On the Fourth Day of Christmas

December 31, 2020

“On the fourth day of Christmas,

my true love gave to me, four calling birds,

three French hens, two turtle doves AND a partridge in a pear tree.”

Four calling birds in this Christmas memory song, originally were four quacking ducks.  We can imagine these birds in our barnyard of animals to be the four Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament.  Four men wrote letters sharing their understanding of the life of Christ.  The Sunday morning Gospel text usually comes from one of these four books that share about “true love” giving “the partridge,” Jesus to us at Christmas.

         Four witnesses at the scene of an accident will tell four versions of the incident.  They may agree on most everything but they may also differ on some points. What color was the car?  How many people?  Detective stories have a lot of fun collecting the reports at the scene of the incident and eyes roll.  The four Gospels  are by four different men, from four different backgrounds, writing to four different audiences, but collected and put together to “call” to us to read.

         So how do we want to learn about God in 2021?  Certainly nature tells us some of the truth about God and walks in nature are refreshing and can be inspiring.  Stirring movies about the life of Christ give a visual interpretation of what life might have been like during those years of incarnation.  Sermons challenge us to think deeper about the events, the teachings, the miracles of Christ’s life and apply the lessons to our own lives.  Listening to touching testimonies of how God acted “this week” in the life of a fellow believer stirs our faith.  Prayer and meditation to listen for that “still small voice” even as Elijah did on the mountain has been a favorite discipline for mystics.  True Love gives and True Love calls to us to be see beyond our own perspective and interpretation of life and to realize God walks with us, to save us.

         Today is December 31st and for many that signals a reflection over the dynamics of 2020.  My husband used to talk about his 20-20 vision.  That referred not to his glasses but to our prayer that the two children we adopted in 1996 would be mature and “lauched” by 2020.  Would we even live to see that day or that dream come true?  Tomorrow we enter 2021.  Wow.  This year has challenged us in ways we never even dreamt of last New Year’s Eve.  It is also true, this year has brought blessings we never thought of and new patterns of behavior.  Perhaps as we reflect, we might want to commit to reading one of the four calling birds, one of the Gospels, this year.  The church will be preaching from Mark but all the Gospels call to us and remind us that Jesus, the partridge, was God incarnate, who healed, who taught, who entered our highs and lows, who walked through death and goes with us into 2021.  That is a call worth listening to.  Blessings as you reflect and ponder the future!

On the Third Day of Christmas

December 30, 2020

“On the third day of Christmas,

my true love gave to me, three French hens

two turtle doves AND a partridge in a pear tree.”

Wikipedia says that French hens are the breed of chicken known as Faverolles that was developed about the 1800s.  They are known for being a “utility fowl,” good for meat and egg.  We raised chickens in Kenya for eggs, for meat, and they were good criers if a snake came around.  A six-foot cobra slithered into our coop one night and the noise woke the whole village!  I often tried to order a batch of day-old chicks for when the children were home from boarding school.  The hawks kept track of our house!

         So why “three French hens” in this song?  1 Corinthians 13, called the “Love Chapter” is a must-memorize assignment for children.  It defines love.  Songs are written with its words.  The chapter ends with this insight:  prophecy ceases and knowledge is limited for we only understand “in part” because we are imperfect.

          When I was a child I reasoned like a child, when I became a man, I    put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in     a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, then I     shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three       remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor.          13:11-13.

Faith, hope and love are thought to be the three French hens, the three gifts from “true love” that spring from our hearts.  These three gifts are character qualities we want to be known for having, not wealth and knowledge that are seasonal.  The event of Christmas transforms our lives even as Scrooge is transformed.  As we think about these three gifts, perhaps it would be good to take a moment to reflect as we enter 2021.  Perhaps write in our journal…

  • What is the foundation of my faith for 2021 – government, medicine, family, wealth, or God?
  • What are three hopes for the New Year?
  • Where do I need to pray for “true love”?

“These three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  It is not coincidental that “true love” is the giver in this song as our qualities are poor reflections.  Our prayer is that they will grow to be more like true love’s faith, hope and love for us as we walk with God into 2021.  Blessings.

