Tag Archives: Christmas

The Wonder of Christmas (Week 2)

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

The Wonder of a Name given on Sunday, December 4, 2016:Week 2 of Advent series based on The Wonder of Christmas by Robb & Renfroe

 Scripture: Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part A)

Did you know that God gave Jesus his name? The Bible tells us that God sent an angel to Mary and to Joseph in two different locations and told them they were going to have a baby and to name him Immanuel meaning “God save us”.

Can you just imagine when Mary and Joseph started talking about having this baby that they were surprised that each of them had been told what name to give the baby by an angel! I bet they got a funny feeling in their tummy as they tried to sort everything out.

Well, I know that when I tried to find names for my kids, I spent a long time studying baby names and their meanings. It was no easy task and what I picked had to be agreed upon by their dad. I bet I spent weeks trying to find the right name with the right meaning.

God gave Jesus his name and the mean is “God saves us.” I wondered why he picked that name. In our advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, I learned that the Bible records only a few times that God changed a name but only once did he name a baby and that was Jesus. I also learned that it was the first time that the name Jesus was used.

Ed Robb writes:

When God gave someone a new name, it was because a divine purpose was revealed to and placed within that person. Names connote identity in the biblical context; so a name change signified that God had transformed that persons identity and rerouted the trajectory (path) of his or her life. The name became symbolic of the person’s God-ordained mission to be an ambassador, a representative, and a living vessel for his grace, goodness, love , and hope in the world.

Wow! He goes on to share a few examples of how God changed a few names, but none ever was given the name “Jesus” until he decided that he had to do something to save us.

But now we wonder why the name Jesus? Well Robb explains it:

. . . Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and that name meant something to Joseph and Mary. In fact, it meant something to every Jew, because it was the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua.

Born into slavery in Egypt, Joshua was given the Hebrew name Hoshea, meaning salvation. Being a slave, his name conveyed a hope, not a reality. . .

Now isn’t that a wonder that God could find a special name that meant so much to the ancient people that they knew why Jesus’ name was so important!

I know that selecting my kids names was a major effort. I wanted names that really meant something special and that connected them to their heritage. God did that with Jesus’ name, too. Isn’t that wonderful!

Mary and Joseph were given the name because it was a special message to all Jewish people. It was a name that connected Jesus directly to God and to all the generations. Robb explains that the connection even goes back to a story of the Hebrew people were saved from slavery in Egypt, all through the wonder of the name.

Even though Joshua was born into slavery, he followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness for forty years. He was one of Moses men who ended up leading the people out of the wilderness—he saved them and Robb adds Joshua was really named Hoshea, but God changed it to Joshua.

We read in Numbers 13:16 that, even before sending the spies to explore the land, Moses changed Hoshea’s name. He took two words—Jehova (Yahwey), the proper name of the God of Israel, and Hoseha, meaning salvation—and wove them together to form a new name, Joshua (Yehoshua in Hebrew), meaning “the Lord is salvation,” or God saves. When Moses died, it was Joshua whom God chose as their leader. He is the one who led them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

Through Joshua, God saved their people from a life of futility and death in the wilderness and brought them into the land of the living. . .

When the angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NASB), he was clearly communicating the reality of One who brings salvation to God’s people once again—but in a way and manner that no ordinary human being could ever do.

The wonder of Jesus’ name is that is a clear statement to God’s faithful followers that the baby named Jesus/Immanuel is the way to salvation. Follow Jesus and you will be saved and receive life eternal as a follower of God. God gives us the name Christian as evidence that we are saved.

Christmas Story: Luke 1:26-33 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part B)

            Learning about the name of Jesus leads to other questions to wonder about. For instance, look at the second question from this weeks study:

How does understanding the meaning of Jesus’ name impact your understanding or appreciation for what he came to do? In what ways has Jesus saved you?

Knowing that God gave the infant baby the name Jesus or Immanuel, becomes a powerful lesson in understanding the significance of Christmas. In fact it really does put wonder into the season.

I can see that God’s presence on earth was instrumental in transforming the world that challenged the faithful. Something had to happen to give them hope. Something had to change if God’s world was going to be saved. So Jesus was born.

Our world challenges us in so many ways that we tire out. We have a way of losing our focus and fail to maintain a God/Christ-centered life. Is it no wonder that our problems can push God out of our lives?

