Posts Tagged Advent

Luke 3.1-6 “Time to Straighten Up” 20151206 RSUMC Advent2

Making Life Easier to find and Share God.

EasyHardWay_Advent2

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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 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. 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;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” [NRSV]

Proclaiming a baptism of repentance.

Acknowledge that we are broken, incomplete and more than physical and mental. We are a spiritual being, created of God with the free choice to do as WE please, or do as God pleases. If we are in charge our time on earth is all we have and we are to blame for our sins and have no provision for relationship or life after death.

If God is in charge of our lives, we are to blame for our sins but God promises to judges us for our sins and Jesus takes the sentence and blame for us, as a sign of God’s love and as a fix/ connection we could not make without God’s help.

Repentance

I’m the problem. Not someone or something else. I might not be responsible for the whole world, but I’m responsible for my part.

  • We live in a time that we confuse being responsible for creation with being responsible to the creator.
  • We live in a time where we confuse my will and self-determination and free will with the consequences
  • for not using our choice to build a relationship with God and God’s people.
  • We live in a time when the church is not seen or known as the presence of Christ, rather an institution of affirmation of our ideals, traditions and behaviors.

Why would I need to say I am broken or incomplete if God has made me?

  • Even before I am of age or development to make a choice of my own. You and I lived in a world bent toward selfishness and self-preservation.
  • Long before we are aware of choosing what is good from bad, we live in the process of trial and error. We touch the stove and burn and hand and learn we’d rather not experience that again. We push, hit, or raise our voice to get attention, power or response, We validate the influence we have in the world.
  • Before I have developed neural synapse memory patterns, I live in a world that is broken and hurting, cut-throat and starving, filled with rich and poor alike.
  • Charles and John Wesley fought over the our state of sin. Charles felt are hopeless without any chance of goodness. John said, we have the presence of God’s power and spirit in us that is at work to help us, and while “bent toward sinning” we have the choice to choose God’s help and strength.

To say it most plainly:

If there is one perfection it is impossible for trillions of human beings to individually unique and yet perfect. The reality that we are unique and different, also means that while there is good in us, we are fundamentally missing the “God-part” of our relationship with the world.

  • We live in a world where plateaus shift and volcanos erupt and storms swell and the sun bakes, and sinkholes open and asteroids impact. Processes beyond our control and strength.  
  • We live in a world where people have different abilities and aptitudes. Different skills and perspective. If everyone were given the same resources, we would continue to have rich and poor, different politics and languages, different interpretations, successes and failures.

SO: even we made every good choice as an individual, we are surrounded by broken, selfish folks in a hurting, unfair world. All the more reason to secure God’s blessing and help in being whole, individually and collectively.

Making Easier Instead of More Difficult.

Finally, John’s invitation to repent, is a personal and individual way we can help make our relationship with God and one another better is by intentionally making it easier for ourselves, others and for God to be in our lives.

  • Stop making poor choices
  • Stop working against God’s will
  • Stop justifying both/and living
  • Make the path easy and straight for yourself, others and God.
  • This is our personal responsibility…
  • Start making room for God
  • Make time for God
  • Extend grace for God’s people, who are also broken and struggling and imperfect
  • See the best in each other and not preoccupied with being right, in charge or in control.

It is better not to put millstones around our necks or others, make the world a better place my making room for a relationship with God and God’s people.

So how do we make the path straight?

  1. Do No Harm
  2. Do all the Good You Can do
  3. Practice intentional Spiritual Growth (A Goal for RSUMC to have every member in a small group)

So Advent 2 is a call to prepare by making faith, love and life easier by living straight toward God.

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Advent 4 20141220 Luke 1:39-55 “It’s That Time of Year” RSUMC

JOY_maryandelizabeth

Mary’s news is to be shared at home and throughout the hill side with leaps of Joy.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “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.” [NRSV]

Preparing for God With Us:

  • The Big Things God Does through Individual people
  • Exploring What God See in Our Faithfulness
  • Sharing the Joy with Family and Friends

The Bible is a collection of stories about God working through individuals. The individuals may end up leading tribes, bands and nations, but the conversation starts one-on-one.

