The Peace of Christmas (December 21, 2014)

I am dealing with two more infections.  The medications leave me very weak and tired.  And I have to admit I am tempted to ask, “Why me?”  Haven’t I been tested enough?  Is the world out to get me?  And finally, the old classic, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

I’m sure many of us feel the same way, especially around the holidays.  We don’t have bodies that operate the way we’d like.  We can’t depend on them.  Or our minds don’t focus well, or like they used to.  We just can’t concentrate, or remember things.  Maybe our bodies and minds have never been that reliable.  And for some reason the holidays just seem to exacerbate these things.  We have so much to do, and can’t seem to get it done.

But what is it that we really need to do to prepare for Jesus?  What does the Lord require of us?  I always go back to my life verse, Micah 6:8:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the  Lord  require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

And then I tell myself, “Why not me?  Who better to deal with pain and fatigue and discouragement than one who follows in the footsteps of Jesus?”  We have been gifted with a marvelous example to follow.  We have been gifted with “wonderful words of life” to inspire us, console us, guide us.  We have been gifted with “a cloud of witnesses,” both before us and around us, to whom we can reach out for counsel and example.

And now it is Christmas.  We celebrate again the coming of the Christ Child.  We rejoice in the gift of new life, new beginnings, new hope.  We look ahead to a new year and a new start.

Dear Lord,  We thank you for the gift of Jesus, who bore not only the weight of our sins, but the weight of our suffering.  When we think we cannot carry on alone, remind us that we are not alone.  When we think the load is too heavy, remind us that we can share it.  And when things are going well, remind us to thank you.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

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A Child Is Coming! (December 14, 2014)

A child is coming!  Well, two children are coming!  My daughter and son-in-law will be picking up his niece and nephew this weekend and raising them as their own.  Betsy is two and Bobby is one.  Their parents are both struggling with addiction and decided they can’t handle the responsibilities of parenthood.  Their mother’s family decided Joy and Tony would be the perfect people to raise them since their mother has left them.

We are all so excited to welcome two new children into the family.  And it seems such a perfect time of year, as we await the birth of the Christ child, to await the arrival of these two children as well.  Here are two young lives full of possibilities and hope, who will join two older brothers (ages 9 and soon-to-be-6) and a community eager to welcome them.

It wasn’t quite the same for the Baby Jesus.  Mary and Joseph were excited, of course.  And Elizabeth rejoiced.  But town of Nazareth didn’t rejoice for Mary’s miracle.  And the young family was forced to flee to Egypt for two years after the birth due to Herod’s displeasure.

But we rejoice now because we know the rest of the story.  Jesus’ birth is good news.  His life and his mission, God’s kingdom on earth, are the best news.  And every new child is a reason to rejoice.  “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  Luke 1:14-15  Elizabeth was given this promise about the birth of John.

Every child has the potential to be great in the sight of God.  It is our privilege and responsibility to help them be so.  “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”  Proverbs 22:6  Walking with the Lord, being kind, sharing fellowship with other believers, living our faith will all help shape our children in positive ways.  And, thanks be to God, we have a new opportunity to do so every day.  It is never too late.

We thank you, Dear God, for the gift of children, and the chance to spread your word and your love to them and through them.  Give us the strength to do so with wisdom and patience.  We thank you, too, for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, the living example of how to live in this world.  May we be filled with His gift of the Holy Spirit today and every day, so that we may continue Your work in this World.  Amen.

Hope (December 7, 2014)

In the past week I have seen three programs that mentioned the story of Pandora. I think we all remember the story of the young woman entrusted with a box and warned not to open it. And how she did open it, and released all manner of evils and unhappiness upon the earth. But if you’re like me, you’ve forgotten the most important part of the story. Pandora heard a little scratching noise inside the box, and when she looked inside, she found a small winged creature in one corner. It was Hope. All was not lost because Hope was also released into the world and it has remained with us ever since.

Hope is also one of the four Advent candles we light in our church. Hope sustains us as we wait for the Christ Child. No matter how awful things seem, no matter how desperate and depraved the situation, we can always live with the hope that things will be better. And as Christians we can live with the certainty that God is in control, and wants only the best for us.

It seems as if the world today is on the brink of chaos. Racial relations here in the U.S. appear to be at a new low. Terrorism seems to be everywhere. People in some parts of the world are starving to death while others are dying from the effects of obesity. Floods are inundating some areas while others are suffering from years of drought. Children are dying of preventable diseases for lack of vaccinations. Where is the hope, we ask? Where is God in all this?

The same place He was when Christ came into the world. Times were equally bleak. Israel had been conquered by a series of occupying forces – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, and most notably, the Romans. The Pax Romana. (Roman Peace) came at a high cost – heavy taxes, the presence of Roman troops, being governed by Roman officials, poverty, unrest, distrust.

I’m sure people felt just as hopeless then as many do now. But we mustn’t abandon Hope, just as Hope doesn’t abandon us. Things were very bleak when God sent Jesus into the world. The Israelites were at the breaking point when God sent Moses to release them. The Hebrews were at the point of death when God used Esther to secure their safety. And today we have Jesus to secure us. This time of Advent is a time to put aside the bad habits and bad attitudes that are weighing us down.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

Even illness and disability can steal our peace of mind and turn us away from Jesus. I know. But if we will turn ourselves back to the source of life and Hope we will find comfort. And if we share our struggle with other believers we will find that we are not alone. Praise God!

Dear Father God, As we wait for the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ, help us to find Hope, and to trust that all is well and will continue to be well. Remind us that we are your hands and feet, and enable us to seek and do Your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Anticipation (November 30, 2014)

Happy New Year!  With this Advent we begin a new year in the life of the church.  I like the way the church year runs.  We have All Saints Day, where we remember all the people who have influenced us and guided us, and give thanks that part of them that lives on in us, and we remember that we are still surrounded by such a “great cloud of witnesses.”

And we have Thanksgiving, when we stop to reflect on all the blessings in our lives, and to be thankful, and to share our blessings with others.  If we’re lucky it’s also a time to gather together with family and friends and delight in the warmth of shared companionship and memories.

Then comes Advent, the time of blessed waiting, when we know the Christ Child is coming.  The music, the candles, the creche, the Chrismons, the evergreens, the poinsettias, and the other customs and traditions, all help to instill the sense of wonder and expectation.  If we are lucky we have found ways to separate ourselves from the madness of the Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays and find sanctuary in moments of reading, prayer, music or meditation.  Perhaps there is even a favorite movie that brings us to a peaceful place.

I’ve always loved the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol because it is the one I first saw, as a child on television.  Scrooge’s conversion touched me deeply, and Marley’s ghost’s speech:  “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.” made a lasting impression on me.  Even my unchurched friends can relate.

As one of my undertakings for the new year, I cleaned up this blog site.   I didn’t know much about blogs when I started it, and its main purpose is a repository for our past devotionals.  Instead of merely posting them, I put them there as pages, and they were not easy to access.  I converted them to posts, finding in the process that several of them had never made it onto the site.  They are all there now, for your enjoyment.

So what are you waiting for this Advent?  For what are you preparing?  Is it a year dedicated to new spiritual practices?  A new health regimen?  A new outreach ministry?  I know that with Emmanuel, God with us, you will not be alone and you will experience growth and success.  It may not look like the project you originally designed, but it will be the one that God planned for you.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

We thank you, dear God, that you do plan for our welfare, and that you give us a future with hope.  No matter how grey the skies, how dark the clouds, we can depend on the ray of sun peeking out and assuring us of Your presence.  We are never alone.  Amen.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  John 1:5