Robb identifies that the problems that separate us from God include simply ignorance of God, brokenness whether physical or mental, relationship problems with others, or poverty making it difficult to meet even our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Whatever the problem, we lose focus on God and our relationship with him. Robb states:

. . . It is the good news that, no matter what you’ve done, God is not against you but for you. No matter how far you’ve wandered, God wants you back.

. . . Here’s the reality. We all push God out of our lives.

. . . The Bible calls our rejection of God sin, and that’s why Jesus came. God knows that all of us need a Savior.

Recently a new sense of wonder came over me in a conversation with other pastors. God’s chosen people, according to the Bible, was a band of tribes, 12 to be exact, that were slaves. They did everything they could be remain faithful, even while Egyptian slaves. They did the job so well that God lead them out of captivity, stayed with them in the dessert, and lead them forward into a new land.

The story does not end there. The story continued and still continues. When God sent Jesus to save us, he lived the human life experience and through his ministry, death, and resurrection has saved all who believe. The original 12 tribes of slaves has propelled their relationship with God to grow into a global force of Christians doing all they can to continue God’s work.

Jesus’ name is a clue to unlock the wonder of Christian faith. It is open to all who believe in Jesus as the savior. Robb states it:

. . . [God’s] people are those who believe on him and crown him Lord of Lords and Lord of their lives, as Paul so eloquently expresses in Philippians 2:9-11. “His people” is a statement that extends over the boundary line of Judaism to include the wise men who came from afar as well as the shepherds who tended sheep on Bethlehem’s plains.

It includes you as well, if you’ll let it. (emphasis added)

Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Jesus, your name is beautiful and special. You are the Lord of salvation—our God who saves. I am so grateful that you entered this hostile world to save us—to save me. You are so much more than a teacher, a healer, a counselor, and a prophet; you are our Savior! And that is good news! May the wonder of your name fill my heart with joy this Christmas and always. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part C—to include communion)

Consider this: When God named his son Jesus, he was telling us that those who believe in him are saved. When we accept Jesus as our personal savior we are also given a new name: Christian or Christ-follower.

Are you living up to your name?

Today we share the bread and the cup as our church’s tradition on the first Sunday of the month. The very tradition is designed to renew our relationship with Triune God. Just like we share in the Apostles’ Creed, we do believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As you hear the story of Jesus’ birth again this year, discover the wonder of Christmas. Last week we found the wonder of a star that the wise men knew lead to Jesus as an infant, but more importantly they knew that Jesus was God and they left knowing the truth of God’s love. The wonder of the star lead them to the wonder of Christmas. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save us.

Join in today’s communion with all of those whose name includes Christian:

Sharing the bread and the cup                

Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:

May the wonder of Jesus’ name draw you closer to God this holiday season. Remember the words from John 3:16-17:

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Remember your baptism as Christian and receive the wonder of Christmas and go tell it to others so they too may be renamed as Christians.

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The Wonder of Christmas Series

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

 

The Wonder of a Star given on Sunday, November 27, 2016:

Advent reflection Part A:

Wonder: a word packed with meaning. In fact, check the definition of the word as outlined on dictionary.com:

VERB (used without object)

  1. to think or speculate curiously:

to wonder about the origin of the solar system.

  1. to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at): He wondered at her composure in          such a crisis.
  2. to doubt: I wonder if she’ll really get here.

VERB (used with object)

  1. to speculate curiously or be curious about; be curious to know: to wonder what happened.
  2. to feel wonder at: I wonder that you went.

NOUN

  1. something strange and surprising; a cause of surprise, astonishment, or admiration: That building is a wonder. It is         a wonder he declined such an offer.
  2. the emotion excited by what is strange and surprising; a feeling of surprised or puzzled interest, sometimes tinged           with admiration: He felt wonder at seeing the Grand Canyon.
  3. miraculous deed or event; remarkable phenomenon.

Granted looking at all eight definition entries may seem like way too much information, but the term wonder is going to be central to the Advent season and we will be experiencing almost all eight meanings.

These definitions are provided after careful review of the historical uses of the word throughout time. The linguists, those who study language, track a word through all published sources in order to identify and clarify the meaning of words published in dictionaries. Wonder, for this Advent, is awesome—meaning inspiring

Part B: The Questions

After all the Thanksgiving turkey is cleaned off our plates and we have sat around watching the football games or crashing on the couch after hitting the stores for frenzied shopping, the reality of holiday traditions sets in. And then we face the reality that Christmas is just one month away. Do we wonder why we get so wrapped up in all the busyness of holiday celebrations?

