Friday, December 30, 2011

Heavenly Citizenship

Our commonwealth has its existence in heaven, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of [the] power which he has even to subdue all things to himself.  --Philippians 3:20-21 (Darby)

Glory is that amazing word of blazing light and transforming power through which God's unmistakable presence is shown.  The angels on the first Christmas appeared in glory to sing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace..."  Christ came down, dwelling in a common human body, but showed himself to be much more glorious than any imagined.  Not his mother, or his father, or the shepherds or the Three Kings could even begin to imagine the changes this little baby Jesus would bring.  Consciously or unconsciously, all humanity had awaited this affirmation of God's eternal covenant, and here he was: Jesus Christ our Savior.

Jesus Christ made real the distinctions between this life (bound in our "bodies of humiliation") and where our truer lives were gathered: in heaven.  Paul says when Jesus comes we become, in essence, citizens of two realms.  The one foot is firmly planted in heaven; the other in this mortal earthly life.  Christ is the turning crux of life between these two places.  Belief in Him will transform our mortality into the full glory of God's own presence.  Being fully aware of this transforms our definitions of how to be and live while in this earthly existence; it brings the heavenly commonwealth closer to all we meet.


Prayer:
Holy God, transform our shallow grounding in the things of this life into the magnificence of your heavenly realm, and let it be shown to all those around us.  Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.  -- Isaiah 7:14  (Darby) 

There is a part of modern society that depresses me, angers me, and frustrates me.   It is that part of society that finds humor in the holy; it is that part that casts educated, scientific disparaging cynicism on the Holy Mystery.    For instance, the crude (and rude) joking about the Immaculate Conception.  It is that part of society, even found inside the walls of the church, that finds a quibbling energy to cast doubt and dissension by trifling over minutia.  For instance, I have sat through more discussions than I care to remember over whether the word "virgin" means virgin in the sexual sense, or more in the na├»ve or young girl sense.  Does it really matter?  To quibble over that nuance of meaning is to lose the real meaning to which the words point.   The meaning embedded in the Mystery of the Christmas story is lost In the arguing over details or in the making light of the larger story because we find in it a possibility for immature prurient humor.  I would hope it would make everyone sadder and a little angry. 

Look!  Hear!  A Love which knew no bounds threw itself down on the stage of broken human striving.  We were/are striving to make sense of war, of loss, of grief, of shame, of misfortune, of illness, and of death.  Humanism says "Work harder.  Never give up."  The Christmas witness says, "There is grace, a Presence With that does not take your worthiness into account."  We strive to claim more - more land, more resources, more rights, more freedom, more money.  Humanistic "common sense" says, "Take, Take, Take and keep it locked up tightly."  Christmas witness says, "Take me, love me and that will be enough." 

Love comes down at Christmas.  It is a love that we humans had dreamed about for generations; a love which all generations need, especially today's.  That love is a King, a servant, a teacher, a crucified lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  He doesn't quibble over his origin - He is from the Father in heaven.  He doesn't hold a gun to your head, only beacons gently for you to come and follow him.  He doesn't punish for all the rudeness and impoliteness you might heap on his head, but only forgives and promises, "You'll be with me this day in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) 

When Love came down it took the lowly place of a manger.  He didn't take up swords and violence, or power.  He took up gentleness, quiet reason, and capable discourse.  Then, he willingly swallowed the bitter pill to eternally cure you of your all human weakness and failings.   Yes, Love came down at Christmas... "Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;  love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign." (Christina Georgina Rossetti, stanza 3, Love Came Down at Christmas, 1885) 

Prayer: 
Forgive us Lord Jesus, when we lose our senses and fall off our sensibility into the vulgar ways of secular humor or mindless debates.  Keep us focused on recognizing the Love you've sacrificed for us that we might be love in return to others.  Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Messiah Comes

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.  -- Isaiah 53:6  (Darby) 

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is the quintessential chapter in the Bible that lays out what the anticipated Messiah is going to bring to humankind.  It is a chapter that has been around for thousands of years and embodies the very depth of traditional religious meaning for two religions - Judaism and Christianity.  Much of the chapter should ring familiar to anyone raised in either faith. 

