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A Passage and A Prayer 12/21/18

“And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” Acts 3:9-10
 
We’ve been remembering the song “Silver and Gold” from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special this week. The song has two verses which we used on Monday and Wednesday’s devotion. At the end of the song, Burl Ives has these closing sentences: “What’s a Christmas tree without tinsel and pretty silver and gold decorations? Can’t really call it a Christmas tree, can you? And think of all the fun and joy that would be lost on Christmas morning if all the young folks didn’t get to see that sparkling, happy tree.”

Brings back memories, doesn’t it? Tinsel on the tree, tinsel that my mother insisted was put up one strand at a time. The decorations crowded together onto the tree until every branch was weighted down. And yes, the tree did look happy to come in from the cold and be the center of the living room.

And that is where we can go this Christmas. This year’s trees that we cut down will last a few weeks and then be gone. Their happy moments are few. The decorations go back into the boxes and the boxes hidden on the basement shelves. But there was one tree and one decoration which didn’t go away. There must have been one tree that was made into the manger in which Jesus was laid. That tree and manger will never be put away and never be forgotten. And just as with the crowd that watched the lame man healed in Acts 3, so we can be just as filled with wonder and amazement. We don’t see just a man healed but our Savior born. We don’t see a miracle that heals one man for decades but we watch a gift that saves the world for eternity. No wonder then that at the end of Christmas night, Luke records that “Mary treasured up all these tings, pondering them in her heart.” There beside her was the manger, made from the first, true Christmas tree. And in that manger was the greatest gift, the ornament that saved the world, even our Savior.

Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you filled the manger with your Son as the perfect gift. Remind us this Christmas and every year of his saving gift and let us be like the people of Acts 3, filled with wonder and amazement, over what you have done. Then let us be like Mary and treasure and ponder what you have given us in your Son. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 12/19/18

“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” Acts 3:6-8

We began on Monday with the song “Silver and Gold” from the show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Burl Ives is the voice for the singing snowman who walks towards a small tree decorated for Christmas. Verse two of that song goes, “Silver and gold, silver and gold, mean such so much more when I see. Silver and gold decorations on every Christmas tree.”

Silver and gold could be the gift we want just for ourselves, the jewelry that says that we’re valuable. But silver and gold could also be the decorations on the tree that we give to someone else. You likely have decorations on your tree that mark important dates in your family. You maybe have the Christmas tree ornaments for First Christmas Together or Baby’s First Christmas or First Christmas in our New Home. You bring them out each year and remember how it was that first Christmas and all the Christmas days since.

Peter and John gave that sort of gift and that ornament that marked an important day for this man. Peter took him by the hand and he was healed by the name of Jesus. Would the man ever forget this day? Never! There might not have been an ornament with a date on it but his memory would never need reminding. This was the day to never be forgotten.

That is the gift of Christmas that we give to the world every Christmas. The ornament that is greater than gold is the memory of Jesus’ birth. There’s a gift that comes to every person, lame or well, young or old. That’s the gift that we not only point to on our tree, but it is the ornament that we can give to every person. Put this ornament on your Christmas, the gift of Jesus’ coming and the healing he brings to all.

Our Heavenly Father, silver and gold are beautiful and Christmas trees shine in many homes. Let every home have this decoration: the certainty of knowing Jesus as the one gift and the one event that makes Christmas a gift. Remind us of his gift which is eternal life, We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 12/17/18

“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:6
 
In the animated story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Burl Ives sings the song, “Silver and Gold.”  The opening verse is “Silver and gold, silver and gold, Everyone wishes for silver and gold. How do you measure its worth? Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth.”  Silver and gold are often the goal of Christmas gift giving and receiving. If silver and gold themselves are not given, then at least the price of most gifts could be measured by silver and gold.
                       
The man to whom Peter is speaking in Acts 3 certainly was looking for silver or gold. He was a crippled man who lived by asking for charity from people passing by him near the temple. Silver and gold were his request from Peter and John as they passed by. A coin or two was all he likely expected and it would have filled his needs for the day.
           
We pass many this week before Christmas who are seeking silver and gold. Some are looking literally for jewelry this Christmas, silver and gold, with maybe a diamond added. That ring, those earrings, that perfect necklace would certainly fill Christmas day. That silver and gold might also say that there is a special relationship with someone who thinks so much of you that only silver and gold will show your worth.
           
We understand how important that gift and that special relationship are, especially at Christmas. We can’t guarantee that the ring or necklace will come. But, we can offer the relationship itself.  Peter and John had no gold, but they had the name of Jesus. They offered this man not only the healing of his crippled legs but also the relationship with Jesus whose power healed him. The rising and walking are wonderful, but it’s even better to know the One who did the healing. That’s what we offer the world, our faith and the name of Jesus who has already made a relationship with the world by his coming to the manger, suffering on the cross, and rising from the tomb. Here’s the gift, a new relationship with Jesus himself. Let that fill not just a day or a Christmas week, but a life.
 
