The Visit of Peace of Christmas Past
† I.H.S. †
May the peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you great peace, as you bring the Christmas message of Immanuel to the World!
Whose Christmas Past?
As Ebenezer Scrooge met the ghost of Christmas Past, he had one question. He asked the shadowy ghost was whether it was there to talk about Christmas long past, or the Christmas of His past.
And as we look at the peace of Christmas past, that is still a good question, to begin with, are we talking about the peace of Christmas long past, or the peace of our Christmas past.
Some of you are saying, “What’s the difference!”
For tonight – we will answer the Lutheran way, that is, both the Christmas of long past and the Christmases of our past…
For Jesus brings peace to the past.
Was the Past that Peaceful?
Many need to bring to Jesus that peace to their past Christmas.
Maybe there were years when the world was at war, or maybe it was just their families that were divided and broken. Maybe It was broken hearts that couldn’t understand how everyone else could be joyous and happy. Maybe it was finances that challenged them, or addictions or their health or the health of those they love.
Many of us have some good memories, but also hard ones, and those steal away the peace, for the moment.
In Isaiah’s passage this evening, we heard a promise made to people that were challenged with many of the same challenges. Many of them dealt with broken families, broken finances, broken by sin and shame, with heartache. Which was why peace seemed impossible, as impossible as natural enemies that would forgo the violence, and instead find peace with each other.
Such a passage would mean nothing special, if there was peace at the time. For what division would be reconciled, what anger would be calmed, what relationships would need to be healed? Isaiah’s promise revealed that this would happen….that they could wait for it
And that is promise in which God’s people trusted. Because of that promise, and His Spirit confirming it, they could find peace in the mist of the chaos. They could wait for the cross which was to come, they could wait for the point when all would be reconciled together in the death of Christ, just as we wait for the day when all is reconciled in His resurrection. They knew the brokenness that they endured in their society would fade. God had promised it.
When our eyes are on God’s promise we can wait as well, Looking at the Christmas’s in our past, as we realize that the peace of God was with us, even in the middle of the fights, the anxiety, the frustrations and pain. He sustained us in our Christmas past, just as He sustained them.
We could look forward because of the promise
Each visit of the ghosts taught Scrooge something, in Dicken’s parable, and as we look at the visit of the peace of Christmas Past, we realize that the peace we knew then is the peace that we know now, a peace that looks forward, trusting in God to do finish what He has completed in us.
A peace that enables us to look forward to the day when lambs and wolves relax together, and nothing hurts or destroys anymore, to the day where we live with Him will be a glorious place.
It is the peace that hope gives us that we are sustained in now, as Jesus keeps us safe in that peace. AMEN!!
How DO We Love Thee?
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ assure you that you live in peace, and may that reality cause you to grow in your love and adoration!
Some of you will recognize the title as being part of a poem, a few more might recognize it as the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a selection from Works of the Portuguese, #43. Some of us probably remember it from Warner Bros. Cartoons, as both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd probably said it in twenty or more episodes.
How do I love Thee, let me count the ways, and the poet goes onto to describe love very eloquently, but not practically. Not with terms that mean anything, but sound glorious and romantic.
As I read today’s gospel, to prepare for this sermon, the words echoed in my mind. If we had to consider how we love God, would we stammer, would we use elegant words that are flowery and vague, or would we be able to say, like this passage, we did what you asked, and we trust you to return as you said you would?
A problematic question, if we ask it honestly. How do we love the God who came and dwelt among us, and will come again so that we can dwell with Him?
If our lives are to testify to our love for God, what happens if our lives testify to somewhat less than a life lived in love?
The last question, what does, our measuring our living God by our actions, what does this have to do with Pentecost?
An Impossible Standard?
Hear the words of Jesus again.
All who love me will do what I say.
He went on to clarify this,
24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father, who sent me.
Obedience to God isn’t optional, not according to these passages. Jesus even makes sure we understand the Trinity is united in this, this isn’t just something Jesus came up with n the spot.
And it wasn’t just for Peter and James and John. Or for heroes of our faith like Augustine, Francis, and Luther. This is our standard, how we are to live, how we are to measure our love for God, by keeping, by treasuring what He has said to us, how He has taught us to live.