However one answers that question can also focus us on the reality of the season. Have we lost the wonder of Christmas? Do we even understand how Christmas is wonderful? During this advent, the goal is to discover the wonder of the Christmas story. Consider these questions:

  1. In what ways have you sensed that you were made for something more? How would you describe the yearning within your soul?
  2. What signs are pointing you to God this Advent?
  3. What excuses are keeping you from following those signs and drawing closer to Jesus? What are you afraid of?

Part C: Longing for something

For days the anticipation of Thanksgiving made it difficult to wait for the smell of the family traditional foods wafting from the kitchen. The anticipation of the break in our daily routine can make the days seem so very long. Yet, the anticipation keeps us hopeful. We seem unsettled as we wait for the holiday. We know what it is, but we also do not know exactly how it all going to turn out.

This type of longing is just a hint of the “longing for something” that causes restlessness in our lives that cannot be easily explained. There is a pull, a sense of questioning about the meaning of life or why are we even born. Sometimes it seems we can find an answer by buying something or doing something that provides us a temporary solution to the restlessness, but soon it returns.

Rob Renfroe writes:

Whether or not you realize it, your heart is not looking for a “something.” You are looking for a Someone—Someone who knows you and loves you and gives you rest. Someone who can transform you and who will never leave you. That Someone is Jesus. [p. 23]

The birth of Jesus Christ is God’s way to answer that restlessness as long as we acknowledge it. How wonderful it is when the answer is found, but all too often the answer is not identified and the seeking continues. During Advent, let’s find the wonder that is the gift that keeps on giving.

Part D: The Wonder of the Star through the Eye of Artists:

The star is one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas. The Christmas story usually ends with the star leading the wise men to the Baby Jesus, but what if the star had not been seen?

Have you ever thought about how looking at something can be seen differently by each one of us? We look up at the fluffy clouds and see all kinds of different shapes. Ask anybody what they see, and the answers can be quite surprising.

The night sky is also filled with surprises. Many know that I love to sit out and watch for shooting stars, but each time I get to do that I find surprises.   This summer it was the satellites. Now I find myself spotting the planes and wondering where they are coming from and where they are going. The satellites are fun to watch because they move so fast and sometimes they shine bright, then they fade and can even return to bright along the orbit across the sky (I think it is due to the angle of reflection and sometimes the thin clouds that scuttle past).

But then there are the stars themselves. As much as I look up into the dark sky, I am amazed at all the stars. I see the planets, too, and I am awed by the expanse of our universe and even the universe each of those stars represent. I am filled with wonder.

In the study The Wonder of Christmas, the star is the first wonder. The wise men saw that star and wondered about it. In fact, they wondered about it so much that they knew there was something special about it. These wise men saw something in that star that others did not see. What they ‘saw’ lead them to find Jesus Christ, an infant in a manger.

Seeing something others do not see is a definition of an artist. Artists see our world with a special gift and they share that vision with us in so many different ways. The artist has a gift of wonder, as Renfroe states:

The gift of wonder is the ability to be amazed by little things—to see more when other people see less; to be surprised again by the beauty you’ve seen a hundred times, feeling about it the way you did the first time you saw it—and to wonder how life could give you such a marvelous gift. [p. 16]

 Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-5

Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.

Christmas Story: Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Part E: Seeing the Star, Wise Men Knew Something

The wonder of the star we now call the Christmas Star that rose in the east led the wise men to Bethlehem. They knew something that others longed to know but failed to see. The wise men saw something different in that star and followed their wonder to see the Baby Jesus in a manger.

The artists in each of us can see wonder in this world. Do not let the busyness of our world block out the wonder you see in this world. Do not be blinded by what the culture tells you, trust your own eyes to discover the meaning of Christmas. Disregard the clamor to buy, buy, and buy even more. Be wise and follow the star.