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us real riches in the relationship we have with Jesus. We don’t have to look for golden signs of your love, but have the promise written in your word. Help us to treasure the gift that we are your people, chosen and raised up by you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


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A Passage and A Prayer 12/14/18

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord; “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18  (ESV)

A few decades ago the Christian band Petra recorded what is called “The Coloring Song.”  Here are some of the lyrics:  “Red is the color of the blood that flowed Down the face of Someone Who loved us so. He’s the perfect man, He’s the Lord’s own son, He’s the Lamb of God, He’s the only one That can give us life, that can make us grow, That can make the love between us flow. . . And there’s just one God, and there’s just one Man That can give us life, that can make us grow That can make our sins as white as snow.”

The Gospel in colors: Sins are red.  The blood of Jesus is red.  And applied to our sins that blood makes us holy white.  Jesus had to be born, flesh and blood, to make that happen. 

Reality can be summarized with the color red.  Reality is that this world is messed up and so are we.  The Bible calls it sin and colors it red in Isaiah 1.  No amount of holiday celebration or sentimental songs can change that reality.  Own it.  Reality is that the solution to this world’s mess and our own guilt is, as the apostle John wrote, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Centuries of red blood sprinkled on an Old Testament altar testified to the sacrifice that the baby Jesus would endure to make forgiveness a reality.  No amount of seasonal depression or personal shame can change that reality.  Believe it.

Where do you see yourself in the Christmas story?  Maybe as one of the shepherds, common folk who heard and saw and told the story of salvation in the Christ-child’s coming.  Or maybe you’ve come to realize that your place in the Christmas story is that it was because of you that the Son of God became the baby Jesus.  You can feel terrible about that as you think about the poverty of Jesus’ birth and the pain of his death, all for you.  So repent of the sinful stuff that is perpetrated by your sinful nature; and then let go of that terrible feeling.  See, it was because of his love for you that Jesus came.  That’s your place in the Christmas story, the forgiven and treasured object of God’s love.  Hang onto that feeling in spite of bad days and nagging doubts, because that feeling is based on fact – the fact that the Son of God came at Bethlehem to redeem you; and he finished the story at Calvary and an empty tomb.

FAITH’S SONG: “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus and all in Him is mine!  Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine.  Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own.  Amazing Love!  How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”  (from the hymn “And Can It Be?”)


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A Passage and A Prayer 12/12/18

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon. . .And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.  She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness.”  Revelation 12:1-6 (ESV)

Scrooge here, with some “bah, humbug” for your Christmas celebration.  What is red and jolly, drives a team of reindeer and rewards people for being good?  What, according to St. John in Revelation 12, is red and fierce and intent on destroying the Christ-child, his gospel of grace and his Church?  And what word do you get if you rearrange the letters of S-A-N-T-A.  Look, I’m not sayin’ that Santa Claus is the devil.  I’m just sayin’ that Santa may serve Satan’s purpose if we aren’t wise.  When you tell a naïve child the legend of Santa and the story of Jesus’ birth, then later they discover that one isn’t true, what are they to make of the other? 

As St. John observed, Satan has used persecution in an attempt to destroy Jesus and the Church; but persecution actually made the Church grow.  He’s learned subtlety.  In the Christmas season, distraction is his best weapon.  Santa and presents and decorations and parties are pleasant distractions from the truth of the Savior’s birth.  It’s easy to get caught up in the distractions and lose sight of “the reason for the season.”  When the distractions become near-obsessions, you can come to hate Christmas.  Red ink can rob the joy of Christmas with worries about how you’ll pay for all this.  Unkind comments from relatives can leave you seeing red.  And how much peace on earth are you feeling when you’re exhausted by a late-night engagement with red wrapping paper.  Get the message of the octagonal red road sign and STOP.  Regain perspective as you go with the shepherds to see the almighty Son of God in the form of a helpless baby, and know that this was because he loved you so much that he was willing to take your place in this hurting world.  Get the spirit of Christmas as you hear the angels sing that God’s favor rests with you, in spite of your sins and your spiritual ADHD.  Stop with Mother Mary to ponder in your heart the wonder of Jesus’ birth and the story of your salvation launched by that birth.

It’s ironic that Christianity in our time has to contend with a secular version of Christmas, since it seems that early Christians chose December 25 to celebrate Jesus’ birth in order to blunt the pagan Roman holiday of the sun-god. The lesson is that Jesus is always fighting to get our attention; and when he does, your heart knows peace and joy.

My dear Savior, break through the Christmas fog of our culture to brighten my heart with your wondrous love.  Fix my thoughts on who you are and why you came to this earth, so that life comes back into divine focus.  In the midst of seasonal anxieties and fatigue, bring me your peace and joy.  I love you, baby Jesus, born to be King Jesus, my Savior.  Amen.  


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