“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”

December 31, 2022

Tonight is New Year’s Eve.  Sunday we will focus on the Gospel text coming from Luke 2 where Jesus is officially named in the Temple.  The Old Testament reading for the day comes from Numbers 6 and is known as “The Aaronic Benediction” or “The Priestly Blessing.”  New Year’s eve is kind of a way of releasing last year into God’s hand for blessing and facing into the new year, seeking his blessing.  We might spend some time thinking back over the year.  Our family would pull out a calendar and group-think the events of each month. There will be high points and low points. There will be those moments when we all laugh as we remember some event.  Perhaps there was a death, move, or graduation event when we reflect on the characteristics of the person.

         God tells Moses to have his brother, Aaron, the first priest, say these words to bless the people of God.  I thinkk it is a good way to end one phase and start another.  We release our memories into God’s hands for keeping and pray for his blessing in what is to unfold.

The Aaronic benediction

 ”24The Lord bless you and keep you;
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26


Name Giving:  Esther

December 30, 2022

“10 Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. (Esther 2: 16)”

Names can be used to conceal identity.  Hadassah was a famous Jewish orphan raised by her uncle Mordecai.  During the Babylonian exile she was taken to the king’s harem as one of the beautiful young virgins of the country rounded up to find the king a new wife.  Hadassah disguised her Jewish identity by using the name Esther.  She was chosen to be the next queen and was able to save the Jewish people from annihilation.  The book of Esther tells the story and every year the Jews still celebrate Purim to honor Esther.

         That may sound weird to us but in Kenya, people were never addressed by their name.  I was known as “Mother of children” for I had five, or “Wife of the Professor,” or “Mother of …. Insert child’s name.”  Names have power.  When you hear your full name called in class, you may well be headed to the principal’s office.  Official documents require official, legal names.  Some nationalities track their lineage through their names.  A Somali woman might have her name followed by her father’s name, ending with her grandfather’s name.  Names can clarify our identity and can hide our identity.

         Sunday we will learn about the official naming of the baby born in Bethlehem that we celebrated on Christmas Day.  He was known by many names in Scripture: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)” Joseph and Mary took their baby to the Temple and he was officially named Jesus, that means Savior, “for he will save his people from their sins.”  It is the name the angel said he should be given.  “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)”

         Let’s take a moment and think of names we are called and how they touch our identity.  Perhaps we need to think about whether the names we call others build up their character or not.  God calls us “child of God.”  Can you list five adjectives that explain your identity in God’s eyes as his child?  Blessings.

Name Giving: Israel

December 29, 2022

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27 So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28 Then the man[b] said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,[ for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 

’ (Genesis 32:22-28)”

The name Israel that we associate with a country can be traced back to the grandson of Abraham.  Abraham bore Isaac and Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau.  They were fraternal twins with different looks and likes.  Esau was an outdoors guy whom his father favored and Jacob was more an indoors guys whom his mother, Rebecca, favored.  The twins fought and Rebecca sent Jacob back to her family to find a wife.  There are many beloved stories but eventually Jacob has 11 sons and a daughter by his two wives and their two maids.  Definitely family dynamics plagued this family that God had promised to bless.  Years later, Jacob decided to return home and face his twin brother and started a journey.  The day before facing his brother, Jacob divided his wives and children into groups with groups of animals and sent them ahead as he stayed by a river and wrestled with a man, possibly an angel, all night.  The angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel that meant he had wrestled with God and people and had not been overcome.

            This scene is very touching.  I think many of us feel like we have wrestled with God about some situation in our life.  We know the hours of prayer for a wayward child or grandchild.  Some of us have watched loved ones decline ever so slowly from disease and we know God has the power and the love to intervene but he does not.  Others have struggled in prayer about a relationship that seemed so right but then the other makes destructive decisions.  Wrestling with God is ok and something the “angel” initiated!  Wrestling changes us and scars us.  Wrestling left Jacob with a displaced hip and limping.  It also changed his name, changed his identity and how he understood himself and his relationship with God.

            As the year ends, we reflect on our blessings but we also ponder the issues we are still wrestling with and which we know will challenge our faith in the New Year.  Being able to name those arenas where we wrestle with God and committing them in prayer, can be helpful.  Getting the issue out of the back of our mind into a journal sometimes helps as it is a way of “parking” the wrestle.  In any case, we wrestle with God, it changes our name and it is OK.  Blessings.   

Name Giving:  Isaac

December 28, 2022

“12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’

 13 The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”

  14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’

(Genesis 18:12-14)”

God sent an angel to tell Mary she would have a son and his name would be Jesus, Savior.  God sent an angel to tell Joseph to not fear to wed Mary who was carrying baby to be named Jesus.  God spoke to Abram and made a covenant to bless all nations through him and changed his name to Abraham, father of nations.  God changed Sarai, his wife’s name, to Sarah as she would mother nations.  These encounters were very personal and prophetic.  They represented the roles and the dreams of the people.

