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The Peace of Christmas

happy new year greeting card

“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.’”  Luke 2:13-14  (NIV)
 
The angels weren’t announcing an era of world peace, for Jesus told Christians to expect wars and rumors of war until his return.  The angels weren’t promising that family relationships would be all sweetness and light, for Jesus warned that following him could set relatives against each other.  And the angels weren’t suggesting that you won’t experience emotional stress and worry, for Jesus invited people who were “weary and burdened” to come to him.  So what was this Christmas peace proclamation?

The Savior, whose birth announcement this was, came to earth in order to establish peace between sinners and their God.  By taking our place in human flesh and bearing the punishment for our sins, the Son of God ended the hostility between human beings and their holy God.  God’s favor rests on you, the angels sang. He’s not mad at you. He loves you.  He wants what’s best for you.  And you have an eternity with him to enjoy that peace fully.  God’s peace is not a conditional treaty or an uneasy truce.  God’s peace is a fact to which you can return every time the harsh reality of life in this sinful world intrudes on your sense of well being.  The sequence is FACT – FAITH – FEELING.  Focus on the facts of God’s Word.  That will confirm your faith; and faith crowds out the peace-robbers so you can experience what Christmas means.

The Hebrew word for peace – Shalom – is the greeting that for centuries expressed what the angels sang.  That word means more than a peaceful feeling or “you’re OK by me.”  It means wholeness, things the way they’re supposed to be.  In contemporary terms we might say it means being in a good place.   That’s where you are because Jesus came – in a good place with God.  Shalom!  Merry Christmas!
 
PRAYER:  Thank you, Jesus, for the peace with God you came to give us and for all that this means each day.  Help us to live with that peace in our hearts and to share that peace in our relationships until the day you take us home to perfect peace forever.  Amen.


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What a Surprise

The Nativity set figurine
 
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Luke 2:8-14)
 
What a surprise!   The shepherds were doing what they did every night.  They simply kept watch over their flocks.  The protected defenseless animals from predators and thieves.  This night would be different.  Suddenly the heavens were torn open and the glory of the Almighty God cast its radiance around these men.  An angel speaks and a choir of angels sing.  These are men who seem to fear nothing.  These are men who lay their lives on the line.  Tonight they are terrified.  They have never seen nor experienced anything so magnificent.  The message is clear—a Savior is born.  It is a message that changes the lives of these men.

The message is of no surprise to us.  We know the entire Christmas account.  We know angels will appear and shepherds will run to the stable and see the Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  We are not terrified at the message.  We are not shocked or puzzled by the message.

I’ll be honest with you.  There are times I’m still surprised by the message.  Yes, like you, I know the Christmas account, but the true message of Christmas is astounding—not just the virgin birth or the fact that God took on flesh and made His dwelling among us.  What seems to surprise me is that Jesus never demands that I prove myself worthy of His love and His sacrifice.  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

In those times that I have spiritually stepped out of line and felt the guilt of my sin, it is easy for me to mutter, “How could God love someone like me?”  Surprise!  He does!  What have we done to deserve eternal life in heaven?  Surprise!  Nothing!  Jesus did it all by living the perfect life for us; by dying on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin; by rising from the grave and proving His sacrifice was all that is needed for our salvation.

Christmas is such a wonderful surprise.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:4-7).  God chose you and me simply because He loves us!  Surprise!
 
Prayer: Almighty Lord, thank You for Your never-ending love.  Though we in no way have earned Your love, You still love us.  Though we cannot save ourselves from sin and death, You came to rescue us.  Thank You for Your mercy and grace, which assures us of forgiveness, new life and life eternal with You in heaven.  Keep us strong in faith.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.

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Community

two white pillar candles
 
I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. [Jeremiah 29:14]

Simply understood as the people with whom we interact and relate, community has undergone severe stress. From local businesses struggling to remain open to grandparents who are isolated from grandchildren, from funerals cancelled to wedding celebrations postponed, COVID has strained our relationships with those closest to us. “Should I go over? Is it safe?” Our sense of community has been strained, and we are feeling isolated and lonely at alarming rates.

Humans are social creatures- and it is no surprise to Christians. We are made in the image of a triune God; that means community is woven into the fabric of who we are! When Judah was sent into exile, almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus, they were ripped from their homeland, and from the relationships that kept them grounded. Their businesses were shut down. Their homes were taken away. They might even have been ripped from their families. How heartbreaking this experience must have been. And maybe some of us can relate a little too well, after these past nine months of lockdowns, isolation, and distancing.

God promised his people that he would bring them back into their community. God promised to restore homes, businesses, and families. God filled them with hope, even as they felt more alone than ever. God’s plan of restoring his community goes much deeper than just those people who went into exile over 2,500 years ago. God’s plan is for us today, too. 

