Thursday, December 25, 2014


Eyes brimful of heaven's glory,
Blinded now by the water and the blood.
Last sounds, a Father's sobbing,
First sounds, a mother's screaming.
Pushed and pulled, shaken and slapped.
Holy breath breathed out,
Foul stable air forced in.
From heaven born among us,
To die that all might live.
Son of God, the Holy One.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


"I'm waiting, Lord God.  Waiting on Joseph.  He said to wait here.  He said he would be back in a minute and that we would have a room for the night.  So, here I am, Lord God, waiting on that man and a place to rest.  Waiting on a room.  Waiting for this baby to come.  Waiting, Lord God.  Whatever it is You are getting ready to do, I'm waiting on it.  Just hurry, Lord God.  These pains in my belly are tearing me apart.  Just hurry, Lord God, I'm ready.

Seems like I have been waiting forever.  It has got to be time for that child, that boy Your angel spoke to me about.   I never knew nine months could be so long.  It seems more like a lifetime ago.  I've been waiting ever since that night and, Lord God, I am surely waiting now.  It has been a rough trip getting to this place and I am past being tired.  Worn out.  Hungry.  Hurting in every bone in my body.  And, so tired of waiting for this boy to come.  Lord God, if You could hurry things up some,...but, if not, I'm waiting, Lord.

Ah, here he comes.  He does not look too happy.  Just hurry, Lord God.  I have about come to the end of what strength is inside of me.  Hurry, hurry, please, Lord God, hurry."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Unwilling Traveler

On that night, the unwilling traveler,
Tired, frustrated, perhaps, even angry.
Angry at an unknown emperor who said, "Go,"
Angry at circumstances swirling out of control,
And even angry at God who could've but didn't.

On that night, the unwilling traveler,
Pretending, upbeat and positive, but mostly worried.
Worried about the girl he brought with him,
Worried about the child she carried inside of her,
Worried that just maybe God had forgotten them.

On that night, the unwilling traveler,
Downhearted, disillusioned, sorely disappointed.
Disappointed that all he had was hay in a stable,
Disappointed that he could do no better,
Disappointed that the Father had not provided.

On that night, the unwilling traveler,
Overwhelmed, confused, but still helping.
Helping Mary through the unending pain,
Helping a son to breathe earth's air,
Helping God to accomplish holy purposes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Shepherd's Tale

Now, my boy, you'll not believe all of what I say, but I must tell you anyway.  You are my grandson and it's important you hear this old shepherd's tale.  You've been out there with me.  You know how it is.  Around the fire we sat.  The sheep had settled down as had we.  Simon started passing some wine around to warm us up, but before it ever reached me, the dark sky exploded in a brilliant blinding light and an angel stood there in our midst.  I know.  You want to know how I knew it was an angel.  How does anyone know such a thing?  I had never seen one.  Well, son, you just know.
Anyway, by that time we were all face down in the dirt.  Scared to death is what we were.  I just knew it was the end, but the angel meant us no harm.  The first thing he said was, "Don't be afraid."  I'll never forget that voice and neither will you if you ever hear an angel speak.  Then he told us a Savior had been born in Bethlehem and that we should go.  And, then, the heavens seemed to open up with the sounds of heaven.  When I dared to look up, it was like looking into glory.
And, then, my son, it was dark as it had been light.  Once again the moon and stars were there in the dark sky.  The fire was still burning.  Everything was suddenly the same but everything had changed.  There was only one thing to do.  Old Joshua said, "Let's go," and we left fire and sheep and everything and went to Bethlehem.  We hardly spoke a word as we went.  We just hurried into the village as if we knew the way.  We found them, a man named Joseph, a young girl called Mary, and a fresh as a new born lamb boy child they named Jesus because an angel told them that was to be His name.  They said the angel told them at the very beginning that this boy child named Jesus would save people from their sins.  It took me awhile to understand, but I got it.  The angel meant them, me, and even you.  Don't you forget it, boy.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem to save you.  You'll figure it out, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lessons from the Wise Men

 l.  Look up, not down.
 2. Travel with like minded people.
 3. Don't live to please powerful people.
 4. Remember the value of worship.
 5. Kneeling is good for everyone, even Kings.
 6. Learn to listen to your inner self.
 7. Be generous.
 8. Allow spontaneous joy in your life.
 9. Familiar roads can be dangerous.
10. Make being in the Presence your goal.
11. Expect God to take you where He promised.
12. Every road traveled with God has unexpected turns.
13.  Sometimes being on time feels like being later.
14.  Don't expect everyone to be happy with what God is doing.
15.  When tempted to quit, keep following the Star.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Innkeeper's Perspective

