Thursday, December 22, 2016

Light for people in death's shadow

Christmas didn't start with the angels and the shepherds Luke 2:8-20. It didn't start with Mary's pregnancy carrying Jesus in her body into the world Luke 1:26-28. It didn't start with Joseph's dream being interrupted by an angel Matthew 1:18-25. No Christmas started with God's plan to send light and hope to people in need of a savior.

Isaiah gave a promise on God's behalf to the people. The promise was meant for people who walked in a very specific kind of darkness צַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth. The word he used to describe the darknessצַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth is the same heard in Psalm 23:4 to describe the darkness of the valley the shadow of death. God's light shines for the people living in the shadow of death.

Isaiah promised that the light, the hope of God's presence, would come to a people who lived in the land covered by the deep darkness, by death's shadow. This is the death and resurrection promise that starts with prophet's and that Jesus fulfills in time. This is the reason for great hope in dark times.

Isaiah writes so well,

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us...
This is the Christmas promise plain and simple. Light has come for all the world.
And his name is Jesus. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hey shepherds Luke 2:8-15

Christmas starts long before Jesus' birth. It starts with prophetic promises and angels visits. This year as I get close to Christmas I've been thinking about the angel visits,

  • with an old man, Zechariah, serving God in the temple (Luke 1:5-25),
  • with a man planning on walking away from an engagement (Matthew 1:18-25),
  • with a young woman who wondered how she could be one who would give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38),
  • last to shepherds out at work watching sheep in the night (luke 2:8-15).
This week we take in the story of an angel who came with friends to shepherds out it the fields. Luke writes
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9 NRSV
God's glory surrounded them. Terror grabbed hold of them. The glory of God--the God of angel armies overwhelmed them. It shines in every dark place in our world and our lives. It shines for all the world to see. It shines to illumine the way to life ever lasting. It shines revealing our every sin and to show us the savior who comes for us. God's glory shone so bright the shepherds knew fear in every shred of their being. And the angel spoke right to their fear.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 NRSV
A Savior is born for you. For me this is the heart of the good news. Without this word, this promise of who Jesus is for me and you, I don't know why we'd celebrate Christmas. A savior has been born for us. That means something for us. It means God comes to save us from everything that we can't defeat on our own. On our own we are no match for sin, death, and the works of evil. Jesus comes because we know too well that we can't defeat these old enemies. He comes because as hard as we can work we can't get right--not with God or our neighbors. We fight as hard as we can but we can't undo any of our past sins and wrongs. Try hard as we can and we stumble and fail again. Broken promises, broken commandments, broken relationships lay in our pasts. And the angel says a savior has been born for you and me. That's good news. I need a savior. That's good news because all the sins and shames and the failures are real--and so is the salvation that Jesus brings.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12 NRSV
The baby is our hope. But there's a temptation for long time believers in Advent and Christmas: to think we know the story already. If we think we know the story we'll miss it. It's tempting to think we've read it all and heard it all before. Old traditions and customs often define the meaning of the story. But maybe these customs set neat and tidy limits for how far God can go. So today let word and the mystery of God's coming get close to you. We come to this great event for all time with hope. God is still at work doing new things with us and for us. So rather than moving right along with all our Christmas traditions let's take in the story and remember that Jesus has come for you and me. Luke writes,
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Luke 2:13 NRSV
The angels sang praise for the one to come. A child is coming for you sing gloria. This child will grow to heal and preach with power, shout Alleluia. This child will stand up for the forgotten and the down trodden. He will heal the untouchable. He will come into the heart of the nation as a savior. The people will cry out hosanna. And he will die--taking the sin of the world--the power of death--and all the forces of evil on himself. He comes revealing God's glory. He comes to be our savior.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15 NRSV
This year I want to go back to the heart of the story. To the good news that a savior has come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mary's Angelic Meeting Luke 1:26-38