One like you and me.

One who have been faithful and even those not as faithful.. Mary the faithful and Joseph the doubting, fixer of problems.

Part of understanding, discerning and responding to God’s work in us, is revealed through conversation and relationship with others. Elizabeth and Mary.. not just two women talking about babies, but talking about God at work in all their lives and witnesses.

Small Groups, Bible Studies, Classes, and conversations at home all give us a place and opportunity to question, reflect and experience God at work in each others’ lives.

Barna Group: Friends and family sharing faith is still top evangelism relationship: They have observed Fewer people are sharing with one another.

Q: How many have talked about God’s work in your lives in the past two weeks?

Examples: What is God doing in my life? What is God expecting in my life right now? Where do you touch God’s presence this week ahead.

What we have been journeyiing toward is an incarnational, experiential presence with God, THIS is what CHRISTMAS is for us now.. the story began in Bethlehem, but the story for our time now is where is the living CHRIST revealed now?

Ask you family, neighbors, a stranger.. because it is into relationship that God is revealed.. not just my mind our your mind..

The church is the present body..Are we actually expecting to share God With Us or just familiar stories, songs and comforts?

Jesus came to unwed parents, homeless in a strange place of in laws connections, in the dark of the night, revealed to servants and kings. Revealed in leaps of joy in the womb and praising shepherds and rejoicing magi.

What about you? What is God revealing to you this season? THIS IS WHAT WE ALL WANT AND NEED TO HEAR AND SHARE.

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Advent3 Luke 3:7-18 “Do We Bring Fire?” RSUMC 20141213

FireGiftJohn said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. [NRSV]

What should I bring?

If we knew Jesus were coming to our house for Christmas this year. Everyone would be gathering around a beautifully decorated treat what we wrap under the tree for Jesus?

<story of Sam Bangura spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with our family> The welcomed stranger brings Christmas Joy for lifetime of “Christmas Gift”

In this third week of Advent, our preparing has lead us to be 1) Alert and On Guard, 2) Making room and paving a Way, and today 3) we talk about Gifts and Presents:

Asking: What does Jesus want for Christmas this year? Know the answer will be “what Jesus wants every day.”

John the Witness, John the Baptizer, John the Spiritual Road Pave-er tells us:

Bear fruits of repentance:

  • If we have asked for forgiveness, live as though we have been forgiven.
  • If we have forgiving some one treat that person or relationship with grace like we have forgiven.
  • If we have not forgive then we have some work to do.
  • As long as you have two coats and there is someone who has no coat, we have work to do.
  •  As long as we have food enough to eat and there is someone hungry, we are not done.

How to Bear Fruit when we have things working against us?

It’s one thing when the ground is fertile and serving is easy. It’s hard NOT to bear fruit on a mission trip. People will complain many times about the cost of going on mission trips when there is so much to be done right here at home. But let me ask this: How many mission trips have you heard about that were fruitless? Oh there will be roadblocks, illnesses, and set backs, but have you ever heard of a mission team coming home saying. We did nothing good, we got nothing out of it. It was a total waste of time, money and energy. I’ve never heard it… We invest in having a fruitful, productive, meaningful and powerful experience from the outside expectation.

(We don’t always do this when we are near home. So close to home, we are more likely to say: We will get to it soon and when we get around to it.) Advent is a Round-to-it time of year.

An uncommon audience

The tax collector and soldier are two who have come to hear John’s teachings and ‘good news’ and as how do I do my job that seems be so hated or feared… how to I do my job and serve God?

These two folks the Tax Collector and the Soldier were feared and hated, most because they were the first line of OFFENSE from the government. Interesting advise from the prophet helps us all:

Do you job: Collect what is due. BUT don’t take advantage of folks. (Don’t run a title pawn that keeps folks in poverty.)

You work for the government. Do your job, don’t use your position to take advantage of folks.

