“Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:46
A skeptic and his friend talking about the possibility that all their hopes for the future have arrived in the person of Jesus. How do you convince someone that Jesus is the Messiah? The answer isn’t clever arguments and encyclopedic knowledge. It’s simply an invitation to come and see for yourself. That’s our invitation today also, to the world. But what are we inviting them to come and see? Let us do the work to make sure our community so reflects the messiah that when people come and see they recognize their hopes fulfilled in Jesus.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1: 1-2
This week is the Sunday that we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. All of the texts (including a reading from Genesis and Acts) include references to creation coming to us from the Holy Spirit. In the text from Mark, the baptism of Jesus itself is only mentioned in verse nine which says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan”. The writer spends the verses before telling us about John and his proclamation and the verses after telling us about the Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus. In looking at each of these readings separately and putting them together I love how they weave a story of creation beginning anew for us over and over again as we are touched by the Spirit. The earth may have only been created once, but trees shed their leaves each fall and they return each spring, we are baptized but once, yet we receive the gifts of baptism each day as we die in sin and rise in new life with Christ. The baptism we receive, a gift from God, happens but once, though the gifts are everlasting through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where do you find the Spirit working in your life? What is the new creation you came upon today?
“ and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” -Luke 2:7
Before the carols were written down, before the traditions were formed, before the trees and lights and presents, there was the first Christmas. It was ordinary in so many ways. A young couple doing the best they could to bring a new life into the world. They didn’t have everything they needed, but they made do with some band of cloth and a manger. This year we don’t have all the trappings of Christmas, although we still have more than they did, but we will make do with what we have. I think there’s a possibility of the story penetrating more deeply into our hearts and minds this year. So often the trappings of Christmas become the focus, rather than the One whom we celebrate. Maybe this year, as we go without, we might receive the true gift of the season. May we know the good news of Jesus in a new and profound way this year.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” -Luke 1: 28
As just a young girl Mary must have been surprised over and again by all the things that were happening to her. When Gabriel first came to Mary she addressed her as “favored one”, never mind that being spoken to by an angel was out of the ordinary but to be addressed in such a formal way would have been disconcerting too, of course she was going to be the mother of the Son of Man, so it seems a title, or at least a formal greeting would be in order as this new holy family comes together. The verse reminded me of all the times that we share the exchange “Peace be with you, and also with you”, it is a rather formal greeting as we come together in worship. What does it mean for you when you are greeted or when you offer the greeting to another? Perhaps it’s the way that we hold each other sacred in the family of Christ, it’s a sign or signal that God is with us, that you are beloved. When we share this exchange, I invite you to remember that this is how Mary was first told that Jesus was with her, and would be always, and when we share this today we remember that Jesus, Emmanuel, is with us too.
“They shall build up the ancient ruins,they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:4
We are in the ruins right now, in many ways, because of the pandemic. There is a history of people rebuilding after devastation. The people Isaiah spoke to had to repair their country after it was destroyed by decades of war. Rebuilding is hard, because first you have to mourn the loss. Then somehow you have to make the transition from mourning to hope for the future. Only then can you muster up the motivation and determination to let go of the past and focus on the future. How many things in our lives require that same transition? And where does our hope come from? Our hope comes from the promise of God that we have a good future. When we trust in that promise then we have what it takes to rebuild our lives, our society, our families our health and whatever else has experienced devastation. God’s hope be with you!
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” -Isaiah 40: 1
This first verse of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah strikes a dramatic change in tone from the previous chapters. It changes the tone from one of despair, destruction, and predictions of judgement to Isaiah proclaiming comfort is upon us with a message of hope, joy, and light breaking in. The prophet sets out to reestablish faith in God. How many of us need to reestablish our faith in God? Now in the beginning of this new church year, perhaps it’s a good time to examine our faith, to live in hope with the promise that God brings us comfort, and that when we understand the “word of our God will stand forever” we can take comfort knowing that God is always for us. So, in this season of Advent we turn the corner on a new year and wait expectantly for the Word made flesh who will dwell among us yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Things to ponder: What might bring you comfort in these days? What helps you to reestablish or stay alive in your faith? Where might you bring comfort to others in this new church year?
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’ Matthew 25:37
Surprise! That’s my first thought reading the parable of the sheep and the goats. Everyone is surprised by how the King decides who will enter into eternal life and who will depart into eternal punishment. We might expect the wicked to be surprised, evil always deceives itself into thinking it’s good. But the righteous are surprised too. I love that about them. They weren’t doing good in order to gain some kind of leverage on God. They fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty because it was who they were inside and out. Now my question is, why did Jesus tell us this story? He ruined the surprise now that we know how He will judge us on the last day. Maybe the better question is, what will we do now that we know how this ends.
“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ –Matthew 25:24-25
I like the translation from “The Message” bible for this particular parable. The words are more plain spoken, easy to understand, as if they were speaking right to me. The final servant, the one who hid his money so it would be secure tells the master that he didn’t want to disappoint him, so he just kept what he had hidden and safe. That makes sense doesn’t it? He isn’t a risk-taker, he’s going to give back to the master what is his with no worries of disappointing him. I would bet that many of us make decisions that way sometimes, I’m not going to take the risk because I don’t want the result to be disappointing or I don’t want someone to be disappointed in me. How do you decide when you’re going to play it safe or when you’re going to take a risk? What is the measure we use to calculate risk and if it’s going to be worth it or not? For me, it’s always about who is the risk going to effect besides just me, is there any chance that I’m going to let someone down? It’s also a good time to remember that I can take a risk and that even if it doesn’t work out the people I surround myself with are not usually the ones who are going to be disappointed but the ones that are going to lift me up to try again. Take the risk, you never know what you’re going to learn!
“Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” Matthew 25:1-2
We’re starting Matthew chapter 25 and will be reading through it for the next three weeks. Three parables about the kingdom of heaven with special emphasis on final judgement and the end times. My first thought was how in the world does this passage speak to the election that will have happened by the time you read this? Bridesmaids who run out of oil and are shut out from the party doesn’t exactly seem relevant. Although we will be waiting for results to the election and the wait may be longer than anyone wants it to be. But the story isn’t about something as banal as politics. This is a story about our ultimate hope, the coming of a messiah. It’s the promise of one who will finally bring wholeness and healing to our world, something no president can do. That’s something worth waiting for. How do we wait for a messiah? What does it mean to live our lives as if Jesus’ return were today? That’s a question worth pondering.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9
I know we mostly misunderstand what heaven will be like. Most of us think we will be at the center of heaven with all our hopes and dreams and wishes. I know I often find myself dreaming about what I will have in heaven that I don’t have now. But the truth of scripture is that Jesus is at the center of heaven with his hopes and dreams and wishes. I love this line from Revelation 7. Heaven is diverse. Every nation, tribe and language are represented. There’s a great multitude that no one can count, how’s that for good news! So many people and from everywhere. That’s what God wants in his heaven. The project of earth is to conform ourselves to God’s hopes and dreams. Are we the kind of people who want heaven to be full of all kinds of people from all kinds of places? I hope I am. I hope we are.