Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advent Reflections - 12/25/2011 - Christmas Day

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galiless to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to hime and was expecting a child. While the were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, as son. She wrapped himin cloths and placed hime in a manger, because there was no guest romm available for them. 
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:4-19

Christmas Day is here!  Our journey through Advent together has come to an end.  The expectation is finally culminating and the whirlwind of the Season is coming to a close.  Perhaps you’re about to open Christmas presents.  Perhaps you’ve already torn into the brightly colored packages, taken it all in and someone has inevitably uttered the question, “Is that all?”  Maybe someone uttered the familiar, “Now if you don’t like it, I have the receipt!” Or my favorite from The Christmas Story, “Didn’t I get a tie this year?”  Someone will eventually grab a garbage bag and start picking up the wrapping paper.  Someone will collect and sort the ribbon and bows to be saved and just like that, Christmas is over.  All the anticipation that has been building up for the last month is finally exhausted, we take a deep breath and maybe, just maybe, we relax just a little.  Advent is complete.  Christ has come.
As we reflect on our journey, we find something very interesting in our passage from the Gospel of Luke.  It contains something that might be easily overlooked, but in many ways contains the very essence of what Advent is all about.  As we read the familiar story of the birth of Jesus Christ, we come to a small detour.  For 18 verses we read Luke’s eloquent account with the emphasis being almost solely on the birth of a baby.  And then suddenly, almost completely out of place, we get a glimpse of mom’s perspective.  Just a brief snapshot in verse 19, and then back to the “story” in verse 20:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Despite the magnitude of what was going on, and how the world was about to change, Mary took a few moments in time, paused and reflected on the moment.  Imagine what she might have said.  “Joseph, I love you so much, but just give me a few seconds to take all this in.  I want to remember every detail.  I want to treasure this moment forever.”
Yes, Christmas is here.  Advent has come to a close.  But before we start making plans to take down the tree and clean the house up for New Years Eve, let’s commit to one another to take some time this day and just rest and reflect.  Let us look back over the last month and meditate on the journey we’ve taken together.  Let us remember the hope that we have in God; the hope that came to fruition and was revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Let us cling to the joy that each of us have in the salvation He so freely gives and the eternal life that we posses through our faith in Him.  Let us rest in the love that God revealed in the birth of His Son; the same love that would lead him to the cross 33 years later.  And let us rest; rest in the peace that comes from knowing that we are not alone in this world.  We believe in a God that is not far off.  He’s not distant or difficult to access.  He shares in our laughter, rejoices in our victories and mourns in our losses.  God is here.
Let us rejoice!  Emmanuel, God with us!
Closing Prayer

Lord, Prince of Peace, Savior of the World, You have come as You promised.  As we celebrate today, let us take time to reflect on what this journey has meant to each of us.  Let us just for a moment, hold this time in our hearts and remember Your great love for us; a love so great that You sent Your only Son into this world to live among us.  Today we rejoice in You, we thank You and we sing with hearts of praise: Emmanuel, God with us.


Let us go about our day looking forward with hope, reflecting in joy, acting in love and encouraging peace.  May the peace of Jesus Christ be with each and every one of us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Reflections - 12/22/2011

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Matthew 1:22-24 (NIV)


Peace is somewhat of a priceless commodity these days. Let’s face it. We live in chaotic times and most of the circumstances that surround us can induce anything but peace. From an unstable economy to the continuing threats of terrorism, singing “peace on earth” can seem to be just empty words. Especially during the Christmas Season, peace is something that sometimes eludes us. Images of joyful families’ Christmas dinners, warm fireplaces and happy children around a Christmas tree can seem to more resemble a Norman Rockwell painting rather than our reality.
One of the greatest misconceptions in today’s culture is misinterpreting what peace really means. Most often, we confuse “peace” with the haphazard emotions of “happiness”. Happiness is an emotion that develops from the circumstances around us; peace is an emotion that rises above them. Peace transcends our circumstances of life and determines how we react to them. In fact, one could say that peace is more of a state of mind, rather than a feeling or sentiment. Peace is determined by our responses to the world around us, or lack of reaction to the stresses and worries of life. Peace comes when we relinquish control of that which cannot be controlled.

In the words of Matthew 1:22-24, we read of a situation that may have seemed overwhelming, confusing and fearful for Joseph. He could have awoken in a panic, argued with God and run from the circumstances that were thrust upon him. He could have legally divorced Mary and would have been completely justified by culture and faith. After all, from all earthly perspectives, she had cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s child. Who would blame him for bailing out?