It’s ok to make a profit don’t extort, don’t take advantage of folks.

It’s fine to make money: John Wesley’s advise on money: Make All you Can, to Give all you can, to Do all the Good you can. But use money as tool and instrument of Goodness, blessing and grace rather than power, abuse or oppression.

Back to the Gifts: What gifts do we bring to Jesus for HIS birthday?

Side Note:  John the Baptizer were speaking with authority and connecting with people helping the to find their way closer to God and so they thought he might be the Messiah.

“Nope, I’m bringing Water, Jesus is bringing Fire.”

“You think I’m fired up for God, God is about to send his very own Firestorm. Look out, be on guard, get ready and keep asking for a status report.

Jesus wants, what I need.

What I need vs What I want.

I want a gift card from Krispy Kreme, what I need is accountable set of scales.

I want to be blessed and loved, what I need to is to be a blessing and love unconditionally.

I want protection and care, what I need to offer support, counsel and keep a watchful eye on someone.

I want freedom and grace, what I need is to let go of leverage, grudges, guilt and shame and model grace.

The gift I give is the gift I receive.

Jesus wants folks fed, clothed, friend-ed and connected in grace.. the John the Baptist Question:

AM I GIVING THAT GIFT as daily witness?

Do I still need to go shopping?

Have I been looking for the wrong deal?

As long as Im asking for the status report, I’m on the right track… Ask you neighbor: Have you gotten Jesus’s gift yet?

What have you got him today?

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Luke 3:1-6 “The King Is Coming Soon” RSUMC ADV: 2 20141206

 ElvisBWIn 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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 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. 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” [NRSV]

Prepare the way of the King: There is some confusion about who the real king is at Christmas? Is it Jesus or Santa. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker pit Jesus and Santa clause in a boxing match and the victor is Brian Boitano who instructs everyone Christmas is a time to be good to one another. Smoothies all around the cult classic born.

But we all know better? We just want our manger and our presents. I have tried to share some Advent and pre-Christmas photo posts on Facebook each day. So far the one the has drawn the greatest comment has been the most misunderstood:

startrekstarwarsbatmanaNativityMost folks have thought i was promoting this as a creative, post modern spin on the traditional nativity. (When actually I’m totally offended by the collection.) But this passage is not so much about Elvis as King or Super Hero Movie action figures holding court in a fake moss-crusted manger set. Let’s get to the juicy part. Politics and Christmas.

Politics at Christmas? Jesus comes into the world to transform all powers.

I good friend of mine shared a personal commentary this week. She observed that there were two conversations going on this week. Christmas bargains and responses to the turmoil in Ferguson. It was interested to here to two radically different conversation interwoven without clashing until she brought them together.

Who wants to talk about politics at Christmas time?

But this is the very thing that John the Baptist, John the son of Zacharia, called attention to in the introduction of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke retells of John’s ministry of Advent, preparing for Christ’s arrival, in the context of the politics of the day.

The Emperor was Tiberius, [ a soldier become leader, opposed by others, wanted to Senate to make all the decisions, married for politics and was concerned a very unhappy person and leader. ]

Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, [ primary functions were military, but as representatives of the empire they were responsible for the collection of imperial taxes,[25] and also had limited judicial functions ]

Herod was ruler of Galilee, [ Born Arab, Became Jewish in Marriage, Gave himself the name, Herod the Great, massive building and taxes for his glory in the name of Rome. Killed many, fears everyone, 2000 body guards, pool in is house on the Med Sea. ]

herodpoolHerod’s brother Philip was ruler of the region of I-tur-aea and Tra-cho-nit-is, [ Self titled, Phillip the Tetriarch, married his niece to secure the family conquest of ‘dynasty’ ]

Ly-sani-as ruled Abilene, [ Arab city of Damascus, in Syria, little is know, but Luke uses the regional context as inclusive of powers ]

And the high priests in Jerusalem were An-nas and Cai-aphas,
[ The Annas family ruled the temple from 3 AD to 63 AD and Caiaphas married into the family, think of the church dynasties today ]

For us, in 2014

It would be like telling the Jesus story today in the context. When Obama was president, and Deal was Governor of Georgia, Haslam was Governon or Tennessee, Paul Johnson was coach at GTech, Mark Richt was a UGA, and Mike Watson was Bishop and Herzen Andone was DS in the Northwest District.

