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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.  


A Passage and A Prayer 12/10/18

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”   John 8:12  (ESV)

Nearly everything reminds me of Jesus, even that silly song about Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer that I now can’t get out of my head.  Like Rudolph, Jesus was different – true God and true man, sinless.  Like Rudolph, Jesus was ridiculed and rejected.  “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” Isaiah put it.  Like Rudolph, Jesus was the only one who could lead the way out of foggy darkness.  Any similarities end there.

Jesus is the Light of the world.  In a mythical world a nose like a red bulb might throw a little light amid darkness.  In the real world, Jesus IS the light that obliterates darkness.  You know about that darkness.  It sends a shiver of fear through you when you come face to face with very real evil.  It clouds your thinking when your faith is challenged by smug intellects and heart-wrenching experiences.  It buries you in guilt when you think about how far short of what God expects your life has been.  And then you see Jesus, who defeated Satan on the field of darkness so that evil cannot destroy us, who cut through phony arguments with clear truth and assured us that in the worst of times our God is still in control, who took our dark secrets and shameful sins to the cross in order to wipe them out of our account with God. 

Jesus is the Light of the world.  In a mythical world, Rudolph’s red nose points the way for other reindeer to follow.  In the real world, Jesus IS the way to follow.  You need that way to follow.  Entertainment media and social media suggest there are many ways – different moral lifestyles, alternate understandings of reality, other ways to God if he exists.  Smart people confuse you with questions and stump you with arguments, as though there is no way, just a lot of running around in circles.  Proverbs 14:12 reminds us: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  Jesus clears away the darkness of doubt and confusion with the certainty of salvation by grace, consistent purpose and values for living, and the hope of everlasting joy with him at the end of the way.  He lights the way and he is the way.

There are a lot of Christmas myths, and the red-nosed reindeer is sort of endearing.  But you don’t live in a mythical world.  Jesus is your real Savior.  He was born in the real world to achieve real forgiveness.  When your face is red with embarrassment over your many failures, only the real red blood of Jesus will do.  Merry Christmas!

PRAYER (of St. Paul in Ephesians 1): “That the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”  Amen.


A Passage and A Prayer 12/7/18

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
During this first week of Advent, perhaps you have noticed that the paraments (the cloth material that hangs in the chancel) have changed colors. Since the end of May, with a few limited exceptions, the paraments have been green to mark what is known as “common time” or the time of the Church. With the beginning of Advent, the paraments change to blue (purple in some churches).
Why blue or purple? These are the colors of royalty and are meant to remind us that during Advent we are preparing to again welcome to our world our King Jesus. Even as Jesus ascended into the blue sky, so we anticipate His return in like manner. The blue is thus a reminder to us of the imminent return of our Lord.
With the beginning of the new Church year, Advent is a time to reflect on our lives past, present, and future. When we do, we see how desperate our need is for a Savior. And that’s why Jesus came the first time. The One whose birth we will again mark in a few weeks is the King born in a stable but later nailed to a cross; for us. The One who died and rose again has promised that He will come again, but not as a lowly king, but rather the victorious One. The blue of Advent reminds us each week of the King who redeemed us and is coming soon. Until He does, we prepare ourselves and pray, “Come Lord Jesus!”
Lord Jesus our King, thank You for coming to dwell among us and to free us from the burden of sin. By the power of Your Spirit, make our hearts ready for Your return. Come Lord Jesus come. Amen.


A Passage and A Prayer 12/5/18

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
While the Christmas season is typically associated with peace, joy, and good will as family and friends gather for special celebrations, it is also one of the most depressing times of the year for others. Perhaps you know someone who seems especially sad during what should be the most joyous of seasons. We often see this among those who have lost a loved one, especially a spouse or child.
People who are experiencing this type of sadness or isolation are often referred to as having the blues. That expression dates back at least to the early 1800’s and is still used today. Maybe you have experienced the blues yourself; or are even experiencing them now.
It is not unusual for anyone to suffer from the blues at various times. It can be especially hard though during this time of the year when everyone around us seems so happy, so loved. It’s easy to feel alone and even unloved.
Paul’s words to the church in Rome gives us encouragement that can bring us comfort even when the blues try to take over. Consider what Paul is saying, that there is nothing in all of creation that can possibly separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nothing.
You are the most loved child of the Most High God. The One who did not spare His own Son but sent Him to give His life for you will never, ever, leave you. Even though we may at times be separated from family or friends, nothing can separate us from God’s love. This is our great joy during Advent and throughout life.
Heavenly Father, even though I may feel alone at times, I know that there is nothing that can separate me from Your love. Thank You for the gift of life and salvation that I have through faith in Jesus. It’s in His name I pray. Amen.


A Passage and A Prayer 12/3/18

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Remember 1957? Many in our congregation were not even born yet, but others remember it well. Most of that year, like so much of history, has become a faded memory (except of course for the ’57 Chevy). There is a song though that has endured and was made famous by none other than Elvis Presley. The song, of course, is “Blue Christmas.” 

While the song had been previously recorded, it was Elvis who really made it famous. Since then, more than a dozen artists, including The Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, and Kelly Clarkson have gone on to record their own versions. 

Why has this song been so popular over the years? The lyrics seem to resonate with people who recognize that it just isn’t Christmas when a loved one is far away. People feel sad, or blue, when that special someone is not with them during this special time of the year.

But yet so many people don’t seem to give it a second thought when the One who loves them the most is not truly part of their Christmas. As the focus of Christmas turns toward decorating, parties, and presents, it seems that the real reason for the celebration, Jesus Christ, is pushed to the side. That is what should really make us blue.

The apostle John, in the opening words of his Gospel, tells us beautifully how the Living Word, Jesus Christ, became one of us so that we could experience His fullness. That is no less true today than it was when Christ first appeared among us. With Christ being present, there is no blue Christmas, but instead a Christmas of joy because our most beloved is with us and brings salvation to all who have faith in Him.

Precious Jesus, You left behind the glory of heaven to dwell among us. During this season of Advent, we pray that Your presence would be fill our hearts with joy and love. Thank You for the gift of salvation. Help us to share Your love with others that they too may come to know and love You. Amen.