Christians believe this Messianic person is coming in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth we will be celebrating in just a few days.  The description of the Messiah's earthly work is fraught with suffering and pain.  Christmas is normally celebrated as the "Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas" holiday of fat Santa, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof, brown papered packages tied up with string, and the romantic cuddling under warm blankets since we've no place to go - let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  This might be the romantic comedy side of Christmas.  It would be a shallow simpletons holiday, however, were it not for the Messiah's coming of Isaiah 53.  Isaiah 53 brings the divine tragedy to Christmas.  It is the grim reality that humanity has a dark side, lives in a society that is sprinkled with evil, misery, and death and that there comes a remedy to cure all of that, that gives the deep grace and light to Christmas such that its romantic comedic side can establish peace and prosperity to all. 

Without the reminder in Advent of the cross, to which is nailed our sins and our failings, and from the root of which comes our forgiveness and our very salvation all the shallow Christmas cheer of 10,000 Christmases would not be enough.   All the gifts Santa could bring off every list of every girl and boy could not match the Love that God infuses into the human story when Jesus takes the manger.  When the Angel Gabriel touches Mary and God incarnates into human life humanity transforms from vile banality to transcendent spiritual force that creates a people who walk by faith, hope, and love.   At Christmas Love came down.  He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, yet with his stripes we are healed.  Don't let the shopping malls near you drunken you with so much cheer that you forget the deeper, quieter, more serious reason we're celebrating! 

Prayer: 
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you gave yourself for us.  Help us to not trivialize your saving power by mistaking gift-giving and Christmas celebrations for why you came.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soon and Very Soon

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.;  -- Isaiah 2:4 (KJV)
Advent is not just about personal looking ahead to the Messiah's coming.  Advent is also about our communal looking ahead.  We live within a society and culture that has grown addicted to violence as a solution to our problems.  Whether it is addressing terrorism with bombings and assassination, or using the death penalty to rid society of murderers, or gangs offing rival gang members with drive-by shootings, or drug cartels gunning down rival dope dealers, or a husband shooting his estranged wife and then himself, or little Johnny bashing obnoxious Suzy in the jaw we're all prone to look to violence to fix our disputes when we can't get our way any other way.

Christianity sets itself apart from this Darwinian escape to destruction.  In response to a question about the age-old Hammurabi Code of "an eye for an eye," Jesus says, "No.  Turn the other cheek.  Go the extra mile.  Give your shirt and your coat."  The coming of Jesus reminds us of the need to move away from simplistic violent solutions and to pursue other avenues of dialogue and response to thorny questions/problems. 

"He shall judge among the nations..."  We don't think very often that we'll ever be judged, because we would like to believe we are so pure in our motives that nobody could find fault with us.  Yet, we need an awakening from the deep troubled nightmares of fear and trepidation terrorism and violence pose.  The knee-jerk reaction to violence utilizing violence only escalates the conflicts as a rule, puts us on a par with the evil ones who first attacked, and leaves the whole world more blind.  Looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah we can pray for the end of all war and violence.  If Isaiah is to be believed, it will happen, sooner rather than later, O Lord!

Prayer:
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.  Save us, Lord Jesus, from ourselves.  Fill us with the peace and love that knows no ending.  Judge us quickly and safely.  In Christ our shield.  Amen.   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Children of Light

...and they will look to the earth; and behold, trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they shall be driven into thick darkness. -- Isaiah 8:22

As winter closes in on the northern latitudes, and October winds toward the annual changing of the clocks to Standard Time, darkness falls upon us for an increasing length of time every day.  Add to it the gloomy darkness of rain/snow clouds and I know more than a few people who get very depressed.  Winter, or the dark season, was one of the reasons the Christian Church way back yonder in time chose to place the date for Christmas where we have it.  Near to the longest night of the year we have this huge Christian celebration of Christ's coming into the world.  Christmas, as it has become celebrated (apart from the commercialism) is a celebration of lights. 