Why would set the Spiritual story in the context of political leaders?

Because the spiritual story is unfolding now.

Because the spiritual story in a context of current realitiy

Because the spiritual story is a contrasting story to the culture in which it is revealed.

Because to NOT know the reality of the context is to ignore the role and power of the message.

A call that Challenges Authority

Think of John the Baptizers Call to the Nations: Prepare the Way of the King, the Lord, the Authority

Q: What preparations would be made if we knew the president, governor, coach, bishop or DS were coming?

A: It kind of depends on what you think of their leadership or how you respect the office.

John is calling for God’s Children to prepare for a greater Authority..

Who is our Authority?

There are many levels in many different contexts. But who is responsible for shaping our view, motives and responses to the world in which we live?

Take the injustice of racism: In my doctoral studies I attended Gammon Seminary. It is a historically Black United Methodist seminary on the Atlanta University campus. At the time I started my degree, one third of my congregation persons who were Black, African-American, culturally different from my experience. My going to school was to try to learn and better understand so I could better connect, serve and lead as their pastor. When I choose the topic of addressing racism through the repetition of worship as a white pastor, I was quickly set straight by both students and faculty that that was not possible for a “little white boy” to do. I was told that fighting racism was the job of “the black man” and the “black church.” It took me several years to find an adviser who would work with me.

The political reality of racism is a real as ever. But the current charges in the news are not based on solving the problem, instead it continues to be a struggle for power and authority. It fall right in with John the Baptist’s call for making away for a NEW AUTHORITY. One that is more than black or white or yellow or red or brown or tan. BUT TO PAVE A NEW ROAD, old ways have to be torn away. The answers to the conversation of Ferguson, MO. are not impossible, but they call for our society to look at people as people and crime as crime. Folks on both sides of the conversation are not necessarily ready to do both simultaneously.

Have yourself a politically correct happy holiday.

Again I say, we can applaud the efforts of those individual and merchants who continue to state, Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, but that is only an attempt at resurfacing a road that many have given up traveling in the first place.

John Preaches Prepare the LORD’s path, the KING’s road, Christ’s Way.

The Way

From the beginning the church was known as the “Way”:

  • The way to God,
  • the Way to live,
  • the way to follow Jesus,
  • the way to heaven,
  • the Way to salvation,
  • the Way to life eternal

The Lord’s Way… The way God is working in the world, through the Spirit and through those who follow.

  • I would make a case that it is not the government’s responsibility to feed the hungry: it is the church’s
  • It is not the government’s responsibility to clothe and house the homeless, it is the church’s,
  • It is not the government’s responsibility to comfort and help the widow, orphan and imprisoned, it is the church’s
  • It is not the government’s responsibility to provide health care, it is the church’s
  • It is not the government’s responsibility to provide moral instruction to broken families and expectant mothers, it is the church’s

This is a radical road, a difficult road, a path that has been long forgotten and forsaken…

The preparing for Christ coming is not getting our decorations, it is paving a new road, by a new authority, for a new world relationship with God.

Tell me I’m wrong and show me my miss reading and I will repent..

So you say: “Im overwhelmed.” If this is true, I don’t know where to start.

This advent we have started with the conversation of Prayer, the Study of the Word, and today we add Breaking Ground.

Ground Breaking

Isn’t it fun to break ground: to see the shovel of reality break through the dreams of hope and change.

That act is the physical and tangible involvement of putting ideas into motion.

Prayer

Study

Actively Break New Ground for Christ:

and Dig into reality.. get involved. get your hands dirty, get the sweat equity in what you believe..

If Christmas is a time for giving gifts, don’t just get a good deal, use the gift to be witness of JESUS’s love and grace.

