Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jesus is Here Luke 2

Jesus is here.

This is our story tonight. This is our story to tell. The first to hear the news were shepherds out at work that night. About 10 months ago we went to Bethlehem, not literally to the city in Pennsylvania or to the city in Judea. Bethlehem for us was in a hospital in Rochester not even 30 minutes drive from our home.

It's amazing to see new life begin. It's a blessing for us to watch and to behold this child who comes to meet us. I started looking at Christmas this year thinking about all the stories we tell at Christmas in our culture that have nothing to do with the coming of our savior.

Twas the night before Christmas

Gene Shepherd's A Christmas Story

Rudolf and Frosty

A Charlie Brown Christmas

We preach about Light and we preach about Hope. But we aren't preaching a vague or metaphoric light and hope either. We are called to preach about the Light that came in a little boy's body to enlighten the whole world. If you need to remember why we must talk about Jesus above all else at Christmas please consider these words from Nancy Marshall.

Darkness. It would be difficult living in darkness, 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.

A new year lays just ahead. It will be filled with new challenges and new joys. Sort of like parenthood. Every year of our kids lives brings new joys and new challenges. If you are a parent today you know that your work isn't done. God's work isn't done yet. So by faith let's open our hands and join in the work. Let's follow in the steps of Mary, Joseph, the shepherd and all the others who have gone before us in awe and wonder. Let's walk on in faith. Let's open our lives up to God's Word to discover His will. Let's trust in His providence to sustain us and all others who place their trust in God in the year ahead.

Let's be bold and tell the best story of all

Twas the night before Christmas, Joseph and Mary found no house
There's no room in the inn, no place for her to give birth;
The found a stable full of animals out in the open air,
And Hope for the whole world would soon be born there;

This child was coming, this was the night, a manger was his first bed,
Meanwhile shepherds in the fields had visions of angles over head;
The angels told men in the field watching their flocks staffs in hand,
He is coming tonight, Glory to God in heaven, he's coming,

The angles sang out in a heavenly chorus,
The shepherds headed to town to meet this little one so Glorious,
They came to the stable and found a young family just like the angles said
They walked in and told Mary all that the angles had said

And Mary treasured their words in her heart.
And up above that cattle shed a from a star shone overhead,
Others came from afar their eye's beheld a great wonder in clothes swaddled tight,
He is true hope, this child came for a world longing to see God's light

He came for every one young and old, well and sick,
He knew us long before his first night in Bethlehem in a bed of straw.
His will and God the Father's are one in the same,
Jesus knows us, even the hairs on our head, and he knows you by name.

Remember Isaiah and Amos and Micah!
Remember these prophets of old who said one would come,
Go tell it on the mountain! and at the city wall!!
Now Jesus come to us, come to us, come to us all!

Let our old sins blow away like leaves in a hurricane fly,
You came to meet us here and not in the sky,
He comes to every house and every lost one he seeks out,
This is God's true heart come to save us and our lives to renew

God comes fast in the twinkling of an eye.
He came to the place where hoofs tread.
Our king is coming, to turn our lives around,
Into our homes and our lives here on this ground.

Years later He was dressed as carpenters son,
His clothes and hands bore the signs of their labor;
He knew the joys of family, friends, and work,
Still in years to come a whip would scourge his back.

His eyes – with them he could see all, this son of Mary!
His cheeks he would not withhold from their slaps
From his mouth came words sharp like sword
And the beard on his face would be plucked before death;

Herod would try to cut him down at the stump,
But God would not give up, this child is our hope.
He had a human face and a truly divine heart,
That heart he revealed in stories and healings,

He was gracious and strong, a man right with God,
And he sees us with love, in spite of our sins,
With his eyes he sees what sins ought to leave us dead,
Still believing now in His love and rising we have nothing to dread;

We cling to his word, we cling to his work,
His birth filled the shepherds with joy, God saving power was at work.
This little one would lay aside all honor and glory
And giving up everything he would be raised up for all history

He went to the grave and 3 days later he rose,
And all that was left in the grave were his clothes.
Let's go with the shepherds to see him. Let's hear the angles tonight.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Glory to God in the Highest, AMEN

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Mighty One has done great things Luke 1:39-55

Thoughts on Luke for Advent 4C

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name. Luke 1:49. NRSV

A young woman was the first to speak these words praising of God. An angle came and told her don't be afraid. The angle came with news. She was going to have a child. Human logic says that things aren't supposed to be this way. She was only engaged and some how now she was pregnant. The angel told her not to be afraid. Mary heard the news and accepted it. She embraced this new child within her as a part of God's plan.

