Archive for December, 2008

Monday, December 22nd

December 22, 2008

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:1-7

 

Today’s will be the first post to my new “blogsite” and it will be the final devotion I write for 2008.  The daily devotions will resume again on Monday, January 5th.

 

Between now and then we will all gather to remember this old story that never gets old.  The first Christmas holiday travelers.  The pregnant girl and her quiet husband.  The town which had no room for them.  The humble manger into which the baby was laid.  The little baby Jesus.

 

Such a simple and marvelously profound story.  There is a sermon tucked away in every line.  There is history stretching in it back to the creation of the world.  Every one of us hears these words and across our mind’s eye dances the Christmas pageants of our past.  And we are still surprised to see that there was no room for this “first family.”  Jesus was born on the edge, on the fringes.

 

There’s an old line I love because it fits me so well – “You can take the kid out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the kid.”  And another – “There’s only one place you can truly be from.”  Both lines fit Jesus.

 

Christmas reminds us of the simple humanity of Jesus.  Born to be “God with us”, Jesus came into our world as we did.  And yet there was another part of him, just as there is a part of us, that never truly quite “fits” – even in our hometowns.  There is a part of us, deeply rooted in the here-and-now, that also senses that there has to be something more, something beyond, something other.  And Jesus opens the door to that for us.

 

Born to be among us, he would live to be rejected.  Rejected by us, he would rise to bring us home.  Reigning over us, he lights a path for our lives that leads us to discovering a new power and purpose for our lives.  To surrender, to serve, to praise, to follow.

 

May God richly and deeply bless you as you come together again this week, and again this season, around that simple story that alones helps our stories make sense.

 

Let us pray:  Draw near to us, dear Lord, as we remember your birth.  As we celebrate your coming into our world, may you come as well into our lives.  See us through the darkness of our times by being our Light and our Hope.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

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Friday, December 19th

December 22, 2008

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:1-5

“Dear Pastor, I would love to know more about how God works in this world. Why do some people lose their children in car accidents or to cancer and others ‘get miracles’ and healed or the car accidents are ‘near misses’?”

This question, the “why do bad things happen to good people?”, question, is, along with a few others, one of the universal questions of all time. If it had a simple answer, it would long ago have been answered.

People tend to answer it from two different ends of a spectrum. On the far left, people say, “Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to all people.” And on the far right, people say, “What seems bad isn’t really bad because everything that happens is ordained by God and is part of God’s larger plan for a really good purpose.”

Neither answer is sufficient for the parent grieving the untimely death of their daughter.

Normally, when that question comes up in real life, I try to reframe it. What sounds like an intellectual question really is an emotional/spiritual question – it isn’t so much an answer the parent wants as it is their daughter back or some tiny ray of hope that will help them through the overwhelming weight of their grief.

But yesterday morning, when I was quiet in the back yard, praying about what is going on in the lives of some folks from my congregation, including my own family, I got a different answer. It was as if God said to me, “Why does everyone think I am in the prevention business? I’m in the redemption business, not the prevention business.”

And then I tried to think of Bible stories where God prevented bad things from happening…and the only ones that came to me were trivial and temporary. Most of the Bible stories are about God redeeming events, working good out of bad, transforming people and their perspectives on and purposes for living life.

I thought especially about this story from John and the disciples’ question, “Who sinned that he was born blind?” What is the cause? Who is to blame? Questions that ultimately take God off the hook by putting the responsibility elsewhere. But then Jesus goes into action, not to answer questions, but to restore a blind man to sight. Jesus redeems the moment by rescuing the man from his slavery to blindness; he doesn’t merely offer an intellectual answer. He springs into action.

I think of the millions of prayers said every single day by millions of people seeking understanding in the midst of unexplainable tragedy or imploring God to prevent bad things from happening in the first place. Clearly, there is power in such prayers. They are not a waste of our time, nor are they unwelcomed prayers to God. We can ask for anything, like children speaking to a loving parent. But few are the children who see the whole picture or the parents who can prevent every bad thing from happening to their children.

In other words, the big question remains unanswered. “Why” goes unanswered but “What can God do with it?” remains to be lived out, one day at a time.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you hear the prayers of people begging to be protecting from the bad things that can happen in our lives. You hear those seeking understanding in the midst of the mysteries of life. Sustain us in our prayers, work new life out of the daily deaths of tragedy and loss, and continue to do among us what we cannot do ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.