If Christmas is a time for traditions of family and friends, use the occasions to make certain Make God known through them

If Christmas is a time for lights and songs, then make sure they clearly point to why we do and sing and remember.

The Season of Assumption is past…

We living in a time of paving, new break through of God’s authority… and we hold the shovels!

And God is coming Soon…

Advent is an annual experience of asking ourselves: If Jesus were coming in a month, what would be different about my life and faith and living… and act accordingly.

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Isaiah 40:1-8 Advent: “Preppers Unite!” RSUMC 20141130

roseDEAD

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. [NRSV]

The Prophet Isaiah gives those who seek God’s presence words of encouragement as well as a reality-check about where to placed our faith.

This first Sunday of Advent we begin lighting candles. This is our sign, this is our symbol and logo for the season. There is a great presence of darkness all around us: Economic, Political, Geo-political, Racial and Cultural protests and looting, A woman killed three people in Denver to buying the last discounted TV at Walmart. The valuable has become trivial and the trivial takes on the value of greatest worth.

This prophet work is a call to make a way that prepares for God’s coming

Prepping: The ultimate Boy Scout exercise of being prepared. I will admit there are some items that I have more of than I used to keep around. I’m not a zombie apocalypse follower. But there seems to be some common sense in looking at the signs and seeing the need to prepare for things I can manage and control.

There is a fine line sometimes between having a few extra supplies, jugs of water and basic necessities and those who have bunkers, stock-piles and provisions for decades. Somewhere in between folks will say we are crazy, foolish or even delusional, while others will say we are foolish, crazy and delusional for not getting ready for a return to the 19th century way of life.

Here is a point of learning for each of us: At what sign, moment or circumstance would we change the focus of our regular way of leaving and prepare for Christ’s return. What would I need to experience in order to act most seriously and sincerely about preparing, not only my self, but others for the coming God Christ, God with us here and now?

In other words: how bad do things need to get before we see that we cannot fix world hunger?
How many acts of terror before we confront that the power of Evil is real and irrational.
How tough do our finances drop before we see we can’t buy nor save our way out of trillions of debt?
AND
How long do we allow people to build waves of doom and gloom before we look to God of strength, hope.
How long will we convince ourselves that we can manage any situation without God’s help
How long will we allow those around us to live, plan, lead and struggle managing the world around us without God’s help and allow them the political correctness, fairness and to-each-his-own theology?

The promise in Isaiah warning is that God will certainly put us into perspective, just like we through out old flowers that were once beautiful but are now dried and lifeless.

Jericho: Mt Temptation

Mount-of-Temptation-Jericho jericho-hills 2 twip jericho

Isaiah call to action is to CRY OUT!
But what are we to call out? Who are we to Call out? What is it we are supposed to say? Answers: We will all fade, fail and died… so we best prepare for God’s stepping in our place.

Advent is this call to action: Remember God is God and we are the created. We are very smart, strong, and

This Advent is a time to speak up, speak out, Cry Out. Not so much to remind each other here, but for the rest of the world to know now is the time to make way for God.

“Swords ready? “On Guard! On Watch! Be Alert. Pay Attention. Look for God, for God is coming.

This get’s back to the prepping: If we live like the apocalypse is coming in 2015 then the majority of folks will think we are crazy, foolish and tune us out.

If we are talking about Christ’s return and final victory coming this December 25 instead of Santa then folks will think we are crazy, foolish and tune us out.

God is appearing every day. This is the real, reality.
Advent is not just a season prepping us for Christmas; it is the call to faith for each day and every season.

So I offer a balance: On one hand remember we are a fragile and delicate as a flower, think if power of a bacteria or virus, the sudden impact of a crash, the in hailing or injecting or ingesting of substances that end out live quickly as well as those that quietly tear us down.

On the other hand: God’s word is eternal. Ever strong and to be trusted.
Cry out for folks around us to ready, study, share, learn, open and press through God’s word.

How do we prep for God. Trust what is spoken of God. Have faith in God’s promise of grace and salvation.
Be on Guard to speak and share the word with everyone..