Find the wonder of Christmas by seeing the star as the Wise Men saw it. This Christmas, see the holiday differently. Anticipate the wonder that fills our lives when we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ so that we might be forgiven.   Renfroe puts it into these words:

Christmas brings the wonder of seeing the world anew, as an artist perceiving that there is more to reality than meets the eye, more than the wings that can be seen and touched. [p. 23]

By accepting God’s gift–wrapped up with a star on top–we find the answer to what is missing in life and we will find new joy in worshiping together through the Advent season. We will worship today just as the Wise Men did. Renfro says:

. . . Each wise man would have brought his own caravan. Yet upon entering a humble house in an occupied country, these men of influence and power fell to their knees, bowed their heads, and worshiped the child of a poor Jewish family.

Why did they worship? This newborn child had done nothing yet. He had no army, no subjects, no kingdom. He had not yet performed a miracle or spoken the words of a prophet. In fact, he had done nothing other than what any other newborn child would have done. And still they worshiped him. Why? The answer is that we do not worship God primarily for what God has done, but for who God is. I imagine that as they stepped into a humble home and looked at a poor couple’s child, they recognized that Jesus was and is God and that they were God’s creations. He was and is life; they were mortal. He was and is love, righteousness, and beauty; it is because of him that we know what true love and beauty are. [p .30]

This is the wonder of Christmas all wrapped up in the story of the Wise Men who followed a star.

Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Heavenly Father, you have put a longing within my soul for something more than this world can provide—for Someone who can meet my every need and love me completely. That Someone is you. Thank you for giving me so many signs that lead me to you. Forgive me for making excuses and allowing fear of change—of the unknown—to keep me from pursuing you with all my heart. Give me a renewed sense of wonder this Christmas so that I will have the eyes to see you and all you are doing to reveal yourself to me. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son, Jesus, who points me to you. Amen. [p. 38]

Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:

I pray that, like the wise men, you will have the gift of wonder this Christmas—the eyes of an artist that see the beautiful patterns and remarkable colors God has placed in your life. And pray that you will be amazed at all God has done and is doing to reach out and reveal himself to you. [Renfroe, p. 25]

 

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December 27 service

Special note:  The final worship service of 2015 continued the Christmas story much in the same fashion as the annual gathering–scripture and hymns/carols.  The key was to ask reflective questions and know it is time to look at our responsibility to continue telling the story as carefully as Luke did when he wrote the gospel to Theophilus.  I am simply going to include the structure for Sunday’s service for review and reflection.

 

The Prelude: The prelude signals time to prepare for worship, lit candles represents Christ is with us, and *starred listings suggest standing if able.

Welcoming & sharing time: Birthdays, anniversaries, prayers answered or prayers needed.

Luke 1: Dedication to Theophilus (to each of us)

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

*Hymn Congregation will choose the hymns . . .”What Child Is This” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”

Luke 1 . . . The birth of John the Baptist foretold

11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

Question to reflect upon: Do you hear the message the angel brings?

Talking with God:

  • Silent prayer: This is a time to talk and listen to God, privately..
  • The Lord’s Prayer: UMC uses “trespasses,” but “sin” may be used.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses/sins,

as we forgive those who trespass/sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power

and the glory, forever. –Amen

Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .   “It Came upon the Midnight Clear”

Kids’ Learning Time:     Hearing vs Listening

Luke 1 . . . The birth of Jesus foretold

30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

Acts of thanksgiving:

     Offering: Members pray and support God’s work; guests are here to worship.

*The Doxology: Found in the hymnal, no. 95

*Prayer of thanks:   Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have provided. May these offerings continue to bless others during these difficult times. –Amen

*Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .  “Away in the Manger

Luke 2 . . . The Birth of Jesus 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

*Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Luke 2 . . . The Shepherds and the Angels

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. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[i] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[j] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[k]

Question to reflect upon:

Do you hear the angels or do you listen to the angels?

Luke 2 . . .But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

*Hymn 251 Go Tell It on the Mountain

*Closing benediction: Thank you for joining in worship.

The postlude: This musical benediction provides final moments for prayer   and/or reflection. Please honor this time with silence.

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Angels of Peace: Are you an angel?

given on the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015

Scripture references: Micah 5:2-5a (from the Common Lectionary)

A Ruler from Bethlehem

2 [a]But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
whose origins are in the distant past,
will come from you on my behalf.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.

5aAnd he will be the source of peace.