         Later, though, three angels visited Abraham at his tent and told him again that Sarah, past the age of child bearing, would indeed have a child the following year.  Sarah laughed.  I suspect it was a laugh filled with doubt and disbelief.  It was not the “ho, ho, ho” of Santa Claus.  Sometimes faith is riddled with doubts.  Sometimes we name our children after the experience we have surrounding their birth.  Many of us have friends named Joy, Faith, or Chris for Christmas.  Sarah named her son Laughter, Isaac, as her doubts became reality and then she truly laughed as did her friends.

“6 Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ (Genesis 21:6)”

As you think of laughter today, can you think of a time when your faith was tinged with doubt but then the prayer came true.  Perhaps your future spouse asked you on a date.  Perhaps the medical tests showed an illness was cured.  Perhaps you passed a test that seemed hard.  The laughter that results from those surprise gifts from God that we thought so impossible, deserves a moment of praise and a thank you prayer.  Name one of those experiences and thank God.  Who knows what laughter awaits us in the new year?  “A joyful heart doeth good like a medicine!”  Blessings!

Name Giving: Abram and Sarai

December 27, 2022

            “17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will  make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nationsI will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’ (Genesis 17:1-8)”

Christianity and Islam both trace their ancestry back to “father Abraham.”  But Abraham was not always called Abraham.  He was originally named Abram and his wife Sarah’s name was Sarai when we first learn about her.  Our passage shares of Abram’s meeting with God after he sires a child with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian maid, and at age 99 when all hope of any child bearing by his wife Sarai seemed impossible for she was seventy-five.  The actual ages and dates are not as important as God coming to Abram and God initiating a covenant when perhaps Abram felt his future was bleak.  God spoke reality into the impossible in the renaming of Abram.  Abram would become the father of nations because God was promising to bless him and so his name was changed to Abraham.  God made a covenant, an agreement, that God would honor.

            In our age of gender equality, I must admit God beat us to it.  God’s naming was not just Abram to Abraham but also Sarai to Sarah for she too was important to God’s plan.

            “15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ (Genesis 17:15-16)” 

Perhaps you feel old, forgotten, or too scarred by life to be of much use to anyone.  Perhaps the Evil One loves to remind you of your failures.  Then again you may be looking back on this year appreciative for all your blessings.  In either case God can step into our lives and renew our identities as we step into 2023 trusting him.  As you approach New Year’s Eve this weekend, perhaps spend a few minutes pondering what name or title you would like God to give you in the coming year.  We can also think of the names we call others and decide to address them not as “hey, you” but affirming the potential within them.  We have the power to bless others in names we give others even as God blesses us and calls us his children.  Amen!

Name Giving – Jesus

December 26, 2022

“21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child;

and he was called Jesus,

the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

(Luke 2:21)”

Today we start a new liturgical season, Christmas.  In Advent we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus.  Yesterday we celebrated that birth.  The Christmas season includes one or two Sundays and ends after January 6 when we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men or Magi.  During the Christmas season we look at the childhood of Jesus.  We do not know that much but Scripture does tell us that on his eight day Jesus was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem, circumcised and named.  Names are important.  They often carry family lineage if named after an important relative or names can carry the dreams of the parents.  We named our first child “gift of God” for the child was such a dream come true for us and his middle name was a grandfather’s name.

         Jesus received his name from his father, God.  An angel visited Joseph after Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant. It appeared she had been unfaithful and Joseph had decided to dismiss her quietly.  The angel told Joseph in a dream not to fear, the child was of God. “She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)” We have many titles we give Jesus.  He is known as the Messiah, the Christ, Savior, Lord, Son of God, and Son of Man. 

         This week we will look at names God gives to people in the Old Testament, names that were so key to their identity.  Let us take a moment as we unwind from all the excitement of yesterday and just allow our hearts and minds to appreciate all that little baby born “to save us from our sins,” means to us.  We write thank you notes for our presents, so certainly we can spend time saying thank you to a God willing to incarnate to save us.

Enjoy this old Maranatha song praising the name of Jesus!  Blessings.

LOVE:  “What Child is This?”

December 24, 2022

William Dix, a lay Scottish hymn writer, in 1865 wrote a poem,”The Manger Throne.”

LIKE silver lamps in a distant shrine,
    The stars are sparkling bright
The bells of the city of God ring out,
    For the Son of Mary is born to-night.
The gloom is past and the morn at last
    Is coming with orient light.

Never fell melodies half so sweet
    As those which are filling the skies,
And never a palace shone half so fair
    As the manger bed where our Saviour lies;
No night in the year is half so dear
    As this which has ended our sighs.

Now a new Power has come on the earth,
    A match for the armies of Hell:
A Child is born who shall conquer the foe,
    And all the spirits of wickedness quell:
For Mary’s Son is the Mighty One
    Whom the prophets of God fortell.

The stars of heaven still shine as at first
    They gleamed on this wonderful night;
The bells of the city of God peal out
    And the angels’ song still rings in the height;
And love still turns where the Godhead burns
    Hid in flesh from fleshly sight.

