Archive for December, 2011

Friday, December 23rd. Titus 2:11-15

December 23, 2011

“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. Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” Titus 2:11-15

 

What if no one opened their presents?

 

What if some sort of strange “Occupy Christmas” movement started and spread like wildfire around the world?  Twitter feeds and Facebook groups all encouraging young people to reject the abject materialism of Christmas and not open a single present?

 

All around the world, parents who had used their hard earned money to buy video games and bicycles and jewelry and the coolest clothes and the latest electronics had to wake up the day after Christmas, knowing that their children had refused to open the presents that had been purchased and wrapped especially for them?

 

It would take a bit of the fun out of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, wouldn’t it?

 

Families would be gathered in the den.  The oldest child, or maybe this year the youngest child, would dutifully play “mailman” and bring each person their presents.  And then no one would open them. 

 

Fathers would get angry and say things like “Fine, if you don’t want what we bought for you then we’ll just take them all back!”  (But then they would start imagining the long return lines and they would change their tunes.)

 

“This is ridiculous!  I’ve never seen anything like this.  I’LL open those presents for you and you WILL appreciate what you’ve been given!”

 

After the wrapping paper they would go, in anger rather than joy, until the den floor was littered with glitter and the new things just lying there untouched.  And there they would lay.  On into the New Year.  On into the days and weeks and months to come. 

 

It would be a shame, wouldn’t it?

 

Yet isn’t this what we do when we close our hearts to God, rejecting the gift of God in Christ by refusing to let God’s love do its transformative work in our lives?

 

The grace of God came down to earth in Jesus, revealing God’s character and love, inviting us to lives that are “self-controlled, upright and godly”.  Yet how often do we leave that gift unopened and ignored?  How often do prayers go unsaid?  Worship services ignored?  Good deeds left undone?  Where does our faith fit in our lives – at the center or out on the edges somewhere?  Do we play in our faith or so we leave it on a dusty forgotten shelf back in the corner of our lives?

 

Does it matter?

 

Can you believe we would ask a question like that?

 

Let us pray:  Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.  Take away the hindrance of our sins and make us ready for the celebration of your birth, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen. 

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Thursday, December 22nd. Isaiah 9:2-7

December 22, 2011

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:2-7

 

It is very difficult for us to forget what we know.  It is hard for us to imagine where we have not been, to see what we haven’t seen.  But if we could…

 

If we could put ourselves back among the earliest followers of Jesus…

 

It would have begun with rumors.  We would have heard stories told by those who had heard stories.  We might even have heard from someone who had met him themselves.  A teacher but more than a teacher.  We might have heard stories of people restored to life and health.  Someone might have said something that made us decide that we needed to meet him ourselves.

 

Maybe we took a long walk and ended up in a hillside crowd where we heard him teach.  Maybe he happened to walk through our village.  At some point we saw him for ourselves.  There was something about him.  A mystery.  A power.  A determination. A strength.

 

He talked about love, about justice, about peace, about freedom.  He talked about a new kind of life that seemed so much better than the life we had known.  We wanted what he had to give.

 

But then came the news that he had been killed by the Romans during Passover.  But not just that.  The rumor was circulating that he had risen from the dead, appeared to some of his followers, and ascended to the right hand of God himself.  Now we would have wanted to hear from those followers, perhaps we ourselves became devoted followers.

 

But how could we explain who he was?  How ought we now walk in his footsteps?

 

Only then would the long remembered words of Isaiah come to life again for us.  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These were the kind of titles that Roman emperors would bestow on themselves but they would only lead to further domination and oppression. But Jesus?  Jesus brought life, freedom, joy and hope.

 

They remembered even more deeply into the scriptures and they began to see signs of Jesus all over.  The messiah. The suffering servant.  The great day of the Lord.  The promise that he would come again.  So they told the stories…the stories which have reached through history to claim us.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we pray that you continue to bring the light of your love into the darkness of our world.  We pray for peace among nations, peace between people.  We pray for hope and strength to follow, that we might tell the good news story of your love for the rest of our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 21st. Luke 1:67-80

December 21, 2011

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. Luke 1:67-80

 

We finally put our Christmas tree up.  I’d like to say that we have been observing Advent in our home…which we have…but the delay in putting up the tree had more to do with the fact that I didn’t feel like cutting it down from the rafters of the garage and no one else mentioned it.

 

We finally got around to it last night.  Now that it’s up, it is triggering memories.

 

Time for a confession:  I was a horrible “waiting for Christmas” kid.  There was a series of years in there, I’m thinking through my junior high years, when I just couldn’t stand the suspense.  So I peeked.  That I had to manufacture surprise when I opened the gift didn’t seem to bother me at all.  But then I learned to appreciate the suspense and I haven’t peeked at a gift in decades….really, I haven’t.