On the Second Day of Christmas

December 29, 2020

December 25 to January 6 is known as “the twelve days of Christmas” and celebrates the time between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi.  The song talking about gifts on these twelve days is a popular Christmas song for many and irritating jingle for others. One theory says the song was developed as a teaching tool for persecuted Christians to share their basic  faith beliefs.  So we continue,

         “On the second day of Christmas,

         my true love gave to me, two turtle doves

         AND a partridge in a pear tree.”

Two turtle doves, a gift from “true love” are the second gift to bless us. The two turtle doves are thought to represent the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Why two and not just one, you might ponder? There are stereo types that differentiate the two parts of the Bible and provide a possible answer.  The Old Testament shares “law,” the Ten Commandments, and the New Testament shares “grace,” the story of Jesus and salvation.  There is a tendency to see the “new” as more up-to-date and the relevant truth and the old…well, outdated and not as relevant.  I want to play the devil’s advocate today and challenge that simple summary.

         Two testaments, I think, challenge our concept of God.  How do we think of God?  Is God a static, distant set of rules and commandments that must be pleased, the giver of the Old Testament, and so the need of the grace and forgiveness as found in Jesus in the New Testament?  Or is God a living being that relates to his creation much as a parent relates to a child?  My children have grown from infants when we carried them in our arms, to toddlers, to children, to youth, to becoming young adults, and now as full adults with whom we have deepening conversations and a relationship that takes on new dimensions and characteristics. My relationship with them has grown even though I am the same parent.  Real beings grow in relationship and communication styles over time.

         In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were becoming and the Ten Commandments can be seen as a rule book to be obeyed or as a set of guidelines explaining how life works best.  My tendency, especially when I was younger, was to see God as a right, wrong relationship so that if I could control my behavior and thoughts, then I felt more secure, more “loved.”  Perhaps God waited and at the right time tried again to relate, realizing we needed an incarnation, a physical representation of him, to understand our relationship.  In fact “law” and “grace” are found in both parts of the Bible.  Two turtle doves, a gift from “true love” communicates into our reality Love’s unfolding character and relationship with his creation.  The Bible is a gift to all, translatable to many languages to communicate “true love.”

         Today, as we continue to shift from Christmas to the challenges of 2021, may we hold in our hearts that “true love” continues to communicate with us in new ways as we grow and develop and face various challenges.  The story of Christmas is not static narrative but the beginning of an unfolding relationship where “true love” reaches out to you through your past life but now into new, dynamic expressions in your unfolding life.  God is a real being who cares about you in old and new ways.  Love for God reaching out to you today and is offering the olive branch that is often pictured as carried in the turtle dove’s beak.  Blessings.

The First Day of Christmas

December 28, 2020

December 25 to January 6 is known as “the twelve days of Christmas” and celebrates the time between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi.  Neither date is a fixed historical fact but through the years these events have settled into tradition.  The arrival of the wisemen is called Epiphany, a new insight, and the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christmas story.  The Christmas story is not just a fixed holiday when we celebrate a historical memory, like President’s day, but is the beginning of an unfolding reality that has not only shaped history but has shaped our personal lives.  There are many that also credit this song as a teaching tool for Christians when Christians were persecuted in the 17-18 century.  I have read that in 1558 Catholics developed the song to teach the basic truths of Christianity.  In any case, today is December 28 and we are going to focus on this song till Epiphany, January 6th.

         “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in          a pear tree.”

         “True love” is the giver, not someone seeking to impress us.  For most of us we have had experience with false love, the broken promises, the nights by the phone or mailbox – waiting for a reality that never came.  The promises were empty.  Songs are sung about true love.  God’s love is true love because he does not break his promises or his commitment to us.  I love to use the example when visiting of a hand shake – in the mysterious handshake between the divine and us, the divine holds on to me when I am weak, when I don’t remember who I am, when the sky is so dark I cannot see, when I am overwhelmed with doubt, when…  God’s love is true love even though we do not see his kingdom totally materialized now.

         True Love “gave to me.”  Love gives and does not grab.  Love is patient and will wait till I open the gift.  Love gave unexpectedly, in an unlikely way, to unassuming people – kind of like your life and mine.

         True love gave a “partridge.”  A partridge is a bird that will sacrifice its life to save its children.  It is not a bird we talk about much except at Christmas but we do tell the story of the hen who, seeing the brush fire sweeping across her home, gathered her chicks under her wings and hunkered down.  The farmer discovered the charred body of the hen and lifted the wings and out came the baby peepers.  We are those little chicks that true love protects.  When the trials of life threaten to destroy us, we need only scurry under the wings of true love and wait.  True love, which gave Jesus at Christmas, protects.