 

Reflection:

 

The last Sunday of Advent and the calendar shows that we are speeding toward Christmas Day. Our human nature finds us in a frenzy as we finish up the shopping and the meal preparations. The house gets a cleaning, and the bags may even need packing for the journey to Grandma’s house. Peace is not an appropriate descriptor many might use to describe how they feel.

In the midst of chaos, peace is elusive. Yet, the coming of Christ was to bring peace to God’s people. Has Christ provided you peace? Have you shared the Christmas story with others providing them a sense of peace? Are you an angel of peace?

During the past four weeks, the scriptures have shared the story of the Israelites who were no longer living according to God’s law. The trials and tribulations of the people had eroded their relationship with God. And despite all of God’s attempts to tell the people how to live out their faith and to remain loyal to God, the people did not hear his message.

When people do not hear God, he sent messengers—he even sent angels. Today, do we hear God’s message? Are we aware of the messengers that do all they can to make sure that you know that loving God with all your heart will bring you peace?

Compare our lives today to those of the Israelites. The world remains infested with evil. Greed overpowers even the richest businessmen are out of control wanting more and more. Decisions are made based on dollars not on what is best for the humans, but what is best for the profit margin.

How can a world find peace in the midst of this mindset? It takes angels of peace. Certainly heavenly angels are trying their best to alert us to our sad state of Christian affairs. Many of us had parents who did their best to teach us the Golden Rule. They were real life angels present in our lives doing all they could to provide us peace.

Of course peace is defined in our minds two different ways. First, we think of peace among the nations. Our world continues to struggle with peace among the nations and now we have trouble identifying the source of conflict because it is no longer defined by political boundaries.

Now conflict is found between ideologies. The geographical and political boundaries no longer contain the conflict because the worldwide web has erased identifiable locations of conflict. How does God’s world find peace when armies cannot defend one another from such conflicts?

The answer comes from God himself: Love one another as one wants to be loved. God knew that the Law of Moses was too complicated, too inflexible, and the people needed peace. To live in peace, even the slaves, God had sent angels. He had even had prophets warning the people to follow the law, and finally prophets shared the message that a ruler would appear to lead the people back to God, back to peace.

Peace has another meaning, a very personal one. Peace for ones’ own self comes from a healthy relationship with God. The type of peace God provides each one of his children radiates outward from those who love God and share the message of his love with others. Peace-filled Christians are real-life angels in the midst of chaos.

The question then is, are you an angel. Are you peace-filled and eager to share that peace with others? Look around you. You can easily identify those among your family and friends who are at peace within them. They are the angels in our community. They are the ones who love one another, as they want to be loved.

When Micah prophesized that God would send a new ruler, even he did not say that the ruler was a political figure who would use political power and earthly justice to bring peace. His prophecy provided clues to who this ruler would be and the people drew their own conclusions—that is if they heard Micah’s prophecy.

Peace in our world cannot happen until the people find peace in a strong relationship with God. Each one of us has a responsibility to serve as an angel of peace in our own homes, our communities, and in our world. The best Christmas gift you can give—first to yourself—is a close relationship with God. Equipped with God’s love, you are ready to be the angels in your corner of the world. You will give the gift of love to each and every other person you meet.

Giving love to one another is the greatest gift of all. Giving that love creates peace. Peace within each individual also leads to peace within the community, the nation and the world.

Go ahead, then: Give love this Christmas and you will receive peace. Give love and you give peace, too. Giving love provides peace that gives hope to those who have lost hope. Give love and the peace that follows will fill you and others with joy.

Finally, when our communities are filled with people loving one another, the evil and the chaos disappears. The people who love God will serve as angels of peace transforming the chaotic world into a peace-filled world. God’s gift to us becomes our gift to God: PEACE.

Closing prayer

Merry Christmas, God!

 

How amazing is the gift of your son.

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son so we may have peace.

 

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,

Help us provide hope for the lost

By loving one another as we want to be loved.

 

With each smile we share,

with each hug we give,

May we serve as angels of peace.

 

With the birth of the Messiah

You gave all of your children

Hope, love, joy and peace.

 

May our giving be a symbol

Of your greatest gift of all,

The Savior, the prince of peace. –Amen

 

 

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Angels: Messengers of Hope

given on November 29, 2015, the first Sunday of Advent

Scripture foundation from The Message

  • Joel 2:12-14
  • Jeremiah 2:19 and 33:14-16
  • Luke 1:8-19, 26-38

 

Reflection in three parts

Welcome to Advent! The Christian season filled with anticipation, with hope, with love, with joy, and with peace. Around us the stores are filled with sparkling decorations and all the dazzling displays of products designed to capture our eyes. Even the weather decided to let us know a new season has arrived—at least here in the Midwest.

