Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . .
-Galatians 4:4

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Advent quote by Calvin Miller

Calvin Miller (1937-2012) wrote many books and devotionals, but some of his greatest work is The Singer trilogy, a poetic allegory of Christ. This quote comes from the first volume, by the same name.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Inside the Stable

I quoted this last year, but thought I'd re-post. 
It's a lovely glimpse at C.S. Lewis' imagination and theology.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 4th Sunday of Advent: We are just like the shepherds

 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night.  
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, 
and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, 
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in 
swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude 
of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, 
which the Lord has made known to us.”  
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  
And when they saw it, they made known the saying 
that had been told them concerning this child.  
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising 
God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
- Luke 2:8-20

This week I listened to a sermon by Matt Chandler (The Village Church). He focused on this passage, and opened by saying, "The only group that makes any sense in this narrative are the angels. It's not Mary and Joseph (broke peasants from Gaililee), and definitely not the dirty, nomadic shepherds. 

As far as heralds go, Mary and Joseph were not even in their home town, among family and friends to announce their new baby. God had to be their herald. And He "heralded" just as you would expect him to, by lighting up the sky with a choir of heavenly Angels. But his audience:  a gang of outcasts. The shepherds are the lowest of the low, most likely thieves and addicts, living on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This is the last thing they would ever expect to see. But the sky explodes and God shouts, "GOOD NEWS--for all people! And I'm going to start by telling you guys."

Chandler reminds us that "God brings glory to himself by being the power, authority and the presence by which all things happen. He calls among the weak and the lowly so that He is most glorified." The people God calls often don't make any sense to us, in human terms. We are bitter, liars, full of pride and contempt. But God does this as his way of saying, "Without me, you don't have a chance. Allow me to redeem and rescue. I will not go back on my promises, no matter how small."

And so the shepherds become the first to hear the GOOD NEWS. And the first to respond. After recovering from the biggest shock of their lives, they go and see this little baby, who the angels told them is CHRIST the LORD. They did not deserve this honor, not by any earthly standards. But the Lord of all Heaven is the One who chooses  who and what will bring Him glory.

Not a single one of us deserves to hear the Angels sing, "Good News of Great Joy!" We are just like the shepherds. Let us not keep our ears closed or our eyes to the ground. 


Friday, December 20, 2013

Reflections on "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" by Elisabeth Elliot

In the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light—the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Why not with trumpet blasts? Wouldn’t you expect that the coming of the King of kings would be with trumpet blasts, with royal proclamations and fanfare and maybe camel trains and pomp and ceremony—and who knows what other kinds of ceremony, celebration?

It was a strange method for God to choose. But God is in the business of doing things in ways we never imagine. He moves in what seems to us, twilight. In the dimness we have to make our decisions. We would like to have a star of Bethlehem to guide us, wouldn't we? Oh, how many times I've wished that God would give me something as unequivocal as a star of Bethlehem, or handwriting on the wall, or a pillar of fire to guide me.

But God doesn't do it that way, does He? Most of the time, walking by faith means walking in a certain degree of dimness where we have to make our decisions and act and obey. And it's only the next morning that we can look back and understand.”

- Elisabeth Elliot

"The Real Comfort and Joy of Christmas," a sermon segment from N.T. Wright

"Well, you may say, I didn’t expect to be told about empires and money and wars when I came to church tonight. I expected to hear lovely things that would make me feel good inside. But that’s the trouble with how we’ve treated Christmas these many years: we’ve screened out the emperors, and so we’ve missed the point of the angels. The Christmas story, like Isaiah’s prophecy, isn’t about an escape from the real world of politics and economics, of empires and taxes and bloodthirsty wars. It’s about God addressing these problems at last, from within, coming into our world – his world! – and shouldering the burden of authority, coming to deal with the problems of evil, of chaos and violence and oppression in all their horrible forms. And only when we look hard at those promises and come to grips with what they really mean are we able to grasp the real comfort and joy that Christmas does truly provide. Otherwise we are purchasing a spurious private comfort at the inflated cost of allowing the rest of the world to continue in its misery."

-N.T. Wright, from "Emperors and Angels" a sermon given on December 24, 2006

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"First Coming" by Madeleine L'Engle

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Amazing Peace" by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.”

― Maya Angelou