It's not fair.  Outside of Judas, I must be the most maligned character in the whole Jesus story.  Nothing positive is really said about me.  Actually, nothing is said about me at all.  What is written is an indirect slam and is known by all:  "There was no room for them in the inn."  That's it.  Nothing more.  No explanation. Nothing.  So, all the world has read these words and concluded that the innkeeper in Bethlehem was a bad man.
It's just not so.  The whole situation cannot be fairly summed up with so few words.  No one seems to understand.  No one wants to understand.  Bethlehem is not a big place.  It's not Jerusalem.  Bethlehem has one inn and my wife and I can feed and sleep no more than a dozen.  But, there was that one night we were full.  Everyone was displaced because of the census.  Even the place the two of us slept was rented.  And that was the night that caused the whole world to look at me as a cold uncaring innkeeper.
It's just not so.  And besides, I did not know that this man from Nazareth who came with his very pregnant wife would be talked about by everyone forever.  I had no way of knowing that night that the boy born in my stable would die on a cross, get Himself raised from the dead, and be known as the One sent from God to save people like me and you from their sins.  I know all that now, but its been 40 years.  If I had known it then, I would have thrown out some of the bums who were paying customers and given them a place to sleep.  But, as it was, the best I could do was a stall with some hay.  Listen, I am no different than you.  If you had been me then, what would you have done? 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Priests and Scribes

When the wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem, the city was taken by surprise.  No one was expecting a Messiah, a deliverer of the Hebrew people to be born.  Of course, the writings of the prophets spoke of the coming of such a One, but no one paid any attention to the words of prophets who spoke for Lord back in the dark ages.  The priests and scribes whom King Herod consulted for advice told him rightly when they quoted the prophet Micah saying, "Bethlehem of Judea," (Micah 5:2)  but not even they seemed to put much credence in the claims of the men from the East.
Had they put much stock in what these strange men were saying, it surely seems that a committee of priests from Jerusalem would have at least gone to Bethlehem to see if there was any sign of such a royal birth.  If they had shown up out of curiosity, their presence would have been noted along with the shepherds and the later arriving men from the East.  Obviously, they stayed at home.  No road trip was necessary for them.  Not even King Herod thought enough about it to tell them go, but then he came up with a different plan when the men from the East ignored him and returned home by another route.
The truth is no one really seem to be expecting someone like Jesus to show up on the world stage in those days.  Not even those who should have known and should have been expecting bothered to check it out.  It is not so hard to understand.  There is something of them in most of us.  What we know as the authoritative Word of God tells us again and again that as believers Jesus dwells in our midst and in our hearts.  Yet, most of us go about our daily routine living as if encountering Him or hearing from Him as we make a way through this maze of life is not something which we really expect to happen.  Those scribes and priests should have known and should have been expecting as should we. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power Broker