In Greek, the word for community is koinonia, and it comes from a word that means “common, dirty, defiled.” Community is a shared experience, and we have learned all too well that you do get “dirty” (or sick, or impacted) by those people with whom you spend time. It was worth it to Jesus, who became a common man, associated with “sinners and tax collectors”, willing to get dirty as he touched sick people. Like a good shepherd, Jesus smelled like his sheep. He stated his mission this way, “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:15-16). Jesus laid down his life, so that the community of God could be together forever, throughout space and time. 

Let’s pray that this lockdown doesn’t last 70 years like the Babylonian exile. But even if it does, we can be confident that we are part of an eternal community in Christ. He has laid down his life for you, and he has already brought you into a forever family. Let’s pray for wisdom at this time, as we wait on God, looking to him to restore those relationships which we crave, and make a way for us to live in community.

Prayer: Dear God, we pray for an end to what feels like exile. We pray that through this process, we would come to value our daily interactions with renewed vigor and excitement. We pray for wisdom as we seek to love, care, and be present for others. Strengthen our hearts as we wait on you to restore all things. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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Light of the World

close-up of lighted candle
 
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”   Matthew 5:13-16
 
Our world is a dark place.  Sin and its effects cast a gloomy pale over everything.  Families, workplaces, neighborhoods.  In the midst of that darkness, one little candle is amazing.
 
We are those candles.  Nothing all that special about us.  We’re not fancy chandeliers or high-kilowatt lights.  Candles.  Simple, but so amazing in the darkness.
 
Never underestimate what a good work done by faith in the name of Jesus can do.  Good works don’t save us, we know that.  But we were created to do good works.  Jesus has made us lights, and loving our neighbor is what we’ve been created and called to do.  
 
The world seems to be getting darker.  And that means our shining will be that much more amazing.  So shine, people of God.  It’s what your Lord has created you and called you to do. 
 
Heavenly Father, we are the lights of the world.  Your Son has made us so.  Help us by Your Spirit to live as lights, shining with good works, so that others may see and give all glory to You.  In Jesus, Amen. 

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But Why?

bokeh photography of book page near yellow ceramic mug
 
“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. [Jeremiah 29:10-13]

But why? Humans are unique in our ability to ask this question. Especially if you find yourself in the presence of a toddler. No matter our age, we are plagued with this “why”. This year has brought about some difficult ones, too. Why are we wearing masks? Why can’t we see grandma? Why did God allow this germ to exist? Why? Why? Why?

The fundamental question behind the why is this: What is the purpose? We are creatures driven by purpose. The most important why that people ask is, “Why am I here?” What is my purpose in living? Especially in the face of suffering and hardship, this question can be deeply unsettling and troubling. Combine all the uncertainty, fear, anger, and rage of our world with the loss of many of those things that give us purpose, and we can be certain that many people are struggling with their purpose. 

Again, Jeremiah 29 directs the people that God sent into exile. These exiles had everything stripped away from them: property, family, careers. They had to resettle in a completely different area, their entire identity and purpose taken away overnight. You can imagine how many toddlers were asking their parents, “Mom, why are we leaving our home? Dad, why can’t we go back? Why do we have to go so far? Why would God allow this?” 

Little did they know God was using the exile to clarify their purpose as God’s people. Remember what God said to them in Exodus, almost a millennium prior? “I will make you a holy nation, a kingdom of priests!” God had intended his people to be his witnesses to the whole world. Through the exile, more people came to know God’s love- and after 70 years the exiles went back knowing God’s love in a whole new way.

“I know the plans I have for you, plans for a future and a hope.” Typically we hear this verse at graduations or confirmations- a hopeful verse for a person seeking a new path or journey. Understanding the original context, we see it is even more applicable to those who feel stuck, at a dead end, like life has no purpose anymore. Maybe this is the verse we need to cling to in 2020. God has a purpose for this. God has a plan through this. God has more in store. 

Let’s face it: Christians believe that God brought Jesus back from the dead, delivered him from the power of the grave. Death shall be no more! When we know that our God has power to bring life out of death, we know that God can bring purpose out of anything, even this year. 

Use this time to allow God to shape your perceptions, to prepare you for a new or enhanced purpose, to provide meaning into this period. Whatever you are struggling with, whatever your why is, know that God has plans through this. God has an eternal future for you, and hope for tomorrow.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please help us to cling to your power and purpose. Put before us opportunities to serve others. Use this time to draw us closer to you and to your will. May your will be done on earth, and in my life, as it is in heaven. In your name we pray to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

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