The road to heaven is paved with God’s intention. That we believe, trust and follow.
Not our intentions, God’s.

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Advent 1 20141129 “Luke 21:25-36” Q: Is It Beginning to Look Like Advent? What is CHRISTmas suppose to look like?

OnGuard

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [NRSV]

I am ready to give up on the word “Christmas” as a title for celebrating the birthday of Jesus. But more on that in moment:

First: I am thankful for the businesses that try to keep the “true meaning” and urge theirs employees to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the generic “Happy Holidays.” Goodness knows I’m not persuaded to celebrate Kwanza, Hanukah nor Ramadan (no matter what time of the year it falls) to make adherents of other cultures comfortable. If someone’s religious practice includes a holiday, they can name it anyway they choose, but not to change it’s name based on my feelings. That would be intolerant.

If we lived in one of the Middle Eastern countries would we expect folks to start saying “Happy Holidays” instead of naming their respective holidays by name. So out the window with correctness!

Let’s get correct what needs correction. Jesus’ caution in LK 21 is that we have our heads in the sand when its time to look up toward heaven. When you see Jesus, point him out! Be on guard not to be weighed down by distractions and division that are earthly and miss the heavenly focus.

Second: When I wish someone Merry Christmas with the hope they find joy in knowing Christ is with us. But that is a very big assumption on my part.

What we name the celebration of Christ’s birth and presence and witness in the world is not actually the issue.

Christmas, Easter, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Earth Day, Thanksgiving, New Years and Festivus: For the Rest of us are all creations of people for people. The meaning, ritual and purposes are a mixture of tradition, symbols and signs to mark time and celebrate memories and hopes.

The key is to remember why we mark these as significant markers and to keep the ones that guide our individual and collective journey toward God.

Third: The tradition of Advent has been replaced with the worship of Christmas. The text today cautions us to be on watch, to keep our guard up, to be alert and conscious of our actions… Advent is the season of alertness and we let Christmas slip in every year.

We have the lights out, the tree up, the parties and gifts prepared so that when the day of Christmas comes, it pretty much all over about noon. Just listen to the radio station flip the six week Christmas programing back to ‘normal’ just twelve hours into the first day of Christmas.

You might think I don’t like Christmas. You would be mistaken. I enjoy both the secular and faith celebration of Christmas. But we place ourselves in a slippery slope of trying to blend the two so we are save in both camps.

Did you realize that the religious “Christmas,” celebrating Jesus birth was not so popular until about 1000 years after Jesus was born. And its only in the past 300 years that the traditions we enjoy looked like the Christmas we know now.

But its just as much a political conflict as it is commercial. In the mid 300’s the Roman emperor, Constantine reframed and aligned Christianity with culture celebrations to help connect the influence of believers with the existing holidays. It’s not just a 20th and 21st century issue.

So my answer is to give up the word “Christmas” to shoppers and markets and commercial folks who have already claimed it as their own. I’m find not trying to hang on to “Merry Christmas” which actually not any clearer than “Happy Holidays” in reality.

These four weeks that begin today are a season of living out Luke 21 in anticipation of “Sharing the Joy of Christ with Us.”

Think of it this way: if your say “Merry Christmas” to someone they might think of Jesus or they might think of Santa. It’s no longer clear. Rather than fighting for what is unclear. State it bold and place.

May Christ live in me!

May the Joy of Jesus live in you!

In these next four weeks look at the signs and celebrations. Don’t skip any of the fun, but think about what we do and say, with words and actions.

Think of this way:

  1. If we knew your birthday was coming in four weeks, would we have all the parties before then and stay at home when the day arrived?
  2. If we were getting ready to celebrate your life and presence in the world, would we go buy each other and ourselves gifts and not get you any?
  3. If we put up signs and symbols on our homes, clothes and yards to tell the world about you would we use your name or something that make everyone else comfortable and appreciated?
  4. If we spent ourselves into debt to celebrate you how would that make you feel about our judgment and responsibility?