We are bombarded with messages that something is going to happen, and yet how often are we unprepared or even worse how often do we miss the message? Our lives become so filled with the business of living, that we miss the latest news reports or overlook a story in the paper. We need a personal messenger.

In the scripture from Joel, the message is to warn the people of Judah, which was the southern kingdom of Israel, of how bad things were. The people were prosperous and complacent; they took God for granted; they were self-centered and were turning to idolatry and sin. God was unhappy and would bring his judgment if the people did not repent and return to living by God’s law:

“Come back to me and really mean it!
Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”

13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

Here it is the first Sunday of Advent. Can we say that we are faithful? Joel’s words are part of the message God sends to us through the scripture.

 

Part 2:

Angels are messengers. Some may argue whether angels are real figures or simply a literary device to get the reader’s attention. Yet, angels are included in scripture and theologians have analyzed and studied the holy words. The conclusion is that angels are indeed part of God’s heavenly forces.

One reference, What Does the Bible Say About . . ., provides interesting facts and outlines the various references to angels in the Old and the New Testament:

  • . . . angels are among the ministering spirits that serve God and the people. . .
  • The Bible presents angels as real beings and provides limited information about them, but for the most part it leaves them veiled in mystery. Apparently God wants us to know reality extends beyond our normal perceptions, yet He does not want us to know too much about it.
  • Angels are members of an order of heavenly beings who are superior to humans in power and intelligence. However, unlike God they are not all-powerful or all-knowing.
  • . . . [angels] announce good news . . .
  • . . . warn of coming dangers. . .
  • . . . Angels played a particularly active role in the events surround Jesus’ birth, resurrection, and ascension.

The Advent lectionary includes one of the traditional prophecies of the coming Messiah.   Found in Jeremiah is a reference to the angels serving as a messenger. God’s angel reminds the people that they can not run away from God, that you cannot ignore God:

Your evil ways will get you a sound thrashing, that’s what you’ll get.
You’ll pay dearly for your disloyal ways.
Take a long, hard look at what you’ve done and its bitter results.
Was it worth it to have walked out on your God?”
God’s Decree, Master God-of-the-Angel-Armies. . . .

The angels did whatever they could to warn us that our behaviors needed to change and to remain focused on God’s law. Are we following God’s law to love one another as we want to be loved or are we trying to run away, to be self-centered and complacent?

Part 3:

Angels visited two individuals in the Christmas story; to begin the Christmas story. First the angel came to tell Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist, as we now refer to him. This baby was the cousin of Jesus but his role was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah.

The second angel in the Christmas story visited Mary, the mother of Baby Jesus. He announced that she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son. Her disbelief was quickly quieted as her faith assured her that the angel was from God. Her faith gave her the confidence to serve as the mother of Jesus.

The scriptures today all prepare us, thousands of years later, too. We are to review our own lives, our own actions, and our own hearts. Are we remaining faithful to God? Are we following the crowd, so to speak, and becoming more self-centered and complacent? Are we listening to our own angels who share God’s messages to us?

Advent is a season filled with hope. The human mind needs hope. In the commentary for this week’s lectionary, the need for hope is as important as the basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Hope is so important even in the worst situations. As Christians, we have a responsibility to keep hope alive.

As we move closer to Christmas, let’s use the Advent season to consider whether we are providing hope to others. What do we say that encourages one and another? What actions share hope with others? As a church, do we deliver messages of hope or are we trapped by despair?

Closing prayer

Dear loving Father,

 

The season filled with anticipation is here.

We see angels in the decorations,

We hear angels in the holiday music.

We fight thousands of mixed emotions.

 

We feel despair as we find ourselves

Separated from You by the business of living.

We know we have traveled away from you

Rather than traveling with you.

 

Fill us with hope, with anticipation,

As we move through this Advent season.

Send your angels to guide us home to You.

Energize us with love so we can provide hope to others.

 

Thank you for patience for our wandering souls.

Thank you for angels found in scripture.

Thank you, too, for angels we meet daily.

Thank you for hope shared by angels of old and of new.