         The partridge is sitting in a pear tree.  The pear tree is not a common image to me.  I was surprised to read, “pear trees are considered images of prosperity, good health and future happiness.”  The pear itself was compared to the female body, seeds deep inside, bearing the Christ child for humanity.  Hummm???  It is true that Christ came of Mary.  It is true that within each of us are seeds of creativity, of love, of talent – a gift to be developed and lived out for others.  These seeds grow and produce life.

         Today let us hold in our hearts that image of a partridge – Jesus – born of woman – the pear – and given by true love – God – to us to bless and lead us into our unfolding journey with him.  Blessings as you hum!

Christmas 1

December 26, 2020

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10–62:3

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
  my whole being shall exult in my God;
 for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
  he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
 as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
  and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
  and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
  to spring up before all the nations.

62:1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
  and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
 until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
  and her salvation like a burning torch.
2The nations shall see your vindication,
  and all the kings your glory;
 and you shall be called by a new name
  that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
  and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm: Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
  praise God in the heights.
2Praise the Lord, all you angels;
  sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
3Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
  sing praise, all you shining stars.
4Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,
  and you waters above the heavens.
5Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  who commanded, and they were created,
6who made them stand fast forever and ever,
  giving them a law that shall not pass away. 
7Praise the Lord from the earth,
  you sea monsters and all deeps;
8fire and hail, snow and fog,
  tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
9mountains and all hills,
  fruit trees and all cedars;
10wild beasts and all cattle,
  creeping things and flying birds;
11sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
  princes and all rulers of the world;
12young men and maidens,
  old and | young together. 
13Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
14The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants,
  the children of Israel, a people who are near the Lord. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

4When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
  25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
  according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
  31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
  and for glory to your people Israel.”
  33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
  36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
  39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


Prayer:  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

         The new calendar year will start with January 1 at the end of this week and we will reflect over the events of this year, bemoaning how hard 2020 was and how we hope not to have another tough year like this one.  Many of us are more than ready to be finished with politics and all its accusations, ready to be finished with Covid 19 and all its restrictions and fear, ready to be rid of financial restrictions from lost jobs, ready for kids to return to school so adults can work…oh my, ready for a change.  Our prayer is that 2021 will be easier than 2020.  I note, though, that our focus of this prayer is on the desire for the events of our life to be less stressful.

         On the other hand, if there is another hand, the liturgical year started November 29, 2020, with Advent, a time of waiting for the fulfillment of promise by God. It does not track life chronologically by events of today but looks through a different lens.  It centers around the anticipation of Jesus, his early childhood, his life, his death, his resurrection and how his reality impacts our life.  Christmas Day celebrates the Incarnation of the Eternal.  Perhaps we could call it the materialization of the Holy so that our physical eyes can see – the unseen.  The Christmas story has not ended.  We have read the preface to the book and now on to the introduction!  I feel like we have stepped into “the transport” circles on the star ship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Bones, and are being transported to a new world, going to “places where no man has gone before.” 

         None of the people we have met so far in the Christmas story have totally understood what is happening much beyond their present.  Certainly the Romans were looking for a Messiah whom they thought they could kill if they identified him.  Certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth had seen an angel and bore a miracle son they called John and whom they thought would rally their people to return to faith – in what? The law?  Certainly Joseph and Mary had seen angels and knew their baby was of God and would be the Messiah, but the popular belief was that the Messiah would bring salvation from the Romans.  The shepherds, well, they visited and returned to their fields and probably seldom were able to go to worship.  Things are happening within a known setting in irregular ways but how are they understood?

         Today we are being challenged.  Joseph and Mary are “amazed” by what they hear as they bring the baby Jesus along with their two doves to have Jesus circumcised – the eighth day, probably before the arrival of the wise men.  Joseph and Mary are amazed.  How will we be amazed by this message today?

