Archive for December 24th, 2020
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. [NRSA: Titus 2:11-14]
“Open House for Christmas”
Some of my earliest memories of Christmas Eve have been shared with church families from around the state: Cliftondale, Forest Park, Eatonton, Breman, Oxford, Elberton, Emerson, Gainesville, Covington, Atlanta, Fairburn, Blue Ridge, Jackson, and now Rock Spring. Every Christmas Eve of my life I have spent in church. Other churches opened their doors on Christmas Eve before my memory. So here we are in 2020 with our virtual doors open on a messy, cold, and windy night. It seems fitting to experience Christmas Eve in 2020 in ways that are less than ideal as a reflection of the reality we have shared this year.
One of my favorite years was the open house at the parsonage in Eatonton, Mom had not only had us baking, cleaning, and decorating for the congregation to come to the house between the two Christmas Eve services, we were suppose to be singing and remembering lines for a Christmas program that year. Anxiety levels were high. Christmas joy was not in sight. It was simply busy business and far from celebrating Jesus.
The note that mom had left on the hand towels that afternoon was not removed when the doors opened for the neighbors, friends, and congregation. All through the evening guest at snacks, toured the collection of nativity scenes in every room of the house, they also made mini pilgrimages to the guest bathroom. After the events of the evening were over Mom was in the guest bathroom and let out a horrible scream. She found her own note that had not been moved: “Keep you damn nasty off the towels.” For years people asked if we every dried our hands on those towels.
But that year, was moment, we had to ask what was more important, the festivities or faith? This entire year has been a testing of our faith in God, in our society, in our neighbors and with one another.
Our Need to See God is Open for Business
Titus in those early days of the church also needed to be reminded: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Grace has appeared in acts of service and kindness that we have shone through one other.
- Sometimes we, myself surely included, have missed important opportunities, but we have also learned how important our faith, our ministries, our loving-kindness is needed.
- Tomorrow begins our season of Christ; of giving birth and rebirth of the hope, joy, love, grace, and salvation Christ has promised, delivered, and continues to reveal.
Titus was weary and needed to hear it; so do we.
Titus needing encouragement and training to decern Godliness from worldliness. This season of pandemic and political carnage reminds us that we need to encourage, train, and retrain one another in the areas of self-control, righteousness, and what is Godly, while we wait for hope to be revealed.
Most of us, have the idea of what we will do when we do not have the pandemic to deal with every day.
- This is a goal, but are not there yet, and do not have specific end date. We are living in a time of waiting.
This parallels our waiting for Christ. We do not just put off being good and righteous until Jesus shows up. We are called to share the gospel even in the waiting. Share the hope because we have not arrived at the promised land. Share grace because we are surrounded by fear, greed, lies, and lawlessness.
- Christmas comes for Mary and Joseph at an inopportune time.
- It messes up their plans and dreams.
- It changes their lives forever.
- We can say the same of the era in which we find ourselves.
This year, 2020 Christmas is more than a story retold
Christmas is the challenge to see Christ revealed, his love birthed in the darkest night, in the threatening doom, in the weariness and apparent free reign of what is evil and broken.
We are being called to share Jesus NOW, in the middle of the mess, in times of uncertainty and division, in unsettle times, for these very reasons:
It is Christ, himself, that redeems, restores, renews, and makes us right, true, and whole.
Titus needed to hear it: “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
This Christmas and with every day, we can unwrap the mysteries of faith, sing the joy of the Gospel, share the Good News, EVEN for world that driven inward and fleeing from God.
- We can sing the hymns, carols, and songs of faith that break through the dark of the night.
- We are lift high the light of Christ when all around us is vile, empty, or dark.
- We share gifts of kindness all year long, but especially when we are so sequestered and separated.
Being Zealous for Good, for God, for Christmas
Zeal is great energy, enthusiasm, and passion in pursuit of a cause or an objective.
- Our cause is Christ and our objective is to let his light shine through all we do.
- Where you hear fear, hate, and lies: Stand up and speak hope, love and truth
- Where you see despair, empty, and want: Show acts of hope, fullness and wholeness
- Where you know patterns of behavior, poor-choices, and sin: Give and Seek help to make good habits
- Where you are tired, frustrated, and afraid, Give yourself to the Christ again, and again
- Where you are lost, seek God’s spirit to Guide
- Where you are broken, give yourself to restored in God.
And here are on a hallowed night:
- Tonight and tomorrow, practice telling each other you are glad you have time share the love of Christ in new and creative ways. – yes, we miss some traditions, but our calling, our Christ is not on vacation.
- Tonight and tomorrow, unwrap the scriptures, open your hearts in prayer, sing your strongest chorus and celebrate Christ’s arrival and revealing in your life now. – not just when things get easier or more familiar.