As I read the old story again of those men from the East, it is to King Herod that the moment of meditation beckons me.  The more I enter into the spirit of reflection, the more I realize that this time of meditation is not about the man, but about power.  Power distorts our view of ourselves.  It makes us a person of greater importance than those around us.  Thus, our view of self, others, and even God suffers.  Herod was accustomed to people doing his bidding.  His word was sufficient to change the lives of those who valued his favor.  Obviously, the men from the East were not such people.  They did not fear him,  Neither did they do as he told them to do.   When power is confronted with such a spirit, it is angered and takes protective action.  The slaughter of innocent children reveals the extent to which fear will drive a man who is consumed by power. 
It was not a powerful conquering army at the city gate which frightened King Herod, but a new born child who some claimed to be the King of the Jews.  Yet, still he was terrified.  He was a afraid that the child could unravel the "might makes right" order his power had created.  Maybe more than most, he sensed that the King of the Jews could bring into existence a kingdom which would not only collide with his, but overcome it.  When he told the men from the East to go and find the King so that he, too, could go and pay homage, it was a lie.  He would let the visitors find the child and then he would make sure the child went to an early grave. 
One of the interesting things about the child who would grow to be a man, a Savior, named Jesus, and the One also called King of Kings was the way He kept telling folks, "You have nothing to fear."  Herod was consumed by fear.  Always he was afraid what he had would be taken away.  Jesus who had everything counted nothing, not even heaven's glory as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself and took the form of a servant.  For this Savior who chose to give everything away, there was no fear.  Indeed, there was no need to fear.  It is a lesson Herod and all the his power broker kinsmen throughout history never seem to learn.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


"There they go.  I hear they are on their way to Bethlehem.  Joseph's home."

"That's what I hear, too. Hope she makes it.  Looks like she is going to have that baby any minute."

"They tell me her Momma was really upset with her about getting pregnant and that Joseph came within a hair of leaving her high and dry."

"Kinda hard to tell.  With all the talk, you can't help but wonder if poor old Joseph there isn't going to be raising some other man's baby.  Such a nice man.  Sure deserved better than she did him."

"Well, it won't be the first time.  And, I don't guess it will be the last, but it sure is a shame that she shamed her family like she did."

"Well now, her grandma, you know, she told me everyone was alright with everything.  She said she believed that God was going to bless them"

"Guess we will have to wait and see on that one.  Me?  I can't imagine God being very pleased with that girl. What she has done and all.  And, to think, she used to be such a fine young girl, one who always seemed to be asking questions about the way God delivered our people from tough times."

"She is sure enough in a tough time of her own.  Maybe she will find out first hand how God delivers people from them.  With what she has done, she may need more than her share of mercy."

"Well, enough said.  Let me get this water back home before old Rueben starts thinking I have been up to no good."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Struggle

"God of Abraham, God of Isaac and Jacob, according to Your mercy, grant me forgiveness and give to me Your righteousness....Lord, I just can't do this.  Not now.  I cannot pray with my heart so broken.  I trusted her and she has betrayed me.  Not only has she betrayed me, but she has confessed her sin with her own lips and spoke blasphemy against Your holy name by telling me the child she bears is of Your Spirit and Your Spirit alone.  What she says is impossible!  Lord God, You know me as a man who seeks after righteousness and I cannot go ahead with Mary knowing how she has betrayed me and You as well.
There is nothing I can do but let her go.  I will not do anything to shame her publicly, but I will not do anything to protect her except to quietly break our bond.  She can deal with it as she can.  Lord, I am sure You understand and do not hold this against me.  She has lied in the worst kind of way and there can be no life together for us.  People are going to be talking when they see that she is pregnant and they will blame me.  There is nothing I can do about their talk, but You know my heart is pure.  Lord, look upon me with Your mercy.

Lord, I am done with her.  I thought we had a future together.  A long one.  But, that dream is now shattered by her unfaithfulness.  Maybe You can forgive her, Lord, but, there is too much hurt in me right now.  I did love her.  But, I cannot go on.   You understand.  Tomorrow, Lord, I will tell her, but now, I must sleep.  My head is worn out with this worry.  I must sleep.  Keep me now in Your care as I try to rest and wait for the morning."