         When Kirk, Spock, and Bones step onto a new planet with new forms of life, they go from the known to a new understanding, in some ways a new revelation.  In a similar way, the story of faith is an unfolding growth in seeing and experiencing life.  One of my favorite Star Trek original episodes involves a visit to a planet where life is based on nitrogen rather than carbon.  It was something like that in my memory.  They discover that the creatures they mistake to be rocks are actually animate and that the “mother” is protecting her rock eggs but they wound her with their lasers.  Once they understand the way the planet works, probably Spock did some sort of mind lock with the creature, they heal the rock being and the episode ends happy ever after.

         Today we have Joseph and Mary holding the baby Jesus as he is circumcised and Simeon and Anna who enter the story with new eyes, speak amazing words.  Why does Luke include this episode in his gospel?  Could it be that Luke wants us to understand that revelation does come just through angels to “key characters in a story” but it also comes to us, ordinary people?  Revelation enters our time and often is cloaked in mystery.  As we grasp it, we are amazed!  Are you ready to be amazed?

         Both Simeon and Anna have been waiting a lifetime for the appearance of “the promised savior.”  We know about waiting.  Stay six feet apart.  Wait for the stimulus check.  Wait for the vaccine.  Wait for the weather broadcasted environmental challenge or wait for the changing of the guard in the presidency.  We wait.  Simeon was an ordinary, righteous man, a common churchgoer like us.  He was not a priest, possibly not that learned but known to be righteous and devout, listening to the Holy Spirit.  He is like me.  He is waiting “for the consolation of Israel.”   Simeon challenges me to ask myself how I wait.  Am I listening to God on Sunday and news the rest of the week, or gossip, or whatever?  Simeon understands that God’s salvation plan will unfold in his lifetime and so he looks for evidence of God working in his world.  When all the events surrounding Simeon are confusing, Simeon looks and listens.

         Do I hear the voice of skepticism, that little voice whispering in your ear – right???  Good enough for Bible characters but not for me.  Does God rrrreeeaaallllyy speak today?  Does God speak to ordinary people like us today?  My answer is yes.  We call it inspiration.  There are those “aha” moments as we wrestle with the direction of life, do I marry him or her – is there another, is this the right job or is there another, which major to choose in college, or even which gift to buy at Christmas – suddenly the “light dawns,” as we say, and we know in our gut which way to go.  God speaks through nature, through music, through friends, through Scripture and through experience as he journeys with us.  He speaks into reality but does not contradict himself.  Like Simeon we wait for God’s truth to become real in our life and we receive God’s revelation. But we only understand partially, seeing through a glass dimly.

         Let us not forget Anna, a widow of many years, perhaps as much as sixty, who also was an ordinary person, waiting for God to speak. She also committed her time to prayer and fasting. Many years of waiting for an answer!  Wow, we have trouble waiting through commercials.  Prayer and fasting imply to me that her actions were congruent with her desire to live faithfully.  She was not passive but active.  A deep skepticism has settled on us these days, I believe.  All the political indecision and medical indecision can lead to a futile resignation and sense that – what will be, will be, “que sera”.   The news media has lost credibility and the intense campaign to get us to be vaccinated resonates as “the lady doth protest too much.”  So, let us do a little mental check on our spiritual disciplines that help us actively listen for God’s voice. Spiritual disciplines often involve habits of reading Scripture, journaling, prayer, fasting, meditation, fellowship and even stewardship.  We may be willing to receive a revelation but is our cell phone charged, our antenna connected?  Anna was an ordinary person like us, listening and investing energy in her relationship with God through prayer and fasting.  How are we investing as we wait?

         Revelation amazes us as we are challenged to see the future in new ways that we don’t really grasp.  Kirk and Spock had never thought of life being organized with rock beings.  They don’t really understand what that means and are amazed.  Joseph and Mary listen to Simeon and are equally amazed.  What did his prophecy mean about that little baby, so helpless in their arms?  What is the implication for their lives?  Revelation is cloaked in mystery, in the future, in the unknown, taking us to “places no man has ever gone.”

         “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of     many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hmmm.  I would be hesitant to say this has truly been fulfilled and how but again I see “revelation” at work.  The Christ child will reveal “the inner thoughts of many.”  Simeon and Anna cause me to reflect on if I am listening as an ordinary person and how I am listening.  Simeon’s words cut deep into my heart.  Am I listening and acting like I do to the evening news broadcast, a bit passively and critically and doubtfully, or am I listening with faith that the unseen, that which I don’t understand, that which leaves me out of control – is possible.  Revelation reveals if I listen with human ears or spiritual ears.  The mystery of revelation calls me to faith in a God who is acting in history – yours and mine, who acts for my good whether today or in the future, and who holds the whole world in his hands even if we don’t see and understand.  Revelation amazed Joseph and Mary and amazes me because I don’t understand and I am called to trust God.