- Tonight go to sleep anticipating what God has planned, hoped, and dreamed your Christmas will be.
- Tonight rest in the peace that Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection have given and will give all who claim life in him.
- Tonight know Christ is with us, call us to give hope and life to the world in its darkest hour.
- Tonight Christ lives in you, and me, connecting with a world that hungers and thirsts for Christ.
- Tomorrow is a day of Zeal, Passion, Beginning, and tonight is our anticipation of that gift made whole in for us.
Advent4 Romans 16:25-27 “Mystery Revealed in Doing” Tis the Season to be Trusting and love God and not the as the World
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
[NRSA: Romans 16:25-27]
Who knew the conclusion to a letter could be so powerful! Paul’s letter to the church at Rome,
The purpose of Jesus being born and revealing God’s heart, mind, word, and will is for us to clearly see that we would completely trust and obey.
Compare with the introduction to Paul’s letter to the churches at Rome [NRSA: Romans 1:1-5]
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,
Paul’s opening is basically a repeat of the conclusion. Bookends to hold up a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does that have to do with our Advent journey?
What are the bookends in our lives?
I was recently reminded of a Peyton Manning who had shared his perspective about the occasion an athlete retires. Typically, on an announcer show, a most recognizable photo of a player during their career and the years of play are shown under their name. Joe Namath, 1965-1985, Hershel Walker, 1985-1997; Peyton Manning, 1988-2015. Peyton’s comment was about the dash between the numbers. The Dash represents the career of success and failures between the two numbers. The bookends are important, but the dash is more important.
Part of Advent has been establishing the bookends, the context, the itinerary of our spiritual journey. This fourth week we best focus on the main thing.
We have reminded one another to praise, to prepare, and to practice maturing our spiritual self. The last leg of this trek is to pause.
Traditionally Advent is the time
- we hear about John the Baptizer and his call to prepare the way for the Lord,
- we hear God’s call upon Marry, who is both humble and faithful, to carry and deliver the Son of God.
- We hear about Joseph and his uncertainty about the unfolding events,
- And maybe we hear about the shepherds who are both frightened, comforted and compelled by the host of angels.
But this year, I invite you to place those stories in the position of the bookend that help define and refocus us as Christmas is now less than a week away.
Hear Paul’s words to the church as we reflect on 2020 and look forward to the power of God with us in 2021.
- God who is able — Who is ABLE to overcome pandemics? political strife? fears and even death?
- to strengthen you — Where will you and I find the strength to overcome these things and more?
- according to my gospel and — Did we know this promise is in God’s word? Read them? studied them? shared them?
- the proclamation of Jesus Christ, — Have we told others about Jesus, his strength? grace?
- according to the revelation of the mystery — Do we trust what’s been shown to us? experience?
- that was kept secret for long ages — Can we look back and see God patiently at work?
- but is now disclosed, and — Can we find God being revealed now?
- through the prophetic writings is — Have we looked for the pieces and fitting them together?
- made known to all the Gentiles, — God loves us who love Him but also those who do not.
- according to the command of the eternal God, — is it an idea, a suggestion, a nudge, or a command?
- to bring about the obedience of faith — This is the heart of it all — God is seeks our response.
- to the only wise God, — God who knows what is best for us
- through Jesus Christ, — Who makes clear, knowing our sin, failures, faults, & weaknesses. Died for us.
- to whom be the glory forever! — God desires an eternal relationship, love, faith, trust, obedience.
The history of God’s work with the world is revealed in the bookends of Paul’s letter:
The heart of the story is fleshed out with us, throughout human history.
We have God’s strength, guidance, word/teaching, grace, hope and life — when we give obedience.
Oh it was going so well until we get to the Trust and Obey part.
God desire good and blessing for all, but we are living in a
- political agreement
..where not everyone Trusts and Obey and we wrestle with whom to trust. We see the power of disobedience
What does it mean to Trust and Obey God? Look at the bookends we have discussed the past three weeks.
- We are not the potter; we are the clay.
- We need to repent of our sins and be made new through Christ
- We need to be maturing and growing in spirit.
- The Dash – “Dashing through the snow” Calling one another to live like
- We are being shaped by God and not the world
- Loving our enemies and the lost because it serves Christ and not ourselves
- Wake up and get to work growing and sharing Christ with others.
Trusting and Obeying is the DOING these.
This fourth week we gather to invest this next week…
Before any traveling, cooking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, or celebrating: Is what I’m focused on right now something that is drawing me toward God, keeping me stuck where I am, of moving me away from the heart of God.
- Actively do, say, and think what draws us to God and not to the world
- Intentionally seek out those we need to forgive and seek their forgiveness
- Wake up each day with this prayer: “Good Morning God! What do you want me to do today?