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Dreaded Conversation

"Please sit down, Joseph.  There is something I need to tell you.  Now, don't say a word.  Just listen.  Please.  Let me finish.  Hear everything I have to say.  I don't think I can say it more than once.  I've been thinking about it for weeks now and I just need you to listen.  And, to understand.  Please.  I...well,...there is no easy way to say it so I will just blurt it out.  I know you are not going to understand all this, Joseph, but try.  Please.  I wish there was some other way, but I'm afraid there is not...No, now, please, don't try to say anything. 
What I have to tell you is this.  You see,'s just's just that I am pregnant.  Now wait.  Sit back down.  I know what you are thinking, but it is not true.  At least not all of what you are thinking.  You and I both know the father is not you, but Joseph, it is not anyone else either.  I have done nothing to bring shame on you.  Please wait, let me finish.  A few months ago I saw an angel who said his name was Gabriel.  He told me he had a message from God.  Now I know this sounds strange, was strange when it happened.  What was the message?  Well, he told me I was favored by God and would have a child who would be put in me by the Holy Spirit.   And, he said I should name the child Jesus because He would be Son of God.  So, there it is.  That's why I have been acting strange the last few months.  I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid.
Please,...Joseph....please...I know you are upset.  I know you feel hurt.  But, I have not betrayed you.  You have to believe me.  Please say something.  Don't just sit there.  Say something!  Please.  Wait, Joseph.  Please don't just get up and go.  Please don't go.  Say something.  Say it is going to be alright.  Say you understand.  Say something.  Wait, please...wait....Joseph, please don't go.  Joseph!  Joseph!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Mission

"Gabriel, come walk with Me.  There is someone I want you to see.  Look, there by the well on the edge of Nazareth.  See that young girl with the orange wrap on her head.  Her name is Mary.  She is the one I have chosen.  I have plans for her and I want you to go and tell her.  She is soon to be married to a man named Joseph of the house of David. 
You must remember that seeing you is going to frighten her.  So, speak softly and greet her in My name.  It will mean something to her because she has loved me all her days.  Let her know right away that your being there with her is a good thing.  And then when she is settled down, I want you to tell her that as one favored by Me, she will conceive a son who is to be named Jesus.  She will tell you how impossible it is since she and Joseph have not yet come together physically as one.  At this point you will need to make something very clear.  Let her know the son to be born to her will not be conceived in a normal way, but that through a divine mystery she will become pregnant not by her husband, but by the Holy Spirit.  I know this will be a lot for her to handle so be patient and give her some time to think about what you are saying.  And then as a way of helping her, tell her about your visit with Zechariah.  Tell her about Elizabeth.  Tell her that old Elizabeth is going to have a baby in a few months.  I want her to know so that she can go and see and know that what she is hearing from you is real.
What's that?....Oh, yes, indeed!  She will surely be surprised, but I believe Mary has such faith that she will say, "Yes."  I have a plan.  The land she and Joseph walk is in such need of help.  The people seem to thrive on the darkness.  Too many have lost sight of me.  I love them too much to let them go the wrong way.  The plan I have will give them a way out of the mess they have made.  The plan will give them a Savior, One who will have the power to bring them all back to Me.  Go, Gabriel, go, and do well.  Much depends on what is about to happen."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Old One

Old is what the young said,
Barren, those with children.
Forgotten whispered her reflection,
Resigned was her husband,
Loved still by her creator God.

Disappointed in what was behind,
Hopeless she faced things ahead,
Brokenhearted again at every birth,
Wondering why forgotten,
Loved still by her creator God.

Tired of trying the impossible,
Given up deep inside,
Living without her deepest longing,
Crying tears in black darkness,
Loved still by her creator God.

Listening to a husband,
Believing but not completely,
Allowing hope to come again,
Waiting now for joy to come,
Loved still by her creator God.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lessons from Zechariah

 1.   Don't question angels.
 2.   If you want to have children, stay at home.
 3.   Keep praying.
 4.   Expect God in holy places.
 5.   One moment in the presence of God can change your future.
 6.   God uses the normal to accomplish the holy.
 7.   A disciplined life brings spiritual blessings.
 8.   Great things can happen to older people.
 9.   A vision can leave you speechless.
10.  God's granting goes beyond our asking.
11.  No prayer is unheard.
12.  Before quitting, try once more.
13.  God has a sense of humor.
14.  God's plan works in God's time.
15.  When we give up, God is still working.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Toward the Glory

 Advent is a troubling season for the contemporary church that places great value on being attractive to the secular culture around it.  Often the "appeal factor" becomes more important than theological and liturgical integrity.  Advent calls the church to themes of preparation instead of themes of celebration, but as December arrives, the culture starts demanding the celebration begin.  There can be no waiting, no anticipation for a culture worshipping the gods of instant gratification.