There's nobody quite like Mary in the Bible. When an angel came she accepted the new plan God offered for her life and for ours.
Luke tells us of a her meeting with an angel.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1:26-29 NRSV
Mary's response to the angel was all her own. She was quiet. Luke says she was “perplexed” and that she “pondered”. Rather than reacting Luke tells us Mary took in the angel's words. She listened to hear what this great visitor would say next. There's so much that perplexes us. So many people and situations that we can't wrap our heads around. For Mary the words of the angel didn't lead to a snap reaction. No she took time listening and thinking. There's so much that can be wondered about in this story. And for me her silent contemplation stands out. Maybe you've learned the hard way that it's dangerous to rush to a snap judgement. Maybe you've learned like me that it's unwise to talk without thinking first. And Mary's silence was golden. She listened to the messengers words.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 NRSV
I don't think Mary planned on being the mother of God's Son. Her plan, it seems, was different. The flow of her life was going to be very normal and predictable. But everything changed for her and for us when Gabriel came to visit that one day. Gabriel had big news. He came to announce God's plan. Remember Mary's plan was to
Get married
Have a family
in that order.
But Luke says the plan the angel Gabriel had to share was so different. She was going to have this child of promise in a new and unique way. She was going to have this child through the work of the Holy Spirit. Oh Mary is rightly described as the person who carried Jesus, in her own body, into our world. But from my reading of the scripture it clearly wasn't her initial plan.

People can only begin to imagine all the emotions running through Mary as she met with this angel. Confusion, doubt, and more. As I tried to imagine Mary's emotions I find that I'm caught more and more by Mary's response than what I imagine her feeling to be in her meeting with Gabriel.
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34 NRSV
Mary wasn't telling the angel no. She wasn't asking why me? She wasn't telling the angel to go and bother somebody else. Instead she asked a question. How can this be? There's something about Mary's question that leaves lots of space for doubt and for faith. And here's the place where we often meet God. It's in moments when we don't expect God to be there that God often shows up. It's in the moments when we know only by faith and not by what our ears hear or what our eyes see that God is at work.
The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God.  Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months.  God can do anything!” Luke 1:35-37 NCV
The angel had good news for her and for us. Here's the promise of God to us in our doubts, our fears, our confusion. God can do anything. That's right. Listen to the angel. Nothing is impossible for the one who made the heavens and the earth. Nothing can keep God's love from impacting your life. God is coming into our world and into our lives in Jesus. And nothing--not the conditions of your heart, your sins, your shames nothing can stop Jesus from coming in to dwell as God with us as God for us.

Mary what will you say to the angel? Will you be open will you tell him to buzz off. Oh Mary will you be open to this son who will one day die to set all people free? Mary will you open up your life of see God at work?
Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away. Luke 1:38 NCV
Mary spoke words of trust and hope. She knew that God could act. She was open to the plan. And for her open spirit I give thanks today. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading. John.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thanks Joe Matthew 1:18-25

This year in Advent we are taking in 4 stories of Angel visits. These visits came in the days before Christmas. Last week we took in the story of a man named Zachariah who had a fearful experience of meeting with an angel. This week we hear the story of an angel who came to visit Joseph. Next week we'll listen into Mary's angel moment. And the week before Christmas we'll listen to the words of the Angels for shepherds the night Jesus was born.

There's a part of Joseph's story that I don't want to pass by to quickly. Joseph came from a great family line. He was a descendant—generations back—of the youngest son of Jesse. That youngest son was called David. The people universally regarded David as Israel's greatest king. After all those generations the family line was thought dead. And along the way. In the middle of a dark and fearful time hundreds of years after the great king David and hundreds of years before Jesus a seer, a prophet named Isaiah had words of hope to share.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11:1 NRSV
This word of hope shined bright in the middle of exile and turmoil. A shoot, new life, shall sprout from a stump that was believed dead. Part of walking with Jesus is this deep hope rooted in a promise. That for God new life is always possible. For God no person and no situation is beyond redemption. This is the promise that was about to be fulfilled in Joseph's life.
Joseph thought he knew what was coming:
a marriage
a family
in that order.
When he learned Mary was pregnant he was done. His plan was simple: end it quietly and walk away. Leave Mary to her problems. But Joseph's plans were going to be subsumed by an even bigger plan. The plan of God laid out for him by an angel.
But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
Matthew 1:20-24 (NRSV)

This week I pay attention to what the angel had to say to Joseph. Sure it was fearful and confusing. But I give thanks that the angel's words met him right in his confusion and fear. Because the son he raised together with Mary brought salvation to the world.

Peace, and thanks for reading. John