Monday, December 29, 2008

Rise and Shine it's Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-9

Epiphany is a season of light in the church. Many churches will start this season by hearing Isaiah's 2500 year-old wake up call for the nation of Israel. He told them to rise and shine.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you. Isaiah 60:1-2 NRSV
Isaiah's call is good for our church and all churches this year. In the winter, especially in the cold north, we're tempted just to pull up the covers and hunker down against the dark and cold. We shut out the world as we try to insulate ourselves against the cold and darkness. We hold the light of Christ tight to ourselves. Isaiah's wake up call for us is to rise and shine in God's light. Put the light of Christ up high for all to see. Jesus is the source of our hope and light; but we can never claim that he was sent just for us. Jesus comes to shine in every dark place and onto every broken person not just among those who know him already.

Our world is full of darkness. Jesus comes as light for a world that isn't and will never be ready for him. He comes for a world that is broken and that needs him. Chris­ti­na Ros­set­ti wrote in the hymn In the Bleak Midwinter

Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the light and we bless the world when we give His light away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simeon and Anna waiting no more. Luke 2:22-40

Luke's Christmas story ends 8 days after Jesus' birth. His nativity ends with the careful fulfillment of the law by Mary and Joseph and the fulfillment of God's promises for Simeon and Anna. Matthew in contrast finishes his Christmas story with μάγοι magi who came from the east and Joseph's dream that lead to the young families flight from Israel. Luke has none of those stories.

In Luke Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem offering sacrifices to God in thanks for their new born son. They came to the temple just 8 days after Jesus birth as the law proscribed. These two faithful elders, Simeon and Anna, were waiting in the temple to see God's promises fulfilled. They weren't in the temple accidentally. They lived in prayer staying in the temple day and night waiting on purpose, in faith and hope, to see the promises of God fulfilled. When Jesus arrived in the arms of Joseph and Mary these two elders became witnesses to the light of God that came into their presence.

Simeon understood Jesus significance as a light for the nations of the world. He saw the Messiah and knew Jesus was sent not only for himself and his fellow Israelite's. He met Jesus and guided by God's spirit said,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servanth in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 NRSV
Jesus is the light. He is the light Simeon yearned to see. He is the light for the nation of Israel. He is the light for people of all nations. He is the light for those who have been saved through faith and those who still need to be found. Nancy Marshall, a pastor at a deaf church, who blogs at Leaning on the Everlasting Arms has written a great meditation about coming into the light of Christ at Christmas. We live in what many call a dark world. We live in a time of great uncertainty when it becomes too easy to be lost in the dark, Pastor Marshall writes,
...waiting, confused, lost, wanting to see a glimmer of light. If just a little light appeared, people couldn’t help but turn and look at it. “What is that?” they would say. They couldn’t ignore it. It would be a compelling force, because people WANT to see. Most people. Some people who are in the dark don’t even know it. Darkness becomes habitual. It helps to conceal what they are doing. They think they are getting away with something that they couldn’t get away with in the light.

The people of God had lost their way. They had a list of rules. They had some stories that they would tell traditionally every year, but they were still way off the path.
The reality of Spiritual darkness is as ancient as the evil one and as powerful now as it ever has been. Simeon and Anna lived in a world full of darkness. Many around us today, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our children, our dearest friends us live surrounded by the deepest darkness. In faith Simeon and Anna, and all of us believers, cling to the light given by God's promises. We need the light. We need Jesus in every dimension of our lives. And we need prophetic voices like Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist and all the other witnesses of the faith who point us to the light.
There 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, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At 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. Luke 2:36-38 NRSV
Anna was a sign, a witness for God. She was there to tell the people that the child who would redeem Jerusalem had come. She was there to tell the Good News to her own.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unexpect News Luke 1:26-38

Any parent, either an adoptive parent or a birth parent, can tell you that their child's story didn't start the first day they held them. No the story starts for parents starts way before the first day you hold a child in your arms.

Jesus' story started with the surprise visit of an Angel named Gabriel. God's messenger came to this young woman speaking words that she'd never heard before.

Luke's words invite us into a space and time that has never been duplicated. Mary and the Angel meeting was a encounter like no other. Mary was so young; some think that Mary as young as 13 others think maybe as old as 17. The angle was so confident speaking words of promise and authority. Up until that very moment Mary had known her place in life. She had a plan for what was coming next. She was going to get married to Joseph. She was going to be a pretty normal young woman. She was going to do exactly what every other young Jewish girl in Palestine did. She had dreams and hopes like every other young woman her age. And now this angel came and started speaking to her in words and ways that she'd never heard.

The story of parenting sometimes comes as a surprise. Sometimes the surprise comes after years of hope and other times the surprise comes most unexpectedly. Mary had just met this angel and now in the same moment she learned that she was going to have a child.

Every so often my wife and some of my women friends remind me that there are certain experiences in life that I will never get. Pregnancy and childbirth, I have been told, are really quite different for the person giving birth than for the ones watching and hoping to hold the new born child. Today we see what God did through Mary's faith to change the world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Isaiah 61:1 God keeps promises

The prophet Isaiah came tell us some good news. He came to tell us about one God anointed and sent out. God moved Isaiah to speak boldly,

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners; Isaiah 61:1 NRSV

God keeps his promises. Isaiah's words for the people returning from exile were words meant to renew hope. Hope can be scarce; but God's revelation helps us to see that God is still at work in our world. Advent is about hope. It's about the hope that we discover as we remember the God who keeps promises. God always has and he always will. We forget God; but God hasn't forgotten us. We forget God's promises, but that doesn't mean that God has forgotten them.

The prophet Isaiah announced great news 2500 years ago to the people of Israel. They'd just come home after exile. They found nothing in Israel as they'd hoped to discover it. And the prophet started to announce something huge. God's coming. And in order help us remember that God is in the business of keeping promises God's sending somebody to earth to remind us. Isaiah helps us remember that promises from God matter. As a guarantee that the Word would reach us God promised that he would send somebody to earth as his messenger. Jesus is the guarantee for all of us to see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Preparing the way Mark 1:1-8

This week we read the start of Mark's Gospel. These words are really the preface to Jesus' story. John Wesley said,

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - The evangelist speaks with strict propriety: for the beginning of the Gospel is in the account of John the Baptist, contained in the first paragraph; the Gospel itself in the rest of the book.
This is Mark's nativity story. No shepherds or angels are in this story like Matthew and Luke tell about. Instead Mark starts with Jesus is ready for ministry at the Jordan River. He came out to the river to meet John, the preacher of baptism and repentance.

Will you know it when Jesus comes?
Jesus coming into view as God incarnate doesn't seem shocking in Mark. The subtle way he arrives is key to this story. Mark is knows that we look for God to arrive in a BIG WAY. And he responds to our expectation, not by spinning a tale that shocks and surprises us, rather he lures us in with story full of unfinished details.
  • Isaiah had told of John and Jesus coming generations before. We are left to wonder if the crowds knew that John was making the way ready for Jesus.
  • Jesus comes to meet John. We are left wondering why Jesus had to meet John.
  • John preached like he knew Messiah was coming and we are left to wonder how John knew he was coming.
  • Jesus comes out of the water and a voice is heard from heaven. We are left to wonder who heard the voice.
Mark's story of Jesus coming starts with the very ordinary circumstances of a baptism at the river side and the words of a preacher. Mark is a story teller's Gospel. We readers and hearers of this Gospel are introduced, through the story, to Jesus. We meet him not in our time and space; rather Mark invites his hearer and readers into a different space, ancient Palestine, and time, the height of Roman Power. We meet him and still have plenty of questions to ask.