The early days of Advent cause us to reflect on the larger plan of God.  Certainly, we are slowly and steadily being moved toward the Christ-event at Bethlehem, but at a pace that enables us to see that the plan of God is not in response to what is trending, but to what is eternal.  Advent is experienced as a traveler on a journey from the utter darkness of barren countryside toward a distant unseen city.  The night is first experienced as black darkness, then as a faint light on the distant horizon, and finally the light far away becomes a light that is both approaching and suddenly all around.  In darkness we travel toward the glory of what is eternal.  Not now, but soon.  Not here, but coming.

In the early days of Advent when ancient prophets stride the stage of the Biblical story, it seems that Advent is just about the past.  Yet, it is also about what is ahead.  Behind are the prophets who spoke God's Word about what and Who was to come and ahead are shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a new born baby on a bed of straw in Bethlehem, and glory!  Toward that glory about to be revealed we now begin to move on this Advent journey.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Suffering Servant

There are some folks who will read Isaiah 53 and say it has nothing to do with Biblical prophecy concerning Jesus.  I first ran into them during my seminary days.  But, they are not just found in the dusty academic corridors where "what might be" and "what if" seems to be more important than "what is."  While some say it is simply a reference to an individual during Isaiah's time or the nation of Israel, it is hard not to see numerous images of Jesus within its verses.  The language is simply too specific for many to reach any other conclusion.   Put me in that category. 

Reading and meditating on Isaiah 53 is a good thing to do as a way of doing the heart preparation for Christmas.  It reveals a picture of Christ long before we knew Him as the baby of Bethlehem.  It reveals a picture known only to the heart and mind and purpose of the Father God who had a vision for what was to come.  When we read it there are such powerful images.  ""He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity....He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the punishment that made us whole...He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter...By a perversion of justice He was taken away..."  It is amazing that the prophet Isaiah was so inspired by the Holy Spirit that He was able to catch this glimpse of what God was planning for humankind.

The One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is this One described centuries before the trip to Bethlehem.  Let us never get so swept away by the sweetness of the nativity scene filled with new parents and a newly born baby that we forget that this child was no ordinary child.  Certainly, He was fully human as is any child, but He was also the One chosen by God to bring radical change to the world and to deliver folks like you and me from our sins.  But, it was costly work.  Reading Isaiah 53 helps us remember the child born in the animal's wooden feed trough died on a rough wooden cross for you and for me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Favorite

One of my favorite passages from Isaiah is often read during these Advent days.  It comes from the beginning of the 60th chapter and reads, "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  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."  If that Word from the Lord did not stir those ancient Hebrew exiles in Babylon, they could not be stirred.  It is a Word filled with such hope and such overwhelming assurance.  Who can hear such words and not find themselves filled with a sense of expectancy?  Who can hear these words and not start looking for God to act?
I have read this passage many times from the pulpit during the Advent season.  I was never sure if those who heard caught the hope that was being proclaimed, but I could never read it without feeling that something important was being read to the people of God.  We all sit in our own darkness.  If we are not in the present moment, we have been in it.  And, if we are not in the darkness in the present moment, it is likely that we will find ourselves in its dark shadows before it is all said and done.  The darkness seems to be a part of the human situation.  It can be described in a thousand different ways.  Perhaps, this is why it was something I always found it to be an important Word from God for reading.
As we sit in our own darkness, it is powerful to know that already our light has come.  But, it is not just any light.  It is one that can only be described as the glory of the Lord.  And even though we cannot see a foot in front of us, we can arise with hope because He is present with us.  He has come to take us from the darkness into a life where we can see that the light of the Lord has indeed risen upon us. The darkness is never forever.  The light of the Lord, the glory of the Lord is forever and eternal.  It is always coming, always rising, always shining.  Not seeing it in a moment does not change the reality of it breaking in upon us.   Just wait.  Keep looking.  Live hoping.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Voice