We could continue with this all day: But I hope you get my point.

If we spent the next four weeks preparing for Christ to be with us in personal and tangible ways: How would we do that?

If we spent the next four weeks getting our mind, heart, eyes focused on the things of God: How would we do this?

If we spent the next four weeks preparing signs that were clear to others that God was about to be revealed, What would we do?

If we spent the next four weeks reading ourselves to stand before our Lord: What would we change about our lives, thoughts, behaviors, etc.?

Advent.. this is the season we are called to begin

Christmas: Christ With Us, God with us. Emanuel, that’s where we are heading. Honestly, I’m not ready. Are you?

Here are a few greetings:

“Get to work, It’s Advent”

“Get your head out of yourself, God is coming soon.”

“You’re the fatted goose and Christmas is coming.”

“Put the light of Christ on the lampstand.”

“On Guard!”

Luke records the preparation for these four weeks:

  1. Be Alert
  2. Pray for Strength
  3. Avoid the temptation to confuse the world’s promise and God’s promise.

Merry Christmas and Be Careful

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Luke 4.16-21 First Things First JUMC 20131201


16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
NRSV

First Words
Typically a child’s first words are a rough version of Daa Daa or Maa Mas, some
Jesus’s first words as teacher, preacher define our task as Christians and the role of the church

5 Point Sermon
Bring Good News to the Poor, Freedom to the captive, Seeing to the blind, Oppressed accepted, AND tell the world this is what God is all about
Jesus defines what we are to do as disciples, as Christians, and as a church
Confirmands: Listen up.

Hometown Hearers
Jesus starts with the folks who had the greatest opportunity to know Jesus, those who have known him the longest
Not always does longevity mean understanding. The longest member or the longest marriage does not always mean the greatest witness or the greatest love IE. Sadi and Shorty Brown..

Evaluation
Are we getting closer to the destination?
Flight… much like image that Bishop Schnase describes in chapter 2, of Remember the Future,
Given the choice to walk home from Colorado all alone is not my best choice.
I prefer the air plane. I got upgraded, so I had more room and a better snack for my flight… But on this flight home I had two crying babies, one in front and one behind me. The flight was delayed 40 minutes. They ran out of the full breakfast and I had cold cereal instead. I sat next to a talker who didnt mind waking me up to tell me about their family problems. But given all the craziness it was much better than walking 1200 miles on my own.

Being the church is not the easy route. Being a follower of Jesus is seldom accepted by the majority. In fact it is a good test of our progress: If things are going smoothly and everyone is happy and comfortable, most likely we have made things about us rather than those who are poor, captive, blind, oppressed and search to find what God offers instead of what we offer.

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Luke 1:39-45, “A Visit to Aunt Elizabeth’s” JUMC 20121223

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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.

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2012 Advent Daily Devotion Book

Here is a great resource for your spiritual journey preparing your faith and heart for Christmas.

 

 

 

 

$2.99 digital version exclusively on Kindle and paper back versions available for $9.99 at the Pastime Grill in Barnesville, GA or from the district office of the UMC in Griffin, GA.

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Luke 1:26-38 “CHRISTMAS: IMPOSSIBLE” JUMC 20111218

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. NRSV

Our family is a big fan of Robert Irvine’s television shows: Dinner Impossible and Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. This summer, Frances had the opportunity to help prepare her own dessert in Robert’s kitchen at his restaurant, EATS, on Hilton head Island, SC. Both his shows put Chef Robert into what appears to be an impossible situation with limited resources and limited time to feed hundreds or even thousands of people four star meals in some of the worst or unbelievable conditions. He may find himself, “in the weeds” and at the deadline, but every time he pulls through to feed fabulous food that is amazing.

The real amazing thing that I found out about Chef Robert is that he made time to sit down and eat dinner with us for about 45 minutes and as big a TV celebrity that he is introduced me to his pastor and invited me to his men’s prayer breakfast the next morning. As big as his television personality is on air, his real life spirit is a great witness of extravagant generosity and radical hospitality, two of our fruits we seek to share as a church family.