Faith sees no longer the stable floor,
    The pavement of sapphire is there
The clear light of heaven streams out to the world
    And the angels of God are crowding the air,
And heaven and earth, through the spotless birth
    Are at peace on this night so fair.

At age 29 Dix had been stricken with a sudden illness that confined him to bed and left him depressed. God met him in his depths and from that experience he wrote this popular Christmas hymn based on the poem.  Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, God incarnate.  What child is this to you this Christmas?  

LOVE Rejoices

December 23, 2022

‘You have heard that it was said,

“You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”

But I say to you, 

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;

for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,

 and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. … 

(Matthew 5:43-48)”

We come to the final scenes of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  George Bailey having seen what his world would have been like had he not been born, relents of his wish and asks God that he might live again.  Wish granted.  When George realizes he is alive, he races through Bedford Falls greeting all with unbriddled enthusiasm.  “All” included Mr. Potter who kept his misplaced money and tried to ruin him.  It included the bank examiner.  His love, joy, peace and hope over flowed to all he met and the movie closes with people streaming into his home to help him and return that love.  As love triumphs, Clarence Oddbody, angel second class, gets his wings and we might even hear the angels in heaven rejoicing with George.

     The Matthew version of the Christmas story is much darker.  Herod does not rejoice when he learns that the wise men have had a successful journey and found the Christ child.  His hatred, jealousy and fear drive him to send his troups to kill all children under age two in Bethlehem.  The babe escapes to Egypt for love cannot be defeated by evil but the story is a grim reminder to us of the potential consequence of turning our back on God.  Hearts can be hardened and refuse love.

         Sunday is the Christmas celebration.  For many it will be a day of feasting and for some there will be sadness at not being able to feast as they want.  Gifts will be exchanged by many.  Many will be fighting cold and winter or hunger and want.  The story of love is not about giving us a good life on earth but is a story about how God jumped into our messy lives in Bethlehem, how he is faithfully being loyal to us daily and keeping his promises in sunrises and sunsets, is remembering all the good we do, and relenting of punishment for the sins that bog us down.  But mostly he is rejoicing that through the life, death and resurrect of Christ, the creator and his creation can be reconciled.  May we find time to give him the glory in the midst of our celebrations!

LOVE Relents

December 22, 2022

“But when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil,

and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people,

 ‘It is enough; now stay your hand.’ (2 Samuel 24: 16)”

When we think of love, do we think of a “happy ever after” scenario like marriage will be a continuous high of falling in love?  Or do we see love as an emotion that has shades and degrees that allow for arguments to be part of relationship and perseverance in the give and take of life?  George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” contemplates suicide.  God sends an angel who shows George Bailey what life might have been like had he not been born.  George relents of his wish to not have been born and runs back to the bridge and prays, “Please God, let me live!”

         Joseph in the Christmas story determines that he will quietly put Mary away when he learns that she is pregnant.  As God speaks into his dilemma through a dream, Joseph relents and takes Mary as his wife.

         The context of the Bible quote is that King David has sinned and God tells him to choose his punishment.  David chooses three days of plague from God for he reasons, “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands. (2 Samuel 24:14)” God sees those dying at the hand of the angel of death, hears the wailing and does indeed relent and tells the angel to stop.  Love feels for the other and seeks reconciliation and healing, even when relationships are strained.  George Bailey begs to live.  Joseph steps into a marriage that he knows is going to start with people gossiping. 

         Perhaps there is a strained relationship that you are struggling with this Christmas.  The Christmas story challenges us to see our relationships through the eyes of God, through love that is merciful and willing to forgive and can relent of its anger.  Love is no excuse for abuse or lack of boundaries but love can work to build a narrative that honors God.  May you find love in your relationships this Christmas.  Blessings.

LOVE Remembers

December 21, 2022

“Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.  (Isaiah 49:15-16)”

Advent 4 delves into LOVE as its theme.  There is a heart wrenching scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where angel second class, Clarence Oddbody, shows George Bailey what life would have been like had he not been born.  George runs up to his family home that would have become a boarding house and his mother, old and haggard, does not know him and turns him away.  He runs into Mary who never married and tries to escape him.  He sees the grave of his brother Harry who would have drowned as a child and never grown to be a pilot and saved a boat of people.  Clarence turns to George and says, “You really had a wonderful life.”  George had lost perspective but God did not.  God ‘s love remembers the good that we do.

      How many centuries have passed and we still remember the role Joseph played in the birth of the Christ child.  He may not have been the main character but love remembers him and honors him in Matthew’s report.  It is possible to despair and feel invisible and unimportant but we do not know who is watching and whose life we touch with our deeds of kindness and the times we refrain from lashing out because we are hurt.

         Take a minute to remember a few deeds of kindness that you remember that touched your life.  Thank God for those involved.  Perhaps you can think of a way to “pay forward” in gratitude for someone else’s kindness to you.  Bless as you have been blessed!