May we serve as messengers sharing hope with others.–Amen

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The News of Christmas: Spread the Word

to be given on December 28, 2014

 

How many of you started telling what you got for Christmas? Or, did you ask your kids, grand or great-grandkids what Santa brought them for Christmas? That is part of the fun, isn’t it? We all want to know what our family and friends got for Christmas. Just hearing the kids share what they got is great fun. Of course, having them race around showing you what they found under the tree is a delight, too.

The excitement of receiving a gift is sometimes so overwhelming we can only run from one to the other to show them what you found in the pretty packages. The gift of Christmas that God sent us did not appear under the tree all wrapped up in pretty paper and ribbon; God’s gift arrived in Bethlehem in a manger filled with straw for the livestock.

The baby’s parents were exhausted after traveling almost 100 miles by foot and on a burro’s back. The census could not have come at a worse time with a baby due any time. Consider even the region’s environment: no paved roads, no rest stops, no McD’s to get a quick meal. This was a journey made to be compliant with the Roman leader’s decree.

When young parents have their first child, today’s setting is very different. The birthing rooms are clean, sterile, and decorated like a luxury hotel’s room. Everything is designed for the mother’s comfort but also for the daddy. In fact, the team of doctors and nurses even get into the act helping share the news of the baby’s birth.

The baby’s birth is news that is shared almost instantly today. We take pictures, videos, and have birth announcements ready to go. The word of the newest baby travels quickly from family and friends to others through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, not to mention an email or a message.

Do we need to consider how to spread the news of Jesus’ birth? Can you even imagine what it would be like today if Jesus were born this week? The announcement would have been on the internet within minutes. Hundreds of photos would be snapped and sent to Facebook so others could know the baby was born and even see what he looked like.

The angel announced Jesus’ birth. Remember the words from Luke 2:9-12:

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

One can only imagine the shock the shepherds must have experienced, especially when the “host” of angels appeared right there in the open fields near Bethlehem. Not quite the same as the alarm on a phone or a tablet is it?

The shepherds may have been the first to learn of Jesus’ birth outside the stall, but they had to check it out. Just like grandparents waiting to learn the newest grandchild had arrived, they hurried off to see the new child whom they believed was to be the next great leader of the Jewish tribes.

What would you do? Would you be one of the faithful who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and you simply accepted the news and went on with the day? Or would you have needed to see the baby with your own two eyes? Granted, we can only imagine what the experience was like for the shepherds; but in our world, wouldn’t the cynical side take control and we would wait.

The news of Christmas cannot be shared fast enough or far enough. The birth of Jesus was thousands of years in the planning, and his birth should be shared. Are we doing that?

Just what would the world have thought if the angels had not appeared or the Three Kings did not ride in from the east? Would the news of Christmas have been shared with others? How many people would we rush to tell that we had seen Jesus with our own eyes?

Christmas Day may be over, but what have we done to share the news? Have we used all the tools at our fingertips to share the news? Have we waited too long to spread the word? The shepherds did:

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

The news spread quickly. The shepherds returned to their station on the hillside and they talked.

Can you say that you have shared the news of Christmas with all your family and friends? Be honest. I know that I have not done that very well. I know the story and figure all my family and friends do too. They know my church routines. They know how I live my life. Surely it is not necessary to share the story with them. But it is.

The fact that for nearly 30 years, the news of Christmas faded away as the faithful waited for the baby to grow up and to begin the work of saving the Jewish faithful. The news the shepherds shared with such enthusiasm and eagerness became old news, forgotten since no major changes occurred in their lives as a result of the baby’s birth.

What happened at Jesus’ birth is the same that happens today. We learn exciting news, but as the days, weeks, and years pass, we do not keep the excitement alive. Sharing the news of Christmas is so important if God is a daily part of our lives. The newness may wear off quickly as we move into January, but the value of the news never lessens.

Share the news of Christmas with those around you. Talk about it at dinner. Invite others to discover the value of faith in their lives. Keep the news of Christmas moving through all your messages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. When you are with friends, share how God is alive in your life. Share a smile and a word of gratitude with the clerks in the stores. Read and discuss the Word as preserved in our Bibles.