In other words, this is a way we can count the ways we love God.
Okay, take a minute and think about it, and this week that just passed. Take a moment, and think through it, through the actions and things you said. Were you obeying God?
Be careful, your mind might drift off, and it will be very tempting to bypass your thoughts, words and deeds, and judge others. But this is between you and God.
Did your actions testify to your love? Were your actions obedient to what Christ has taught you?
How about a little more time?
It is unnerving isn’t it?
it seems contrary to what Jesus goes on to say,
27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
So how do we know this peace, when we examine our souls and find out our thoughts, our words and deeds don’t illustrate the love that we want to have for God?
Or as Paul, the apostle says, when examining his soul,
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Romans 7:21-24 (NLT)
For me, this isn’t just theology about like, it is even about tomorrow, I need to get this straight now, before another storm of life hits, and I can’t think it through.
How do we reconcile our lives, where sin seems so dominant, and when it robs of the peace we are supposed to have in Christ? How am I going to show Christ the love He deserves, when I struggle to keep what He’s given us?
The HOPE of Pentecost!
The answer is found in the reality of Pentecost.
You see, most of the time we talk about Pentecost it is about the lounges of fire or the gift of the Spirit that resulted in people of 15 languages hearing the gospel from 12 men preaching it, each in their language. Or by the incredible repentant hearts of 3000 plus people who were believed and were baptized.
What we miss is the power of the Holy Spirit, the causes and empowers it all, who fulfills the prophecies, who cuts open the hearts and causes people to depend on God.
As Jesus promised,
25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
This is how we remember to demonstrate the love we have for God, by bringing to the fore front of our minds the things that Jesus not only commanded, but taught us, the very promises that we call the New Covenant.
Including the fact that God has made His home with us, or rather, that in us dwells His Holy Spirit, and someday, He will come and dwell with us, face to face again.
It is the presence of the Holy Spirt, in the comfort and peace that God gives us as we know that Christ taught us well, that He came to die for us, to offer to all to remove that sin, which ensnares us, to heal us and free us and enable us to love.
To hear those words, that in Christ there is no condemnation, and that we are in Christ Jesus.
This is the job of the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us already, in our baptism,
Do You want to know whether you love God? Do You want to measure it? Then look to the Lord who makes us His own, who died to set us free, and hear Him…
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life…
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
38 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, Matthew 5:38-44 (MSG)
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! 3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. 5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. 7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)
“Here am I Lord, I’ve come to do Your will, Here am I Lord, In Your presence, I am still” (1)
5 “Meditate on this slowly: I am asked for very little compared to how much I am being given.” (2)
It is, I know personally, a struggle to deal with some people.
I witnessed it in the past few days, as several people I know were offended (not at the same time), and found myself extremely frustrated by the way I was treated. It literally took me a couple of hours, and some distraction to deal with my own frustration. No, let me be honest, it wasn’t just frustration, there was some anger that was beginning to settle in and take residence in my heart.
The first reading, especially the italicized part, came to mind in the shower this morning. Except in the older translations sense, this is the passage about “turning the other cheek”. But I think Peterson does a good job in getting the heart of the matter. I’ve heard a lot of people “explain” this passage, trying to get out of what we are called to do, trying to justify their own anger, or resentment. We try to justify our thirst for revenge by saying we want to stop them from doing this to others. Or that Jesus couldn’t have had what this person did…
Skip past the second passage for a moment, it was part of my devotions this morning, as were the two short extra-biblical readings. Look at them.
From the Celtic Prayer Book, we find the idea that serving God sometimes means standing still. Psalm 46 comes to mind, but that to is written amidst a storm, against threats. Written by one who was no stranger to war, and yet must trust God to deliver the stillness, to deliver the victory! What a challenge when you know how to treat those who oppress and attack us. Can I be still in those times? Confident in God’s presence and His strength and His desire to work in my life?