It is a phenomena I have noticed many times in restaurants, waiting rooms, and other places where people gather.  Most likely it is something universally observed.  In a crowded place people are carrying on many different conversations.  At each table lunch partners are conversing.  No one really notices anyone except the person on the other side of the quiet conversation happening across the table.  And then, midst the soft murmur of conversation rises this one voice which leaves the air of one table and permeates the air above every table in the room.   Quiet conversations heard only by a lunch partner are hushed by the loud, overpowering, room-filling voice of a single person.  And no matter how we might want the turn the volume down, it is impossible.  It is a voice that demands to be heard even by those who have no intention or interest in listening to it. 
There is only one person in Scripture who might appropriately be given the name, "the Voice."  We know Matthew as the tax collector, Peter as the Rock, Philip as the evangelist, and John the Baptist as the voice.  This name came to him long centuries before his birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth.   Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke, "A voice cries out, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low." (Isaiah 40:3)  Here is an obvious announcement of God doing something radical.

When we read the New Testament, there is little doubt that John the Baptist is the one spoken of the prophet as the voice.  John's voice may or may not have been the kind that overpowers the room, but it is obvious that when he spoke people found themselves forced to listen.  Some were given hope by his voice, some were threatened, but all seemed compelled to listen to the voice from God that proclaimed a message that God was about to do something more radical than anything the world had ever seen.  It would be something which would take people off the fence.  Some response would be required and the response would be the difference between light and darkness, life and death.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Baptizer

It always comes as a bit of surprise when he shows up.  Actually, it is more than a surprise for most of us.  Shock is a more appropriate word.  We cannot help but wonder what in the world is John the Baptist doing showing up in these days when our attention is getting focused on the big event in Bethlehem.  Like an unwanted guest in our home who simply shows up at the front door, not asking, but demanding hospitality, this fiery breathing, locust eating, prophet of God shows up to ruin our nice pleasant thoughts about the baby Jesus being born midst the sweet smell of hay in a manger of Bethlehem. 
Of course, most readers of the nativity story miss the appearance of this wild eyed prophet who screams and hollers about repentance.  Only those who religiously follow lectionary readings of the scripture which guide the believer into and through these days encounters him.  It seemed important to those who put these Scripture selections together in an orderly and purposeful manner to make sure that we got a good dose of the message of this kinsman of Jesus.  Regardless of all these things, we know why it is important that John the Baptist be included in this Advent season which serves as a time of preparing us for the celebration of the Christ event.  The Old Testament speaks of him as the one who was to come before Jesus and to announce that God was about to do something extremely radical in human history.  As far as the prophet was concerned the only way to respond to this radical activity of God was something called repentance which for any of us is a radical thing.

What we want to do with repentance is to soften it.  We like it sugar coated and easy to swallow.  We like for it to be as simple as saying, "I'm sorry" even though we know deep down in our heart that given the opportunity we are likely to be back in the same place of disobedience tomorrow.  Repentance is not about feeling good.  It speaks of deep sorrow for what is the sin in our life.  It speaks of a turning from choices which bring sin into our life toward choices which put us in step with the desires of God.  Repentance always involves denying the needs of ego for the sake of serving God.  No one was eager to hear John the Baptist preach this kind of message then any more than we are eager to hear it now.  But, the hearing and the embracing is the way toward the preparation called for by the Advent season.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Promise Keeper

When I was growing up nothing got me in trouble quicker than not telling the truth.  As I recall, it was not something I always found easy to do.  Sometimes telling the truth was more like a game of confession and consequences.  And to be honest is to admit that I often succumbed to the temptation of not telling all the truth, or stretching it a bit, or just choosing what I knew to be an untruth.  But, I also remembered that promising something raised the seriousness of whatever was at stake. It was one thing to tell a lie, but an even more serious thing to break a promise. 
One of the things we can say about God is that He is always faithful to keep His Word.  While He does not have to say, "I promise" in order to be trustworthy, there are those moments in the Scripture when He talks about Himself as a Promise Keeper.  One of those places is found in the middle of the 33rd chapter of Jeremiah.  Beginning in verse 14 we hear Him saying, "The days are coming , says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land."   What God promised through the prophet Jeremiah, we see Him bringing to pass when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  He came saying about Himself, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,..."  (Luke 4:18)  Indeed, He came as the righteous One of God.  He came to establish a new order.
God is One who does not change.  As He has kept His promises, so He continues to keep them.  Sometimes it takes hindsight to see that it has indeed happened.  The birth at Bethlehem and the death at Calvary revealed Him as the Promise Keeper.  What He said He would do, He did.  When we are in the midst of moments which seem empty of hope and God's presence, we, too, have every reason to hang on to God as a faithful Promise Keeper.  As it has been in the past, when we move out of the darkness and into the light of hope again, we are able to see clearly that His promises to be with us never changed.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Divine Design