Today we remember, celebrate, and believe because of what God did in Mary's life, what God has done in our lives and because God will do even more in the days to come.

We who have been saved by God's grace through faith have real privileges. We get to praise God in worship and serve him as redeemed people in a broken world. We are privileged because we are free to live and love and we have not earned our salvation and can never hope to earn it. We are saved by faith. Today we raise our voices in thanks and praise with Mary the Mother of Jesus

My partner in Ministry encouraged me to look at Luther some for this 4th week in Advent. Martin Luther wrote at great length about Mary's words in a commentary on the Magnificat he presented to his protector the Duke of Saxony and that he published for all Saxony in 1521. Martin Luther wrote of Mary's words of faith and praise. He wrote,

Now, in all of Scripture I do not know anything that serves such a purpose so well as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords. In it she really sings sweetly about the fear of God, what sort of Lord He is, and especially what His dealings are with those of low and high degree. Let someone else listen to his love singing a worldly ditty; this pure virgin well deserves to be heard by a prince and lord, as she sings him her sacred, chaste, and salutary song. It is a fine custom, too, that this canticle is sung in all the churches daily at vespers, and in a special and appropriate setting that sets it apart from the other chants.1

Luther listened closely. He heard a song of love and worship, hope and trust. Luther heard Mary sing in praise because God has and is:

  1. Showing Mercy

  2. Breaking Spiritual Pride

  3. Putting Down the Mighty

  4. Exalting the Lowly

  5. He has filled the hungry with good things, and

  6. the rich He has sent empty away.

Showing Mercy

Luther wrote:

He is merciful to all who are ready to do without their own opinion, right, wisdom, and all spiritual goods, and willing to be poor in spirit. These are the ones who truly fear God, who count themselves not worthy of anything, be it ever so small, and are glad to be naked and bare before God and man; who ascribe whatever they have to His pure grace, bestowed on the unworthy; who use it with praise and fear and thanksgiving, as though it belonged to another, and who seek not their own will, desire, or honor, but His alone to whom it belongs.2

Breaking Down Spiritual Pride

Luther explained simply,

There is the fullness of God’s power and His outstretched arm. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on Him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden underneath the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there He performed His mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome. Therefore it is said in Joel 3:10: “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’ ”—yet in faith, and without feeling it until it is accomplished.

On the other hand, God lets the other half of mankind become great and mightily to exalt themselves. He withdraws His power from them and lets them puff themselves up in their own power alone. For where man’s strength begins, God’s strength ends. When their bubble is fullblown, and everyone supposes them to have won and overcome, and they themselves feel smug in their achievement, then God pricks the bubble, and it is all over. The poor dupes do not know that even while they are puffing themselves up and growing strong they are forsaken by God, and God’s arm is not with them. Therefore their prosperity has its day, disappears like a bubble, and is as if it had never been. 3

Putting Down the Mighty

Luther explained that Mary was seeing the world as it trully is. It is God world and not ours. God is not destroying the world by sending Jesus. God is reordering it.

Mary does not say He breaks the seats, but He casts the mighty from their seats. Nor does she say He leaves those of low degree in their low degree, but He exalts them. For while the world stands, authority, rule, power, and seats must remain. But God will not long permit men to abuse them and turn them against Him, inflict injustice and violence on the godly, and enjoy it, boast of them, and fail to use them in the fear of God, to His praise and in defense of righteousness. We see in all histories and in experience that He puts down one kingdom and exalts another, lifts up one principality and casts down another, increases one people and destroys another; as He did with Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, though they thought they would sit in their seats forever. Nor does He destroy reason, wisdom, and right; for if the world is to go on, these things must remain. But He does destroy pride and the proud, who use these things for selfish ends, enjoy them, do not fear God, but persecute the godly and the divine right by means of them, and thus abuse the fair gifts of God and turn them against Him.4

Exalting the Lowly

Luther looked closely and saw God's mercy again being revealed as the humble are brought up.