Even as I read that, the next part of my devotions include this little passage by St. Josemaria. And I think that I have done far worse to Jesus, and perhaps to others, than was said to me. I think of the others I know, that I observed getting offended, Yeah – we, the offended, the oppressed are not innocent of similar offenses, we don’t have the right to cast the first stone, for the One who would crush us, died for us instead. That puts things into better perspective, as I realize how blessed we are, how the times we’ve offended people were paid for, as Christ proved the depth of God’s love for us by coming and living among us, by dying, by rising, by ascending and He still is there, at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us.
His ministry to us, through us, isn’t over, until the last sinner/saint has come home.
That is where the second reading, my psalm of the day comes into this discussion. Do I trust God at these words? Do I know my help is coming from on high? Do I realize that He doesn’t sleep, Do I realize that what happens to me will work out for good somehow, for this is His promise. The promise of the crucified Lord. The promise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
In the words of a man who needed to know God’s deliverance….
Yes, I believe, Lord help me believe.
A form of a heart depth’s cry for the Lord’s compassion…. and the hope, the expectation that we will know it. AMEN
(1) Meditations for day 17, Celtic Daily Prayer
(2)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 261-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
It’s amazing how much a five year old reflects the behavior of a society, and even more amazing, the people who make up God’s church in America. ( I don’t know about other countries – yet…)
I happen to have a brilliant five year old. He reads well, he can do 2 and 3 digit addition, but he has a major issue with patience, and sometimes a complete lack of awareness of that which is going on around him. A chip off the old block in many ways (okay – he get’s the brilliance from his mom) Most repeated lesson these days, get what you need to done, without the whining. I tell you – there are times I wish he was a teenager – and had matured past the whining part. (please don’t disillusion me!)
I see in myself, and in churches and among church leaders, the same impatience. We want everything fixed right away, we want to see our people go from just baptized to having the faith of Moses and David and John right away. (we have to remember that John was once a “son of thunder” and I don’t think his transformation was immediate either.)
We whine about the fact that others don’t mature, and that we can’t “go on” or we decide to “go on” without them. If this is in the church – we devalue each other, saying that our personal growth and maturity is more important than the growth of the entire community in their faith. Tough call, very tough call here, but we see the evidence of it in the incredibly high “church shopping” movement. People don’t see their needs being met – even in the mega-churches – and they mvoe to the next one, to the next place that is hopping – and then try to drag their friends there as well.
We see it in the movement today – in those that look at the 25 year studies of churches and note that the “common” thing is for decline ( while we over look the stat in the same study that says this is easily addressed by re-committing to the vision of the church, or adapting it) and that “true” growth occurs fastest in “church plants”. IMHO – that attitude will prove to result in more danger as good – about 20 years from now – as those people see that they created a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is also there in the movement that has little patience with those who are so excited to discover the grace of God, that they want the world to know! More whining, more complaining, more impatience.
Please hear me – I as much as anyone – want to see people grow in their trust in God, and mature in how that is expressed. And I struggle with the plodding that sometimes is evident, as people don’t see a need to grow – and our content where they are at – stagnant it seems.
But spiritual maturity is a process of endurance, not sprints – it needs to last generations, not just years and perhaps a decade. It has to show the characteristic that we see in God,
3:9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)
I used to think the patience in this passage, was talking about those that hadn’t rbeen brought to repentance yet – but Peter is addressing the people that are believers already. Could it be that God’s patience is with His kids? The ones who whine and complain about others, the ones who are to be about planting seeds, the workers in the harvest, the church that has been gifted and given the vocation of being the light in the darkness? I think that we have to be careful and to discern the difference between tolerating stagnation, and knowing when to be patient with the slow and steady growth that must occur in the church – the patience that knows that endurance in the ministry means being able to guide people from where they are at, to a greater and greater dependence on God.
It means realizing and ministering to people in their brokenness – and making sure they grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their life, and the need of that presence in the lives of those around them. It means slowing some down to savor God’s presence and rest – while still bringing hope and healing to those around them. It means sticking to the place where God has gathered you – and encouraging each other continually to look to Christ, to reflect His glory.
It’s not easy, its not always popular, but the discipline is that which reflects God’s love to you…. as you work with people, enduring, patient – longsuffering, and as they work with you.
Know this – where you are at – there God’s presence is… learn that it is enough – and that is the maturity that really matters.