"A light burns in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it." (John 1:5)  Immanuel's entry into the world, with the truckload of promises it both fulfills and creates new, lights up the darkest corners of human existence.  We were cast in a dark well, striving to fulfill The Law and be good enough.  Light came, the well was opened, the ground leveled and we now walk with an assurance of grace and forgiveness.  The struggle to accomplish our goodness is transformed from personal lonely endeavor to a partnership completed with and by Christ.

Preparing for Christ's coming is a preparation in releasing oneself from the lonely guilt of not feeling good enough for Him to come into your spirit, your life, your house, and your church.  Find creative ways to use lights such that their presence is a daily reminder of the cleansing of that unworthiness, and God's adoption of you as a son or daughter.  Light candles.  Decorate with lights.  Feel the nearness of God bending low to earth and wiping away tears and darkness everywhere.

Prayer:
God of Light, erase the gloom of anguish and the thick darkness of whatever troubles we face.  Lift us to your heart and embrace us there as your children of the Christmas Hope.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Our Way Up Zion

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!  -- Isaiah 52:7 (KJV)
Marcus Borg tells a parable about faith development using a mountain.  People live all around the mountain in different places, different cultures, different languages.  They are all making a pilgrimage to the mountain top.  Everyone starts from where they are, and have to get there in their own way.  Some will take an easier route by following the spiritual path others have taken.  Some will be rebellious and machete their own ways through the brambles.  Regardless of the route and method all will arrive at the top and stand on sacred ground together.  I like to think that the trip up the mountain will be made up heavily of people who reflect this verse of the Bible.  People who, with intent, bring "good tidings, proclaim peace", do good, and proclaim salvation, singing, "God rocks," making the journey a fun one with good comradery and aid to those who find struggle on the way.

One way to prepare for Advent is to explore how others find spirituality in their daily lives.  Ask friends how they understand spirituality?  How do others nurture spirituality?  Visit some other spiritual traditions - Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Roman Catholic, various Protestant denominations -- you have nearly 3,000 from which to choose!  How can you incorporate simple rituals into your family/home that serve as reminders of the Holy and Sacred?

Prayer:
God of us all, nurture each of us in peace, good tidings, and salvation.  Direct our footsteps each day as we attempt to move in concert with your will.  Through Christ's leading way.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where Should Christ Be Born?

“And, assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written through the prophet: ” Matthew 2:4 DARBY
Where should Christ be born?  In the now ancient and familiar story Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Most of us are very acquainted with the story.  Mary and Joseph took their donkey and walked down to Bethlehem for the census.  While they were there, Mary had Jesus.  The shepherds came.  The star shone.  The wise men came with gifts.  Nice story -- "lets tear into those presents!"  "Honey, did you get the stocking stuffers at Walmart?"  "Where's the cheese fondue?" "Give Aunt Zelma a call and see when they're getting here."

I ask again, where should the Christ be born?  Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year.  The agenda fills up with so many things and people.  While getting together with people we haven't seen for awhile, and getting to eat favorite foods you may only prepare once a year take center stage it is easy to leave Christ shoved in the closet under the stairs.  Christ comes to dwell near you; to be part of your life and for you to be part of His.  The Indwelling Christ lives for this time of year where the reminder of His Coming is so prevalent and frequent.  The Indwelling Christ is joyful for your welcome and your hospitality shown Him.  Don't forget to plan for and prepare a place for Him to come into your family's midst and to eat with you.  Do this in remembrance of Him.


Prayer:
Open our doors and our hearts Lord God, to the drawing near of your incarnate presence.  Help us to remember to share your gifts and your life with those who come spend holiday time with us.  In Christ's name.  Amen.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Look Up

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, come of woman, come under law, that he might redeem those under law, that we might receive sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5 DARBY
Time is pregnant.  There are pregnant pauses, time pregnant with anticipation, ripe time.  The time could be now; it may be not until tomorrow?  The time is marching onward toward fulfillment.  Are you anticipating it?  Look up from your trudging feet; shuffling through your day filled with irritations, anxiety, to-do's, and worries.  Look up from that nose being flattened by the old grindstone.  Look, and see!  