The news of Christmas is well over 2,000 years old, but we do celebrate it each year. The concern is that the news is heard and then people open the gift in their own lives. Each new visitor who decides to return Sunday after Sunday finds that the news of Christmas is alive in our congregation. [add for Chilhowee: Every time we open the door of the church and invite the kiddos in for a special party, the news of Christmas is shared. When the fair-goers walk in for a traditional lunch with a piece of pie, we are sharing the news of Christmas.]

As the year closes, a new year begins. Share the news of Christmas each and every time you can. When we open the door of the church, make sure others know it is open. The calendar we take down is replaced with a calendar fill of opportunities. Look ahead and plan.

What are new ways to share the good news? What can you do? Use each opportunity you can to be God’s hands and arms so others may learn of his unconditional love. Open your arms and love for there is no better way to share the news of Christmas.

Please join with me in prayer:

Dear loving and giving Father,

Thank you for sending your son as our first Christmas gift.

As gifts were opened amid squeals of delight, we celebrated.

Thank you for our family and friends

Who joined us in the celebration of Christmas.

Help us to demonstrate and to share the news of Christ

With family and friends or strangers and foes

From sunrise to sunset and even into the night.

Let us keep the news of Christmas the best news of the year.

–Amen

 

 

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The Truth of Christmas: Unconditional Love

given on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014

Advent ends this week. We meet this morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Over the weeks of Advent we have talked about the sounds, the promises, and the fears of Christmas. Today it is the truth of Christmas.

In the midst of a world filled with challenges, God loved the people despite all their flaws. He used every prophet, every leader, every set of parents he could to warn the ancient people to remain faithful, and to trust that he would meet all needs. A few clung to the promises and maintained hope while trusting in God.

The truth of Christmas is that God’s unconditional love for all of his creation led to the birth of Jesus. The warnings had not worked. Life’s challenges were wearing down the people. The magnitude of God’s unconditional love led him to send Jesus.

Jesus is the Word, as John explained in the opening of his gospel. He is God. He walked the roads just like we walk. He experienced the heat of a summer son, the dust blowing up in his eyes, and the chill of a northern wind. The truth of Jesus’ life is the truth of our lives.

The miracles, the compassion for the sick and the infirmed, the love for family and friends, and the concern he felt for the Apostles’ uncertainty are truly the same emotions and feelings we experience in our own lives. Jesus demonstrated how unconditional love can lead to solutions, can help us make decisions, and can show us how we can serve one another.

The truth of Christmas is that God meets our needs with unconditional love. We can also use unconditional love to keep Christmas alive in all that we do. God expects us to create harmony when we speak with each other, when we work side by side with each other, and when we take some time to relax and to play with one and another, too.

God waited years, thousands of years to see if we could learn the truth to leaving in peace. God never gave up, but a time came when words were not enough, the plagues had not worked, the trials and tribulations, the proof that he provided manna and even birth when it seemed impossible. The truth of Christmas is that we had to see, to touch, to know how to use unconditional love.

Are we able to unwrap this gift and use it? The truth is that we must. Accepting God’s gift means we accept our role as his children. And as we all know the people we are reflect our own human parents through genetics, but reflecting the unconditional love of God proves the truth of Christmas each and every day.

Let us greet Christmas Day with the enthusiasm of all the little children waiting for Santa’s visit. Let us watch with glee as the gifts are opened, the meal is shared, and the stories are told. Enjoy all the twinkling lights in the dark and the melodies filling the air. Share a hug as you greet guests and thank each other.

Christmas is one time each year that offers us a chance to thank God for his unconditional love. It is one day, one season that the truth of Christmas becomes so real. Unconditional love is demonstrated in so many different ways, but we must open this gift and share it year round. Use prayer continually. Study the Word as preserved in the scripture. Worship together. Be in community with one another as you work to carry God’s love to others around us and even in regions we cannot see.

Today we are closing in on Christmas, but Christmas is a truth that lives with us daily. God loved us so much that he sent us his son to teach us how to love unconditionally. Let us share the truth of Christmas with all that we know, too. We must give the gift of unconditional love.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious God,

Our world is filled with wrapping paper and ribbons.

Sometimes we see only the gifts under the tree.

May we open our hearts to know your gift,

The gift of your son Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Guide us as we join our family and friends

For a celebration filled with unconditional love.

May the love we share with one another

Reflect the truth of Christmas, unconditional love,

That day when Mary and Joseph gave birth to Jesus. –Amen

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