Our Advent passage for today reveals much of how Joseph reacted to his circumstances. From our point of view, he didn’t argue, question or choose to panic over the news God gave him. He didn’t run, get angry or blame anyone for what was going on. Joseph chose not to react to his circumstances, but instead submitted to that which could not be controlled. He accepted how his life was about to radically change, and as far as we can tell, he had peace. May we react the same way to the sometimes uncontrollable circumstances that we might face.


Lord, we confess that sometimes we react to our circumstances with fear, anger or panic. It is in these times that we lose hold of the peace that You want for each and every one of us. May we take hold of your peace and let it overwhelm us, rather than the troubles of life. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent reflections - 12/21/2011

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)



Why is it that we so often live in the past? Why do we so frequently attempt to build our current days based on the blessings of yesterday? You’ve heard the expressions: “Those were the good ‘ol days!” “Remember when…?” “Things are just not like they used to be.” I am especially reminded of this during Christmas because we tend to focus so much on tradition. As soon as the decorations come out, the music starts playing and our favorite TV shows come on, we are transported to another place and time. We think back on the magic of Christmas when we were younger, and long for those nostalgic feelings that captured us then. In an effort to recreate the memories of yesterday, we strive to re-create a Christmas that relives those we remember. But we usually end up disappointed and a little frustrated. Why can’t things just be like they used to be?

The problem with nostalgia is that it focuses on something that no longer exists. The past remains only in our memories and if we’re really honest with ourselves, nothing can be done to relive the days that have passed. The only thing in which we can control is our present, and when you think about it, we really have no control over that either. In reality, all we have is today. In fact, all we truly have is this moment. This moment that we share today, celebrating Advent together. The past is no longer. Tomorrow will be. Today is what it is.

As we hurdle toward Christmas Eve, as the excitement builds, and as we celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, rest in the present. God once spoke through the prophets of old, and revealed His soon coming. For a time God was silent, and the people of Israel longed for the days when the Lord spoke to them. But as time passed, He indeed came into the world. That moment of time, in the quiet and peace of Bethlehem was better. No more longing. No more looking back. Emmanuel, God with us!


Lord, in the quiet of this moment, help us to keep ourselves in Your presence. Help us to live our lives day to day, in great anticipation of the blessings You provide moment to moment. Let us look on the past with joyful memories, look to the future with hope and live today in your love and grace. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas According to Charlie Brown

"Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?"  The classic quote from the timeless, A Charlie Brown Christmas, resonates with all of us and takes us back to a simpler time.  Most of us have seen this Christmas favorite over 100 times, but it still seems to make Christmas complete and helps us to focus on the true meaning of the holiday.  Overwhelmed with the commercialism of Christmas, our friend Charlie Brown finally hits the breaking point. Lifting his hands in desperation, he raises his voice and makes his yuletide plea! "Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?"  What timely words for me as I woke up this morning.  And it made me wonder how many people ponder this same question.

I've been spending a lot of time just meditating on Christmas. This morning, my thoughts were much more vivid than usual.  Not so much the "stuff", but just on what this time of year is supposed to mean to me. I have to admit, I've been a little jaded this year.  For some reason, the commercialism seems to be more prevalent than it ever has been. The constant inundation of advertising at Christmas time, can cause many of us to slip into an almost mechanistic mindset that sends us forth in a spending whirlwind. We are inundated and it's almost impossible to avoid being sucked into the deception. But it's not just the shopping. We are inundated visually too: Christmas lights, store displays, television commercials, presents, our favorite TV shows, etc. etc. etc. The list is almost endless and in our attempts to find "peace on earth", we find that we're pushed to the limits of sensory overload.

Charlie Brown felt these same frustrations.  He's no different than you and me.  Not experiencing the joy that he thought he was supposed to feel, he begins a noble quest to find the true meaning of Christmas. He seeks the psychological expertise of Lucy, but to no avail. He gets plugged into directing the school's Christmas play, but finds more frustration than he had before. Trying as he might to connect the dots, Charlie Brown finds more confusion and less peace. Finally, our ol' pal has had enough and with desperation and great passion, he cries out to his friends, "Isn't there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!" Silence. He waits. I can feel it! He's desperately hoping that the light will come on and he will finally realize what he's been seeking.

And then the answer. Linus, well beyond years, walks up and offers the reply that seems to clear the fog: "Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please."

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:8-14)

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown".

Pretty simple, huh? No commercials. No lights. No decorations. No elaborate dinners. No presents. Just the eternal truth of Christmas and the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. Peace. Joy. Salvation. Like a knife, it cuts through the crap and speaks to our souls. This is the truth that our children need to hear from us. This is the truth that will resonate in their souls and convict them of what Christmas is really all about. Let's face it; we all feel like Charlie Brown from time to time. But when we are overwhelmed preparing for Christmas, look back to these simple words, from a simple and nostalgic Christmas TV show. Slow down. Listen to Linus.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."