 

Yes, all that we pour into celebrating Christmas is a cultural distraction.  Yes, it helps us work our way through the longest and darkest nights of the year.  But there is something much deeper going on.

 

Waiting.  Anticipating.  Expecting.  Hoping.  These are all powerful emotions that run deeply in our lives.  Advent and Christmas trigger them all.  And each of these emotions grow out of faith.

 

Because we trust God, because we believe the promises of God, we live in faith, in expectation, in hope.  Because we believe God has been trustworthy in the past, we yearn for God to keep his promises in the future.  Our memory of a child born in a stable is our anticipation of a God who will one day reveal himself again in glory. So we wait in eager suspense.

 

Zechariah waited for a lifetime.  He knew the stories from the past.  He knew the promises of God.  He waited a long time but never gave up.  While he had no way of anticipating the present God had in store for him and Elizabeth, when the time came Zechariah saw the connection.

 

I saw a tree in our den this morning.  I saw some presents.  Thank God that I can also see the connection – to a tree, to God’s presence.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, like children we see Christmas just around the corner.  We pray that, like Zechariah, we can see the connection between the promises you have made, your trustworthiness and our trust.  May we live in joyful anticipation, ever ready to be surprised by what you might be up to.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 20th. Luke 1:57-66

December 20, 2011

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.  Luke 1:57-66

 

Two elements of this story catch my eye this morning – the community and the naming.

 

Ever since I first became a father I have noticed how the wider community reacts to children.  It was beyond fun when family and friends came to the hospital or to our apartment to join in our new lives as parents.  A great balance was created – the physical and emotional exhaustion was balanced by the community’s joy and encouragement.

 

That went on for several years before it faded away.  At some level I knew, when taking my 3 year old daughter to a grocery store, that no one would gush on about how cute she was when she reached middle school.  But the early excitement of the neighbors around the birth of John was wonderful for Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Until they named the child.

 

The story I have been told:  Had my mother been more willing to follow the Norwegian rules of naming the first born son after his grandfathers, my name would have been Knute Lionel Nelson rather than Kerry Lee Nelson.  She consented to the initials but no more than that.  I’m told her stubborn unwillingness to follow protocol was quite the scandal.

 

(Later, in thinking more deeply about that story, I realized that my uncle and aunt also had a first born son and they didn’t follow the rules either.  Thus, no more Knute’s in the family tree.)

 

The act of “naming” in Hebrew culture was an exercise in power.  In the creation stories, the man is given the power to name all of the other creatures.  In various Bible stories, characters acquire new names after God intervenes and charts a new course for their lives. Thus, it was a big deal that Elizabeth first chooses the name “John” and, as the fatherly act of naming a child signified the father’s role and responsibility, Zechariah concurred.

 

His name is John.

 

The text tells us the neighbors were puzzled, even gripped with fear.  They knew something was up, something was going on.  This was no ordinary birth and this would be no ordinary child.  But then again, we all think that of our children, don’t we?

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, as we move closer to our celebration of Christmas, thank you again for this glimpse into the preparations that began with the birth of John.  Thank you for the hope that comes with the birth of children, for the communities around us who support us, for the promise of new life.  Use us, in whatever way we can be helpful, to be signs preparing the way for Jesus into the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, December 19th. Luke 1:46-55

December 19, 2011

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.” Luke 1:46-55

 

Martin Luther used to talk about God’s work in our lives as the “great exchange”.  Jesus takes our sin upon himself and sets us free.  Jesus takes our dirty garments and puts a clean white robe on us.  Jesus changes places with us.

 

In Mary’s song, God is working the great exchange.  Everything is turned upside down. 

 

The proud are scattered.  The powerful brought low.  The lowly lifted up.  The hungry fed.  The rich left empty.  Certainly this is good news for the humble, the lowly, the hungry and the poor.

 

But where does that leave us?  I’m rich.  I’m well-fed.  I’m certainly not powerless.

 

What do we do with Mary’s song?

 

Perhaps it is enough that her song opens our eyes to the reality of the world.  The vast majority of people live in gut-wrenching poverty.  The vast majority of people live every day as a battle to survive.  These are year around challenges that don’t go away.  Dropping a few bucks on Christmas presents for poor kids will brighten their day but they won’t improve their lives nor will they change the ways of the world toward justice and “enoughness.”

 

Maybe what we do with Mary’s song on a Monday morning is realize that God is always mindful of people we most often ignore.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you came to a young girl who freely took upon herself the mission that you gave to her.  We pray for that same kind of willingness to live, do and be your courageous ambassadors of your Kingdom.  While it is good that we be grateful for the lives you have given us, let us never be content in a world full of discontent.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, December 16th. Revelation 3:20

December 16, 2011

(This week’s devotions come from “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado.)