Micah, the prophet, is not as well known as some of those who lived during his lifetime.  While he walked the earth as a servant of God, Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos were also alive and preaching some of the same themes as this one known as a minor prophet.  Certainly, the body of written work attributed to Micah is much less than these others.  The seven chapters of Micah hardly compare to the sixty-six of Isaiah.  While there are many powerful sections found within the writings of this minor prophet, the one remembered in this season comes from what we know as the 2nd verse of the 5th chapter, "But, you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel."
When the men from the East showed up in Herod's court seeking directions to the King of the Jews, the Jewish religious leaders used this word of prophecy to answer them.  What looks like such a minor detail in the story suddenly becomes one filled with importance.  What was happening in those days was not just about coincidence.  It was not just about the Emperor Augustus requiring a census that sent Joseph to his hometown.  Instead, what becomes even more obvious is that God was orchestrating the events which were taking place in those days.  And, it was not just something decided on a whim, but something that had been worked out as a part of the plan of the Almighty.  While a human decree may have moved Joseph to Bethlehem, it was the hand of God which was bringing all things together at a time which the Apostle Paul would describe by writing, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son..." (Galatians 4:4)
God's ways have not changed.  Neither has His nature.  He can still be counted on to act in purposeful ways.  We can still know that our life has a design and that God is seeking to move us forward into the plan that He has perfected for us.  And, of course, the good news is that even when we circumvent the plan of God, reject it, or choose another, He does not give up on us, but returns to us with a Word that will set our feet on the course He has planned for us from the very beginning.  He can always be counted on to be at work in our lives in such a way as to bring us home to Him. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Child

When Isaiah spoke God 's Word to the people of Israel, life was more than difficult.  The prophet's message spans a huge chunk of time and a changing environment.  The time period runs the gamut of being threatened on all sides to being conquered and moved into a forced exile.  For the prophet it is clear everything happening is related to the sins of the people and a God who finally says, "Enough is enough!"  It is, therefore, not the best of times for the chosen people of God.
In this environment filled with despair, darkness, and uncertainty over the future, Isaiah spoke words of hope from God.  One of those words comes in the 9th chapter of the writing we know as Isaiah.  It begins with the words, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," and then moves to words read and sung at this time every year.  In verse 6 the Word reads, "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  To still our minds and hearts for a moment enables us to hear that indescribable sound of Handel's "Messiah" blessing our spirits.  Listen to it now as it soars through our soul.  Enjoy it.  Experience it.  Let it become a word of praise in the midst of what may have been such an ordinary moment.
Our times are surely different than those ancient Hebrews who first heard this Word of hope.  However, our need for the One about whom the Word speaks still exists.  Most of us know about darkness in our life.  Most of us know about an uncertain future.  And all of us long to hear that God is coming into our darkness in radical ways to change not only our life but the world around us as well.  This Son of God who came long ago still has the coming power to work the miracle of hope regardless of our circumstances.  Look for Him.  He has surely found each of us and only waits for an opening to our heart.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Trust the Spirit

