Thursday, December 19, 2013

When Angels Start Talking Matthew 1:18-24

Angels and dreams have a big part in the Christmas story: for both Joseph and Mary God's messengers brought change into their lives. The angel in Joseph's dream was God's representative bridging the space between humanity and our creator. Artist conceive of Angels as tiny children or great warriors. I think the image of the Warrior seems most faithful to scripture; but the Angels shape and size are not as significant as who they speak for and what they have to say.

Angels came in the months leading up to Christmas as the first messengers of transformation. When God's plans begin to unfold our lives take new shape. Angels come to announce the new beginning and the promise of a fresh start and resurrection. In our day it's the Word we call scripture and the dreams God gives to us of a better day when we live for God and God's glory that move us ahead.

It's in the moment when God talks when things start happening. It's been that way from the beginning. When God breathed out the word light it came into being. God works just this way--speaking creation into life. When he spoke to Abraham he called him out one nation to become the father of a great nation. God works just this way giving people a promise and in that promise a new identity for future generations too. When God spoke to Moses he called out of bush and made promises of deliverance for a people in chains. God works just this way hearing the cries of the poor and hurting.
God's speaking through other beings is part of the Christmas story. It was an angel who spoke to Mary. It was angels speaking to shepherds keeping watch over their fields by night. It was angels who spoke about something coming that hadn't yet been seen. May the wonder Jesus the one whom the angels promised fill us with hope and joy this Christmas.
Peace and thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What do you hear and see? Mattew 11:2-11

John, the forerunner of God's kingdom, sat in prison. He sent his followers out to ask Jesus, are you the one? (Matthew 11:2-3) Imagine John waiting in prison. He may have looked out of place but he didn't act like he was out of place. He wasn't used to confinement. He likely seemed limited and even vulnerable to his captors. The crowds knew him as strong, untamed, and faithful to God--imagine that man in a cell. When the king brought him out of his cell John preached the same unvarnished message as before he was imprisoned: repent of your sin, the kingdom of heaven is coming near. Even in prison John was no mere reed blown in the wind (Matthew 11:7-9). Jesus echoing Malachi's words 5 centuries earlier said,

This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’ Matthew 11:10 ESV
The king, Herod, liked to listen to him; but he wouldn't turn from his sin and change his lifestyle. And so it went for John up until his death confined but still faitful to his calling to prepare the way for the Lord.
John was the messenger prophets saw coming first(Malachi 3:1). And now he sat waiting for the one would come next. Jesus responded to John's question, "are you the one?" telling John's followers to report of what they saw and heard (Matthew 11:4-6). Jesus fulfilled the promises made by prophets like Isaiah envisions centuries before (Isaiah 35:5-6). He open blind eyes and unstopped deaf ears. He healed making broken people whole. This was the report that Jesus wanted to go back to John in prison. This is the news we as a church have to share this Christmas with the world. God has come and he has brought healing for this hurting world.
Are you the one? This is a great Christmas question to ask of everything you place high up in your life. Whatever it is you are passionate about, ask are you the one. You might ask it later this week as you sort through possible presents for your kids, a coworker who's name you drew for the gift exchange, your spouse, or your parents. Are you the one? Are you flashy video game or shiny trinket the one that might satisfy the deep soul needs of a person in my life? Are you semi-precious object the thing that will convey words of love to someone I can't say? Are you the one flashy tablet or computer that will satisfy the deep needs of a soul that yearns to be loved by God and the people nearby. Christmas is a great time to look at all the things we have and give. The truth is no object no matter how cool or technically advanced or expensive can ever cut the mustard. They simply aren't enough.
What we need today is Jesus. What we need today is a God who is enough. Paul spoke to the Church in Corinth about God's grace being enough 2 Corinthians 12:9. Jesus is the one who meets our needs. Giving his love at Christmas is the one thing that we can give that will last and make a lasting difference in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading, John
PS a prayer request. I am looking forward to a day in court as part of a divorce proceeding. Please pray for my 3 girls, their mom, and me in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joseph's Christmas Story an Advent Conversation

Who was Joseph? He was Jesus' dad, but God the Father, was Jesus' Father. There's no way around it, the Christmas story's messy. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph's real life complications mirror many people's stories. And that's no accident. God comes at Christmas for the world. Joseph's part in the Christmas story shows God's work in the real world where sin, death, and evil are all at work.
Matthew's tells the Christmas story,

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19 ESV)
The facts seemed very clear to Joseph. He was engaged to Mary. He counted on her faithfulness. He learned she was pregnant. Joseph knew one thing for certain, the child growing inside Mary wasn't his. His plan was simple--end this relationship with Mary and get on with his life. What do you think of Joseph at this point in the story?
Think about it: Joseph's trust in Mary just evaporated. He took Mary's faithfulness for granted. But something happened. The evidence was clear for everybody to see. Joseph lost trust--an essential part of any lasting relationship. Some argue Joseph, in his day, had reason to seek Mary's life. She dishonored him; but he sought to quietly walk away.
How can a person who's broken trust become trustworthy again?
Remember Joseph's plan was to quietly end his commitment to Mary. But somebody had a different plan for Joseph's life. Matthew tells the story this way,
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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 1:20-21 NIV)
Digging deeper There's no question, Joseph had a change of heart. His attitude and actions towards Mary and the child growing inside her change after meeting the angel. The facts of the situation hadn't changed: but his attitude did. Mary was still pregnant, they weren't yet married, he wasn't this babies father, and people were likely still talking behind their backs about what had happened. But Joseph saw things differently. He stopped looking for a way out of his promise to Mary stepping forward instead to help her raise this child. How would you explain Joseph's change of heart to somebody who knows about Christmas trees and Santa Claus but has never heard the whole Christmas story?
A visit from an angel changed Joseph's attitude. And God keeps speaking today through His Word read in scripture, sung about in psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs, heard from friends and family who share God Word with us. God's Word changes how we see things. At a funeral we see a dead body; but faith in God's Word helps us see new life for believers who die. The circumstances haven't changed on this earth; but a heart of faith sees something different. How does God change hearts today?
How important is Joseph's change of heart to the whole Christmas story?
Jesus finds us in the middle of our lives and dreams with both broken and healed parts of our souls. Looking at Joseph's part in the Christmas story leaves no question, our attitude towards our circumstances makes a huge difference. What would it take to change your perspective to see people you dislike as someone God very much cares about? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. John