         Revelation is not necessarily about predicting a happy-ever-after ending and often acts as “a sword that pierces our soul.”  We are afraid to hear we will die.  We are afraid when our candidate loses.  We may have questions about the unknown of the new vaccine. Yes, I want to go to heaven.  Yes, I want the Romans conquered.  Yes, I want the Messiah but hearing what that looks like is more challenging.  My inner thoughts and desires are revealed and I am challenged to trust God.

         Revelation amazes us as we step into new territory.  Revelation amazes us as we realize our selfishness and must bow to the God who knows and leads.  But revelation also leads us to praise and to speak to others.  Anna could not be quiet when she met the Christ child in the temple.  Her prayers and fasting had been answered!  God is acting into the future in ways like a baby that she could not understand but Anna sees the bigger picture, not the baby from God but the God in the baby.  Anna bursts into praise.

         Today we have gone where no man had ever gone before.  Ordinary people like Simeon and Anna who were waiting for God faithfully, saw a baby brought for an ordinary circumcision.  Ordinary people doing ordinary actions but revelation is seeing the extraordinary, seeing the hand of God in the ordinary events of our lives.  He is not defeated by Rome.  He is not defeated by poverty.  He is not defeated by our lack of understanding.  God is active in our world today and THAT, my dear friends, is grounds for praise and sharing.  May you see with the eyes of your heart this week and may you find time to practice spiritual disciplines and listen to a God who reveals to ordinary people like us, his mysterious love.  Blessings.

The Day After

December 26, 2020

THE DAY AFTER Christmas, after the high, after a tragic accident, after a memorable event of any kind, what happens?  I have found that the “day after” (which has now become connected with ideas of counter-balancing the effects of the day before for fear of an unwanted pregnancy), like the valley after the mountain top experience, often signals an emotional slump after an emotional high.  Christmas Day is over but many want to play those tunes just one more time.  Presents have been opened and there is no more element of surprise in the air.  Trash needs to be dealt with.  Just jumping into the next season after Advent seems a bit of a rush.

         I opened my book Amazing Grace, 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions and found the hymn for today is “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Refrain:  Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and ev’rywhere—go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!

  1. While shepherds kept their watching o’er silent flocks by night, behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light.
  2. The shepherds feared and trembled when lo! Above the earth rang out the angel chorus that hailed our Savior’s birth.
  3. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn.

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and ev’rywhere—go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!

         Negro spirituals have inspired and comforted us since the 18th and 19th century when they originated in the camp meetings in the South.  John W. Work and his brother Frederick J. Work promoted this song in the first published book Folk Songs of the American Negro in 1907 and it has become a beloved part of our sacred music and Christmas tradition.  The Christmas story is a story that needs to be told, not just experienced as a moment of delight and then dealt with like the trash of Christmas.  It is but a glimpse into a story that will unfold through out the liturgical year, amazing us, blessing us and guiding us.  It’s O.K. to sit back, now that all the excitement has settled and savor the meaning –then, now, and for our future.  God incarnated as a small, innocent, helpless baby to reveal itself, journey with us showing how God responds to life’s challenges, and ultimately walking through death to eternal life thus giving us hope to replace fear.

         The hymn embraces Isaiah 40:9,

          “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain.  You         who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout,        lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ’Here is your      God!’” 

May the blessings continue for you on the “day after” Christmas!

Christmas: Incarnation

December 25, 2020

LOVE.  Advent 4. “Leo ni leo!”  “Today is the day,” as we would say in Swahili.  The youngest child asks the father during the Passover meal, “Father, why is today special?”  For four weeks we have been waiting for not for Passover but for Christmas, preparing our hearts, preparing our homes, preparing our families and now we come to today.  Why is today THAT special?  Worship, gifts, food and fellowship partially answer but we turn to the gospel of John, chapter 1, for another perspective.