 

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.” Revelation 3:20

 

Some of the saddest words are earth are, “We don’t have room for you.”

 

Jesus knew the sound of those words.  He was still in Mary’s womb when the innkeeper said, “We don’t have room for you.”

 

And when he was hung on the cross, wasn’t the message one of absolute rejection?  We don’t have room for you.

 

Even today Jesus is given the same treatment.  He goes from heart to heart, asking if he might enter…

 

Every so often, he is welcomed.  Someone throws open the door of his or her heart and invites him to stay.  And to that person Jesus gives this great promise:  “In my father’s house are many rooms…”

 

What a delightful promise he makes us!  We make room for him in our hearts, and makes room for us in his house.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, please come into our hearts in new and powerful ways.  We know they are cluttered with junk that takes too much space but still there is room for you.  Come into our hearts and help us clean out what doesn’t belong there.  Come into our hearts and make us new.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, December 15th. John 3:17

December 15, 2011

(This week’s devotions come from “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado.)

 

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  John 3:17

 

Can you imagine prospective parents saying, “We’d like to adopt Johnny, but first we want to know a few things.  Does he have a house to live in?  Does he have money for tuition?  Does he have a ride to school every morning and clothes to wear every day?  Can he prepare his own meals and mend his own clothes?”

 

No agency would stand for such talk.  Its representative would lift her hand and say, “Wait a minute.  You don’t understand.  You don’t adopt Johnny because of what he has; you adopt him because of what he needs.  He needs a home.”

 

That same is true of God.  He doesn’t adopt us because of what we have.  He doesn’t give us his name because of our wit or waller to good attitude…

 

Adoption is something we receive, not something we earn.

 

Let us pray:  Dear God, you have named us, claimed us and called us your own.  From the cross you forgave us.  From the empty tomb you gave us new life.  From the waters of our baptism you marked us forever as your children.  May this good news bring a new kind of hope into our lives today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 14th. Proverbs 15:9

December 14, 2011

(This week’s devotions come from “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado.)

 

“The Lord hates what evil people do, but he loves those who do what is right.”  Proverbs 15:9

 

Perhaps the wound is old.  A parent abused you.  A teacher slighted you.  A mate betrayed you… And you are angry.

 

Or perhaps the wound is fresh.  The friend who owes you money just drove by in a new car.  The boss who hired you with promises of promotions has forgotten how to pronounce your name… And you are hurt.

 

Part of you is broken, and the other part is bitter.  Part of you wants to cry, and part of you wants to fight… There is a fire burning in your heart.  It’s the fire of anger.

 

And you are left with a decision.  “Do I put the fire out or heat it up?  Do I get over it or get even?  Do I release it or resent it?  Do I let my hurts heal, or do I let hurt turn into hate?”

 

Unfaithfulness is wrong.  Revenge is bad.  But the worst part of all that, without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, from the cross you spoke words of forgiveness to those who rejected you, betrayed you, condemned you.  In those words we also hear you forgiving us.  We pray for the grace to let others go, to let past wrongs go, to let what we’ve done go.  We pray for the peace of a quiet conscious and the release of bitterness and resentment.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 13th. John 10:14

December 13, 2011

(This week’s devotions come from “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado.)

 

“I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my sheep, as the Father knows me.  And my sheep know me.”  John 10:14

 

The shepherd knows his sheep.  He calls them by name.

 

When we see a crowd, we see exactly that, a crowd… We see people, not persons, but people.  A herd of humans.  A flock of faces.  That’s what we see.

 

But not so with the Shepherd.  To him every face is different.  Every face is a story.  Every face is a child.  Every child has a name…

 

The shepherd knows his sheep.  He knows each one by name.  The Shepherd knows you.  He knows your name.  And he will never forget it.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, open our eyes that we catch a brief glimpse of life as you see it.  That we might see persons rather than a crowd.  That we might see strangers as brothers and sisters.  That we might know that we belong in the safety and security of your flock.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, December 12th. Psalm 23:6

December 12, 2011

(This week’s devotions come from “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado.)

 

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

 

What a surprising way to describe God.  A God who pursues us.

 

Dare we envision a mobile, active God who chases us, tracks us, following us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives?

 

He’s not hard to find.

 

He’s there in scripture, looking for Adam and Eve.  They’re hiding in the bushes, partly to cover their bodies, partly to cover their sin.

 

Does God wait for them to come to him? No, the words ring in the garden.  “Where are you?” God asks (Genesis 3:9), beginning his quest to redeem the heart of man.

 

A quest to follow his children until his children follow him.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, come to us this Advent season, following us with goodness and mercy.  Don’t give up on us until the day comes when we dwell forever with you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.