God sent forth his Son - Light of very light; from out of the darkness comes a brilliant light to illuminate dark lives that are filled with boredom, despair, illness, and misery.  A Savior has come to lift you from mundane to certainty and assurance.  This is the assurance we receive soon and very soon: that we aren't empty, worthless creatures but children bearing the image of God, adopted into God's own family where God cares for us like a parent.  The time is pregnant with anticipation for this coming -- the coming of age of this certainty in you and for your life.  Look up for that light, and wait for it; blessing is nearer than you can guess.


Prayer:
Open our eyes and hearts dear Lord, for the coming of your Son into the world.  Bless us in our anticipation and free us to dream the dreams you have for us.  Amen.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Simple Behaviors

Rejoice always; pray unceasingly; in everything give thanks, for this is [the] will of God in Christ Jesus towards you;  -- I Thess. 5:16-19 (Darby)
Behavioral advice for Christians is frequent and so simple in scripture.  So, why is it that this simplicity is so rarely seen in action?  I mean really!  How difficult is it to rejoice always, pray unceasingly and give thanks?  Yet, the opposite seems almost the more universal experience: always finding fault, whining unceasingly, and wishing for what we don't have.  Do you ever weary of your own negativity?  Do you ever have moments of seeing yourself in some metaphysical mirror and think, "Jeepers, I see why people around me seem backed away.  I am a gifted, whiny critic."

I wish for your Advent that you can spend some brief moments seeing yourself in the mirror as God sees you.  I pray that in the back light of this mirror you also can see the person God created you to be and desires you to be so much so that it was worth God becoming human for your sake.  God made Himself an Incarnate human being not simply out of some broad disconnected plan for eternity, but because it was that important to God to partake of human life; to partake of your life and to love and lift you up into God's eternal grace and everlasting home.  Preparing for the reality of this Incarnation of Christ should be cause enough for eternal rejoicing, unceasing prayer, and giving thanks for everything.

Prayer:
Dearest Lord, we give over our complaining and negativity and simply say, 'thank you' for everything you give us, for everything you think ahead for us, for everything forgiven in our lives.  Amen

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Heaven and Earth Shall Pass Away

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be?  You ought to live in all holy conversation and godliness;  -- II Peter 3:11 (KJV, self-paraphrased)
The lead-in to this verse has heaven and earth melted down and evaporated, so what is left for humans to be or do?  This could be viewed as a frightening word of prophecy.   Lord, can't we all recall how it has gotten misused this way to convert wayward sinners?  There is within this frightening scene, however, a powerful affirmation.  It is based on the unspoken understanding that human beings can and will survive this apocalyptic destruction.  Our Christian belief is that even when our physical bodies meet their earthly end our spirits pass on to eternal life.

The following verses of this passage supply the Advent passwords; "Watch!  Wait."  The passage instills the sense of immediacy.  Indeed there is some immediacy!  We do not know either the time or the hour when all physical life could pass away; whether this is for the planet as a whole, or for me personally.  Astronomers have not instilled a great deal of confidence in their ability to do much more than warn us before asteroids hit earth; nor do we know when a heart attack or stroke could fall us.  But, there is a certainty in our being, a certainty in our knowing that a presence with our spirits has full possibility and hope of carrying on regardless of what happens to us physically.  The writer asks, "Of what manner of person (or character) ought you to be (if you are being sincere in your watching and waiting?)  His answer, "Live in all holy conversation and godliness."  Do not slander, do not judge, do not call names, do not be petty and small.  Be magnanimous, grace-filled, considerate and forgiving.  Remember the love with which Christ first loved you and practice finding the capacity in your heart to love others likewise.

Prayer:
Lord, cause us to remember that we are watching and waiting for Your Presence to encourage us to greatness of spirit and choice.  Enable us to practice our holy conversation and godliness for Your glory.  In Christ's name.  Amen.