         John opens in verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  Our reality started with the Word speaking creation into being.  But we were not there.  Hence all the theories of creation, even the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.  Science can give us theories but science cannot prove, only postulate.  John continues and reminds us in verse 17 of chapter 1, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  From the Ten Commandments and Hammurabi through out history, all cultures have codes of behavior to regulate our lives together and to give us a moral compass.  But, it seems to me, we cannot even agree on the right way to treat our fellow person.  Political elections prove that.  So why is today special?

         I find the answer in the word “INCARNATION.”  Verse 18, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”  Incarnation is taking that which cannot be known but is perhaps experienced and giving it a form that our eyes can understand.  A cloud with a face blowing gives us a picture of wind.  A flag is an emblem signifying concepts of a country – the stars stand for the states.  If asked to draw a picture to symbolize God, we are hard pressed, because God is so far beyond us.  Incarnation, the babe in Bethlehem, is how Christians understand God chose to introduce himself to us.  The baby makes known to us the unknowable.

         Christmas testifies to us today that the sunrise outside my window is God consistently, regularly remembering his creation and reaching out to us — even as a small baby raises its arms to reach for a parent.  Relationship with God grows even as that little child wraps his fingers around our heart and we learn to love and understand each other.  Babies change reality as shepherds, wisemen, and soldiers change their plans and come to the stable.  The babe of Bethlehem, Jesus, the Messiah, Immanuel changes our realities as we embrace him.  Today is special.  It is the incarnation, the making known in real form and stories, the God who created, who sustains, who relates, and who journeys with us.  The gifts, the food, the fellowship are our ways of expressing, of incarnating our love for the other. God is real and comes to YOU today!  Blessings.

Love finds favor

December 24, 2020

LOVE.  Advent 4. Tomorrow is Christmas and today we read Luke’s version, the most well known version, of Christ’s birth.  Let’s look for love in that story.  Luke starts with social markers to verify the story historically.           —Caesar Augustus has issued his first decree for a universal census and everyone must go to his or her family seat to register.  No love or concern in those governmental decrees. My heart doubts that government decrees about masking, voting recounts, or vaccinations truly involve any concern for me, even if I do get a stimulus check. 

—Joseph and his pregnant “pledged” wife travel together to Bethlehem, the home of David.  Hard tasks draw us together but to call this “love” would not meet Hollywood standards. 

—Mary bears the baby in a stable.  I’m still not feeling the love in the story. 

So ends the first nine verses of chapter 2 of Luke.  I would need a lot of poetic license to create a love story!

         Chapter 2 verses 8 to 20, though, burst forth in great detail and conversation and action.  This part of the Christmas story seems to have caught Luke’s literary attention and has been recorded for history.  A choir of angels visits a group of shepherds — the unnoticed, unimportant, not worth mentioning. A single angel visited Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph.  A choir signed up or was sent to carry this message!  And what was the message they carried?  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom is favor rests.”  (Today we would say “on people” to be inclusive but the meaning is still clear.)  A huge emotional response, love, is generated to God by this birth and God in return loves, favors people.  That sounds like a love relationship to me!  Not a census, not a long journey pregnant, and not a stable.  This birth is the start of an unfolding love story between God and his creation – including angels, stars, shepherds, wiremen, Joseph, Mary, the animals and all who believe! 

         Like those shepherds who were caught between the harsh realities of their lives and the angel choir, we are caught between the harsh realities of our news about our world and the message of the choir.  God favors,” God loves us and is acting even though it may not be obvious.  Many will prepare to go to Christmas Eve services tonight.  We will enjoy the music.  We will smile at the little children doing their parts.  Or maybe we will turn on the radio or stream or tune in by zoom to our favored congregation.  We will form a “socially distanced” choir but that does not diminish our praise or God’s favor on us. Our gifts will be opened and appreciated to some degree and most will find some way to socialize.  But the real “love story” here is between God and his creation – YOU!  May you rest in that truth tonight because that is true truth.  You are favored!

“Whom I love”

December 23, 2020

LOVE.  Advent 4.  Mark opens his gospel introducing John the Baptist, a bit of a wild looking prophet emerging from the wilderness and calling to the people to prepare for “one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie,” who is coming.  Prepare by repenting, changing.  We might say, “Get your act together!”  There is no love in this message.  If we stop there, those of us who are a bit honest with ourselves about those dark habits that seem to keep us from the “good life” if only we could repent and turn ourselves around, might walk away.  Some of us look at today as it approaches and foresee a trip to the hospital, or choosing between food and Christmas presents for our kids, or even another less than gratifying zoom meeting.  I hear the little voice whispering in my ear, “Where’s God and that love of Advent?”  We are tempted to turn our back and walk away from the mystery of faith.  A better tomorrow must involve people repenting, changing, “a major course correction.”