One of the amazing things about the Biblical narrative of the Incarnation is the way it should have come as no surprise to anyone who was familiar with the sacred writings of the Hebrew tradition. In what we know today as the Old Testament there are numerous prophetic references to some of the details of the story that we know so well and re-enact during these days.  One example of this is found in the story of the Wise Men from the East who come to visit the newborn King of the Jews.  When they stop by Jerusalem asking Herod for directions, he sends for the priests and scribes who tell them that the prophet Micah said it would be Bethlehem. 
Of course, the prophet Isaiah is one whose words point toward the birth, the life, the suffering, and the death of Jesus.  In the 7th chapter, the 14th verse, we read, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."   Some translations render the word translated, "woman"  to be "virgin."  And, of course, the meaning of "Immanuel" is "God with us."  It is truly amazing to read and ponder passages like these.  Words like these written centuries before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem let us know that what we are preparing to celebrate in these holy days was not an afterthought in the mind of God.  It was all a part of the divine plan from the beginning and even before.
Certainly, there are those Biblical scholars and teachers who would discredit this interpretation of some of these prophetic writings from the Old Testament.  They can offer rather convincing arguments designed to point the reader toward a more ordinary meaning rather than the super-spiritual one which points toward God's plan for humanity.  It is always important to remember when reading the scripture that the beginning point for understanding is not in what the human commentators say about a passage, but within the passage itself.  The Word of God needs no one to stand under it to hold it up.  And, it needs no teacher but the Holy Spirit.  The One who brought the Word into being can be trusted to guide us into its truth. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All Zipped Up

I remember my first Bible.  It was black and had a zipper around it so no important stuff stuffed in its pages could fall out during transport.  It was, of course, the King James Version, and it also featured all the sayings of Jesus in red print.  But, what I liked about it right off the bat were the pictures.  There was a Garden of Eden shot, one of Moses turning back the tide, Samson bringing down the pillars, and midst all the others, there was that mind blowing picture of Jesus standing on a cloud with angels all around Him as He made His way back to earth.  It is amazing the images which have gotten stuck in this older adult's mind when so many other things of great importance seem to defy recall.
But, one thing is certain.  No one would get excited in today's church about an image of Jesus returning to the earth.  We like those pictures of Him showing up in Bethlehem, but the Ones depicting Him coming back for a second visit are hard to find.  In fact, what is spoken of as the Second Coming is seldom mentioned in most contemporary mainline churches.  And when it is, it is like a baseball coming at you that only touches the edge of your shirt as it goes by.  No one ever really finds themselves getting smacked by this Biblical truth with such force that it leaves an impression.  We might even go so far as to say that the whole business of Jesus coming to earth a second time is the forgotten part of the story of Jesus,
Were it not for the first Sunday in Advent taking serious lectionary preachers to the texts which speak of Jesus returning, it would likely never be preached.  At best it gets one Sunday and even then, the lectionary preacher is still looking for another text, a way out of dealing with something no one really seems to be buying.  Perhaps, it all speaks to the way we want to avoid accountability at all cost.  There are a lot things which might be said about this teaching of the Bible, but surely, the word accountability is a big theme.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday there will be a day of being held accountable for what we have done with the life and the opportunity God has given us.  What a frightening thought!  Maybe that is why we want to leave this returning King up there in the clouds all zipped up inside that Bible.

Monday, December 1, 2014

In the Clouds

An early Advent theme is the Second Coming of Jesus.  It seems rather strange to some since Advent appears to be a season designed to get people ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Yet, Advent still reminds us of this uncomfortable truth that the One who has come will come again.  When He came in the stable, it was to bring the world a Savior.  When He comes in the clouds, it will be to bring history as we know it to and end.  Sounds strange, does it not?  Who among us ever thinks that history as we are making it will ever end? 
Most of us are looking too much at where we are walking on this earth to spend much time looking in the clouds.  Actually, we are too busy with the temporal and not concerned enough about the eternal.  We live too much in the physical dimension to give consideration to the spiritual.  These early days of Advent call us to live in the now and then, here and there, the present and the future.  The Kingdom of God has come and is coming.  Such is the teaching of Jesus.  To take Him seriously means realizing that what we do on the earth to get ahead and to attain security is not nearly as important as taking care of the soul within us.  The body was designed for a short existence; the soul for the long haul, or for eternity.
As we encounter these tension filled days of early Advent and consider its counter-culture message, we may well find ourselves struggling with the question, "How then shall I live?"  It is a good question.  It is one that may take us down a road of confession and repentance.  Confession is easy enough to understand.  Repentance is a bit confusing to us.  It does not mean saying, "I am sorry," but instead, it means, "I am choosing now to go another way."  It means a turning away from caring for the ego and a journey toward caring for the soul.