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Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

What We Pass On…. Is it Truly Good?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for Our Day:

5 Isaiah then told the king, “The LORD Almighty says that 6a time is coming when everything in your palace, everything that your ancestors have stored up to this day, will be carried off to Babylonia. Nothing will be left. 7Some of your own direct descendants will be taken away and made eunuchs to serve in the palace of the king of Babylonia.”
8 King Hezekiah understood this to mean that there would be peace and security during his lifetime, so he replied, “The message you have given me from the LORD is good.”  Isiah 38:5-8  TEV

802         When someone has a very small heart, it seems as if he keeps his desires in a narrow, neglected drawer.

The king in the passage indicated he thought the message of God’s wrath was good, and that bugs me.  Is he so self-centered that he doesn’t realize he is welcoming, even approving of God’s wrath to be poured out on others because of his own sin?  Doesn’t he realize he is rejoicing in his people’s, his descendants suffering? 

What kind of king is that? 

What kind of father?

Which brings a hard question to ask, what kind of things will our children, our grandchildren, and those who follow us in Christ have to face because of our lives today?

I am not talking “our” in a corporate sense of America, or even of the entire Church, or my denomination or congregation.  I am talking about you and me. 

In my case, my cynicism, my own reactions toward those I don’t relate well too, that I don’t trust, that I struggle with, and consider my adversaries, my enemies.  Those, if I am in a more condescending mood, that I consider a royal pain in the ass.  How will I treat those who add fuel to my already raging sense of cynicism or those who provoke my fine sense of irony? 

I have struggled a lot with this as I’ve seen people react to a reaction of other people.  That it turn created a reaction, which more people are reacting to with more extremism, more hatred, more calls for violence and acting in anger.  

I want to react, I want to call people out on their hypocrisy, I’ve written twenty or thirty replies, then caught myself before posting them.  (and a couple of times, I didn’t) 

My reaction has to be one of love, it has to be less about me, and more about helping people reconcile, but oh this is difficult, it is brutal, it cuts me to the heart…. and yet, that is exactly what I need.   It is this process that St Paul wrote about when he wrote,

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14  he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:11-15 (TEV)

The only way I can love those who seem unlovable to me is to live in the reality of my baptism.  To know that when I was (and still can be)unlovable, God did anyways.  And because He loves me (and you) He is working on me (and you), as I must trust He is working on everyone!  Even those who don’t know Him, yet He is calling them to this change of life. To this circumcision of the heart (see Ezekiel 36:25 and following) which cleanses us, changes us, transforms us.  (this is what repentance is, and it is far more than saying, “i am sorry”_

It is in His work, that I must trust.  Not must in the sense of my obligation to Him, but rather must because if I don’t, I will soon realize I am what I annoys me, I am what I rail against, I am what i hate.

My hope?  In the one who loved me enough to die for me.  Who loves me enough to transform me, even as I struggle against it.  My hope is in Jesus… who is still my advocate, who is still my shepherd, who is my Lord.

May we all let Him change us, as He calls us to his side.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3314-3315). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Can we work together?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

I came across the passage after looking at Facebook yesterday, and being in despair. Not because of the election, but because of the responses to it, from both sides of the aisle, and from pastor’s whose hopes were pinned to one candidate or the other.  In despair, because the love and mercy that has been modeled to us by Jesus dying on the cross, was evident no where… I was despondent, and I wondered – has there ever been a time like this, were the people of God were so despondent about their leadership, and about each other?

Preparing for worship services for the next few weeks led me to the readings for thanksgiving Day.  One actually is a parallel to our Bible study in Ezekiel, and is found in Daniel 2.  There – having been taken from their home, having seen what they thought has been gross injustice in the way the government was treating them (Ezekiel 17 shows that isn’t necessarily so) an impossible task is laid on a young leader named Daniel.  He is asked to provide that which others say will require a miracle. TO not only interpret a dream that caused him great anxiety, but to do so without the dream being shared.  The penalty for failure was decapitation after limp being separated from limb.  (and some of us are discouraged by economics!)

Daniel asks for a little time – goes hope – calls the prayer chain (some other young men who will soon know God is their refuge) and they pray, and the prayer is answered.  Here is Daniel’s response to the answer:

“Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: 21 He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment, 22 He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark—light spills out of him! 23 God of all my ancestors, all thanks! all praise! You made me wise and strong. And now you’ve shown us what we asked for. You’ve solved the king’s mystery.” Daniel 2:20-23 (MSG) 

If God is indeed in charge of our lives, if God is truly here, active, our refuge and strength and the King of Kinds, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace, then, and only then, is a reaction like this possible.  Only in faith can we find the strength and patience to turn to God in prayer, when Government seems oppressive and wrong.  Only in Christ can we find a way to work with them, loving them, treating them in a way in accord with Phil 4:7-8, that will result in their honoring God.

It can never be about faith in men (see Psalm 2 and 146) or even a lack of faith in man….

It has to be about the faith we have in God, in the expectation we have, because God has vowed to make us His and keep us in His peace.

You want to know how to survive – look to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith in God….

and then you will know how to work alongside each other, and a leader we didn’t think was God’s will.

We might even find out – like Israel was told by Ezekiel, that it was…  (see Ezekiel 17)

God’s peace, my friends, is yours!

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