In our text today, Mary, the fiancée of Joseph, and expecting mother of Jesus, is given a MOST Extravagant gift in caring the incarnation of God and serving as mother. If that is not the MOST Radical hospitality I don’t know what is! It is Mary’s charge to carry Jesus within her own body and make room in her plans and expectations of life… yielding to God’s work through her.

The remarkable thing about this passage is that Mary is only perplexed by the angels message. In my experience as a pastor and Christian the people who have had unique divine experiences: Angels, voices, lights, and signs they try sharing them with a few folks who are not anymore ready to hear or believe and then they stop telling the story of their faith event. My own call to ministry became most clear in the context of worship, during a sermon, through a brightly shining 100 watt light bulb, connected to a bare wire hanging from a crepe myrtle tree.. I saw the glory of God shine and hear the voice of God sending me home to tell what I had seen, heard, and shared… not just in the moment of that story but in the context of the community of faith/church I had experience that summer.

We have to be careful getting into the mind of Mary. I would guess she had a mixture of faith and fear, worry and wonder, surprise and service.. and a thousand other emotions and experiences. But what she does becomes an example for each of us.

In the times since that event of the light in the tree there have been many conversations, worship services, retreats, songs, hymns and anthems, hospital room, classrooms and meeting room Christ shine out and speaks up to make may faith more bold. Showing me hope when I had none.

Mary hears God’s call to use her life, shape her family, and changing her plans and defining her family all as her service to God.

Each member of your household has the ability to help determine your part of family life.
Q: “Hey, Why is this a Christmas story, except for it mentioning Mary?”
A: “It’s an Advent passage because it directs us to what WE in preparation for Christ in our lives.”

Who is getting Ready for Christ?
If you measure that readiness in church attendance there are some new numbers out about Christian worship. The Barna Group has identified of those responding as Christians
▪ Unattached – not attended during the past year. (23%)
▪ Intermittents – not during the past month. (15%). At least 1 church event at sometime in past 6 months.
▪ Homebodies – people who had not attended a conventional church during the past month, but had attended a meeting of a house church (3%).
▪ Blenders – adults experimenting with new forms of faith community. (3%).
Conventionals – adults attended in the past month (56%)

23% not during the past year
15% not during the past month
6% not in a traditional church
56% in church but only once in the past month..

To compare that statistic to our regular attendance we would be only at about 52%

Q: “What does that have to with Mary or Christmas?”
A: “Mary’s burden of becoming Jesus’ mom, seem impossible. The mystery of the virgin birth, the great expectation of the task, the great sorrows that will follow. Together these make for what is an impossibility.”

What makes something impossible?
When you have no options for movement nor change.
Stale mate or Check mate!

Actually it is matter of perspective…
something is impossible we see fore see no alternatives

The Difference in Mary and Joseph is a matter of perspective… faith perspective..

Q: “Where is Joseph?”
A: “While he reveals on one side a sense of kindness he also wants out. He offers to not make a big deal of ending the relationship. He wants to give up.

Men.. we need to hear Mary’s message, though we cannot relate her pregnancy, we can to her willingness to allow God to shape our families.

▪ he typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.
▪ On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
▪ This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
▪ Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
▪ The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).
▪ Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
▪ More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
▪ Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance.
▪ Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man.
▪ Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.
Church is good for men:
Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
Church involvement moves people out of poverty. Its also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem and greater family and marital happiness.
Religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers.
Teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they enjoy spending time with dad and that they admire him.
Not picking on the men, but it is a message that MEN need to be willing to hear from MEN. Guys, Let your family hear you say: “Let’s go to church.”

Getting to the heart of the text: God says trust, Mary sees the impossible and say yes, use me.

What seems impossible this Christmas?
This fear, worry, grief, frustration, failure that steals our love, trust, hope or peace:

This just maybe God’s calling to trust and let God move through us.
This might be just the Christmas gift we can’t afford, and can’t afford to let slip.

Make Christmas: Christ With us.. possible. How? Try Gods way instead of your own.

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