         BUT (and there always seems to be a “but”), Mark continues his gospel in 1:9 with “at that time,” in the midst of the call for repentance, Jesus visits John the Baptist at the river Jordon and is baptized.  As he comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and a voice speaks from heaven.  “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”  “Whom I love” are such powerful words.  Let’s think about it!  Jesus has done nothing miraculous or helpful.  He has not entered ministry, earned any degree, solved any problems.  He has done nothing of note.  He comes from small town Israel, from an ordinary family, and from a questionable birth.  It sounds a bit like most of us.  We are just normal and unspectacular.  A voice breaks into his experience and pronounces, “whom I love.”  No “high five, good job, son.”  No graduation certificate.  No promotion raise.  Before any deeds to dazzle our eyes, God says, ”whom I love.”

         Mark’s Advent story opens with love, Advent 4’s theme.  As a person, so desiring love, it is easy to hear the prolog of “repent” and so hard to hear the affirmation of “love.”  I realize my love is conditional and focused on today or the past track record.  Also, I am conditioned to believe love is conditional on my beauty, on my performance, on my talents, on MY whatever – on me being and controlling my life well.  The Advent journey calls us to “wait” for a God who brings love to us because “God is love. (1John 4:16)” “We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)”

         The pressure is on right now.  Christmas is two days away.  Presents still need to be bought, food prepared, and zoom gatherings planned.  That is not to mention questions of vaccinations or political transitions and, of course, weather.  It is easy to fret or despair.  Advent 4 focuses on love, the love that comes in the Christmas story not because of who we are but because of who God is.  May we remember as we face the challenges of today that God loves us and walks with us into the future.  Blessings.

Love shares

December 22, 2020

LOVE.  Advent 4. The Matthew report of Advent, of Advent through the eyes of Joseph, includes the story of the “Magi,” the Wisemen.  Three, a number we only use because of the three gifts, probably men, come from the “East,” someplace east of Bethlehem or Judah anyway, to see “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”  Matthew’s report not only shows that Joseph was chosen to father Jesus but it also includes us Gentiles, us non-Jews, as significant recipients of the blessing.  How many songs and tales have arisen from this scene!

         The journey is worth reaching the destination.  If it was a camel ride across a hot, sandy desert, for however long, the journey was not easy.  As we journey in Advent and through life, the journey is not easy.  In Kenya, often the worship leader would start, “Many longed to see today but have not, so let us rejoice,” rejoice in the midst of the challenges of life.  Death never arrives at the right time and those of us who journey with the person feel the love that has been felt on the journey.  Journeys draw us together in community and we value love.  Whom are we journeying with today who has extended love to you?

         The journey in found in the context of misunderstanding.  The Magi pass through Jerusalem and are interrogated by Herod who calls the priests that reveal that a savior will be born in Bethlehem.  None of those characters care enough to go to Bethlehem to check out the Magi’s story. Love calls on our hearts to insert ourselves in the story, in the journey, to invest our lives in what is unfolding and in process.  Love involves itself in the mystery of faith.  Are we passive bystanders like Herod and the priests or are we active seekers living out our love in the journey?

         Yes, love gives and does not take or grab or possess as we talked about yesterday.  The Magi brought gifts of love.  There was no entrance fee at the stable.  One explanation has the “gold” acknowledging the baby’s kingship, the “frankincense” acknowledging his priestly role, and the “myrrh” acknowledging his sacrifice.  The gifts were not requested but given from love and unknowingly helped in the escape to Egypt and Jesus’ life as a refugee.  I love the Christmas song and the song Little Drummer Boy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRDLsEJYTBU

         The Advent story is coming to a climax this week in the birth of a baby we love without seeing, not truly understanding the cost of that love to us or where that relationship will lead us and for many pondering what we bring to God.  What a comfort to know God loves all, even the “foreigner”, and there is no entrance fee to worship him.  We bring him our heart and that is good enough.  Praise his name!  Blessings.