or sing a song…that shares a meaningful bible verse with each person. (that 7 people every day for week). Be willing to tell them why it is important to you and why it just might speak to them.
Your assignment, if you do it, is to report back what you experience. and if you choose not to do it, then pray for the seven people you didn’t help and ask for their forgiveness.
Here is a sample: Did you know that Luke 3.6 promises that all people will see Christ, the salvation of the world. I want to make certain that what you see and hear when you see a disciple of his like myself. If I didn’t tell you that God wants you to know Christ’s love and life today, then you and I both might forget or not know. Thanks for listening, Is there anything we might pray for God to help us through right now?
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. [NRSV]
It is easier to blame than to take responsibility.
Just this week five faithful folks show up for a meeting that I forgot to call to tell the meeting was cancelled. Should I find someone to blame or take responsibility, especially as it was my fault?
If something goes wrong at home, in the community or in the nations. Is it easier to assume and blame the one who has been responsible in the past? Blame the weakest link in the community? Or blame the leaders? Or is it easier to do something about it.
Paul writes to a church threaten from every side:
Lacking Faith, Weary Love, Weak Holiness.
With all that was going on today, I was assured that we still needed to finish within the hour. I boasted that I might only have time for a 37-word sermon. Here they are:
Jesus is coming indeed. Take responsibility, not blame. Restore faith, increase in Love, and strengthen your faith. How to do these things? Pray night and day.
Pray intentionally, earnestly, in all things. Jesus is coming soon. Amen.
If time allows:
Our five practices that make us a fruitful congregation are busy work without prayer.
We could spend out time and energy pointing fingers, assigning blame, and drawing attention to each other’s failures and brokenness. But where would that leave us?
Communion is a table of grace that gives us a new life.
Charge Conference is a business meeting that gives us a new start.
Advent is a season that prepares us for the coming Christ who moves in with us, not to blame, but to make us whole.
Yes we are sinful, guilty, tested and weak. But in Christ, through prayer and holiness we become as strong, in faith and love.
We become able to look at weary political and economic times and know this is not the whole story.
We being a seasons that the world has taken the worship of Christ, turned in a Sacred-Santa Celebration and then told us that we can’t even name the holiday that we have let go. It is Christ that we worship, (CHRIST-mas). Don’t blame who’s fault that is, take responsibility to tell the world yourself.
We are about to start a new fiscal and political year as a church and as a nation. If there are things you don’t like or know need improvement. Don’t focus your attention on blame, who’s fault something is, take responsibility to strengthen and abound in the power of love.
We are coming to a table of grace set by Christ and faithful hands where we come to talk, listen, confess and be blessed. Don’t look at the small serving of bread and drink, look at the enormous gift of saving grace that empowers when we are willing to eat and drink with our Lord and be the living body of Christ for the world.
Yes, it’s my fault and your fault, but that get’s us no where near Christ. Come to the table.
Jesus is coming indeed. Take responsibility, not blame. Restore faith, increase in Love, and strengthen your faith. How to do these things? Pray night and day.
Pray intentionally, earnestly, in all things. Jesus is coming soon. Amen.