Never the less those who are willing to be nothing and lowly of heart, and do not strive to be great, are truly humble. Now, when He exalts them, it does not mean that He will put them in the seats of those He has cast out any more than that when He shows mercy to those who fear Him, He puts them in the place of the learned, that is, the proud. Rather He lets them be exalted spiritually and in God, and be judges over seats and power and all might, here and hereafter; for they have more knowledge than all the learned and the mighty. How this is done was said above under the first work and need not be repeated. All this is said for the comfort of the suffering and for the terror of the tyrants, if we only had faith enough to believe that it is true.5

He has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty

Our faith is built on hope of things we haven't seen. Luther understood that the world isn't always as it seems. He wrote,

...men judge according to the outward appearance; therefore they often err.

These works are done in secret, like those mentioned above, so that no one is aware of them until they have come to an end. A rich man is not aware how really empty and wretched he is until he comes to die or otherwise suffers loss. Then only does he see how all his goods were altogether nothing, as it is said in Psalm 76:5: “They sank into sleep (that is, they died); all the rich men discovered that they had nothing in their hands.” On the other hand, the hungry and thirsty know not how filled with good things they are until they come to the end. Then they find the words of Christ true, in Luke 6:21: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled”; and the comforting promise of the Mother of God here: “He has filled the hungry with good things.”6

Mary's hymn is a great way to start the Christmas celebration. Rejoice and give thanks in all the Great things God has done. Merry Christmas.

1Martin Luther, vol. 21, Luther's Works, Vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1956), Lk 1:46. page 298

2 Ibid Luke 1:51 Page 338

3 Ibid Luke 1:52 Page 340

4 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 344

5 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 345

6 Ibid Luke 1:54.Page 346

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Untamed and Unbridled: John and Jesus Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist was never tamed. He was never bridled. He was locked up in a dungeon and eventually beheaded; but he didn't stop speaking the truth while he still had breath. John told the world the Good News: God's kingdom is coming. He told everyone within earshot that it it's time right now to repent and be baptized. John spoke this word boldly to anyone who could listen.

John was created by God on purpose and he came preaching a message that was so radical and so bold that people came out to the wilderness near the river Jordan to hear it. They came from Jerusalem and all over Judea to hear John's bold unrestrained message. It was a message that wasn't meant for somebody else or some other people. It was a message that was meant for the nation of Israel. And it rung in their ears so boldly they couldn't stop listening.

John spoke so boldly to them, the NRSV and NIV said he addressed the people who came out to be baptized by him in Luke 3:7, as "You brood of Vipers" literally calling them the γεννήματα spawn or offspring of ἐχιδνω̂ν poisonous snakes. John understood that God was up to something big. He knew that Kingdom was coming and that the time had come to get ready.

John the Baptist was a dangerous radical. John was the most unrestrained man of his time in all Israel until one even more dangerous came along. Matthew says he made his home out in the desert away from all the constraints of civilization; and then another man came after John who was all the more even more radical and disquieting. And that man would also die because he declared the coming of God's kingdom boldly and radically.

This past week I've been reading Wild at Heart by John Eldridge and seeing in John a true man of God who was really wild and free as God had intended. Eldridge makes a pretty good case in the first chapter that men have been contained and constrained by our civilization and that was never God's design or plan. Adam, Eldridge says was created out in the wilderness, but Eve was created in the Garden.[1] Eldridge even points to Jesus and John the Baptist being lead by the Spirit out to the wilderness.[2]

Who do you imagine as a faithful man of God?

Do you imagine a nice guy, a real push over, a pussy cat or do you imagine someone dangerous an untamed: someone like John. But if your part of my generation of TV watchers you've seen Christian men often portrayed as a sort of Ned Flanders. Nice and restrained.

John wasn't nice or restrained. John was passionate and faithful. He was boldly challenging his own people and all of us today. Repent, a great one is coming. Repent John says, another great radical will follow John.

[1]John Eldredge Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul Thomas Nelson (2006), page 8-9

[2]Ibid page 6